If any of you have looked at my MAL page, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not the biggest fan of shonen manga/anime. One Punch Man wasn’t one of my favorite shows that aired last year, and while I do have favorites in the genre, I can’t say my affection for them is all that strong. However, that isn’t to say I dislike shonen either! My Hero Academia won me over instantly with its lovable protagonist, I think Hunter x Hunter is genuinely complex and multilayered, and I’m a moderate fan of Haikyuu!! It isn’t that I don’t like shonen material, it’s just that in order for it to really grab me it’s got to stand out in terms of character or tone.
Which brings us to the topic of today’s Shelf Review, aka Welcome to the Ballroom Volume 1, which I bought in order to expand on my small manga library. The story starts off with all the typical plot points you’d expect from this kind of venture: a young protagonist who doesn’t know what he wants to do, a cute girl with a secret passion, and a lot of intense practicing. However what makes Welcome to the Ballroom work is its unique subject matter. Dancing is an often disregarded sport, and to see it portrayed in a competitive environment is refreshing.
Sure, part of the reason I like it may be because I go to an art school and was forced into a yearlong dance class; but dancing well is hard okay!? It takes a ton of effort to look happy on stage while your body is working its butt off to hit the right moves at the right time in the right way. Not to mention school dancers have an infinitely larger work load. They have core classes, homework, all on top of constant practice during and after school.
As such, it’s nice to see a series that captures the stress and pain that comes with this kind of practice. It takes Fujita a whole night of dancing to learn a swing, and when learns the waltz it takes a lot of tedious mirror pratice to get it down pat. Hell, even Kiyoharu Hyoudou, the most talented dancing student Fujita knows, has to work his ass off to be considered as good as he is. No one in this series is given an easy reward, and while some of them are gifted with natural talent, their efforts to improve don’t feel unnecessary. Just because Fujita can learn by watching others dance doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to practice.
Of course, it also helps that all of this grueling work is drawn with stunning beauty on the page. While Tomo Takeuchi’s art is occasionally hard to follow, its focus on capturing the motion and intensity of each dancer’s movements works wonders with the material. You can see the focus in their eyes, the sweat on their brow, and the poise and beauty they maintain in spite of their constant swinging and turning. It makes each move on the competition floor feel alive, and the sleek shoujo-esque character designs only help elevate the art’s overall grandiosity.
In the end, I can’t say off the first volume alone that Welcome to the Ballroom is a must read. I definitely enjoyed my time with it, and I think the sport it’s focusing on is a nice change of pace, but that still doesn’t change the fact that a lot of the story beats here are pretty generic. Still, it definitely has a spark of character that hooked me in, and if you want to see some gorgeous art and sensual dancing then hell yeah check this out. Even if I’m not sure about the series’ future direction, I’m looking forward to the next volume. And frankly, that’s quite the accomplishment.
Welcome to the Ballroom Volume 1 is published by Kodansha Comics USA in North America. You can order the book online on Amazon and Rightstuf.com.