By Andrew Osmond.
You can see the second volume of Welcome to the Ballroom (eps 13-24) as one long arc in which the young dancing hero Tatara must learn about going steady. Desperate to advance his dancing, and desolate about how far his peers are above him, Tatara is presented with a new potential dancing partner. It’s a person was who introduced at the end of the first volume – Tatara’s mysterious new classmate, Chinatsu Hiyama. You may remember Hiyama mocked Tatara’s interest in dancing as lame the first time she met him; yet she still turned up at a dance performance by Tatara’s own hero, Sengoku. Somehow Tatara and Hiyama end up practicing steps at Sengoku’s dancing school. From their first hold, Tatara realises this girl has danced before, and at a high level…
What follows is an odd-couple romcom, with a ludicrous-looking mismatch between the assertive, impatient Hiyama – whose red-hair apparently says everything about her temperament – and the naturally shy, submissive Tatara. Any Evangelion fans watching these episodes may be irresistibly reminded of Asuka and Shinji, and especially the early Eva episode (part 9) where the pair struggled to synch their fighting styles. It may be going too far to say Ballroom is like Evangelion, but it feels like a post-Eva anime as it gets heavy, emotionally and conceptually.
Of course, it’s a story about Tatara trying to understand a stranger, seen through the seeming paradoxes of dance. In the ballroom, males are meant to take the assertive leading role in a couple, something the self-effacing Tatara finds anathema. For her part, Hiyama has danced the lead roles herself in training. (The show points out that far more girls want to be dancers than boys; inevitably, some girls end up practicing in the boy’s role.) Now Tatara and Hiyama each find it maddeningly impossible to adjust to one another as a dancing couple. Is there a way out of the conundrum?
If there is, they’ll have to find it in front of bright lights and crowds, as the later episodes depict a single dance competition. Like fights in long action anime, the individual dances can last whole episodes, stretching out thoughts and fears and panics that may last less than a second, as Tatara and Hiyama struggle to work out their differences. As in Ballroom’s first half, extended flashbacks bring side characters more fully into the story, showing their own tormented feelings about their dancing and themselves.
Parts of the show hark back to the musician anime Your Lie in April, as characters visualise themselves in dark prisons with no escape; or else see their dancing rivals as hazy blobs of threat; or even lose human shape themselves. There’s a climactic moment when Tatara has a revelatory fantasy vision of Hiyama as something beyond human. The image feels so quintessentially Evangelion that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t intentional.
This volume also double downs on the same-sex attractions suggested in the first volume. Some of it’s plain fanservice – for example, there’s a shameless moment where one cute boy pins down another for supposedly non-sexual reasons, screaming queerbaiting to the sky. But there’s a far more substantial subplot about one character’s unrequited same-sex love. It has vibes of A Silent Voice as the teen tries to reconcile with feelings that go back to childhood. In the present day, the plotline is disappointingly flip, but its best scenes are achingly real.
The new central character Hiyama is voiced in Japanese by Chinatsu Akasaki, sharing the Ballroom character’s given name. You may know her from some memorable anime support roles: she was the thief Felt in Re: Zero, the perky pizza delivery girl Katagiri in Erased, and the manically unstable Shinka in Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions.