elucidatedlucy: absolutely purposefully terrible (Default)
[personal profile] elucidatedlucy
It's difficult (for me) to talk about Ballroom E Youkoso.

The ballroom dancesport focused manga has been written & drawn by Takeuchi Tomo since 2011 (her first serialized manga), and it's one that has quickly found a place in my heart - despite both itself and my typical frustrations for the genre.  On one hand, it is absolutely refreshing to see a sport manga with an actively balanced cast in terms of gender, wherein there are always complicated dynamics going on between the young men and women present within competitions.  On the other hand, an unfortunate trapping of the genre tends to be that if they do include any women, then sexism & misogyny become near-inescapable additions.

As a short introduction of the manga itself - it follows Fujita Tatara, a 3rd year in junior high with no particular interests or dreams for the future. One day, while putting off forms for high school yet again, he sees that a classmate of his - Hanaoka Shizuku - has also been putting off high school registration. As he walks home, an encounter with bullies leads to him being rescued by the owner of a local dance studio - and against all odds, to find that Shizuku herself dances here.

She is not so welcoming or aimless as he assumed she was when he saw her in the school's office.


From there, it moves along the lines one most expects of the genre - Tatara finds a drive and dream in trying to succeed in ballroom dancesport, and moves along the trials & tribulations demanded of that world.  What ultimately makes it stand out as its own story in the genre is rooted in - 
  1. Being about competitive ballroom dancing, obviously, complete with excitingly kinetic art to supplement its tone
  2. Being about what is a two-person team, tight and focused on particular relationships
  3. The complicated dynamic that forms main partnership, an intense rivalry between a young man and a young woman who are both talented, but in almost opposite ways for what they are both wanted to be in the dance world.

I say, "I want to sell people on this manga."  But I almost feel bad trying to do that.  I honestly don't want to convince people to read something that might make them uncomfortable or frustrated.  I don't want people to feel like they need to read stressful media, when from what I see of the sport animanga fandom tends to want a chance to chill out with fun & dramatic works, wherein they have the potential to add or remove conflict as they see fit.  I think the flaws of this manga can be more trouble than they're worth, for people who just want a break.

So, if nothing else, I'll say this - if you want a sport manga that treats women's issues in the sport world with decent respect, do read Teppuu.  Teppuu, while written & drawn by a man, does have a wide diversity in women's body types, is a cast of almost entirely women, and even its "fanservice" isn't anything particularly bad. Ballroom teases such issues, but doesn't sit on them or give them much levity, the fanservice is much more blantantly obvious, it coddles the men in its cast, but - if you can overlook it like me, for the sake of liking series about dance, or the women, or the cast at large, then maybe you'll find something here, too.

When I talk or think about Ballroom, I most frequently jump to what I like about my favorite character in the cast, or the dynamic between the eventual main partnership which is formed a handful of volumes into the series.  However, when I originally began reading, I found myself overwhelmingly frustrated despite wanting to push on.  Series about dancesport are fraught with trouble, due to much of the inherent misogyny and aggressive body policing that exists within those worlds.  From what I am aware of, it's incredibly difficult to write a story about succeeding in competitive dancesport without indulging in those issues.

So Ballroom comes with a dozen problems weight to bear from the very start.  When enjoying the sport animanga genre, we go in with an understanding that the competitive world & spirit is going to be (while struggled with) ultimately idolized, despite potential destructive sentiments that exist within it.  Popular sport series are often focused wholly around men, so the stark discomfort that comes with misogyny in the sport world is not often something we must engage with.  Unfortunately with Ballroom, this is blatant even from the start, and oftentimes in manners that are brushed to the side or accepted as a part of the game that women must play.  When people read sport manga for light-hearted enjoyment or struggles of a more personally overcomable kind, that can be frustrating!  For that, and many other reasons, it becomes both a difficult manga to read and recommend.

I say all that, but I do enjoy it.  I love Ballroom.  I love its characters.  I love the art.  I love the allegories expressed in how each person discusses dance.  I love seeing women, both in high school and adult, succeeding in the dance world.  I love seeing young women admitting to how much they struggle, wanting to quit, not wanting to be thrown away when they know they are not as valued at large, I love seeing women admitting to an aggressive competitive spirit that people consider unpleasant or grating.  It stands out.

