Bit of a Misstep
- Episodes : 24
- Genre : Sports, Comedy, Romance, School, Drama, Shounen
- Airing Date : July 2017 – December 2017
- Studios : Production I.G.
Ballroom e Youkoso Introduction and Story (Spoilers)
Tatara Fujita had nothing going for him. He was bullied in middle school, his parents are divorced, and even his teacher was telling him that he didn’t have any prospects for high school. However, on a whim one day, he followed his beautiful classmate Hanaoka Shizuku home, which brought him to the Ogasawara Dance Studio, headed by none other than the champion ballroom dancer Sengoku Kaname! After becoming enraptured by watching Sengoku’s dances, Tatara decides he wants to learn how to dance, and proves to Sengoku that he’s worth the effort!
Tatara gets his first real taste of dancing at the Mikasa Cup after filling in for Shizuku’s partner and star of the Ogasawara Dance Studio, Hyodo Kiyoharu, after he broke his leg. Now Tatara’s hungry for more! However, while Hyodo’s leg is recovering, Shizuku needs a new partner. Being a young prodigy in her own right, Shizuku quickly is accosted by the hotheaded Akagi Gaju, who just broke up with Mako, his own sister, for the opportunity to dance with an incredible (and gorgeous!) partner like Shizuku. However, Mako is distraught over losing her brother, and desperately wants him back. Gaju agrees that if Mako and Tatara can beat him and Shizuku at the upcoming Tenpei Cup, he’ll take her back as his partner.
While it’s not exactly smooth sailing, and Mako and Tatara only rank 8th place at the Tenpei Cup. Mako takes home the Queen of the Ballroom prize, and Gaju honors his deal with Mako. Tatara and Mako split up, and then the series skips ahead a bit to Tatara entering high school. In his class is a strangely grouchy girl named Hiyama Chinatsu, who even makes fun of Tatara’s passion for dance. However, a chance encounter with Chinatsu at one of Sengoku’s competitions reveals Chinatsu is an avid fan of ballroom dancing herself, and is in particular a fan of Sengoku’s partner, Chizuru Hongo. Tatara pursues Chinatsu and begs her to be his partner, as he and Shizuku promised to compete with one another within one year. While it takes some effort, Chinatsu eventually agrees.
Chinatsu, due to originally having been the lead in a dual girl pairing, struggles to accept Tatara’s lead, and Tatara can’t seem to match up with her following. The two even end up leaving the Ogasawara Dance Studio in order to work with a more conventional teacher, Hyodo’s mother, Marisa. At a retreat, Marisa tells the pair that, because they managed to make it past the first round of a high level tournament with a perfect score, they’re already capable of moving up from D Rank all the way up to A Rank if they can just win an upcoming tournament.
At the end of the series, Tatara and Chinatsu finally manage to sync up with one another in the very final round of the tournament, beating out once professional dancer Masami Kugimiya, who broke his leg and is trying to get back into the game. Tatara and Chinatsu have finally come to terms with the fact that they both like each other, and will continue to dance with one another as partners.
What we Liked about Ballroom e Youkoso
The first episode of Ballroom e Youkoso does a great job of setting the tone and overall end goal of the series without shoving it down your throat. We’re introduced to Tatara getting told off by his teacher and then later getting bullied by his classmates. He’s a frail, unassuming, nebbish kid who no one seems to care about and lacks any sort of charisma. When Tatara watches Sengoku’s dance tape, we completely understand why he’d be inspired to dance for himself; Sengoku is the exact sort of proactive manly man that Tatara (and us, the viewers) wish we could be. It’s simple, to the point, and dispels any doubt as to what Ballroom e Youkoso will be about. Tatara is not just trying to become a talented dancer, but overcome his inability to assert himself and be the sort of person that people take note of.
