It’s certainly not news to anyone who’s been reading my posts down the years, but I’m not crazy about extended flashbacks in the middle of important events. It never made sense to me to spend so much time building up a sense of momentum in the narrative (if you’re lucky enough to be good enough, which this series is), only to fritter it away with a long detour. But for whatever reason this tactic is a staple of sports shounen, and as I’ve noted more than once, Ballroom e Youkoso is deceptively traditional in structure. It just goes with the territory, I guess.
I suppose it’s testament to Chinatsu and Tatara’s class that even with all their extra-curricular drama, they still sail through to the third round with perfect marks (which elicits yet another awkward commemorative photo). The same can’t be said about Akira and Mine-san, who – while they advance – do so with at least one demerit on their scorecard. Chinatsu is all too quick to seize on this as proof that the pair isn’t a real threat, and may even be eliminated in the third round (from 24 pairs to 12). It would be easy to dismiss this as Chinatsu being snarky and mean-spirited, because that’s exactly what she’s being – but there’s some real substance to it as well.
Chinatsu’s instinct to have Tatara judge the other pairs is a good one – that’s an outstanding way to step outside yourself and gain some real insight into your own performance. And Tatara’s eye is still relatively untrained (he’s a novice compared to most of the other competitors), so it’s telling that he focuses on the style of the pairs as much as the skill. I suppose this must be a crucial factor in competitive dance – and the financial wherewithal to spend thousands of dollars on bespoke attire (as Kugimiya has) surely makes a big difference. How does the parent of a teenager whose proportions change with dizzying regularity keep up with that Sisyphean task? If they’re serious about the sport, it must cost a fortune.
There’s a clear difference in style between the Kugimiya pair and the Mine pair – “a vase vs. a bucket” – but the technical differences are becoming more telling as the competition gets tougher, too (all the worse for Mine and Akira, as their choreography overlaps the Kugimiya pair exactly). Mine-san is clearly distracted by having been “outed” to his family, and Kira berates him for slipping up (and in very Japanese fashion, is aghast at having made an adult apologize to her). But that pair clearly has a deeper problem, in that Akira is more interested in catching Chinatsu’s eye than in her own partner. Indeed, as the flashback shows us, the problem goes even deeper than that.
One thing Ballroom e Youkoso makes clear – no one ever said life is fair, and competitive dance is no exception. Chinatsu would rather be leading, and all Akira wants is to be with Chinatsu (the dancing part she could take or leave). But if one wants to seriously compete that’s not an option – and while Akira could care less about seriously competing, Chinatsu is (duh) an insanely proud and competitive person. It’s hard not to feel for Akira here – she’s been obsessed with Chinatsu since they were small and Chinatsu stood up for her against constant bullying. And that childish hero-worship has clearly morphed into a deeply-held romantic desire. But as with dance, Chinatsu seems to have different priorities than Akira in this arena as well. If she has any romantic inclinations towards anyone, she’s yet to tip her hand.
This certainly isn’t bad backstory as these flashbacks go, but as usual, the decision to cut away from the competition just when things were getting really exciting is a whiff for me. In any event it appears we’re adding a definite layer of personal melodrama to the mix here, since Akira’s is the most open acknowledgement of romantic interest among any of the major cast so far. Presumably that’s going to come to a head after this competition and not during it, and might perhaps even prompt Tatara to consider whether he has any such feelings of his own (if they exist, I see no evidence of it). But on the floor, it seems unlikely that Akira and Mine are going to be part of the decisive battle here – and I’d just as soon we progress on that score sooner rather than later.