Welcome to the Ballroom
Episode 10

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 10 of
Welcome to the Ballroom ?

At least we have an answer about one thing – it seems that the decision not to use dance music was a deliberate one as I suspected, because there was some concern that contemporary viewers would not enjoy “old-fashioned” ballroom music. While I do understand the reasoning behind that creative choice, I don't think it ends up doing the show any favors, as we see once again this week – we have to be told that the tango is a passionate, intense dance. While seeing the dance itself more fully animated would have taken care of that issue, so too would simply using real tango music, which is among the most striking of ballroom beats. We do get a slow foxtrot to an honest-to-goodness foxtrot for most of its run, but I feel like I'm only getting halfway to where I want to go.

Welcome to the Ballroom's persistent problems aren't getting any better as we reach the climax of the Tenpei Cup arc, which doesn't give me great hope even when two of the most interesting characters are set to feature in the next storyline. At this point, if you're not familiar with dance steps, the audience may as well be saying, “Look! He snergled the flurgendoof!” for all that it tells us about how Tatara's doing, which takes away from his actual achievements on the dance floor. At this juncture, when Gaju and Shizuku are performing their solo before everyone dances the final three pieces together, it feels like a major disservice to both the audience and the characters. In the episode's defense, they do actually show us a hop (although not a chassé) as it's being danced, but I'm just having to praise half-measures again.

What saves this episode is the information we get about Gaju's past and Shizuku actually voicing her thoughts, albeit only in her head. We knew that Gaju only started dancing because his sister wanted him to, but now we actually see him refuse to even try it until he sees how important it is to Mako, which shines a much kinder light on him than we've seen to this point. But even this is quickly consumed by the ego at the absolute center of his character. It's his fear of looking effeminate that makes him not want to dance, and then it's his inability to let Mako be naturally better at dance that pushes him to continue. When a judge thanks him for choosing dancesport over soccer, he visibly puffs up – he's so awesome that adults are thanking him for deigning to dance! This is what dominates his reaction to comments he overhears about Mako pulling him down, holding him back, or not being good enough for him. (What they're really saying is that they aren't a good fit as partners, but that's not what he hears.) Gaju sees himself as carrying his sister, which is what leads to their whole toxic relationship.

Meanwhile Shizuku is suddenly showing the self-confidence that she's presumably been hiding all along. When Gaju panics during their solo, she's the one who props him up, allowing him to finish the dance. None of this “flower and frame” nonsense; she's more like a stake holding up a wilting plant, forcing him to do what he needs to – but only so that the judges notice. She's the kind of dancer who should choose her own partner – Hyodo thinks of her as a rival, which can't be good for their partnership, and she clearly outclasses Gaju. This episode may mark the moment when she decides to make her own decisions, and I dearly hope so. She's too potentially dynamic a character to stay on the sidelines, and there's no reason she shouldn't be able to stand alongside other strong female characters of shounen stories.

On a character level, Welcome to the Ballroom feels like it's beginning to try harder. Gaju's still a jerk, but now he comes with more background, and Mako and Shizuku both appear to be making steps toward resolving their second-class status. Tatara himself gets almost no focus this episode, but that's fine considering that next week is likely to be more about his reaction to the results as everyone moves on. I think we may be doomed to disappointment on the music and dance fronts in this series, but if the characters at least can rise to a level where they eclipse the sport, maybe there's hope after all.

Rating: B

Welcome to the Ballroom is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.

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