Welcome to the Ballroom
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Welcome to the Ballroom ?
Welcome to the Ballroom – now with bonus Hyodo! That's a bit what this episode feels like, as it rushes through the Tenpei Cup's preliminaries to get to the big surprise, that Hyodo's mom Marisa is a guest judge and she's brought her (recalcitrant? narcoleptic?) son along for the ride. Granted, in the grand scheme of things, Hyodo's appearance at the competition is much bigger news for Gaju, Tatara, and Shizuku, but the lack of much dancing (and near total absence of proper dance music) is an issue in a show about dance.
This might not have been as much of an issue if Welcome to the Ballroom was doing a better job of working with its characters. While things aren't quite as horrific as they were last week, when Shizuku was basically treated as a desirable prop, they still aren't good. Mako is becoming the stronger of the two girls – although she's at first cowed by her brother's words when he makes disparaging comments about her figure, later on in the episode she shows that she doesn't need Tatara to defend her; she's perfectly capable of finding her own voice and heavy object to hit Gaju with. There's some debate to be had about whether or not he's easier for her to stand up to because he's her brother, but it's a highlight of the episode nonetheless. If anyone richly deserves to be smacked, it's Gaju.
On the whole, Mako shows more agency than Shizuku, which makes it even worse that Tatara is trying to force her back into her original pair. (It's also worth noting that he and Mako are in no way on the same level – remember that Mako and Gaju placed fifth in the competition when Hyodo was injured.) Rather than simply feeling bad about herself after Gaju's hurtful comments, she takes steps to fix it, and when things get to be too much, she snaps back at her tormentor. She may still mostly be a saucer-eyed face for Tatara to look at (and she does spend a lot of time just staring at him while the other couples are dancing), but she's making small strides toward being a more developed character.
Shizuku, on the other hand, seems to just be going through the motions. While it might be because her dance plans have gone up in smoke with Hyodo's injury, to say nothing of the fact that he never confided in her about it, demonstrating a lack of trust in his partner, she's just a shell of herself without quite enough explanation for her lack of behavior. Hopefully next week should make her position clear, as Hyodo's unexpected appearance is bound to shake her up.
Characters aside – and Gaju is sticking with his one-note asshole personality even as Sengoku takes very small steps toward being a tiny bit less of an asshole – this episode still demonstrates some of the other ongoing issues of this series. Along with the lack of actual dancing (we get a quick glimpse of each piece this week), the music doesn't fit with the rhythm of each dance, which fails to highlight the beauty of the steps and how the characters move with the music. The foxtrot feels like it comes the closest, but it still gets cut off for a more modern, poppy piece. It's as if the show is concerned that its audience will get bored with all that musty old dance music and tries to compensate by shoehorning in a more modern soundtrack. Honestly, unlike the manga, I'm beginning to get the feeling that the anime version of Welcome to the Ballroom is portraying its own bizarre idea of how ballroom dance works in practice. The result is like watching a historical drama where the details aren't accurate, as if painstakingly perfect representations of the Shinsengumi were riding around on motorcycles in period-accurate Kyoto – something doesn't fit, and it's painfully obvious.
Despite this glaring problem, there are still moments of splendor. My favorite scene this week is when we see a broom sweeping up dropped spangles after a heat, a little detail that says a lot without being too obvious. Likewise, the panic before a dance starts is consistently portrayed well, and Tatara's confidence growing in fits and starts feels very believable. If the show could manage to give its flashier parts the same quiet assurance that its little moments have, things could really turn around. We'll just have to keep hoping.
Welcome to the Ballroom is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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