That there was going to be a double-episode of Ballroom e Youkoso this week came as a complete surprise to me – maybe it was announced somewhere but if so, it skated past me completely. That means that of the first five episodes of this series I’ve seen four in two sittings. I don’t suppose that’s terribly interesting in and of itself, but it’s pretty damn unusual and the analytical side of me can’t help but wonder if it subtly impacts the impression the show makes on me.
That impression is, on the whole, becoming very positive indeed. Welcome to the Ballroom is certainly full of shounen tropes, of that there can be no doubt. But it works in spite (and maybe even a little bit because) of that. I see stuff that annoys me, yeah, but the dichotomy between the brash adolescent macho attitudes and the subject matter is interesting (to a degree I would also say Chihayafuru traded on a similar, though obviously not identical effect). It would probably be fair to say that ballroom dancing has not historically been an easy vocation for young boys to take up without fear of social stigma – I wonder if series like this one might change that just a bit, at least in Japan?
One of those things that annoys me is Sengoku, though I get why some folks like him as a character. I get irritated when I see adults in a position of influence over kids act as irresponsibly as Sengoku does, even when it’s played for comedy. He could have shattered Tatara by forcing him on stage with Shizuku when he wasn’t ready – now, when it blows up afterwards, he has the gall to blame Tatara for it? Yeah, Tomochika-san sort of meekly stood up for him (Tatara is 100% Sengoku’s victim here), but what I really wanted was for someone to pop Sengoku in the face. And if that weren’t bad enough, he continued to blame Tatara in the aftermath, when Hyodo and Shizuku were suspended for six months (as I always figured, there had to be penalties for doing what Sengoku did).
Fortunately, there are others who aren’t irresponsible douchebags to Tatara here, such as Iwakuma-san (as expected, he was only trying to help Hyodo-kun) – who has a kindly talk with Tatara when both show up (too late) to visit Hyodo in the hospital (I already like Iwakuma better than Sengoku). And Hyodo himself, who comes over to Tatara’s house – not to apologize, per se, but on some level to let Tatara know that he didn’t blame him for what happened. And ultimately to say what he said before boarding the (wrong) train – “Take care of Shizuku for me” – though it took him until the last possible moment to work up the courage to say it.
The fact that things seem to have worked out relatively well after Sengoku’s risky gambit shouldn’t be taken as evidence that he was in any way right to force Tatara to dance. Hyodo found an inspiration he didn’t have before in seeing another boy copy his choreography. Tatara, miraculously, found his experience as thrilling as he did terrifying – it was the first time he’d ever basked in applause (even someone else’s) and now he has a taste for it. And the suspension is a perfect measure to keep Hyodo from dancing while injured, and give himself a chance to heal.
What Ballroom definitely brings to the table is intensity – every serious dance scene has been packed with it. Hyodo’s tango was really something to behold – even Shizuku was stunned to see the normally technical and stiff Hyodo dance with such passion (even given that it was the most passionate dance there is). That is indeed another similarity with Haikyuu!! – the youthful passion and martial spirit comes across loud and clear without feeling contrived, and that’s harder to pull off than it seems.
The plot certainly thickens with the arrival of siblings Gaju (Tomita Kentarou) and Mako (Morohoshi Sumire) Akagi – who actually drop in (this series may love pratfalls more than any I remember) at the end Episode 4, though 5 is their spotlight dance. We had an interesting little Chihayafuru-esque triangle already; now with these two added, it turns into a pentangle. While not expressly romantic in nature, these are teenagers we’re talking about here – I think it’s impossible to say this drama is about who “partners” with who without the notion of physical attraction entering the fray.
Gaju and Mako are dance partners (Latin) already, and rather successful ones – but Gaju (10th-grade) makes his agenda clear from the beginning. With Hyodo “dead” he’s here to trade up, and ditch the one who (in his fevered mind) has been holding him back. That would be complicated enough, but the last thing Hyodo said to Tatara makes it exponentially more so. Their arrival brings some things out in the open – such as the fact that Sengoku intentionally threw Tatara into the fire as a means of getting Hyodo disqualified for his own good.
That always seemed likely, but it just makes me that much angrier at Sengoku. Not only did he thoughtlessly risk Tatara’s psyche and then blame him for his own mistakes later, he did it as part of an agenda – basically deciding Tatara was expendable if he could be useful in protecting someone more important (Hyodo). That’s why I was pleased that someone (Tamaki-san) finally smacked him and scolded him for abusing Tatara-kun – it was richly deserved. That Sengoku basically got everything he wanted out of the scheme is all the more galling, but Shizuku’s attitude seems to be a bit of a wildcard he wasn’t expecting.
When Shizuku agrees to dance with Gaju, that frees up Mako (8th-grade) to partner with Tatara – and Tamaki insists that Sengoku instruct them seriously. Their first partner dance practice (and Tatara’s first, period) is a slow foxtrot, and an interesting one – most interesting when Tatara manages to pull a cat-like midair move and protect Mako when their awkwardness causes a fall. Their second dance comes at the playground, and appears again to be a part of a Sengoku plan – to get Mako back in her brothers’s arms and make sure there’s no threat to his long-term meal ticket pairing. But Tatara surprises him again, and there may just be more chemistry in this new pairing than Sengoku had in mind.
There are natural reasons to think Mako and Tatara are a good fit – they match up well physically and temperamentally. But even setting aside the fact that he and Shizuku are the protagonists, there’s that matter of Hyodo’s request – which Tatara naturally interprets (eventually) as a deal between men where he’ll protect Shizuku from dirtbags like Gaju. In short – it’s complicated. None of the relationship chart questions in Ballroom e Youkoso offer up obvious answers, and that’s one of the things I really like about it. At this point I’m fully engaged in the story, the dance side is fascinating, the shounen spirit is intense, and I’m hardly noticing the anatomical peculiarities any more. Welcome to the Ballroom started off quite well, but the movement since then has all been for the better, and that’s a great sign.