Welcome to the Ballroom has been a pretty big success over in Japan, so much so that there will be an anime adaptation of it later this summer. As such, let’s take a look at this series and see what makes it so popular.
Welcome to the Ballroom Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and drawn by: Tomo Takeuchi
Translated by: Karen McGillicuddy
Lettering by: Brandon Blakeslee
Here’s the description as provided by Kodansha:
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
The thing that struck me the most about this series was how fast-paced and productive it was. In only three chapters, so much is accomplished, set up for later, and established that I’m completely impressed by Takeuchi’s writing and storytelling abilities. In the first chapter alone, we meet the protagonist, introduce the supporting cast, including the mentor figure and female interest, get the lead character directly involved in the world of dancing, have him start training and showing his dedication for the dancesport as it is called, and even explain how dancing and some of its movements work. That’s a lot to accomplish within one chapter and it’s a credit to Takeuchi’s skills that the chapter, and future ones, don’t feel bloated at all. This is a series that accomplishes a lot in a short amount of time with very strong writing and good pacing.
Welcome to the Ballroom is essentially a sports series about competitive dance, from waltzing to Latin dancing. Any good sports series needs to sell the audience on the idea of the sport itself, showing how big of a deal it is, what makes it so special, the connection that it has with the characters, explaining how things work within the game/performance, and more. Even if you are not into the subject itself, the series can get you wrapped in it, just like how Eyeshield 21 pulled me in without me even caring about football. This manga does all of what that and does it very well, showing how incredible and engaging the sport can be as it shows competitions and characters dancing about, while also bringing up how difficult it can be on the body. You see why these characters like it so much, even the main character who just abruptly got pulled in, and how it affects their lives to some degree. Plus, it has that moment that all good series like this has that shows how amazing the sport is, with Fujita watching the DVD of the competition Sengoku was in. The manga does a great job at selling this premise and I’m curious to see it in action as more of the series unfolds.
I think she’s more touchy today since she’s over-bending her spine.
On the character front, everyone’s pretty enjoyable and a lot of fun to read about. Fujita is kind of the standard protagonist character you’ve seen before in series like this: he’s weak-willed and doesn’t really know what to do or where to go with his life. However, getting wrapped up in dance helps give him some confidence and direction. It’s stereotypical direction so far, but he’s genuinely likable and I find him relatable in the sense that he’s more of a visual learner. His only weakness lies in the fact that he gets a bit too quickly pulled into dancing and wanting to go pro, even though he knowledges he’s getting carried away. Kaname Sengoku acts as sort of the mentor, helping Fujita get into the sport, but after the lead says he wants to go pro, becomes harsher and more hostile to him. It’s an interesting direction for a mentor character and in a way, he seems to do almost a 180 in personality because of that. However, you do get his frustration that Fujita may be doing a disservice to the sport by getting into it without understanding how difficult it is, especially considering how seriously Sengoku takes the sport. Sengoku does ultimately soften a bit and helps him out, but I like that the mentor character isn’t 100% supportive like a lot of other series, giving the two a different dynamic.
Other important characters include Tamaki, Shizuku Hanaoka, and Kiyoharu Hyōdō. Tamaki is sort of another mentor figure; she works at the same dance studio as Sengoku and of the supporting cast, she’s the least developed. We don’t know really anything about her or her past, which is disappointing, but that can easily be fixed as time goes on. Shizuku is essentially the female lead for the time being and she’s a newly pro dancer, having entered many competitions in the past. Compared to Fujita, she knows what she wants out of life and is striving to go the distance with her dancing, even if that means studying abroad. Her personality undergoes a radical shift from someone who is dismissive and frustrated with our lead at first, since he doesn’t seem to have the same respect for dance as her, to becoming a supportive friend. It makes sense that she changed her mind when Fujita began putting effort into learning, but I feel we’re missing a bit of conflict and drama that could’ve been fun between the two. Hyōdō is the sort of rival figure, also around the same age as Fujita and going pro like Shizuku, but he over works himself far more. He puts too much of himself into the dance, causing damage and strain on him. It’s definitely an interesting direction to go with the rival and it helps stress to the audience that you can really overdo it in this sports like every other.
The writing overall is pretty good as well I found. The first chapter does feel a little rougher around the edges, but it smooths out in subsequent chapters. The dialogue is pretty good and there’s a lot of good banter between the cast. It also doesn’t ever feel too exposition heavy despite having to explain things; it usually spaces stuff out rather reasonably. The characterization is quite nice like mentioned, despite abrupt shifts in personality, and the humor is great. The creator has a wonderful sense of humor with plenty of good jokes, visual gags, and solid timing. The pacing is quick–at times it almost feels a tad too much. Where the first volume ends, I feel like we should have taken one more chapter to get there in order to do some more character building and showing our protagonist getting better at dance. However, none of this takes away from the manga and it’s still a good read overall.
And now guest appearances by some extras from Footloose!
Takeuchi’s artwork is quite beautiful and really helps to sell the dancing in the series. Outside of some issues with flow from panel to panel early on, the layouts are well constructed and easy to follow along with. There’s a good amount of detail to everything and backgrounds are usually filled in. Full and double-page spreads look gorgeous and captivating at points, like when Fujita is watching the DVD in the first chapter and is seeing professional dancing for the first time. The characters look very distinct from one another and have a great range of emotions shown in their bodies and faces. Then there’s the dancing itself–the true star of the art. This isn’t the smoothest and most naturally flowing-looking art I’ve seen when it comes depicting the motion and movement, which is extra important in a series about dancing. However, it makes up for that in its scratchier line work when depicting these scenes. This approach absolutely nails the raw energy and excitement of dance, along with the speed and intensity as well. It makes the competitive dancing scenes amazing to look at, especially the Latin dancing with its rawness and how up close and personal it can be.
Welcome to the Ballroom Vol. 1 is a highly enjoyable and unique kind of sports series that starts things off on the right foot. While it has some issues with pacing, the first volume accomplishes a lot while also selling the audience on the dazzling world of competitive dance through its strong writing and beautiful artwork. If you like dance, sports series, or are looking for something out of the ordinary, definitely give this one a chance.