Welcome to the Ballroom
Episode 8

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Welcome to the Ballroom ?

As always when rating this show, I find myself torn between rating it based on what I wish it was and how the episode actually played out. It's an ongoing issue, but even if Welcome to the Ballroom isn't the perfect adaptation of the manga or the faithful dancesport show I wanted it to be, it is a fast-paced and decently interesting story on its own. Of course, if Tatara tries to explain Shizuku's relationship with Hyodo to her again, I may have to change my mind.

This week's offering is a mix of the frustrating and the rewarding. If we look at it in terms of Mako's story arc and development, there are some good things happening. Previous to this week, it was easy to assume that Gaju's poor treatment of his sister was entirely due to the fact that he's a raging asshole. He's just generally a jerk to everyone, and the little sister he's been semi-forced to dance with for years is a prime target for his bad attitude. He's so full of himself that poor little Mako never had a chance. While that's still doubtless a factor in his behavior, this week we learn that frustration plays a part in his relationship with her. During a brief flashback, we see that Gaju once asked his sister what kind of lead she wanted him to be in order to better support her dancing style. Mako, timid either by nature or from living with her overwhelming brother, didn't feel able to answer him.

This one moment may well be the turning point in their relationship as partners. There's a clear lack of communication between them, and Gaju's personality doesn't allow him to understand Mako's insecurities. Instead of making that effort, he snaps at her about being boring, which only adds to Mako's general shyness and insecurity. Over the course of these episodes, we've seen her begin to creep out of her brother's shadow: first her declaration that she'd rather dance with Tatara, then her physical attack of Gaju via water bottle. Now in this episode, she finally finds herself able to vocalize what she wants in a lead, taking another major step into the light. The use of yellow as her signature color seems very deliberate – it makes her stand out among the blues and purples of the other dancers, but it also symbolizes the light she's working toward. Making her admission to Tatara in front of a painting of yellow roses, which signifies “friendship,” also feels like a sign of Mako moving toward the relationship of equals that she wants for herself.

However, this transformation is so reliant on the presence of Tatara as her lead that it brings us back to some of the problems that have consistently beleaguered the series. Men and women are presented as unequal partners in the dance, and Hyodo's comment that Tatara must beat Shizuku rather than Gaju drives that home. The phrasing is intended to imply that Tatara must make Mako bloom and become a better dancer than Shizuku, but it sounds as if Tatara himself is in direct competition with Shizuku. Not only does this rob Mako of any agency, it also totally ignores the fact that Mako is a far more advanced dancer than Tatara to begin with, making it seem as if her years and experience are worth nothing without her lead. While a good lead can make a difference – I was once danced through merengue steps I had no idea I knew by a gold-level lead in a class – there's still a need for both dancers to work together. They're a couple, not just two random people who happen to be dancing the same steps at the same time in close proximity to each other.

This episode is a true mix of highs and lows. Alongside Mako's development and Shizuku actually having lines, we have Gaju screaming at Hyodo just off the dance floor. Sengoku remembers to act like a teacher, right before Hyodo's totally inappropriate mom comes waltzing in. Tatara's emotional breakdown when he realizes that he just doesn't have the stamina of those who have been dancing longer is a particularly well-done moment, and it works better for not being lingered on – he may be a newbie, but he's still actively competing, so he has to get over his anguish and move on. We do get some better dance scenes, but the real animation stars this week are Marisa's breasts, which claim an inordinate amount of screentime in the latter half of the episode. Basically, it's become clear at this point that Welcome to the Ballroom is a fantasy version of dancesport that makes only a token effort to look like the real thing, mixing shounen staples (hot-headed rival, unattainable beauty, plucky hero, boobs) with standard dances and frilly frocks. It isn't what I hoped for, but now I'm ready for the shounen trope of the ludicrously talented young hero kicking the hot-headed rival's butt. Any way Gaju can get knocked down a peg or two will make a lot of these issues worth it.

Rating: B-

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

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