Feckless high school student Tatara Fujita wants to be good at something - anything. Unfortunately, he's about as average as a slouchy teen can be. The local bullies know this, and make it a habit to hit him up for cash, but all that changes when the debonair Kaname Sengoku sends them packing. Sengoku's not the neighborhood watch, though. He's a professional ballroom dancer. And once Tatara Fujita gets pulled into the world of the ballroom, his life will never be the same.
Let me just get it out of the way: I liked this series. I like it a lot. I liked it so much that I binge watched all 24 episodes in a single day because I just couldn't stop hitting the "next episode" button. For me, this series was reminiscent of Nodame Cantabile (minus the romance) or Haikyuu in that we, the audience, are introduced to a world that we probably knew very little about and it teaches us while the characters within the series learn as well. And, honestly, if you had told me "an anime about ballroom dancing will be fantastic" I would have just rolled my eyes. Story The entire series is one man's accident trip down the rabbit hole that is ballroom dancing. The series has two primary focuses: the protagonists relationships with the other dancers and the competitions where the protagonist undergoes the majority of his personal growth. There's no deep seated meaning to the majority of the story but rather it's like a train of slow but steady progression. My one big complaint about the story is that, similar to Haikyuu, there's moments of two-steps forward but one-step back story telling. There's narration from characters about what the protagonist is doing and often it's "wow, he's amazing" and then the next episode is "wow, he sucks because of [obscure random thing they never mentioned previously]". With that said, this is a common anime trope and it's just something I've learned to live with. Animation & Sound This series is drawn differently than most others. On the surface it's not that different with the minor exception that all the characters are tall and thin and there's a lot of emphasis on the vertical. The animation changes when it comes to the dancing and the characters become these... almost monstrosities with creepy looks and smiles. All of the characters have large, unblinking eyes and there's a significant amount of "looking beyond what we can see" which, obviously, is very hard in animation so a lot of it comes from the previously mentioned narrations. The sound part is where I really feel this series dropped the ball. The voices are all decently acted but they throw in sound effects at the oddest of times. Shoes clacking or squeaking for a second and then not heard again. But that's not the issue, the issue is that I really feel they missed an opportunity to focus on the music. Nodame Cantabile not only taught you about the world of orchestras but also introduced you to the actual music involved. Throughout this series the characters will make mention of "I like this song" or "I didn't like that song" but because they talk so much there's no way for us to hear or not hear what they mean. I really just wish this series would have just let the characters dance and let the music be heard. Characters Here's where the series shines (and also misses somewhat). Each character is unique and they, for the most part, get fleshed out. We get backstory, inner monologue, external narration and lots of sweat. The protagonist comes across as wimpy but that's almost an after thought in terms of his character progression (though it feels like it'll become a major arc in season two). The only real misses are when they set up drama between the supporting characters and then... just let it drop. Like there's this build up to a climax but hardly ever any resolution. It's akin to the crappy movies where BOOM the heroes save the day, and then the screen fades to black and we get that super jarring white text on black background epilogue. Regardless. They definitely fleshed out the characters. Enough that by the end of the season I was starting to hate the protagonists dance partner if for no other reason than because she's protrayed as a super bitch. But, hey, we're not necessarily meant to like all the characters - right?
I remember when I first got into Welcome to the Ballroom, being right after I finished the Twin Star Exorcist anime. As a manga to anime adaption, TSE felt very disppointing to me. Which is why Welcome to the Ballroom became such a big deal to me. I wanted to get into a new series that I felt follows the original content faithfully and that for me was WTTB. The series is not without imperfections yet it still felt like a decent series to me. Spoilers will be revealed for those reading the review for fair warning. Let the review begin! Story- The story begins when Tatara the main character discovers a place in which ballroom dancing is taught and begins training in it with his teachers and peers. Although while in the process of learning it, him and everyone around him become an irritable, miserable mess. But that's not to say the show is not without its merit, the characters do have their cool moments, plus the other parts of the show really help it out. Animation- I've got to say that Welcome to the Ballroom has some of the smallest animations during the dance sequences. The way the characters flow with their dancing is hypnotizing to watch, making me appreciate the art of movement studios can do, like with Bleach. Not just that but I really like the style of the character design, making the characters nice to look at. But this is a series about dancing so of course it needs good animation, although it uses it in small amounts. Sound- The anime has some pretty good soundtracks to tap your foot to, although one of the critisms is that the anime doesn't use real ballroom music. I've always believe music plays a roles in making scenes in anime more intense and this series in particular did that well. Characters- I'm going to be honest, the cast to Welcome to the Ballroom can be unpleasant, perhaps the most in a sports series since forever. The constant animosity between characters is probably the major reason why people have been pushed away from the show and in the end dropped it. The main plotline and central relationship that fans claimed would improve would be the coupling of Tatara and his new partner Chinatsu. But it somehow made the show worse instead. So here's where I'm thinking "Oh, people were excited for Chinatsu because she represents a shakeup in this show's odd gender politics. These two will have to learn to work together as equals." But it turns out to be the exact opposite scenario. Tatara needs to cowboy up, and Chinatsu needs to be tamed. She even wants to be tamed, as made evident by her overbearingly tsundere attitude toward her milquetoast new partner, where she literally says he isn't aggressive enough for her, and being considerate isn't her thing. Tatara needs to be more manly. Chinatsu needs to be more feminine. Those are the lessons they're going to learn. And honestly, the most bothersome part of this isn't that it's grossly sexist or anything (although it's certainly that as well). It's that it's such a boring conclusion. The show is romanticizing relationship dynamics that are decades out of date even in Japan. It's celebrating conformity to something that most people (thankfully) don't even expect from a partner anymore. Overall- Personally one of the biggest flaws to the series has to be the characters and their relationships. Unless the author finds some way to improve them if the series gets a second season, then the series itself will find itself struggling a lot. But as a fan of shonen series I believe in the self improvement of a character. Who knows, maybe Tatara and Chinatsu will get more development in the manga. Its something I may plan on checking out sometime soon. Welcome to the Ballroom may have its flaws, but its still a decent show, especially compared to King's Game. Although it may have been dull or gross at times, and it may have squandered its potential and may have wasted production value, I still consider it to be one of the best dance anime. (That was a joke in case people didn't get that.)
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