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This Week in Anime
Dance Dance Danseur for Your Life

by Nicholas Dupree & Monique Thomas,

Jumpei is just a middle school kid who wants to be cool and manly. Yet, deep inside him is a growing need to dance and not just any dance, ballet. He lacks training and focus, and not to mention his pals might abandon him if he does something girly like ballet. Dive in to anime about being true to yourself and letting your inner self sparkle!

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Nicky
Hey there Nick, sorry to suddenly spring this on you but tell me, would you care to dance?
Nick
Sorry Nicky, but memories of middle school dances mean those words trigger my fight or flight response. So if I even see a dancefloor you're either doing this column alone or putting up your dukes.
That's okay because I am a terrible dancer and I was hoping I could at least enjoy stepping on your toes for the sake of performance.
How about we just stake out the punch bowl and talk about deep-seated adolescent insecurities like normal people?
And what better show to talk about foot-stomping your way through the troubles of teendom than Dance Dance Danseur!
This show's got a little bit of everything. It's a sports series. It's a character drama. It's an examination of the arbitrary and often toxic designation of what's "manly" behavior. And yes, it has feet:
Danseur is about a young man named Jumpei who absolutely reeks of being a typical teenage boy, until one day he develops a crush on a new girl who reinvigorates his childhood love of ballet.
And lemme tell ya, when we say he reeks, I mean you can smell the pubescent flop sweat on this kid from a mile away. He eats, breaths, and burps bad decision making on a scale I haven't seen in ages. Watching Jumpei go through basically any conflict is like watching a slow motion car crash that also reminds me of every time I asked somebody out in 9th grade.
He's extremely authentic in the same way that a taqueria with an anatomically incorrect mural of Goku is. It's a great food you can only experience while enduring some sincere cringe. Jumpei is so quick to show off but he's also horribly unaware in a way that's been bolstered by hormones and bad lessons in masculinity. Some will find him, rightfully, very frustrating but there's something equally humbling about watching him.
Oh I'm definitely not complaining. Secondhand embarrassment this powerful only happens when a creator truly grasps the essence of human vulnerability. By which I mean I'm in this picture and I don't like it.
But I respect it.

Teenage Brain: A Girl? Talking to me? And being nice? SHE MUST BE IN LOVE WITH ME.
And Jumpei has other reasons for his insecurities, like the passing of his former stunt-coordinator father early in his life, his uncle expecting him to carry on the torch and keep doing Jeet Kun Do, and plain old peer pressure. So it's not like he doesn't have a lot going on to explain why exactly he's Like That™.
Hell of a thing to say to a literal child there, Uncle Stan. I'm sure he thinks he's being supportive by giving Jumpei guidance and a goal in the wake of such a devastating loss. But also it sure is weird how you're telling a six-year-old that he has to "protect" his older sister and adult mother. Didn't realize Henry VIII made the rules in this world.
And if you're still not all that into Jumpei, while it does focus on him the most, I think Danseur has the same humanizing touch towards his two dance partners, Miyako and Luou.
I will say I feel like, so far anyway, Miyako's been left at the sideline. She initially gets Jumpei back into ballet, and they've got a bit of a blushy crushy thing going on right now. But outside of that she's mostly been a background character in dance scenes. Like Jumpei genuinely has a more established rapport with her mom than her right now.
Yeah, we get a peek of her early on with her motivations towards her crush on Luou and his desire to see him brought out of his shell which I do think was good but not much of her other personal feelings are shown other than how she relates to the boys. And once Luou stops being a hermit, the show quickly emphasizes his and Jumpei's rivalry over her.

I do think her perspective in the trio is important though. After all, it's literally the whole theme of the excellent OP. Watching each character look at each other with awe and drawing inspiration from them is what helps each character grow.

I definitely hope she gets more focus! She's an engaging personality and as much as this series wants to emphasize the contrast of its boys practicing the traditionally "feminine" art of ballet, it would also be nice to see her too considering she's been training since childhood the same as Luou.
Oh yeah, the ED has some interesting style as well, with a whole theme about crafts, notes, and paper cut outs.
And biblically accurate ballerinas.
But yeah, while Jumpei is initially inspired by chasing after the girl he likes, it's not enough to keep a fire under his butt to be serious about ballet. At first he's a bit wishy-washy. He's not willing to give up on his soccer club, Jeet Kun Do, or the whims of his friends and before long he stops heading to the dance studio. It's not until Luou waltzes into class that he starts understanding what it means to be dedicated to dancing. Deep down, Jumpei is passionate but he can't have his cake and eat it too.
Granted, Luou doesn't so much waltz in as he is dragged there by obligation, and then does his best to curl into a ball in the corner. An understandable reaction when it turns out Jumpei's been hanging around with the really shitty kids of his school this whole time. Seriously, episode three gets fucking rough at points. The kind of stuff that traumatizes people for years.
Yeah, Luou seems to have been through a lot, too. At the beginning of the show he's a shut-in who only sneaks into the studio to practice at night. When he returns to school he's immediately bullied for his stand-off nature and his feminine resemblance to his once-famous mom. It's implied he can't really read Japanese, which adds to his social anxiety. Jumpei's so-called friends really give him the run-around, even dressing him up in a sailor uniform and forcing him onstage. It's only because he's been through a lot that he's able to turn the bad situation around into one where he gets to express himself using the only thing he has, ballet.
And even behind that is a pretty heavy story. We still don't know everything about him yet, but it's made pretty clear his own grandmother was viciously strict and demeaning to him as a child when he first started training. So even the one way he knows to express himself is mired in baggage and trauma. There's very clearly a lot of pain and rage inside this skinny kid, and a lot of DDD's drama so far has been waiting for the moments where it all boils over.
The animation for the dancing itself is hella slick btw. The characters all have this super gangly shōjo-style appearance that makes them a little unsettling to look at with their elongated limbs and necks but they look stunning in full motion. You can really tell MAPPA puts their all into those few scenes that are supposed to be the most awe-inspiring.
Yeah those are eyes are limpid pools if ever I've seen them, and they're still toned down from George Asakura's original designs from the manga. But if you can adapt to 'em, they actually make really good use of those big old pupils at points. These characters are all super expressive in both body language and facial expressions, and that's super important for this kind of character drama.
Yeah, it's super hard to adapt the detailed character art suited for the page like Asakura's to screen, and even more difficult when you have to make them actually move. I'm very curious how much staff carried over from MAPPA's original series The Gymnastics Samurai to this because that also had a significant ballet subplot and all of those sequences are equally powerful. I feel like dancing might be someone at MAPPA's baby. Regardless, I'm just very thankful to see these kind of love letters to other artforms in anime.
And while the dance animation is good, I also had an "oh, duh" moment watching this show, when I realized just how well-suited anime actually is for this kind of performance art. Full-body motion might be beyond most TV production right now, but when so much of ballet is also about strong posing, evocative silhouettes, and communicating without dialogue, it clicked that this is a pairing that could probably stand to happen more than "once in however long it's been since Princess Tutu aired."
And both dancing and anime are all about the importance of expression. This is also the main appeal of Jumpei as a protagonist. He may be unskilled, sloppy, and ignore most rules and fundamentals, but he's got his own feelings and deeply wants to be able to express them. He refers to it as "sparkling" and he feels it from others who are equally as passionate as himself.
It's a pretty charming motivation all told. There's some classic sports drama about wanting to be The Best, but Jumpei's primary motivation is always to just dance more—to get to experience that thrill of losing himself in the movement, even if that clashes up against what basically every person around him says. Also I appreciate that he's a movie nerd who rationalizes his stage costumes via A Clockwork Orange allusions.

Just don't ever go head-to-toe Lars Von Trier, kid.
His martial arts and other influences also play into his dance skills, as his teacher, Miyako's mother, points out. While he's a stranger to the finer aspects of ballet, he has the potential to deliver something fresh to the audience. Which is a big reason Ms. Godai doesn't just throw him out of her dance studio.

The actual big performance episode is the pinnacle of that.
Episode five really is the moment where it all comes together. All the wince-inducing teenage feelings, simmering drama, and training coalesce into one hell of a first climax.


While there's technically stakes to this performance, it's ultimately just a show being put on to promote the school. But somewhere in the color, staging, music, animation, and fantastic direction it manages to feel as epic and sweeping as the biggest fantasy action sequence. It's jaw-dropping stuff.
It's such a spectacle, my favorite part being Luou's utter goth performance as the demon Rothbart. Just look at my extra goth son!! Unbeknownst to Jumpei, Luou is actually competing for the MVP spot to achieve his dream of studying abroad so you'd be damned if he wasn't going to give his all for this one compared to before where he wasn't really trying, right?
Except he also wasn't giving it his all. Owing to that whole lifetime of trauma thing he's still just rigidly (if superbly!) following the choreography. It's not until Jumpei straight up injects some shonen hero energy by adlibbing the finale of Swan Lake that we see the real Luou.