I say all this, but again - there are so many off-putting qualiities to this manga.  As a shonen manga, even written by a woman, it does still do its best to try to make dance appeal to young men who may read it.  It goes to frustrating lengths to placate any young man's worries about how dance might make him look.  It placates any young man who might be nervous about how mysterious pretty girls can be, having the girls talk about some "man's world to dance they will never be able to understand."  It grates.  But it is an unfortunately accepted trapping of the genre - and it does treat the women with more agency than I typically see in the genre.

There is fatphobia and body policing, complete with one of those scenes wherein the one fat character in the cast suddenly gets Incredibly Thin And Pretty - body diversity, this manga does not have.  This is certainly at least partly due to the body policing of competitive dance itself, but that scene I reference is particularly egregious and frustrating.  And that is because it is always most placed upon women.  The mangaka does comes across as aware to how much women are expected to meet these ideals, how much women will be judged and viewed and required to be, but aspects of this are left in the dust of "It's better this way" at worst, or "time to get back to the boys feeling silly for dancing and leave the girls' personal issues to subtext" at best.

Despite body types all being Basically The Same, people do look different - even when characters are being drawn in their dance apparel, hair held up tight, trying to all fit to a uniform beauty that will most appeal to judges' stringent standards, body language manages to speak volumes as to who is who, and say as much about themself as they would not outright admit.

It's beautiful.  The art carries a gorgeous energy that conveys the dance well.  It's fun, even if some of the humor is mean-spirited.  It follows some unfortunate tropes of the sport genre, but does interesting work otherwise.  There are fabulous complicated relationships in the tightly connected cast, girls who have troubled but deep connections, wonderful mentorships.  And ... I think it's pretty worthwhile.  Even when I roll my eyes, even when I burn and wish for more than I'm given, somehow I still enjoy it all.  To me, it's enough.  It might not be for everyone, but it's exciting, it's dramatic, and above all, it feels like dance.

To me, that's a good reason to pick it up.


Fujita Tatara, our protagonist, doesn't come across as very stand-out at first. When I began reading, I was blatantly reminded of Sena of Eyeshield 21 - as I got into volume five and six, I found my expectations being subverted in ways I hadn't expected (or dreamed of, with the bias I have, but everyone is different). However, he is a newbie to the dance world, a young man chasing the coattails of the best the world has to offer. That fact, and the breakdown of that motivation, is possibly one of the more interesting parts of Ballroom.

He has a charm with everyone in the cast, and plays most obviously to the romantic element of the series. Whether or not his feelings are reciprocated, there is a gentle poignance of young love that resonates in how he feels and approaches things. His (het) romantic feelings feel more natural as time goes on, if not at all the forefront of manners, and it stands as one of the elements that makes Tatara into his own character.

Hanaoka Shizuku is the first main character we meet, as well as one of the main driving forces for Tatara - not just because of his crush on her, but because of her own active challenge towards him. To be frank, I love Shizuku - she is subtly manipulative if she needs to be, well aware of her place in the dancing world, to a painful extent. She carries an intense ambition, and despite all her ability and hard work, she carries an equal concern for being unable to keep up specifically with her incredibly talented partner.

We aren't allowed to see much of Shizuku's internal feelings. Most of what we see from her is what she says, or allows on her face, and she isn't someone to give up much. No matter how open and sincere Tatara may be, and no matter how intrigued she is by his dancing, she keeps many things close to her chest. At the same time, she also loves dance, and is the more sensible of the pair of her and Kiyoharu. Characters have a bad tendency of objectifying her for her beauty and intelligence and talent, as a trophy to pin and show off in dance, but it rings as unfortunately understandable with some of the worse elements of ballroom.

Every time I see her, I'm curious as to what insight we'll be allowed from her. Unlike the other main young women we meet in this manga, she's rather enigmatic.  But she has a good heart,  and her youth is betrayed in her actions in charming ways - it's nice to know that for all she has had to grow up so quickly, she is still a teen.

