Anime Watchlist is ComicsVerse’s anime recommendation series, where we spotlight some of the best lesser-known shows out there.

It’s time to get your dance shoes on because WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM is here! The show is the latest sports anime to strut onto our screens thanks to Amazon’s Anime Strike. While most sports anime follow more competitive sports like volleyball, basketball, or track and field, WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM is here to remind us that dancing is just as, if not more, intense! And it does not disappoint.

The story follows Fujita Tatara, an underprivileged middle schooler unsure of what he wants to do in life. One day, a man named Kaname Sengoku saves Fujita from bullies outside of Ogasawara Dance Studio. Afterward, Kaname mistakes Fujita for a potential student to his struggling studio and drags him inside. Poor Fujita is forced into trying out ballroom dancing but runs away due to embarrassment. That evening, he discovers a DVD had been placed in his school bag by the studio’s receptionist, Tamaki, of the previous year’s championship competition. And, after watching the DVD till the end, Fujita becomes completely enamored by ballroom dancing. He begs Kaname to let him train at Ogasawara the very next day.

Welcome to the Ballroom!

WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM, written and illustrated by Tomo Takeuchi, is the latest manga adaptation by Production I.G. The show first premiered at Anime Expo 2017 with Director Yoshimi Itazu (FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST, JOKER GAME), Chief Animation Director Takahiro Chiba (HAIKYUU!!, PSYCHO-PASS), and the show’s producer, Tetsuya Kinoshita (ATTACK ON TITAN), all present.

“When you think about ballroom [dancing], you think it’s very beautiful. But [WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM] was for Weekly Shonen, so it’s filled with action,” Kinoshita explained at the panel when asked why he chose to produce the show. And, true enough, this ballroom dancing manga was highly ranked among male readers according to this survey conducted by Kono Manga Ga Sugoi! There were challenges, however, when it came to animating the show. Director Itazu admitted during the panel, “We didn’t know anything about social dance.” In order to understand body movement during dancing, Itazu also admitted to taking up ballroom dancing for six months.

I had the honor of meeting Itazu and Chiba at a signing hosted by Pony Canyon Inc. This was their very first US appearance on behalf of the show, and they expressed how surprised and happy they were by US viewers’ excitement. I was even treated to a little doodle of my two favorite characters!

(Left to right) Kaname Sengoku drawn by Director Itazu and Fujita Tatara drawn by Chief Animation Director Chiba!

READ: WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM wasn’t the only show to premiere at Anime Expo! Click here for a full list.

On Casting

Voice actor Shimba Tsuchiya plays the main role of Fujita Tatara. As a newcomer to the world of voice acting (his only other VA role is as Tsutomu Goshiki in HAIKYUU!!), Director Itazu was excited to have a fresh voice playing the role. He also revealed that Tsuchiya wore a tuxedo to every voice recording session. What dedication!

Tsuchiya even joined Director Itazu for one dance lesson. With a history in ballet and other kinds of dance, Director Itazu claims that the young voice actor completely showed him up, making the director’s months of training look like child’s play!

They also discussed Toshiyuki Morikawa, who plays Kaname, at the panel. Morikawa has been in everything from BLEACH and ASTRO BOY to SAILOR MOON and POLAR BEAR CAFE. Director Itazu believes Morikawa’s relationship with Tsuchiya mirrors the on-screen student/teacher relationship of Fujita and Kaname, making him a good fit for the character.

A Different Kind of Shonen

Image: Pony Canyon, Inc.
That’s one small step for man, one big step for Fujita Tatara!

At its core, the show looks a lot like your typical shonen anime, which might make some viewers wonder why they should tune in. In a “typical” sports shonen, there’s usually an unambitious, yet strangely driven, teenager who stumbles upon a random activity and discovers that they’re pretty good at it. Sheer determination pushes them towards Inter-High championships and national competitions. Unlike most shonen anime, however, the characters in WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM are constantly competing. Ballroom dancing works on a ranking system decided by points earned in these different tournaments. People like Fujita have to participate in every competition they can get into in order to move up through the ranks. Since characters in the series aren’t hoping to win some big championship like regionals or nationals, the show focuses on growth and deep character development.

In sports anime like YURI!!! ON ICE or HAIKYUU!!, the main character is also already familiar with the chosen sport. Fujita, however, had never heard of ballroom dancing until that fateful encounter in front of Ogasawara. He isn’t even good at it at first; we constantly see him slipping and crashing onto the dance floor. In fact, it’s Fujita’s own stupidity that helps him improve after he spends over twelve hours dancing the same four steps. While he does, at the very least, have natural rhythm, it’s going to be a while before Fujita can stand on his own against seasoned dancers.

