So if you’re an avid follower of my Weekly Roundup series you’ll be very aware that even after three viewings, Episode Five of Welcome to the Ballroom seemed to be completely flawless. There is so much to this single episode that not dedicating an entire piece on it would be an insult. Not only did the visual direction floor me as a Film Studies student, but the amount of story telling this episode accomplished in twenty four minutes is astounding. Without further ado, here are my complete and unrestricted view on what I consider to be the strongest anime episode I’ve seen in a very long time.
Welcome to the Ballroom: Episode Five
DRAMA, SPORTS, COMEDY | ANIMATED BY PRODUCTION I.G | DIR: ITAZU, YOSHIMI
The Introduction of Gaju-kun and “his sister”
This episode begins where the last left off, resolving the cliffhanger that was on all of our minds. Unfortunately, it meant we had to endure the pure cockiness and arrogance of Gaju-kun – a competitive dancer specialised in Latin. As is every character in this show, his proportions are very exaggerated and emphasis is brought to the sheer size of his mouth. Not only does this make his character visually intricate as his boastful personality makes use of his mouth animation, but it conveys who Gaju-kun is as a character. Not once does the dialogue involving this character go too long without some sort of quip or claim of greatness from him.
Having followed such a quiet and reserved main character in Tatara and the silent nature of Hyodo, this new brash character is a shock to the senses. Obviously, every spectator will respond to a sequence on their own individual merit. However, it is clear that Gaju is set up to be an unbearably active and cocky character – and he excels at being just that. Then we have the character of his sister, Mako. In every way, she is his opposite which has the exact opposite effect on the audience as a result. Her initial introduction itself is as “Gaju-kun and his sister”. Mako is not only visually meek and quiet, but established as a shadow to Gaju (a character the audience have been manufactured to dislike). If I had to pinpoint why the final sequence of this episode works so effectively, it would be this initial setup of these two new characters.
The Importance of Tatara and Mako’s Dance and “The Fall”
So around halfway through this episode, Tatara and Mako begin their attempt at dancing together – albeit a shoddy one at that. For possibly the first time in her career, all of the focus is on Mako and her partner. None of the staff are engaged in the movements of Gaju and Shizuku, they’re professionals that don’t need observation. Accompanying this with the keen hands-on assistance of Sengoku (who appears in the background of every image in this post so far), it doesn’t hit you until a second viewing how important this is for someone who’s always been pushed aside like Mako. Although all of this sequence is focused around our main character, this first experience of attention holds a lot more impact in terms of her character than you would initially expect.
Then, as it’s all coming together it comes crashing down. The more I watch this sequence the more amazed I am at its simplicity in design and its effectiveness in impact. Welcome to the Ballroom has been bearing the brunt of a multitude of criticisms throughout its airing. Myself included, there has been complaints at a show so focused on kinetics having such infrequence use of fluid animation. From the GIF below you can see that the majority of this sequence is in slow-down and uses a “still image with animated hair” approach. Although this would otherwise be seen as a negative, I really admire the look that is pulled off as a result.
Eyes are everything in this show and the emphasis on them here is incredible, the pure shock and bewilderment in both of these character’s eyes are a testament to their inexperience and lack of confidence in their dancing. In the later half of the sequence above, we see Tatara taking hold of the situation and using himself as a cushion for a girl he’s only known for a couple hours at best. Not only proof that these two are the true ship of the show, but Tatara’s martyrdom (even on this small scale) works in developing the bond between these two. But we’re only halfway through the episode, so what more could there be?
Tatara as an Excluded and Inexperienced Member
As if the embarrassing sequence of events prior wasn’t enough to make Tatara feel meagre, a behind-closed-doors conversation is sure to do the trick. His infatuation with Shizuku both as a dance partner and as a person is core to his development as a character. Personally, I don’t see the two as a great fit and I believe that is the mindset intentionally put ahead by the show’s writers. Whether or not it is for the best, this episode works towards driving them apart and filling that gap entirely. As mentioned above, eyes are everything and the stoic, unyielding gaze of Shizuku is one that cuts deeper than any episode before. Wanting to abandon the now 6-month banned Hyodo, her ability to dance has become at risk and puts spectators in a difficult situation. Furthermore, her replacement is none other than obnoxious meathead Gaju-kun, the character we’re meant to hate.