Hyoudou Kiyoharu begins the manga as a junior high third year, much like Shizuku and Tatara, standing at the top of the junior dancesport circuit in Japan. He is also Shizuku's partner - the two of them have practiced together since childhood, and are frankly incredible together. Kiyoharu is a rather blunt character. While he definitely has good intentions and dedicates himself to dance, he shows little interest for anything outside it. His aura of intimidation is one of the most striking elements of when he dances. However, outside of dance, he comes across as rather terrible at this whole "Seeming Like A Proper Human Being" thing. He isn't someone to show much emotion, or even admit to his own drive (the type who always tends to show over tell), but he carries a lot of charm. His relationships with Shizuku and Tatara stand out from the start, but he is shown to interact with many other dancers throughout.

The Akagi siblings are another deeply talented pair of dancers who have been working together since youth, much like Kiyoharu and Shizuku. Gaju is a year older than the first three we are introduced to, and Mako is a year younger. Their introduction begins the second major arc of the manga, as Tatara is still learning the four standards of ballroom dance.

Mako is different from Shizuku, and had the tendency to wear her emotions on her face. She's not so ambitious, and more unsure - the struggle the two siblings have in one another's shadow is an unanswered problem that likely has no perfect solution. Gaju is more fiery and outward than Kiyoharu, despite not being quite as talented. However, the two of them are still remarkably good dancers, and it is through them that we are introduced to competitive dance in earnest.

I don't have a cool caption for Gaju for some reason, sorry.

Gaju's fiery personality makes him someone who struggles to get along with other people in school, but he forms relationships with both Tatara and Kiyoharu - he has definite interest in Shizuku, but her own 'interest' in just about anyone seems rather focused on dance itself. Mako is much more of a heart after Tatara's, the first "on the level" feeling we have for our protagonist, but her personal troubles and interactions slowly unfold.

Tatara's "coach" and first teacher, Sengoku Kaname, isn't what one would call particularly kind. He's passive aggressive at best and excessively belligerent at worst. Despite that, Tatara still valiantly follows his teachings, for all of how weak-willed he may seem at times. The two make a rather mismatched mentorship, but if nothing else, it is honest. Kaname isn't a great guy, but he has a strange soft spot for Tatara - it helps that he happens to be one of the top ranked dancers in the world.

Hongou Chiduru is Kaname's partner, another world class dancer. She isn't currently the most present character, but I'm quite fond of the honestly terrible partnership Chiduru and Kaname have - they're constantly bickering and pissing one another off, despite being world renowned dance partners. I always love seeing that even with adults - you don't know if their relationship is romantic, or maybe on-and-off, or what, but the two of them are certainly ... partners. She also serves as an inspiration for another major character.

I don't want to introduce every character, as there are only 41 chapters currently translated, up to volume 9 - introducing characters past a certain point gets into pretty notable spoilers, and some reveals I actually really think stand best if met in the manga!   However, I will link to a snippet about the final Main Character of the cast here, in case of interest in that.

When it comes to sport manga, there are a lot of kinds of rivalry, but Ballroom plays into one of my personal favorites - partnership rivalries.

It shows rivalry between many competing couples, but sets its own laurels upon the struggle between two dancers to be the best, to not let the other drag them down, and to force each other up to the top.  The battle of who leads and who follows, and how that balances out into something wherein the two of them would normally get lost in the tide, or overwhelm a partner to the point of being thrown away.

I really like Ballroom e Youkouso.  It explores women in dancesport, and even if it never goes as far as I want, it's a kind of relief to see the manga do that at all.  It is a shonen.  It is directed at boys and young men.  It doesn't always allow women to keep the agency I feel they have under the complexities binding them.  But there is so much to enjoy, and for people who enjoy dance on top of that, this can be an enjoyable read.
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
Account name:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
HTML doesn't work in the subject.


Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.


elucidatedlucy: absolutely purposefully terrible (Default)

June 2017

456789 10

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 18th, 2017 01:48 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios