Welcome to the Ballroom is finally focusing on the dancing aspect, which is the perfect excuse to look at how the creators are approaching the sport; their dedication in learning the intricacies of real ballroom dancing, and the particularities that set apart everyone’s style – within the show and regarding the creators in charge!
Storyboard: Kazuya Nomura, Yoshimi Itazu (uncredited)
Episode Direction: Hitomi Ezoe
Chief Animation Director: Masayuki Honda
Action Animation Direction: Boya Liang
Animation Direction: Hideki Takahashi, Mariko Ishikawa
Key Animation: Yuki Igarashi, Chiyo Morita, Kanako Hiroo, Kengo Takehana, Hisako Shimozuma, Ryosuke Kanai, Yuko Yahiro, Maho Tomisaka, Hiroko Kasuga, Aya Yamada, Chikai Takeuchi, Ai Watanabe, Takeshi Ishizuka, Tsubasa Hatajima, Ikuko Haruyama, Yukari Watabe, Katsuhiro Takagi, Ema Suzuki, Tomoko Hamanaka
I don’t think I’ll be upsetting many people by saying that this show about dancing is at its best when the characters dance. Not only is it regularly spectacular in those moments, it’s also often awkward when trying to bring levity via tired gags. That might sound harsh, but now that the intro is out of the way, the show is focusing on what it genuinely excels at.
Anime depicting real activities, and sports in particular, are often surrounded by comments about the staff attempting to nail its depiction. And that’s true of course, there’s no creative crew that doesn’t want their work to be as good as possible. But the degree of verisimilitude with which they approach it, as well as their ability to produce outstanding animation, greatly depend on the nature of the project. And as it turns out, Welcome to the Ballroom is in a position to put together excellent work. They’re partnered with official dancing institutions, real dancers provide reference footage, its staff took dancing lessons to truly understand the movement, and on top of that they’ve employed gifted artists who can turns those ideas into memorable pieces of animation. This is a bit of a long-winded intro to say that as an overview of these episodes, I’ll be almost exclusively looking at the dancing scenes: they’re what the staff are putting most of their effort in, and these episodes featured the actual start of the competitions. Seems justified!
On an interview I personally wrote for most of Ballroom’s core staff, the chief animation director Takahiro Chiba brought up sensuality as a new element when comparing his work here to Haikyuu. Although the chief supervision in this case was by Masayuki Honda, the eroticism Chiba brought up becomes more obvious than ever during this samba clip early in the episode. The sequence was animated by Kanako Hiroo and features slight corrections by Boya Liang, who used her first turn on the supervisor seat to accentuate the passionate expressions and fluid timing. This is only a short taste as most of the episode returns to the waltz we’re used to, but the difference is immediately obvious; there’s an almost viscous texture to the movement, and the choreography feels more like a conversation between the couple. Even the wildest depictions of waltz dancing so far were rigid to a degree, with drawings that might be allowed to lose their form but are always meant to evoke solid bodies in motion. This on the other hand is all passion, and passion flows in whatever way it wants.
After that spectacular display it was a bit of a shame to return to the waltz, especially since the relative restraint appears to affect Boya Liang more than it does with Takashi Mukouda. The latter is handling twice the workload by the looks of it, but any comparison would be unfair as we’re talking of a master animator and a very promising young artist. Liang’s work seems fairly compatible with Mukouda’s effort so far, especially the soft smears, but I would like to see her work on an episode fully dedicated to latin dancing. It was her sumi-e brushes that caught people’s attention in Haikyuu!, and that feels like it would be perfectly compatible with the passionate dances. That said, the relative flavorlessness of Tatara’s dancing here has to be intentional to some degree; he was copying someone else’s choreography, and as other characters said it was a bit of a miracle for him to get his partner to dance to begin with. Amusingly enough, the most technically impressive sequence might have been Tatara practicing in the restroom under no pressure. The show’s main animator Shingo Takenaka animated it, as you might have guessed by the attention to the way the clothing moves.
Stepping away from the dancing for a moment, I’d like to note that the episode was directed by Hitomi Ezoe, a recurring name on this site. The enshutsu role on TV anime greatly depends on your management skills, as much as if not more than your creative vision. The fact that she keeps showing up on notoriously high-profile projects like the ones we tend to cover over here (My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan to name a few) serves as proof that she’s very trusted as a production supervisor.
