「四本足」 (Yonhon Ashi)
You know, one of the key measures of a series is whether or not it improves as it progresses – we don’t always get that even from excellent shows (admittedly because they sometimes start out so strongly), so we should appreciate it when we do. And Ballroom e Youkoso is definitely improving, and steadily too. it started out quite well and has never been less than thoroughly enjoyable, but the training wheels have come off the writing in a quite perceptible way now. This is more common with shounen (especially by young mangaka) than other demographics, but it’s still nice when it happens good.
I noted last week that Welcome to the Ballroom is quite distinctly a product of shounen tradition (which was not intended as either insult or compliment, just an observation). But it’s also striking – as episodes like this bear out – that it’s dealing with some rather subtle and complicated issues in competitive dance. This balance between partnership and leadership, between inclusiveness and old-school gender tradition – it’s obvious through this series that it’s a matter many dancers continue to struggle with even after years competing at the highest levels. And I’m not sure we’re going to get many easy answers, because I don’t think they exist.
While the Shizuoka Grand Prix didn’t end up being the total disaster I expected for Tatara and Chinatsu, to say that it was a mixed bag was an understatement. In the first place neither the Gaju-Mako or Hyodo-Shizuku pairings were present, as they were off competing in Germany – which threw Tatara-kun off his game considerably. As if that weren’t enough both Kugumiya-san and Akira-san were competing, which further got into Tatara’s head (and Chinatsu’s too). The performance was a mixed bag, and ended up with a withdrawal after the first round. All in all, a seeming debacle.
But that said, the most important thing that came out of Shizuoka wasn’t the result, but the fact that Tatara had an epiphany – for the first time, he came to understand what it felt like to be a leader in competitive dance. This “four-legged” sensation may or may not be how real dancers feel it but for novices like me, it’s a good way to illustrate the point. This wigged out Tatara so badly that he and Chinatsu ended up pulling out of the competition, but even in the moment he seemed to sense that this was a good thing on some level – that he’d unlocked something powerful that had always eluded him.
This is one of the fascinating contradictions of Ballroom – our instincts tell us that Tatara’s collaborative approach is the right one, but when he felt his partner “disappear”, that’s when he became a true leader. And it was enough to get him full marks from the judges (though he didn’t learn that until Gaju told him later). As for Marisa-sensei, she of course knew what went down in Shizuoka before Tatara and Chinatsu ever confessed – and she was more angry that they’d withdrawn than that they’d competed in the first place. She declares that she’ll choose their next competition, and that they’ll win it – and invites them to come to a weeklong training session in Karuizawa (a ritzy mountain retreat about two hours from Tokyo).
It’s only upon arrival at Marisa’s fancy vacation house that the pair realize that this is really a training camp, and that it includes the Gaju, Hyodo and Kugimiya pairs. Marisa tells Tatara and Chinatsu their next competition will be an A-Class event in Tokyo, and that if they win they can enter the Grand Prix – but that becomes considerably more complicated with the news that Kugimiya and Akira will both be entered as well. Marisa seems to have taken the approach of breaking this pair down and building them up again – trying to stress them out to the point where Chinatsu will have no choice but to rely on Tatara whether she wants to or not. But that’s a hard lesson for anyone, and the notion that Tatara and Chinatsu might be more receptive to advice from a colleague (Hyodo-kun) than a coach is an interesting one. If Hyodo takes the bait, that could prove to be a very interesting turn of events.