Around Akiba proudly presents Welcome to the Ballroom anime review episode 9, “Flower and Frame.”
Mako vs. Shizuku?
At the end of last week’s episode, Mako asks Tatara to let her bloom after Hyodo instructs him to become her frame for the Tenpei Cup finals. Tatara exhausts all his talent in the semifinals and has no chance of defeating Gaju, but by presenting Mako as a more talented partner than Shizuku, he just might earn a significant internal victory.
Except Tatara doesn’t really become Mako’s frame in this week’s episode.
Sengoku confidently brings the couple to the floor for their final solo performance, choosing for them the quickstep variation he choreographed for their scrapped semifinal showing. But when Marissa abruptly switches the final heat from a quickstep to a waltz (using up the show’s one-joke quota for this episode), she forces Tatara and Mako to improvise.
The show spends the next fifteen minutes of real time exploring one minute of show time, switching amongst the reactions of the judges, audience, and the dancers during Tatara and Mako’s solo. Tatara begins with the basics and then mixes in figures he stole from watching Hyodo and Shizuku, confusing the audience with his semi-amateur, semi-masterful performance. Sengoku, however, understands that Tatara isn’t performing a routine, but composing a solo on-the-fly.
Producing an episode that runs fifteen times slower than an episode of 24 risks boring the audience, but Ballroom pulls it off by leaning on its two greatest strengths: music and dynamic animation. The judges and dancers use names of moves and poses no one who doesn’t dance could possibly know, and then wisely choose not to explain them, instead allowing for the camera to focus on Tatara and Mako’s sweaty and smiling faces.
The animators take Mako’s position as a flower to heart.
She appears to release pollen during the episode’s most climactic moment, and sexual implications aside, the yellow flurries beautifully encompass the frame like golden fireworks. All of this swirls around an orchestral arrangement with an impossible fifteen-minute crescendo, beautifully harmonizing with Mako and Tatara’s aching silhouettes.
Mako does her job, but calling Tatara a frame to Mako’s flower has its own problems. Tatara doesn’t so much frame Mako as he allows her to overtake his spotlight. While this shouldn’t be a problem, ballroom dancing’s inherent value on the male leader flusters the judges and the audience when it comes time to score the couple. Can a couple dance well if the man doesn’t appear to take the lead? Is it okay for the woman to take the glory?
If Welcome to the Ballroom has any chance in transcending its current position as a beautiful show with a shallow story, it needs to question ballroom dancing’s inherent patriarchy. “Flower and Frame,” takes the first step; we’ll see if there lies any courage in the next.
The show will still be popular, however, even if it forgets gender politics and leans entirely on its masterful animation. This might not be a great long term plan, but it sure worked this week.
Episode 9 Review Grade: A