Jumpei refuses to die and Luou is forced to kill him again and again. Luou utterly snaps, delivering a performance worthy of being called demonic. It's so good to watch. Nothing about it is "traditional" and I'm sure if you've ever spent time practicing a performance for months only to watch two guys go off-book as part of their elaborate contest, you might be pissed. Neither boy is really acting rationally here, but art isn't about rationality. It's about the feelings. So as far as the audience goes, they love it!

And I eat it up too! This is some glorious cheese delivered pitch perfectly. I've never really had much interest in ballet (apologies to my professional dancer cousin) but here through the heightened perspectives of both performance and animation I found myself totally enthralled by it all.

Unfortunately not everyone agrees that turning Swan Lake into a WWE Undertaker match is cool as hell.

Yeah, if you're a layman it's easy to get swept up in raw emotion, but a critical professional will see through it. Miss Oikawa (no relation to volleyball), may be incredibly snooty and closed-minded as a veteran of the rigid professional world, but she has a point that Jumpei and Luou were acting selfishly and unrefined. Following her harsh condemnation of their performance brings down a world of consequences. Many parents pull their kids out of the ballet studio and neither of the boys get the recognition they so greatly desired.
I do appreciate that the conflict here is a little more complex than just "grrr, tradition good" though. They bring up that Jumpei's stunt caused the other performers to lose stage time—and considering most of them were kids who were doing their first real show, that both robbed them of a chance to perform and pissed off parents who presumably dropped some serious cash on these lessons.
Yeah, a parent would be reasonably very pissed if they didn't get to see their child perform. Performances are big group efforts that take a lot of time from everyone involved even if you only have a small role, so there's no room to make it only about your ego, and I'm hoping the show leans into that kind of dependency later. For now, we can accept this as a necessary humbling experience.
For sure. Performance is nearly always a collaborative effort, and while there's certainly room for individual voices or performers to take the spotlight, it's massively important that productions on that scale have a common vision to work towards. If you don't, it doesn't matter how good the individual pieces might be, you're just as liable to end up with shit like this:
Nick, I think I'll need sue you for psychic damages for making me watch a clip from Cats (2019) again.

But since you are my dear friend, I'll let it slide.
Just like how Jumpei and Luou are friends now! Even if it is very much against the latter's wishes. Like I love how immediately after their performance Jumpei just drafts the guy as his Ballet Bro. Storms right in and starts acting like they're best pals, then drags the notoriously anxious shut-in into his schemes.

Jumpei is a shonen protagonist who slipped into another show by accident, so in his mind they hashed it all out on the battlefield stage and now they just hang out. That's how it works.
And after infiltrating the boy's ballet program, Jumpei gets even more hard-knocks of how far behind he is in the basics compared to others. As, I've said, I'm a horrible dancer, but as an artist, this is where some things started resonating with me. Manga and anime are both about drawing so I'm sure it's not too big of a leap for me to make a connection with traditional art. But it's also a big metaphor for how Jumpei goes about life. Jumpei only does things for himself, but it's emphasized that with the right practice and execution you can surpass limits you couldn't otherwise, even achieving great harmony with others.
It's hard work. Getting good enough to not only excel at something, but to effectively balance your own vision with execution takes a lot of patience. Sometimes you have to just dedicate yourself to something that feels tedious and repetitive, because that foundation is critical to everything you want to do. That's a hard lesson for anyone to learn, but especially an impulsive teenager who's only just rediscovered his passion.
It's not an immediate reward either. But neither is trying to get to know people. There's a big balance between Jumpei's right to be himself and him becoming a person who can connect with others. He immediately apologizes to Luou on the way back because he's realized how much of a pain he's been this whole time. Maybe dancing is not always about the big leaps but the little steps too?
We'll have to see how that all turns out moving forward, but I really dig how much this show is about Jumpei learning to look at himself and change—both in service of others and to be the person he wants to be deep down inside. It's a messy process and he's no doubt going to make more mistakes along the way, but it's gratifying seeing him really grapple with stuff rather than just needing to Get Better at his chosen passion.
As he is, he's an awkward and stumbling little duckling but I believe he has the power to transform himself into a real prince. But not without getting some important rest! 'Til next time, folks.

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