Image source: TVアニメ「ボールルームへようこそ」‏ on Twitter

Regarded as one of the hot must-watch anime this season, Welcome to the Ballroom is certainly holding on top form. The character relationships have proven to be interesting so far and seem to be on the verge of a challenging shake-up, proving that this is no ordinary sports anime.

The Five Must-Watch Anime of Summer 2017

A certain concept has been brought up time and again within the series—at times for laughs, at other times for metaphorical impact, and even perhaps for moments of brief social commentary.

That is, the concept of “marriage.”

In episode 5, entitled “Partner,” Sengoku, the straight-talking trainer who sees potential in our lead Tatara, exclaims that choosing a partner in ballroom dancing is like a marriage. This, of course, sends our timid but determined hero Tatara reeling with embarrassment for a second, as he briefly ponders a fantasy wedding between the star couple of Hyodo and Shizuku. This is a depressing thought not only for him but also for new rival Gaju, who is after Shizuku in the wake of Hyodo’s injury. Yet, this comes just after Hyodo has asked Tatara to “take care” of Shizuku, putting him in a bind. However, Tatara ultimately realizes that whatever allure the more experienced and elegant Shizuku may have, at this moment he cannot concern himself with her. He is committed to the dance with Mako, towards to whom he feels a sense of duty, as her brother Gaju has tossed her off the side.

The idea of these junior high school kids being aware of the responsibilities involved in a realistic and mature marriage is, of course, unrealistic in itself. The multimedia pop culture we consume and surround ourselves with, and the general consensus it perpetuates, formulates within our minds a frankly unachievable goal for many if not most: a gorgeous wedding memory of a lifetime, and an idealized fairy tale of togetherness with a perfect companion. With less time to spend on hobbies and entertainment, and more time needed to be devoted to work duties and family responsibilities as adults, we can surmise that our influences from the pop culture world around us are stronger and more acute during our developmental years, in particular adolescence. Realists we are not. If anything, the young are invariably far more romantic (and thus, naïve) than older, more experienced members of society.

Image source: TVアニメ「ボールルームへようこそ」‏ on Twitter

The huge irony here is that the series itself, being as it is an animated show from Japan, utilizes extremely dynamic visuals to render the entire screen into a magical, idealized, and romanticized vision of ballroom dancing. It does this to such an extent, in fact, that most of the time the exaggerated dance moves and poses, together with the almost-deformed character designs, make these characters look unrecognizable as 14- to 15-year-old junior high schoolers. We as viewers also fall for the illusion, the spectacle. And that is certainly one of the attractions of ballroom dancing, is it not? Whether it is a tango or a waltz, the fleeting visual expression of romance between the two “lovers” is what we came for, isn’t it? And therefore it must also be the reason why this is an animation. Show, don’t tell.

And yet, contrary to this “illusion,” Tatara shows a depth and maturity not gleaned from any romantic comedy, not inspired by any love song, and certainly not—I presume (maybe I’m just out of touch?)—taught at school.

He demonstrates the lesson he learned, perhaps subliminally, from his parents’ divorce. It is the type of experience-based maturity that normally comes with age. He takes on the role of Mako’s partner after having seen what his father went through when his wife left him. If a dance partnership is a marriage, then Gaju’s casting aside of Mako for a prettier girl is an idea that is unforgivable in the way that Tatara’s mind is wired. This is because it latently hearkens back to the trauma he must have experienced during his parents’ break-up, and the scars he knows it will cause Mako.

He seems unaware that this “experience-based realist” quality is actually (or at least, ought to be) a highly-prized character trait that will certainly benefit him in the future. He is able to read ahead in a particular situation and think of people’s relations objectively, taking himself and his wishes out of the equation (at least temporarily), while Gaju seems unable or unwilling to do so. It is a very commendable virtue indeed.

Instead, Tatara’s main motivation for having started dancing in the first place is his own lack of self-esteem and aptitude, due to being told at school that he shows little ambition and goals for the future. He searches for something to commit to, and to excel at. Thus, he commits to the dance, while always looking out for his partner, and taking care of her. The school seems to have no framework with which to gauge this high level of responsibility, no commendation of achievement. Society measures success through different categories.

If we follow the metaphor to its logical conclusion, we can see that while Gaju is seemingly immaturely pining over Shizuku because he cannot and will not break free from the popularized idealism of marriage as the culmination of a romantic infatuation with a particular person (refer to his “Yosshaa! Morau ze, Shizuku!,” lit. “Alright! I’m taking you, Shizuku!”), Tatara handles things differently. Tatara understands that marriage is an untamable, capricious sea—often calm, but sometimes rocky, with tides coming in and out. Tatara devotes himself to manning the boat steadily on a journey across this ocean, through cooperation with his navigator, and making it the best possible. He is not obsessed with his partner; rather, his job is to succeed in the mission he has taken on. The same rings true for dance.

Tatara is not living in a dream world where he is experiencing the joy of love/dance with his ideal partner, instead, he is a realist keeping the boat afloat among the rocky flow through a committed sense of responsibility to his assigned partner, to whom he made a vow. And this is particularly galvanized (or perhaps even provoked) by Tatara’s view of his own father, as a divorced single parent who was “left behind.” His admission of this realization on the telephone with Mako in episode 6, and his confession that Hyodo and Shizuku are “akogare no kappuru” (a couple that is the object of aspiration: in short, perfect for each other), sets this commitment in stone. Mako responds by admitting that she noticed Tatara was adapting his dancing to suit her, even though he was used to a different partner. That is why she trusts him.

Image source: TVアニメ「ボールルームへようこそ」‏ on Twitter

In all things, maturity is earned through learning and executing what would be best for all involved, something Tatara is shown as capable of doing, but Gaju is perhaps not, despite their age difference. Maybe there is something these young kids can teach us after all.

Welcome to the Ballroom is streaming on Amazon Anime Strike.

Comments (1)
  1. […] moments of internal dramatic convenience) contains some emotional/thematic truth to fall back on: Ballroom Dancing Is Like Marriage in Welcome to the Ballroom KAKEGURUI IN THE FOLD Kakegurui upped the ante a bit this past week. The episode’s first half […]

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