Welcome to the Ballroom returns with volume number 7. Is it good?
The latest volume for Welcome to the Ballroom felt like more of a step up in quality with a good mixture of story, dance action, and characterization — to a certain degree at least, but I’ll get to that. The focus here is Tatara taking the big step forward to improve his dancing and partnership abilities by moving to the Hyodo Social Dance Academy, which is run by the mother of one of his rivals, and then he and Chinatsu are trying their new partnership out in a real competition and focusing on the fallout. Building off of the last volume, the series feels like it is back on track with a firmer direction — one that has actual stakes for the characters.
Reflecting back on the series, it never truly felt like there was anything really serious on the line or a strong goal that was relatable or believable. It was just Tatara being thrown around and occasionally jumping into things. Now, things are clear; the main character wants to get into a big competition so he can dance against his friends/rivals and he needs to get first place in an upcoming contest before he can get into the one that really matters. Plus, he needs to fix his partnership with Chinatsu if they want to stand a chance. I find this way more worth getting invested in and the manga doesn’t have to completely rely on just the characters and their personalities alone to support its weight. I’m rather excited to see what happens now.
Character wise, I felt the volume was surprisingly underwhelming even in comparison to the previous one. The exception was the continued character growth of Tatara — his progress as a dancer was still well done. Now that he knows that he needs to work on his leading skills, he tries to figure out how to best work with Chinatsu, since their partnership is still wonky and they need all the practice they can get. This volume shows him make stronger leaps forward as he moves onto a school, leaving the one that his mentor runs. He respects and looks up to Sengoku, but now he wants to find a place that can really teach him, showing his growth in confidence and his desire to improve. It seems to pay off as well, getting into the zone while dancing and feeling as if he’s dancing by himself. It’s a strong, visually fascinating and striking moment, especially since it shakes Tatara to the core. Considering we see that Hyodo and Gaju both get that feeling as well when they dance, it shows how far Tatara has come since he started.
What I mean by underwhelming is that the rest of the cast felt so underutilized and were barely focused on. The most characterization we get from others is subtle, such as Akira’s attitude about never seeing herself as the problem in a partnership (maybe why she and Chinatsu fell out in the first place). The most overt, in comparison, we get is with Kugimiya, seeing how he feels other dancers around him. They are all depicted as squiggly figures, which he describes as pubic hair, which says so much about how he feels about other people and his own mentality and belief in his own superiority to others. The fact that Tatara is able to briefly stand out and force himself into Kugimiya’s view adds a bit to both characters’ own personal growth as well.
However, everyone else just doesn’t really do much or get to stand out here. The one who suffers the most is Chinatsu, who seemed like she was supposed to be stepping up more after reading the previous volume. She pretty much fades into the background for most of the book, just going along with almost everything Tatara wants and rarely fights with him (she rightfully gets on his case for costing them the first round of the competition they get into). It isn’t until the final chapter that she really comes into the forefront once again, at her limit due to not being able to work with Tatara. The implication of what happens seems to be that she has been trying to force herself to go along with whatever Tatara wants and needs, trying to “submit” to him like suggested previously. However, that just doesn’t work at all for either of them. The two of them are trying to do whatever the other wants and both submit to each other at the same time, which flat out doesn’t work here. It’s interesting to a point, but I really wish there was more to Chinatsu during this book, since they were building up her struggles last time. Oh well, maybe in the next volume.
At this point, there’s not much to say about the art that hasn’t been already said. It looks great here, outside of some odd moments that I’ll get to. The characters are drawn well and outside of how they look older than they actually are, everyone looks on model and is very capable of strong, expressive faces and body language. The final chapter is especially great, like when Tatara’s getting jerked around by several people and realizes he won’t have a pleasant dance competition in the future. The dancing looks pretty solid and you can feel the intensity as everyone moves about the dance floor, with the occasional weird posture and stance that looks off. The layouts flow pretty well and there are some really nice-looking shots in the book, like what happens when Tatara gets into the zone during the competition. The problems with the art comes in when the creator gets a bit skeevy and positions characters for cheesecake shots. While the series is no stranger to this, these moments look particularly egregious and awkward, like framing one of the underage female leads with tight clothing that hugs her breasts.
Welcome to the Ballroom Vol. 7 was a good outing hampered by little character growth or development for most of the cast sans the lead. While the story’s certainly enjoyable and there’s plenty to like with its new direction, it felt lacking in its emotional core area, especially with the female lead mostly not getting to do anything. Still, I found the volume to be a good time overall and look forward to when the next volume eventually arrives.