You know, objectively speaking I think Ballroom e Youkoso is a fairly easy series to pick holes in. It’s a bog standard sports shounen in many ways, for starters, with the requisite reliance on cliche and tropes when something fresh would better serve. It can be quite clumsy at times as well, narratively speaking – I don’t think it’s especially difficult to pick it out as the work of a first-time mangaka. In short it’s a long way from being perfect – and it’s always easier to pick out what’s wrong with a series than what’s right with it.
But I’ll tell you what – the deeper we get into this show, the more what becomes important is that which makes Welcome to the Ballroom special, not what makes it flawed. And there’s a lot about it that really is special. I marvel at the way it’s able to allow each of the characters to be expressed as an individual, warts and all. All of the major cast here are flawed, but they all feel very important to the fabric of the story. There are three main female players here, and at various times in the story I’ve thought each of them might be the best partner for the protagonist – both on the dance floor and in life. That’s highly unusual, especially for a show that’s focused around a sport rather than around romance.
Perhaps as much as anything about Ballroom, I’ve become impressed with the way it attacks the issue of gender politics in competitive dance head-on – especially given that it looked for a while as if they’d be glossed over. That was never more apparent than this week, when Chinatsu came right out and said it – she bridles at the inherent unfairness of the sport’s rules and expectations. Chinatsu is a difficult person to get along with (and she knows it), but she’s strong-willed and forceful – it’s no wonder that she’d chafe at the idea that her only path forward is to become a supporting player to someone else’s lead.
That’s all the more true because her partner, Tatara, doesn’t take naturally to the role of leader – he’s as mismatched with the sport’s expectations as Chinatsu, even if it’s for the opposite reason in some sense. A lot of energy can be put into trying to figure out whose “fault” it is that this pairing is struggling, but I think that’s sort of beside the point. Right now they simply don’t fit – and that makes Mako’s recollection of Tatara as the perfect partner all the harder for Chinatsu to take. Fact is, Tatara was the perfect leader for Mako at that point in their careers – she needed a partner who would bring her out of her shell and let her express herself on the floor. The problem is, that’s not a path to success for a young man in competitive dance.
Nothing seems to be working for Tatara and Chinatsu at this point, even Marisa-sensei’s latest gambit of putting them under Hyodo’s direction and letting him try and get them back on the rails. They fail his rhythm test, where each plays out the routine in their heads and raises their hand when it’s finished (as you’d expect, Chinatsu was several beats faster). Blind dancing is a disaster – Chinatsu is clearly nowhere near ready for that. Gaju’s attempt to lighten the mood by heading out into Karuizawa as tourists fares no better, as Tatara and Chinatsu never stop squabbling. Maybe they need to get all this out of their system – Marisa certainly thinks so – but it’s damn stressful to watch.
I think my favorite scene of the episode – and maybe of the series so far – was Shizuku inviting Tatara to practice with her. She’s an unsung figure, a quiet one – but really, it was Shizuku’s presence that drew Tatara-kun into dancing in the first place. Shizuku is comfortable with her role in partnership with Hyodo, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have strong feelings of her own. It meant so much to Tatara to have her acknowledge him – to say that he was a mystery, and that his dance had become a part of her dance. Of all the relationships in Ballroom e Youkoso I think this one is still my favorite, though it gets relatively little oxygen these days. In could be argued that Tatara dances, as much as anything, to make an impression on Shizuku – so what she said to him was in a way his ultimate validation as a dancer.