After a bumbling and often directionless first few episodes, Welcome to the Ballroom settles in with its best episode of the season. Episode six has us looking forward to the Tenpei Cup, an unofficial competition where Tatara challenged Gaju head-to-head for the right to swap partners. Though the setup seemed simple enough, a few twists in the seventh episode complicate it.
Much like Hyōdō reacted in episode 3, Gaju watches Tatara’s precocious skill with Mako in the second heat of the Cup and immediately bursts into a wild routine in the next heat, attempting to crush his opponent, but almost crushing his partner Shizuku. After a mid-floor collision between the sparring pairs, Gaju confronts Tatara and belittles his former partner Mako, earning a punch from Mako’s tiny and furious first. After tending to his wound, Gaju explains that he didn’t feel threatened by Tatara’s skill, but rather disgusted with Tatara’s lack of originality, choosing to perform Hyodo’s routine instead of sticking to the basics fit for an amateur.
In a way, the entire show suffers from the same fault as its main character. By embracing tired storylines, one-dimensional personalities, and juvenile fan-service Welcome to the Ballroom has yet to stand out despite exciting animation, a vivid score, and an original premise. Rather than trying to recycle ideas from previously successful shows, Ballroom should instead explore what makes ballroom dance such a worthwhile topic to begin with.
Thankfully, episode 7 does exactly that. Sengoku takes a minute at the beginning of the competition to explain judging and scoring, and instead of slowing down the action, the monologue helps explain the goals that Tatara and Mako try to reach. We also see the care that goes into creating picture-perfect silhouettes for each pair, seeing the shaving cuts on the back of Tatara’s neck and the embarrassment a flat-chested woman can feel amongst fuller-breasted dancers (and while Mako’s tit-envy may seem like another excuse for more boobie close-ups, it unexpectedly sets up the funniest moment of the series). The dancing animation once again excels, but for the first time, the non-dancing parts of ballroom dancing take center-stage and shine.
Whether Ballroom takes a note from Tatara, who in the end promises Sengoku to master the basics instead of the following greatness, remains unclear. The show’s music, movement, style, and enthusiasm for dance demonstrate incredible potential, but it still has yet to score highly past its first heat. And if it slows down, there’s at least some hope: Hyodo is back! And brooding! And with a sexy half-Russian mom!
Who said this show was anything like Yuri?