Consider the game officially changed.
OP2: “Invisible Sensation” by UNISON SQUARE GARDEN
We may still technically be in the first cour of Ballroom e Youkoso, but the scene change unmistakably happened after last week’s episode. Without any question a major reset button has been pushed here – new school, new characters, new relationships between the old ones, and a sense that the nature of the journey for Tatara-kun has thoroughly changed. And along with that, the challenges facing him. As he advances in his craft and is capable of achieving more, the goals he strives for are going to get that much more difficult. But then – that’s shounen in a nutshell.
As far as I’m concerned it would be hard to draw up an episode to kick off the second act better than “Encounters” did – it pretty much nailed everything it set out to do (including the new OP and ED) and was massively entertaining from start to finish. The first day of the rest of Tatara’s life starts with the first day of high school (I enjoyed his realistic goal of making “lots of friends – like 5”), which is always a scary one in any shy kid’s life. I liked that Ballroom opened right up with the introductions, because the issue of admitting to being a dancer is a serious one for a boy – old-fashioned and narrow-minded attitudes (which high school specializes in) make that a minefield to say the least.
Tatara, to his credit, doesn’t shy away from the truth – he’s proud of it in spite of his anxiety. And it doesn’t seem too disastrous at first (though the teacher really should have kept his mouth shut), but that’s when Hiyama Chinatsu (Akasaki Chinatsu) enters the fray. She pronounces Tatara “lame”, but it’s an ill-kept secret even to non-manga readers that she’s a dancer too (or will be), and is in fact the answer to the math problem that’s been hanging over Welcome to the Ballroom since Gaju and Mako entered the picture (and even before, really).
There’s more trouble at school, too, when Tatara (who does make an easy target) runs afoul of the resident bully gang. But fortunately for him, Gaju makes an unlikely return to the story and bails him out. Gaju is unsurprisingly seen as something of a banchou, even by the bullies. And while he blames Tatara for Mako’s inevitable development in the anatomical sense and berates him for shaming the brotherhood of athletes (which he clearly considers himself first), he does offer to exchange numbers with Tatara and it’s clear that these two have enough in common to become friends of a sort. We also get the most natural crossover in anime this year…
Meanwhile, Shizuku has been patiently waiting for Kiyoharu’s leg to heal – which it has – and the two of them have decided to defer their trip to study abroad for a year. Partly it’s a concession to Kiyoharu’s condition, but Shizuku also declares that she wants to compete with Tatara again. That’s going to require that he couple up of course, and though we know what’s coming there neither of these two do yet. Obviously Chinatsu’s appearance means all of the major players are paired up, but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s still something simmering between Shizuku and Tatara – either on the dance floor or off (or both).
Things really heat up when Tamaki invites Gaju and Tatara to see Sengoku – who’s been overseas himself – in is first major Japanese competition in a year. Sengoku isn’t much of a teacher but he is a great dancer, clearly, and it’s fascinating to see the way Tatara observes him. He sees details Gaju doesn’t (like the way Sengoku’s movements connect up from a muscular perspective) and while Sengoku has encouraged him to watch and learn, one thing Tatara sees is that there are things a man of Sengoku’ stature can do that a boy of Tatara’s stature cannot. Even moving at “half speed” (Gaju’s observation) in the prelims, Sengoku seems to present an ideal that will be forever unachievable for Tatara. But then, a lot of things seem that way when you’re 15, and time is still very much your ally.
I think my favorite part of the episode, though, was the introduction of Sengoku’s partner Hongou Chizuru (Kotobuki Minako, in what seems a very against-type – and charismatic – performance). She sweeps through Ballroom like a typhoon, starting with she and Sengoku getting into a bare-knuckle brawl which leaves him bloodied (a regular occurrence, apparently). Her interaction with “the” Tatara-Kun is utterly hilarious (especially the “kochi, kochi” bit), but she’s got game – and she and Sengoku sweep through the competition easily. In the aftermath the Sengoku groupies stampede, sweeping Tatara and Gaju up with them – and among them is a familiar face who might, perhaps, look upon Tatara differently once she learns that he’s Sengoku’s student…
ED2: “Swing heart direction” by Mikako Komatsu