Welcome to the Ballroom
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 22 of
Welcome to the Ballroom ?
Like last week's episode, this one is divided into halves not just by the commercial break, but also by how compelling the story is. The stronger part of Welcome to the Ballroom this time is doubtless the first part, which gives us Kugimiya's history as a dancer. He's been dancing for over a decade, and he initially started dancing when, as a fifth-grader with not much to do, he followed a cat with a crooked tail to a dance studio. At first his life followed the storybook pattern from there: he was a prodigy, quick to learn, skilled, and even a good teacher. But his teacher was steadfastly old-fashioned – and in competition, that's not always a good thing.
Kugimiya is now at the top of my list of sympathetic characters from this series, because his problems are no fault of his own, but rather due to the whims of time and change. He's just had the bad luck to be dancing when innovation is prized rather than simply a firm grasp of the basics, and to lose because he's too good at the foundation of the sport he's competing in must feel indescribably awful. It's also clear that he didn't have a great home life as a kid and appeared to suffer from anxiety at the very least, which continues to dog him to this day and make things worse. Basically, he's done everything he's supposed to do, but it's not good enough. When you factor in the comments about his apparently perfect older brothers made by both his teachers and parents, you can see how Kugimiya might feel the world is stacked against him.
Despite all this, what clearly stings the most is when his mentor, the elderly gentleman who initially taught him, closes his studio. It isn't said outright, but it's strongly implied that he felt he had failed Kugimiya as a teacher. For Kugimiya, who hears about this from his hospital bed after getting hit by one of those ubiquitous runaway anime trucks, it's the final blow – now he really is worthless, because even the man who believed in him has given up. It's that history more than Tatara that seems to truly bring him down; he was having trouble believing in himself even before the accident, so how is he supposed to carry his anxiety and his mentor's guilt? At this point, he's just dancing because he doesn't know what else to do, and despite all of his big words at the training camp, he's already given up.
It would have been more effective to just give Kugimiya this entire episode, but we do go back to the present and Tatara in the latter half. While the show gets major points for using one of my favorite songs for the quickstep, this part simply isn't as engaging as the first. In part that's just because it has a tough act to follow, but it also goes back to relying on commentary from the audience rather than showing us how dynamic Tatara and Chinatsu have become now that they're working together. We do get some of Tatara's inner monologue on that front, but it's really the audience that gives us a better idea of what's going on between them. Fortunately, the dancing does help to reflect their new dynamism, and the swoops and swirls of Chinatsu's dress are used well to that effect. I'm also really liking the way we hear their footsteps as they move around the floor – dancing is supposed to have the illusion of silence, but it's rarely quiet; even ballerinas thunk and thud at times, but the music usually covers it up. The footsteps help to give us an idea of the physical exertion required, almost in a better way than the flying sweat, since viewers of sports anime are pretty used to that particular trick by now.
Welcome to the Ballroom still has its issues (and I've reached the point where I want to groan every time Hyodo opens his mouth), but it is making an effort to come to a conclusion that plays more to its strengths. As the show heads into its final episodes, we'll just have to hope that it continues that trend.
Welcome to the Ballroom is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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