This week’s episode sours the mood
Last week gave us Ballroom’s most relaxed episode of the season, with the entire gang getting together for a weeklong retreat at the Hyodo country house. Unfortunately, this week’s episode sours the mood and steers a recently-promising series into an uninspiring direction.
After Chinatsu storms out of a practice session with Tatara, Marissa and the rest of the youngsters try everything to get the fighting couple back together in the studio. Hyodo uses psychological tricks, Gaju forces an awkward triple-date, Marissa exploits teenage hormones, and Shizuku admirably tries kind gestures to convince the two to stay together. But none of this works, mostly because Tatara and Chinatsu’s constant bickering feels less and less every week like a lover’s quarrel and more like actual animosity.
It’s become clear that Tatara/Chinatsu isn’t working.
Whether romantically or as a dancing couple, each character’s stubborn traits have given little ground to the other’s, and the show has not established enough about Chinatsu to make the audience care about whether she ends up with Tatara or not. This should be fine: for most of the series, Ballroom has foregone romantic subplots for a strict focus on friendships and the art of dance. But when the show suddenly forgets its identity for a conventional love story about its two unconvincing leads, everything else around it starts to feel disingenuous.
And speaking of disingenuous, how about the fanservice in this episode? Ballroom hasn’t shown this much skin in a few months, and the gratuitous boobage (especially Marissa’s) and ab shots in just a few frames make up for an entire season of mostly tasteful body representations. Even this meat market smells funny. Why exactly should anyone drool over the naked bodies of characters we’ve barely gotten to know? Sengoku’s exit should’ve upped the show’s decency by default, but if anything we’ve learned that Marissa’s an even worse misogynist than Tatara’s previous blond coach.
The episode redeems itself a little in its increased focus on its women’s opinions. Mako and Chinatsu’s heart-to-heart feels refreshing in a show that failed the Bechdel test in its first sixteen episodes. Shizuku also speaks up for the first time in a while, opening her heart to Tatara in a graceful and definitely-not-romantic minute before the conclusion. Though we’ve surmised this for a while, Chinatsu shares her official opinion on ballroom dancing’s patriarchy: she thinks it’s a load of crap.
Chinatsu’s complaints make the show’s regression towards conventional storylines that much more frustrating. A few episodes ago, Ballroom carved a path towards a progressive commentary on gender roles within a needlessly patriarchal competitive world. While there’s plenty of time to steer the ship in a more worthwhile direction, it’ll get harder and harder with these stale ideas about power structures and gender roles at the helm.
Episode 17 Grade: C-