And, though it takes a while to get to this point, Chinatsu starts off as a fun foil to Tatara. Her story is actually pretty relatable; someone who has a passion for dance, but is struggling to actively work on it and is stuck in this weird middle ground between refusing to outright give it up or devoting herself fully. She yearns to compete on the same ground as people like her idol Hongo, but her indecision keeps her from fully committing, causing her to lash out at anyone who would even dare to be her partner. You can understand why Tatara’s youthful passion lights a new spark in her.
We’re not going to mince words here: Ballroom e Youkoso is an incredibly difficult series to recommend. There are much worse sports anime out there, but the problem with Ballroom e Youkoso isn’t so much that it’s outright awful as it is that there’s very little about Ballroom e Youkoso that actually works.
It’s the pacing and direction that kill Ballroom e Youkoso. It wants the viewer to buy into the wonder and power of dance, but the actual dance sequences are pretty ineffective at conveying this. This is largely due to its lack of trust in its individual plot beats to sell a scene and instead frequently resorts to big, explosive poses to force an emotional weight onto a character moment that’s not there. It’s big, showy, and hollow due to the lack of any connection you might feel towards any of these characters.
Even the positive aspects end up working against it eventually. Though we did like how quickly and clearly Welcome to the Ballroom stated its intentions with Tatara, it’s also not exactly a unique goal and never really explores this aspect in any way that we haven’t seen before. While Chinatsu starts out as a great addition to the cast, Ballroom e Youkoso’s insistence on portraying dance partners as actual romantic couples ends up sending some very mixed, concerning signals about how healthy these two actually are for one another.
1. Enjoyable Animation
Ballroom e Youkoso has gotten a lot of flak for its weirdly disproportionate, overly angular character models, and maybe rightfully so. However, we would be remiss not to mention that, at the very least, they do have some fun with it. There are some great moments of comedy that are heightened by the exaggerated movements of the characters, like in episode 2 where Hyodo yawns at Tatara angrily upon learning he won’t be allowed to stop until Tatara can match his steps. It’s not just the exaggerated expression, but also the slow gaping movements of his mouth twitching that give the scene a heightened sense of realism in spite of his cartoony glare. Or the gentle nudge of a floating heart that happens to lightly graze against Tatara in episode 22 as he watches an overly affectionate couple exchange niceties, capturing our own disgust.
Maybe outside of the intentional comedy, the exaggerated movements and imagery veer into campy territory, but honestly, we see this as a plus. Episode 23, for example, shows a naked Tatara holding a naked Chinatsu in his arms, who then dissolves away only to come back as a flower blooming dramatically out of his chest. Don’t get us wrong: this scene does fail on some level because Ballroom e Youkoso wants you to accept this as a serious, dramatic metaphor for their relationship, and frankly it’s kind of difficult not to laugh at how ridiculous this is. But for an anime in such dire need of some flavor of its own, it’s a fun moment that gives the show some much needed personality.
2. Hiyama Chinatsu
We’ve touched on this a bit already, but it’s important to note that her inclusion halfway through Ballroom e Youkoso adds a human element that was necessary to the show. Her weary, dying love was sorely needed as a counterbalance to all the other characters’ unbridled passion for ballroom dancing, keeping Ballroom e Youkoso from coming off as obliviously pretentious. Chinatsu’s like anyone else. She’s abrasive because she’s insecure about her own abilities, and while she needs someone like Tatara to push her a little more to devote herself, that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily grateful for that either. The fact of the matter is that in her mind, she’s ruined her life by devoting so much time to something she knew she could never follow through on. Regardless of whether you’re a guy or a girl, it’s hard not to relate to her situation.
She gets some great human moments that add a touch of sincerity to boot. When Tatara initially pursues her to join Sengoku’s dance studio, she gets flustered, tells Tatara to take a hike and leave her alone, and runs off. Rather than Ballroom e Youkoso forcing a pursuit, though, we get a small moment with Chinatsu immediately afterwards asking herself “What the heck am I doing?” She realizes that it’s stupid for her to keep pushing away something she loves and comes back the next day anyway. She’s emotionally distraught, but it’s small moments like these that keep her from coming off as too standoffish.
