Welcome to the Ballroom Episodes 1-2
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Welcome to the Ballroom ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Welcome to the Ballroom ?
Let's just get this out of the way: Sengoku is an asshole. He puts on a good show at first, wooing Tatara into the dance studio to infect him with the ballroom bug, and in his way he does care about the kid who, through tenacity and a major blunder, managed to become his student, but Sengoku is still basically a jerk. If you go into Welcome to the Ballroom knowing that, he becomes a little easier to take – and if you've ever danced or done another performing art, you probably recognize his type. That's one thing that these first two episodes do really well: introducing us to characters who are all staples of any dance studio, along with the misconceptions people have about partners in dance. With Tatara as our point of view character, getting into the basic setup of the story is easy.
The premise of Welcome to the Ballroom is simple: fifteen-year-old Tatara is at loose ends, totally unsure of what he wants to do at a time when teachers are starting to pressure him into thinking about his future. When he's saved from bullies by Sengoku, a professional dancer, he ends up at a ballroom studio, and before he knows it, he's been enchanted by dancesport, or competitive ballroom. That's when Tatara makes his big mistake – he tells Sengoku that not only does he want to dance, he wants to be a pro like him. Given that Sengoku had already been dancing for years before he went pro, he takes Tatara's admiration as a misconception of how much hard work dancing will be and sets him a brutal training exercise – which Tatara not only does, but enjoys. By the end of episode two, Sengoku is starting to realize that Tatara was serious about being absolutely willing to work for his goal.
Both of these episodes are firmly in the setup camp – they're preparing us for Tatara to get good enough to compete while laying out the basics of how dancesport works. If you already know this, some parts of these episodes, like Tatara's discomfort touching girls or his misconception that “dance partners = romantic couple” can be a little annoying, but there are enough other elements to make up for that. For starters, while the animation is just okay for regular scenes, when the characters are dancing, there's a beauty to the camerawork and movements of the dancers, and the artwork never forgets the rictus smile (“Sparkle, sweetie!”) that all dancers have to wear in performance. The elongated bodies during the dancing aren't great, although you can tell that they're meant to really show the perfect lines of the dance. The art in general is a case where the original manga does it better – Tomo Takeuchi has a good grasp of human musculature that's not quite there in the animated version of her characters, and something didn't translate well in terms of character designs. (Takahiro Kishida also did the character design for Haikyu, and those vaguely elfin people worked better with his own style.) There are also a disappointing number of stills during the competition in episode two. If I just want to see the pictures, I'll read the manga, but here I want to see people move.
Despite these issues, this is an engaging start to the show and a pretty good adaptation of the manga. Nobuhiko Okamoto sounds exactly right as Shizuku's longtime dance partner Hyodo, and I'm particularly looking forward to how he plays the character in events to come. As a teacher, I love Sengoku realizing that Tatara has a different learning style than most other people, and that also marks an early turning point in his character – when he really starts to see Tatara as more of a person with potential. At this point Tatara himself has been more of a blank slate than an actual character, but that is slowly changing, and next week's episode should do a lot to develop him. He needs to get from wide-eyed newbie to competent dancer, and seeing Shizuku and Hyodo dance is an important step in that journey. When he sees Hyodo dancing with his “shadow” (a pretend partner, we always called ours Mr. Eyeball in my dance classes and no, I don't know why), he suddenly understands that the lead needs to think about his follow, which is a pretty critical realization that will dog his steps going forward.
Basically, these episodes are laying the groundwork for what's to come. That they're still good on their own is a positive sign – just think what the series can do when it really hits its stride.
Welcome to the Ballroom is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
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