Tatara Fujita desperately wants to be good at something, and after being saved from bullies by a dancer he may just find the answer he is looking for as he steps into the ballroom.
Tatara Fujita is in his third-year of middle-school, but his lack of confidence a driving passion in life has left him listlessly drifting through a life of being bullied at school. After giving yet another indecisive answer about his future ambitions to his teacher, Fujita is ambushed by bullies on the way home from school but it saved by a strong man on a motorcycle. It turns out that this man is Kaname Sengoku, a famous competitive ballroom dancer as well as the proprietor of the Ogasawara Dance Studio, and he eagerly accosts Fujita to show him ballroom dancing. It turns out that Fujita’s attractive school-mate, Shizuku Hanaoka, is also a competitive dancer at the studio, and after being entranced by Sengoku’s dancing as well as the prospect of getting to know Shizuku, Fujita decides to take his first steps onto the ballroom floor to find his passion in life.
Who knew that ballroom dancing could be so interesting? Not me, but Welcome to the Ballroom’s first volume stands out because of the way that it tackles the theme of finding your passion in life through the frame of this intense sport. The initial premise of this volume is simple, but well-established - Fujita has more or less sailed through his middle-school existence without a lot of confidence, and desperately wants to have one passion to call his own. You’d be right to call this cliche, but what makes this premise work so well is the surrounding execution that takes Fujita’s goal and conveys his process of becoming enraptured with dancesport and subsequent effort with an intensity that makes his experience resonant.
Fujita’s initial adventure into the Ogasawara Dance studio in the first chapter is a charming opener which adequately gets across the premise of this series while introducing Fujita and the rest of the cast. Appropriately, much of the focus is spent on showing the small changes in Fujita’s outlook as he begins to consider ballroom dance seriously, and I really liked the way that we saw him go through the range of emotions early on in moving from doubt to a sort of sense of resolve as he slowly began to become captivated by the world of dance. I also thought that this development was done well because it really showed him reacting to various displays of dancing as the volume went on and reacting accordingly. It was endearing to watch Fujita frequently wonder “how can I possibly do that?” before letting each instance of this questioning add the his resolve in a way that definitely made me want to see him improve. This resolve gets demonstrated well as the volume goes on as we see him growing little by little in confidence as he practices his dance, and I thought the metaphor of him having to straighten his back out to attain dancing posture accurately mirrored his development in this book in linking his small growth in the sport to that of his emotional state.
While Fujita’s inner drive to grow in the sport primarily comes from within, this volume does a good job introducing an interesting supporting cast that help to shape his development in an interesting way. Principle among the support cast is his brash saviour/teacher Kaname Sengoku who begrudgingly takes Fujita on to mentor, and this relationship ends up shaping much of how Fujita approaches the sport. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about Sengoku early on - while he’s an interesting teacher for Fujita who clearly develops a bit of a soft-spot for the younger boy, he comes off as sort of mean-spirited at times in way that felt like it veered into the type of bullying which Fujita gets into dance to avoid. Sengoku also ends up being a major source of comedic relief in this volume by making pervy jokes about dancing in general, and this felt a little bit off considering the intensity with which the sport is otherwise portrayed. That said, I liked that there were a few scenes which showed Sengoku slowly warming up to Fujita despite showing him tough love, and I’m interested to see how this relationship develop given the large contrast between Fujita’s meekness and Sengoku’s assertive manner.
The second major relationship established in this volume is that of Fujita and his pretty classmate Shizuku Hanaoka as the two get to know each other a little bit at the dance studio. We get some early hints of a romantic subplot, but what I thought was interest was Fujita’s move from viewing her just as a pretty girl to become more entranced by her skill and the intensity of her dancing. This leads to an interesting development when Fujita goes to watch Shizuku and her partner, Kiyoharu Hyodo, compete and ends up seeing Hyodo as an aspirational rival. This led to an awesome scene where Fujita uncharacteristically challenges Hyodo for reasons unbeknownst to himself, and I thought it was cool to see Fujita’s growing passion for dance coalesce into a sudden moment of confidence. It also helped that both Shizuku and Hyodo are both generally supportive of Fujita’s aspirations, but more importantly we really get a sense of the utter devotion they have towards dance which also make them appropriate points of longing for Fujita as he begins his journey towards the ballroom. Because of this, I’m very eager to see how these relationships develop in tandem with Fujita’s dancing and enjoyed the way the rest of the cast helped to frame his journey.
While the story does its part well in describing the beginnings of Fujita’s fascination with ballroom dance, Takeuchi-sensei’s art does much of the heavy lifting in terms of really selling ballroom dance as an interesting subject. This is brought across well in the short dance scenes which are spread out throughout this volume, and these scenes are utterly captivating because of the way that Taekuchi-sensei is able to convey the sheer intensity and fluid motion of the participants with her linework. The panels are laid out in a way which really showcases the whirling involved in the dances with a dramatic flourish which really gets across the idea that Fujita is presented with of these dancers participating in a battle by stepping onto the dance floor. We also see the absolute focus and determination in the eyes of the other dancers such as Hyodo, I really liked how this strongly conveyed the type of confidence which Fujita sees himself working towards. Fujita’s captivation with ballroom dance wouldn’t be nearly as resonant without this strong artistic effort, and I absolutely can’t wait to see longer dance scenes in the future especially as Fujita steps out onto the dance floor to end this volume.
Welcome to the Ballroom Vol. 1 succeeds in telling the beginnings of a compelling coming of age story framed by the intensity of ballroom dancing thanks to its endearing focus on Fujita’s struggle to find a real passion. Although not all of the beats hit the mark, Fujita’s struggle is endearing because of the way that we see him change even over the course of this volume as he picks up ballroom dancing. The art in particularly really helps to sell this process by conveying the sheer intensity and motion of the sport in a way that makes it readily apparent why Fujita becomes so enamored with taking up the sport. All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable first volume and I can’t wait to see Fujita’s journey continue.
Welcome to the Ballroom Vol. 1 was translated by Karen McGuillicudy and published by Kodansha Comics USA on September 27th, 2016. Created by Tomo Takeuchi, the series runs in Kodansha’s Monthly Shonen Magazine.
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