Welcome to the Ballroom
Episode 9

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Welcome to the Ballroom ?

We've all experienced minutes that last beyond sixty mere seconds. Typically they come just before class lets out, during a stint in the DMV waiting room, or the ever-delightful “construction on the interstate during peak tourist season” traffic, but I'm not sure if anyone has ever had a minute as long as Tatara did in this week's episode of Welcome to the Ballroom. It basically lasted for twenty of the episode's twenty-four minutes, and while that's absolutely an accurate depiction of how long a terrible sixty seconds can feel, it seemed too drawn out in the case of anime. This is largely because of one of the show's central problems; it doesn't actually show us a complete minute of dancing, even if you tally up the bits and pieces shown throughout the episode, not to mention the lack of proper waltz music for most of it. The ending theme is a Viennese Waltz, so it certainly isn't as if the songs written for the show can't follow ballroom beats. This leads me to believe that the creators simply don't trust that ballroom music can evoke the same emotions as more typical background anime songs, which is really too bad, because it's a missed opportunity.

At this point, with the twin factors of little-to-no actual dance footage and the odd musical choices, I have to wonder who the intended audience of this series is supposed to be. The manga, which I prefer though it's by no means perfect, does seem to seek an audience with an interest in dancesport. The anime seems more willing to simply ride the coattails of other sports anime without really trying to distinguish itself as a dance series. Perhaps part of the issue I'm having with this show is that pesky choreography minor from college – I'm too interested in dance for what this series trying to do.

Regardless, this week does make an attempt to work on Mako's character, which is much appreciated. Last week, we learned that the way her brother intimidates her worked against them as a couple, something Gaju was all too willing to blame her for entirely. While it would be nice to see Mako stand up for herself in the past, oftentimes when you've been beaten down enough, whether it was intentional or not, you will do almost anything to avoid calling that down on your head again. Mako loves dancing, and at a shy thirteen, she may well have felt that her flashier older brother was the only partner she could hope for – she may have even felt grateful to him, since he only started dancing because she wanted to in the first place. While I'd never suggest that this is a healthy attitude or that Gaju's not at fault, her general lack of self-esteem based on her toxic partnership may well have fueled the fire between them. Tatara's kindness allows her to relax enough to open up, because for the first time in a very long while (or ever?), she feels safe with her partner. That seems to be the force at work in this week's endless minute-long solo, and it's great to hear someone in the audience comment that Mako is a much better dancer than her partner – finally, she's being acknowledged.

Of course, that comes because of Tatara's willingness to “sacrifice” himself for Mako's sake. As per usual, it feels as if the series isn't getting the way a partnership works, although Marisa has a monologue that gets closer to it. (Also, how does Marisa have the authority to change the solo format at the last minute?) Tatara is still painted as the “more important” member of the partnership, putting all of the pressure on the lead and largely disregarding the work his partner has to do. It's enough to make you want to get one of those T-shirts that say, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.” Yes, Tatara is the protagonist of this story and we are following his rise within the dance world. But dancesport is a two-person activity, and the partners deserve better than they're getting.

At this point, I feel like I'm in an unhealthy relationship with Welcome to the Ballroom. I want so badly to love it, even as I question things from the larger execution problems to the little artistic choices like making Mako's dress skintight below the hips – wouldn't that impede her movement? – and why they can't be bothered to point people's toes. It isn't the show I wanted it to be, but it isn't terrible either. I'm enjoying the voices, which for the most part fit the characters well, and Tatara's so darn earnest even as he learns terrible partner skills from the jerks around him. Ballroom is a beautiful form of dance no matter how shoddily depicted – perhaps it is that glimmer of that beauty I keep waiting for, hoping that it will eventually shine through.

Rating: B-

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

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