Don’t let us dance solo, be our partner in producing more content like this!
Be sure to check out the write-ups for prior episodes!
Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6 | Episode 7
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
I think it’s safe to say that Welcome to the Ballroom is the underdog of this season. Before we go down that path, let’s be totally and completely fair: this show is my darling of the season. I remember sitting the panel for the show at Anime Expo (as featured in the first three posts of this series, go check it out), sick with a fever. But as soon as I laid eyes on the preview a miraculous healing took place – to say I am biased is a polite understatement at best.
Too much of what is said about the show online has been criticizing Ballroom‘s story, a notion I find kinda silly since the show is about an artistic medium that is first and foremost concerned with stylization over substance. Perhaps part of this is because ballroom dancing is one step removed from more traditional sports. In comparison, contextualizing volleyball or basketball is easy once rules and constraints have been established, while dance has no such stark laws to follow.
Dance is literally the physical representation of human emotion. Passion, eros, amore. Dance doesn’t have rules, but it has form. Animation doesn’t have rules, but it has form. Emotion is communicated through movement. Each step, each drawing, must be timed precisely to preserve the sentimental flow or risk shattering the illusion. In that regard, this episode excels. There are small moments of personality that are completely carried by the animation. Take Mako’s blink as she stares off into space.
Anime is known (and often criticized) for it’s static shots, and there very easily could have been one here. Mako could have stared intently off camera and the same message would have been stated. But she blinks. And instead of a cold static frame we are met with a lavish, if not simple, depiction of life. The emotion breathes, is felt, if only from an unconscious effort.
Then there are more robust displays of this sort of thing.
Despite so much moment going on at the same time, all of it is very clearly articulated. This is a masterful display of staging. Shizuku moves with, yet independently from, Gaju with a level of detail that is uncanny. There’s a ton of overlapping action in this shot. His shirt flails in response to wild hip motions, while her ponytail flicks ever so slightly as she snaps from outstretched pose to outstretched pose. Most impressive is that none of it is mirrored. Each dancer has their own distinct identity that is dictated by timing and spacing. The movement of is clear and easy to follow, yet layered and complex all at the same time. The simplistic density of this three seconds of animation can be viewed again and again with new regard for the fine details that perfectly blend into the whole that is dancing. The amount of frames it took to produce this shot is amazing. Truly a labor of love.
In this cut the choreography is more similar to display a sense of sameness in skill level between the invading Gaju and the fawned Shizuku. There’s a good level of mystique that exudes from Shizuku’s swirling elliptical motions. The two take turns wrapping each other in their arms at sensual breakneck pace. This and the dance before it is all animated on-the-two’s with the occasional on-the-one slipped in there to propel the rhythm of the drawings to beat of the dance. This is known as framerate modulation, where drawings are displayed at differing rates to assist the illusion of motion.
Perhaps most lavish of it all was the ending sequence of the episode which bathes in the beautiful orange glow of the setting sun.
The lighting plays with the characters’ shapes. Shadows fall in such a way that sharpens expressions, heightening Tatara’s determined expression. At the same time, stray strands of Mako’s hair are washed away in light, softening her demeanor which serves as a stark contrast to her partner. Together, the two share a glow that set’s the character’s apart from their surroundings. The scenescape becomes the visual representation of the mood onscreen.
It’s the attention to detail that makes the dance feel so real. The slight bounce when they hold hands denotes a living connection, not a cold and robotic death grip of limited animation. The subtle sway of her hair when they come to a stop, and the flex and crease in their shoes when they step – the level of realism calls to our senses, things we can relate to. So whether or not we’ve danced, we can put ourselves in that moment by relating to these other visual cues. That’s the power of style.
If you thought the AX live drawing panel vids were the only extra Ballroom goodness Wave Motion Cannon had in store you were wrong! Be sure to check the translated interview with Kenichi Suemitsu (Series composition and Screenplay). He talks about what it’s like to adapt the manga into an anime! Go read it here!