It’s also worthy of note that the storyboarding was split between the series director Yoshimi Itazu and Kazuya Nomura, director of projects like Robotics;Notes and more recently Joker Game. It was precisely on the latter that Itazu did something uncharacteristic of him by handling an episode of TV anime, so we can consider this Nomura’s way of repaying a favor. No complaints about his solid work, though I have to admit that my favorite work of his this season is the Princess Principal opening – a catchy sequence with a similar rhythm as his Joker Game intro, which incorporates the cast’s femininity and hidden secrets into the steampunk aesthetic via metallic flowers and shadows. Itazu’s contribution to the storyboard is a bit of a surprise; not because it happened, since we know he’s a very involved series director, but rather because he wasn’t credited for it. The official site and even the man himself revealed that he did work on it, so this must have entailed more than the usual storyboard corrections.
Storyboard, Episode Direction: Masako Sato
Chief Animation Director: Takahiro Chiba
Action Animation Direction: Takashi Mukouda
Animation Direction: Kazumasa Orii, Hisako Shimozuma, Takahiro Chiba, Masayuki Honda
Key Animation: Mai Yonekawa, Sachiko Fukuda, Natsuko Shimizu, Yuki Igarashi, Kanako Hiroo, Chiyo Morita, Ryosuke Kanai, Yosuke Yajima, Norika Maeda, Yuri Hashimoto, Miyoko Shikibu, Ikumi Nishimura, Takahiro Fujii, Saki Konishi, Miho Tanaka, Kazuomi Yamashiro, Naoko Koyama, Satsuki Aizu, Yuka Koichi
Takashi Mukouda, Hisako Shimozuma, Kazumasa Orii
Spurred by Tatara’s performance, the injured Hyodo returns to the dancefloor with more passion than ever. There’s a clear crescendo in his performance; the beginning, animated by the same Natsuko Shimizu who stood out on the first episode’s climax, is energetic but still shows some restraint. That gradually increases in the next part (perhaps animated by Mai Yonekawa?) and by the time Yuki Igarashi takes the pencil, it’s already an ardent frenzy. In a project featuring many realistic animators, Igarashi’s fantasy stands out all the much more. The same Ballroom that obsessed over clothing folds can also allow Igarashi’s spectacular illustration that temporarily does away with Hyodo’s shirt to emphasize his inhuman burning passion.
On that regard I would also highlight the work of the Dogakobo-aligned animator Sachiko Fukuda, who will likely act as a regular animator on this project. Fans are more used to her animation on lighthearted comedies, which might few different but at its core uses the same principles of exaggeration you can see in her work over here. She got to animate the sequence where Hyodo’s aura literally takes form and becomes effects animation, which was a good complement to Igarashi’s take. Coupled with Mukouda’s ever-present corrections, the latin dance left quite the impression!
Key Animation: Natsuko Shimizu, Sachiko Fukuda, Kengo Takehana, Ai Watanabe, Fujiko Aoyagi, Maho Tomisaka, Yoko Sugita, Mitsuhiro Okumura, Hitomi Sasaki, Tsubasa Hatajima, Yuri Namigami, Akio Kitahara, Yuta Masaki, Kohei Yamazaki
Shingo Takenaka, Satoshi Nagura
Rather than the differences between dancing styles being accentuated thanks to distinct approaches to the animation, this episode stands out because of the individuality; while the general style depends on the rhythm, each performer understandably approaches dancing in their own way, and this episode does an outstanding job at making that obvious. Gaju joins the cast like a lightning bolt, which is the element that his performance seems imbued with as well. For the first time in the series so far, we experienced a dancing sequence that focused first and foremost on diabolic speed. It maintains the show’s attention to body and clothing movement (which could be seen as a con since the adherence to the poses impacts the flow), but the result is spectacular in a new way.
On the other hand, there’s a component of gentleness on the final dance between Tatara and Mako that was nowhere to be seen before. Sure there’s resolution in his eyes, but the newfound chemistry between dancers clearly takes a different form that it did during the passionate latin performances before. The scene as a whole is an easy highlight of the episode, perhaps the show as a whole. This is in no small part thanks to the storyboarder Keiichi Hara, yet another name you wouldn’t expect in TV anime nowadays; it had been decades since the last time the ex-ShinEi Shin-chan ace had storyboarded an episode for television, but since he has a solid relationship with Production I.G nowadays, the studio can keep on flaunting about exclusive theatrical talent. This final scene is particularly memorable, and even the obvious concepts – “I’m looking at you” – were executed brilliantly. Sometimes it feels like from the directional side they’re being a bit too timid to let the performers speak, so I’d love more scenes with this much personality.