WATCH: Need another show to put into your queue? OWARIMONOGATARI II just released their first promotional video.

Real Characters, Real Emotions

Image: Anime Strike
How could you say no to that face?

“If there was just one thing. Something that I could say I loved. I could change.”

Fujita doesn’t have much direction in life, but he knows that whatever he decides to do can’t be a burden on his father, who’s a single parent and worries about his son’s future. Fujita fears that knowing about his after-school hobby might cause his father even more stress. This is why he doesn’t tell his father about his new passion, especially since ballroom dancing is expensive. Fujita can’t afford lessons so he begs Kaname and Tamaki to let him work at the studio until he can pay them back. This doesn’t include shoes, training clothes, or costumes, however, forcing him to accept hand-me-downs and other borrowed items.

Fujita is a character that is aware of his limitations in life. Even in ballroom dancing, he’s short, clumsy, and years behind other dancers in his age group. Despite all of this, however, it doesn’t stop him from pursuing this newfound passion.

He isn’t the only one striving for change, though.

In the second episode, we see Hanaoka Shizuku and her dance partner of nine years, Kiyoharu Hyodo, slaughter their opponents at a competition. Though they always come out on top, Hanaoka still feels inferior to her partner. She feels that he’s leagues ahead of her, citing that Kiyoharu danced their most recent competition with a 102° fever all the way to first place without missing a single step. This is why Hanaoka believes that studying abroad is the only way for her to catch up with him, though Kiyoharu rejects the idea. Still, Hanaoka holds her head high and strives to become a partner worthy of Kiyoharu. Her character shows that even those who seem to have it all together still struggle like everyone else.

Waltzing Into Our Hearts

WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM does a phenomenal job of balancing these inner struggles with lighter moments using tone shifts that feel completely natural. Kaname physically beats Fujita into having proper posture in the first episode. But rather than treating it as a serious moment (especially with the gravity of Kaname’s treatment), they depict the scene with over-exaggerated facial expressions and an awe-inspiring final shot. This is something that happens frequently in the show. When Fujita first meets Kiyoharu in person, not only does Fujita accidentally scare the guy into falling down a flight of stairs, but our first full shot of Kiyoharu shows him yawning excessively. It’s hard to believe that one guy can be so intimidating when his yawn is downright comical and loud enough to wake the dead.

Despite every fall, tumble, or sprain, the characters of WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM show that you can always get back up and start over with even more determination than before. It won’t be long before we’re all sobbing in front of our screens over the heartfelt moments this anime has to offer!

CLICK: FASTEST FINGER FIRST introduces quiz bowl with a team of ragtag players. See how they fight their way to the top in this new show!

Left…Right…Pivot!

WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM is a visually astounding show. The manga alone steps away from what one would expect from a story about ballroom dancing. The art style is full of boldly lined panels, solidifying it as an action-filled shonen. The anime mirrors this with rough animation during pinnacle moments. Fans of ATTACK ON TITAN and HAIKYUU!! will recognize this kind of jam-packed animation style filled with high-speed scenes and slowed down moves for heightened intensity.

Image: Anime Strike
Kiyoharu Hyodo: serial yawner, incredible dancer

Counterbalancing this fierce design is the show’s fluid dance sequences. It goes to show that Director Itazu’s dance lessons paid off! Thanks to him and the rest of the animation team, the animation quality of the dances is stunning. Dance sequences have equal opportunity to showcase the dancers’ skill and beauty. Moreover, their movements are incredibly life-like, leaving my jaw hanging every time.

Image: Anime Strike
She’s beauty, she’s grace, she’s Hanaoka Shizuku

I worried about the dance animation initially. But, as you can hopefully see from the two images above, I had nothing to be anxious about. WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM is in good hands with Production I.G.

Shall we dance?

The first season is expected to cover all 9 available volumes of the manga within 24 episodes. And while that might seem like a lot to fit into one season, each episode covers about 2-3 chapters. I have all the faith in the world that Director Itazu and the rest of his team will not let us down. I’m excited to see what else they have in store as the series goes on. Don’t miss this must watch anime of the summer!

WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM is now streaming via Amazon’s Anime Strike.

All images screenshotted from Anime Strike.

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