This episode does such an excellent job at placing the audience into Tatara’s shoes and makes use of his internal monologue exceptionally well. Often main characters are either too stylised for spectators to feel a connection or too baseless so that audiences can project onto them as much as they please. Very often do I find a main character so utterly likeable, understandable and relatable as seen in Tatara. He doesn’t have all the answers and he doesn’t have anything inherently special about him. What better place to put him in for us to realise that as an audience than in school, a setting we’ve seen almost nothing of so far and that we know he has no passion for. Suddenly, with Shizuku “taken away from him”, his passion has followed in tandem which makes this unexpected trip to the classroom that much more incredible. Now confused and aimless once again, there’s only one way this show knows to bring back the main character we’ve come to love.
Rediscovering that Passion with a new Partner
The last quarter of this episode is a fanciful exploration of what it means to have a passion for dance. Although it may have taken four and three quarter episodes to get to this point, this final quarter is a complete, unrestricted celebration of partnered dancing. Mako goes out of her way to organise a meetup with Sengoku-san and spend time dancing with our protagonist Tatara. Thinking of Mako’s character as presented up to this point, this in itself is a huge step in taking the reigns and sparking that passion for themselves.
I should also take a moment to appreciate the wonderful soundtrack featured in this episode and the track used in the grand finale of their dancing. A lot of the time, the visuals and animation take precedence over some of the less discussed micro features which isn’t at all how you should tackle this episode. To me, this episode is perfect in every aspect: from the juxtaposition of cold to warm lighting to the tear-jerkingly beautiful orchestral score that plays alongside. At first, I questioned whether or not my weakness for characters like Mako were skewing my perception of this episode but I can confidently say that this episode is impeccable in every aspect.
“Unity between the two is everything. Now, Unite!”
Anyone who challenges the level of kinetic presentation in this show hasn’t seen the final few minutes of this episode. Now, not only are the character’s hair flowing in the wind. Both Tatara and Mako become the wind, moulding their situation to their will. Cinematically focusing on Mako’s butterfly hairpin, these two have truly transformed into the majestic creatures they never knew they could be. With the editing now sporadic and active to match the sudden burst of energy between the two new partners, this leap has me breathless without fail.
Still sticking to what’s worked so far in the facial close-ups and ever spinning backgrounds, it’s less of what the foreground presents and more of how the background can give to the focus. These shots are varied and a truly beautiful collection of animation sequences. Where other shows would feel disjointed and sloppy, this exquisitely composed (while still remaining simplistic) dance sequence epitomises everything I love about this show.
In Conclusion: An Emotional Wave Crashing Down
Personally as a viewer, seeing Mako begin to cry felt somewhat comforting given that I was in the exact same position. The last time an anime sequence has made me tearful through pure amazement and wonder was when I had first viewed Studio Trigger’s Short-film Little Witch Acadamia, quite a long time ago. This episode takes on a dialogue heavy approach with such slow pacing up until the final dance that it completely explodes out of the gates. This sudden emotional attack on the senses testifies that animation does not have to be perfect to be impactful. There is nothing I would ask to be changed about this sequence, even to add more detail and emphasis onto the minor details. The balance of every micro feature in the book to present such a densely packed scene is something I haven’t seen in a very, very long time.
Returning to Comedy for a Well-Rounded Episode
We’re not even done yet! To top it all off, Sengoku-san continues to explain why we hate Gaju-kun so much and that our inherent dislike is completely justified. Unlike Tatara who understands his partners as individual human beings of varying strengths and weaknesses, Gaju sees them as tools for success.
He said, “If Mako can dance better than Shizuku I’ll pair up with her again”.
Can you believe that crap?
After some more heartfelt dialogue, the episode ends on a comedic moment revealing that their dance in the sand actually had a third person in their minds. Tatara was instinctively making his partner Mako drag her feet for specific intervals to write a personalised message in the sand for Gaju. This solidified the episode as a well rounded piece of art for me. Not only able to present such a beautifully perfect sequence, delving deep into the minds of new and already established characters through the medium of dance. But to round it all out with a well set up and executed joke as they ended on, there really are no ways I would adjust this episode in the slightest.
Now awaiting the next episode of the season and hoping that we haven’t seen the peak of what Welcome to the Ballroom has to offer, I’m just glad I was able to put all of my thoughts into one place. Looking at the word count alone, this has been one of the lengthiest, most exhausting articles I’ve ever written and I’m considering removing the (Casual Article) tag altogether. That’d make the site messy though so I’ll refrain from doing so. If you’ve made it to the end, thank you so much for engaging with my ramblings and over-analysis and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this strenuous single episode review!