Welcome to the Ballroom
The rescue of teenager Tatara Fujita from bullies by one Kaname Sengoku somehow leads to Tatara's joining Sengoku's Ogasawara Dance Studio- and training for competitive ballroom dance. Tatara keeps getting thrust into competitions for which he never feels properly prepared. How will he fare?
"And the man in the back said everyone attack,
OK, this has got to be my oddest choice EVER of a show to review. Still, I did start trying to learn ballroom dance myself years ago (and quit after only learning the basic box step, alas); and several of the characters here, and their close relationships (despite being competitors on the dance floor) I found interesting and often enjoyable.
The first half of the series takes us from Tatara's initial struggles on the dance floor, through his participation in a minor competitive event called the Tenpei Cup. Tatara's main strengths are his resolve, and an ability to quickly imitate any moves he's shown. His main weaknesses are his size (he's a little guy), and a chronic lack of self-confidence, made worse by sometimes being thrown onto the floor without enough training on a particular dance. I'm STILL not sure how his senpai Sengoku expected his first experience on the competitive floor to actually work out; it was inevitably a disaster for two other people as well. Tatara, predictably, blames himself even though Sengoku more or less strong-armed him into doing it.
Sengoku, by the way, isn't exactly the "effete" stereotype of a dance teacher; he's more like a Marine drill instructor. He has physical altercations with his dance partner, Chizuru Hongo, that make the fights between Hanako and Taro in Wotakoi look almost playful in comparison. (He's not the only one, by the way; poor Tatara will, later in the series, be beaten up by his dancing partner, using her shoes.)
Other dancers Tatara encounters include a classmate of his, Shizuku Hanaoka, and her rather sullen long-time partner (but dancing genius), Kiyoharu Hyodo. Dancing partners in this show often started dancing together as children, and the implication is that there might be romantic attractions between some of them, but not always; and THAT brings us to a sibling pair, Gaju and Mako Akagi. Gaju is a skilled dancer, but he's hotheaded, and both he and sis Mako know he's the better dancer of the pair- or at least the more assertive one (she's always ultra-deferential to him); and when another dancer becomes available, Gaju dumps his sis in favor of her. But it might not be just that Mako is holding HIM back; it MIGHT be that it works the OTHER way too. Perhaps a change of partners would do HER some good as well. (While I never got the impression that Gaju is a siscon, I think that Mako might be a little bit of a brocon. Just a little bit. She has a revealing little chat later in the show.)
The show's character art, to me, seemed to go all strange when its cast gets out on the dance floor. It's not just the slicked-down hair and tuxes of the guys, or the elaborate gowns and styled hair of the girls (which somehow seem age-inappropriate for dancers who are only 15 or even younger.) We typically see only a few seconds of actual dance at a time, before we go to freeze frames of our dancers, whose necks seem to have grown well beyond the human limit, and whose limbs have grown impossibly gangly, all this metamorphosis seeming to have occurred just by stepping onto the dance floor- and in those freeze frames, our male leads are also sporting somehow frightening grins and enormous glaring eyes, while we see their female partners with similar countenances, but with their heads tilted about forty-five degrees, whether to admire their male partners or to simply show their faces to the audience I don't know. It's kinda disturbing, somehow, until you get used to it; they all looked so NORMAL before going onstage...
I should also mention that we have the usual depiction of the dancers' (usually Tatara's) subjective experience or mood via peculiar visual metaphors. I've seen this gimmick used in shows about competitions as diverse as piano (Your Lie In April) and shogi (March Comes In Like A Lion.)
The second half of the series introduces a classic tsundere, Chinatsu Hiyama (complete with red hair), who gives Tatara quite a bit of grief, though she does become a little more mellow with time. She's a former dancer who ends up dancing with Hiyama mainly to spite someone she had a falling-out with. The problem is that she's used to dancing the leader's role, while Tatara is still a weak leader himself. I certainly agree with Chinatsu that it's all sexist, but ballroom dancing does hang on to these gender-based roles, and it's really rough going for this pair. A number of our cast go on a "working vacation" together, and it's a mixed bag plotwise: we have an absolutely serious invocation of that old scenario of the guys in the hot spring clearly hearing what's being said on the girls' side, including the ULTIMATE cliché, when one girl asks another, "Have your breasts grown bigger?". Honestly, it's impossible to take this seriously at all after seeing it lampooned so devastatingly in Amazing Stranger.
On the other hand, I found it delightful that Tatara and Chinatsu's much more experienced friends set aside the fact that they're competitors on the dance floor in order to help these struggling dance partners make it all work. THAT was undoubtedly my favorite part of the whole show. And I just plain liked Chizuru (I somehow overlooked her violent tendencies), Shizuku, and most of all Tamaki, the receptionist at Ogasawara Dance Studio, who I found genuinely funny and gently charming. I thought the relationships were mostly well thought out, and thought that even Chinatsu was not a COMPLETE cliché, and found Tatara a genuinely nice guy, albeit an awfully insecure one.
The show very often has a surreal and "campy" feel in the dance scenes - and they're fairly repetitive as well- but I gave more weight to the characters and their relationships, which were often pretty interesting, and sometimes even charming. Even Gaju and Chinatsu eventually grow on you. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Mild fanservice, including non-graphic nudity; some violence. Amazon goes TV-NR; I'd go TV-14.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Welcome to the Ballroom © 2017 Production I.G.
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