It’s Tatara’s time to take the stage after he’s called to step-in as Hyodo’s substitute, but will he receive a roar from the audience that matches his new interest in ballroom dancing?
Tatara Fujita had nothing to define himself by until a chance meeting with famous competitive dancer Kaname Sengoku introduced him to the intense world of ballroom dancing. While it didn’t come easy, Fujita found himself enthralled by the dancers he saw, and began to practice feverishly at the Ogasawara dance studio to develop his new defining passion. There, Fujita met his beautiful classmate and competitive dancer Shizuku Hanaoka and her partner Kyoharu Hyoda, and went along with everyone else at the studio to watch the pair compete at the famous Mikasa competition. However, after Hyodo hurts his leg during one of the heats, Fujita is called on by Sengoku to dance with Shizuku in Hyodo’s stead. With so much on the line, Fujita takes his first steps onto the dance floor.
How Was It?
Welcome to the Ballroom’s first volume was primarily fueled by inspiration – we saw, in broad strokes, Fujita’s discovery of ballroom dancing as something that could filled a certain emptiness in his life. Watching Fujita discover this passion was a lot of fun because of the way that we could really see the moments where the light switch went on for him, and through his eyes we got to see ballroom dancing as something exciting from this outsider perspective as he watched Sengoku, Hyodo, and Shizuku,.This volume continues this process by showing Fujita’s first experience really applying the passion which he gained as he takes his first wobbly steps onto the dance floor in Hyodo’s stead.
The competition portrayed in the first chapter brokers a fascinating dynamic as we see the process of competitive dancing from through Fujita’s perspective as an insider after being somewhat abstracted from this in the first volume. His experience is just as bumpy as you would imagine, but I found myself engrossed in this portrayal because of the way it captured his nervousness while also doing a great job portraying the moments where he really feels himself succeeding quite visibly. The art here does a great job with his facial expressions – we see his nervousness in one panel before this transitions in a pure smile in another one, and this really emphasized his emotional arc quite vividly. The focus remains purely on him, and although we end up seeing a series of cool moves from him instead of a full dance this felt appropriate given the circumstances. I really liked that after this, the dynamic again switches back to Fujita watching on the outside to show him reflecting on his experience while watching professionals again. By contrast, the art is more of a mixed-bag here – there are some wobbly faces and facial expressions (particularly of Hyodo), and the action feels a little bit more like a collage of dramatic facial expressions rather than a dance at a few moments. That said, the art continues to strongly convey the intensity of these dancers, and I definitely found myself wrapped up in Fujita's first dance experience shown from these perspectives.
While Fujita’s first experience dancing in a formal setting ends up being cut short, one thing that I really enjoyed about this volume was the way it vividly shows the moments of pure joy that Fujita experiences as he embraces the pure experience of dancing. This gave this volume a strong sense of thematic continuity to Fujita’s process of trying to find something that really “grabs” hold of him, and it was awesome to see him have breakthrough moments at opportune times. An example of this sees Fujita and his new surrogate partner, Mako, finally succeeding in gaining a little bit of confidence as they execute a couple of steps well, leading to a huge smile on Fujita’s face as has a moment of “getting it”. These moments feel relatable because they are never anything overly dramatic in themselves, but the presentation and strong artwork here helps to sell his inner triumph in a manner that feels understated yet reflective of the meaning it holds to him in the context of the story we’ve seen so far. This is all capped off really nicely in a scene showing Fujita reflecting on the compeition with another competitor and exclaiming how much he wanted to dance again, and I thought this was a great way to show once again how much dance has affected him.
As mentioned above, the remainder of the volume after the competition concerns the fallout from Fujita stepping in for Hyodo. The primary focus is on Fujita’s precarious position after a rival dancer, Gaju Akagi, and his little sister, Mako, appear on the scene as challengers. The result is that Fujita ends up quarreling with Gaju over who gets to pair up with Shizuku, and Fujita ends up pairing with Mako to take on Gaju at the next competition. The dynamic between these four is a little bit off-putting because of the overemphasis of Gaju’s obsession with possessing Shizuku through their pairing, and I thought that the storyline could have been handled much better if it was based upon Fujita’s clear desire to get better than being centred around him trying to defend Hyodo’s honour in that way. Welcome to the Ballroom’s emotional core is Fujita discovering his passion through dance, and it was a little bit odd to see the story go off in that direction given how resonant Fujita’s core motivations have been thus far. Additionally, Sengoku continues to a bit of an off-putting character in terms of veering way too far into actually bullying Fujita with random meanness rather than being the “tough, but caring” mentor that I think Takeuchi-sensei is trying to have him be, and this ends up bringing down the mood a little bit throughout this volume.
Although I had some gripes with the way the whole “couples dynamic” set up above was used to set up the story going forward, there were still a lot of great moments that took place as Fujita continues to learn about dancing as he pairs up with Mako. We see more of his process of learning the moves, educating us as readers at the same time while utilizing some great panels to emphasize the flow and motion in play. A particularly cool moment sees Fujita learning how to navigate the floor before likening it to a hurricane, and once again this was quite captivating because of the sheer intensity this series conveys in its depiction of dance. Although this intensity leads to a couple moments (such as Mako and Fujita having a realization together in the park while dancing) feeling a little bit overdone, I found myself really getting into Fujita’s continuing process of learning, and I can’t wait to see how his improvements are shown heading into the next competition.
Welcome to the Ballroom Vol. 2 does a really good job exploring Fujita’s first steps at turning his new found passion into something more tangible as he dances for the first time. We see the ups and downs of his process portrayed vividly, and I found myself cheering for him easily because of the way the series takes the time to highlight his moments of pure joy and discovery. While this volume has some bumps – the couples' dynamic is a little bit weird, and Sengoku is quite mean for no real reason – the sheer intensity with which Ballroom portrays dance was truly difficult to tear my eyes away from and definitely makes for some entertaining reading.
Welcome to the Ballroom Vol. 2 was translated by Karen McGuillicudy and published by Kodansha Comics USA on November 29th, 2016. Created by Tomo Takeuchi, the series runs in Kodansha’s Monthly Shonen Magazine.
Date of Publication: November 29th, 2016
Author: Tomo Takeuchi
Translator: Karen McGuillicudy
Editor: Paul Starr
Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA