Welcome to the Ballroom
Episode 12

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 12 of
Welcome to the Ballroom ?

Welcome to the Ballroom officially returns from the Brink of Despair this week by introducing two new female characters who aren't just wilting wallflowers and actually using ballroom music during dance scenes. The latter is not something we should have to get so excited about in a show about dancesport, but it was a persistent issue for the first eleven episodes to the point where it undermined the entire story, so getting to see both waltzes and quicksteps done to their proper soundtrack deserves major kudos. Whether this means that the show will start trusting its audience to appreciate ballroom's world more directly remains to be seen, but this is one of the best signs we've gotten for this adaptation so far.

It's fitting for the plot too, as Tatara enters a new phase in his dance career. The standard way to demonstrate this new chapter in his life is to have him start high school with the usual goal of making friends (five sounds reasonable), but it's also a good way for us to measure his growth. He's not the sadsack he was when the series started, and he's willing to both admit and be proud of his participation in dancesport. It can't have been easy to announce it as his hobby during class introductions, especially when his teacher expressed surprise and his classmate called him lame (which turns out to be a real case of pot meets kettle later on). But Tatara doesn't get flustered or back down – it's his thing, and he's going to own it. That's a big step forward in maturity for him, solidifying his commitment to what he loves.

Of course, he won't be able to really progress until he gets a partner, but that's coming up next week. The focus this time is on Tatara's confirmation of his commitment to dance and the burgeoned support from his fellow dancers Gaju and Shizuku. As Shizuku points out, it isn't always a question of when you start dancing – there's a major talent factor, and she seems to be implying that Tatara has what it takes. Gaju (who is now a student at Tatara's high school) also feels that Tatara is a worthy fellow dancer, and their intense rivalry seems to have morphed into something much friendlier, especially after Gaju saves Tatara from the school thugs. He's still brash and obnoxious, but he seems to have been at least a little cowed by the previous competition, even if he doesn't understand that thirteen-year-old girls' breasts are going to grow even without some guy “massaging” them. (Although honestly, I can't blame Gaju for not wanting to think about his sister going through puberty, for realistic reasons or not.)

The centerpiece of this week is the competition featuring Sengoku and his partner Hongo. Gaju and Tatara go to watch, marking the first time Tatara has ever seen Sengoku perform in person. It's an eye-opening experience that flirts with some of the best dance animation we've seen, performed to actual dance music. I say “flirts with” because about midway through their waltz, Tatara's intense attention to detail and feeling of overwhelming pressure to improve begins to make him dizzy, and the animation begins to warp, melt, and fade to give us an idea of what's happening to him. It's an interesting choice, and I do appreciate the sense of disorientation that Tatara was experiencing, but it also felt like we'd suddenly shifted to another show entirely. (One shot of Sengoku's muscular back looked straight out of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.) To go from a dazzling swoop you could feel in your stomach to a warping nightmare that you feel in quite a different part of your gut was off-putting.

Hongo is one of the two new female characters this week, with the pinkish-haired classmate being the other, and she's immediately a match for Sengoku. Not necessarily in a healthy way – the two beat up on each other in plain sight of everyone, which is in poor taste at a competition to put it mildly. This is presumably meant to be funny, and while it is nice to see Sengoku get called out for making his partner uncomfortable on the dance floor, and to see a female character who isn't a doormat, it's also not a great scene to watch. (Though I do love Hongo calling Tatara as if he were a shy dog.) The show is making a fairly typical mistake in creating “strong” female characters by conflating “strength of personality” with “violent behavior.” We should see Hongo as a strong character because she stands up for herself, not because she does so with physical violence.

All in all, Welcome to the Ballroom seems to be getting its second half off to a much more promising start. Hopefully it will be able to keep up the new devotion to musical fidelity and stronger characters, because I really want this show to live up to what it could be.

Rating: B+

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

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