The centerpiece of any sports anime are the matchups, the big tournament, the giant competitions that heighten the sport to an event that’s larger than life. It’s where men and women rise up against fate to reclaim their individuality, where ideals clash, where futures are born. However, these elements need to be built up before each match. If a series fails to create a compelling world beforehand, then any time spent in the big rival showdown is a waste of time. This is time needed to be spent explaining how the various mechanics interact with one another and how that relates to each character. If you don’t buy the story beforehand, then these big moments will not mean anything to you.
Oddly, it’s not that we don’t understand character motivations in Ballroom e Youkoso. It’s that we understand them too well. Almost the entirety of the first half of the series is spent on Tenpei Cup. Having a bit of exposition on why Gaju broke up with Mako during each match is fine. But not when it comes at the expense of understanding the actual nuts and bolts of ballroom dancing. We get that whoever stood out more is who wins. That’s fine. But we don’t get why someone is standing out more beyond vague metaphors like “Tatara is working as a frame for Mako’s flower painting”. But how is that different mechanically from what Gaju and Shizuku are doing? The frame metaphor needs to be the climax of the battle, not the explanation. And there’s no reason to spend 8 episodes over-explaining this when the explanation is effectively nothing. You just feel lost and confused by the 4 hours spent watching the pairs dance and not actually understanding what they’re doing beyond “standing out”.
More often than not, you will not hear the music that the characters are dancing to during each match. Maybe you’ll get a few bars of the music they’re dancing to at first, and then shift to non-specific anime synth pop rock to play over character internal monologues.
Let that sink in for a moment.
A story about ballroom dancing… that does not prominently feature ballroom music.
Maybe Production I.G. thought that younger, hipper audiences wouldn’t relate to 1800s Viennese Waltz symphonies? Maybe they didn’t think that ragtime would be great for establishing tension? Regardless, it was a decision that was resoundingly tone deaf to the world of the anime. Dance is so dependent on the music it is being performed to that there’s disconnect between the actions we see on screen vs. what we’re hearing. It clearly does not synch up, reducing the power from the big “pose” moments that Ballroom e Youkoso loves so much.
3. Tatara and Chinatsu as a Couple
We get why Tatara wants to dance. We get why he inspires Chinatsu to re-evaluate her lost love of dancing. We get why these two might clash often. What we don’t get is why we should buy these two as a couple.
The issue stems from never showing us any real positive moments between Chinatsu and Tatara beyond “they like to dance”. Ballroom e Yousoko seems to be pushing for a message of trying to work things out with your partner during the rough times, which is a great message! Except there should actually be good moments to balance out the rough patches. Yet Tatara and Chinatsu show all the telltale signs of a dysfunctional relationship. Literally anything either one says sets the other off because they take it too personally. Tatara can’t think of something nice to say about Chinatsu when confronted on the matter. Chinatsu pushes Tatara away any time he tries to console her. The whole reason Tatara even asked to work with Chinatsu was because there was no one else he could even ask. And you never once see them be happy with one another outside of vaguely during the ending where Tatara thinks “Wow I really love who Chinatsu is!” and then later Chinatsu pecks him on the cheek. The other dancers say Tatara grew thanks to Chinatsu, but frankly it’s a hollow explanation.
Ironically, for a series that’s almost exclusively about its central character learning to stand out, there’s very little that’s distinctive about Ballroom e Youkoso. There’s nothing that’s particularly awful about Welcome to the Ballroom, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything that’s all that fun about it either. It’s the sort of series where every aspect, from the story to the art to the execution, is consistently performing below expectations. With the sports genre so competitive with so many better and more interesting series, we really can’t recommend Ballroom e Youkoso unless you’re just dying for something new.
But please, if you have any disagreements, let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!