I’ve come to really love Welcome to the Ballroom. It’s such a good series about dance that fits almost perfectly within the sports series genre in manga. With the third volume out, let’s continue and see what the series has to offer now. Is it good?
Writer/Artist: Tomo Takeuchi
Translated by: Karen McGillicuddy
Lettering by: Brndn Blakeslee
It’s time for Tatara’s big debut as he begins his first real trial: the Tempei Cup. He plans on winning big and beating Gaju Akagi, a young blowhard and fierce dancer, for two reasons: First, to honor Hyodo’s request and serve as Shizuku’s dancer partner until he recovers. Second, to show Gaju he was wrong for abandoning his original dance partner, his younger sister Mako. Things are about to get interesting.
After getting a brief taste of it in the second book, the third volume takes us straight into our first arc centered around a dance competition. In a sports series, the games or in this case “heats”, are where the series really shine and make the most of the plot and character progression. Key players get to shine, we learn more about the sport itself and how it operates, character arcs are furthered, and the experience usually leaves an impact on the cast and story. With the Tempei Cup arc, we get almost all of the aforementioned (the experience aspect usually comes at the end or after the “game” though) and it plays out very well. The story is entertaining and there are several great twists and turns and the approach of the story is starting to differ now. Instead of being a dramedy though, this story is moving more in the dramatic aspect and doing so rather well, focusing on the seriousness of the situation to each of the characters, what this competition means to them, and what dancing is like for them. There’s a lot of power here and I feel this volume wouldn’t nearly be as good if it still had a lot of focus on the comedy.
The characterization is truly fantastic and joy to read, giving the four main characters of the arc (Tatara, Gaju, Shizuku, and Mako) each their own moment or moments throughout. While Gaju really does not develop much as a character, outside of us seeing how good he is and watching as he fuels his rage into his dancing, he serves as a very strong, cocky, opening rival to Tatara. He’s almost like the exact opposite of him, a person who is too overly serious about dancing to where he doesn’t seem to love it and lacks the ability to respect his partner or her own wants. Shizuku is a bit of a tougher nut to crack. She’s very serious about dancing and loves it, willing to abandon Hyodo to keep moving forward. However, she’s also concerned it seems about Gaju and his goals, despite partnering with him. The only real clear thing about her is that she is still very confrontational with people who treat dancing and her ability with little respect. It’s a small moment when Gaju confronts Tatara about trying to make Mako better than Shizuku, who gets in Tatara’s face about it. It’s small but powerful. I’m not sure what to really think about Shizuku at this point though.
Tatara and Mako get more of than the lion share’s character growth in this book. Mako has been a character who hasn’t gotten much to do or many chances to stand out despite being Tatara’s new partner and part of his motivation, being pushed and pulled by the people in her life. However, given she has been dancing most of her life and seeing flashbacks of her time with Gaju, you start to see she’s been held back and her first act of getting to choose what she wants to do, she’s allowed to truly shine. The last chapter of the book is a triumph for her, finally getting the spotlight and being shown how elegant and amazing she is. Then you got Tatara, who is rapidly growing throughout the competition, learning how to perform routines, learning his body’s capabilities and limits, getting advice that’s shaping his routines, and showing how quickly he can adjust to changes on the fly. He has grown to love dance more and more, even really regretting how he never discovered before now and really seeing how far behind he is compared to his peers. His moments and growth are the backbone to this book and it’s such a wonderful thing to read about. It makes you wonder where he’ll be going from here once he learns more dance moves and routines.
The writing overall on this volume was particularly good. There weren’t many side characters this time, just three overall, putting the focus more on our four dancers, which was good and allowed for the story to really develop them. The side characters merely help to accentuate and develop the main cast in important ways, especially when it comes to Tatara. The pacing for the story feels like it slows down a bit in this volume, taking its time more to let the story and characters move at their own speed. The drama is effective and while it is scaled back, the comedy still really works and provides a lot of hilarious moments (Sengoku really steals some scenes). The dialogue is a little quirky in spots with characters talking and saying things to other people that should already know what they’re talking about. It’s not often and usually the dialogue and exchanges between characters are fine, but there are awkward moments here and there that did catch my attention.
Last, but certainly not least, is the artwork, which is still gorgeous. The characters are drawn exceptionally well and convey a wide range of facial expressions and emotions, accentuating the more dramatic moments in the story. The layouts are well put together, using some good angles and pacing to present each high and low, which also helps to sell the drama of the tale. But like always, the dancing is the highlight and this time, with the story being set in a dance competition for the entirety, the artwork really shines. I still feel there are issues concerning the presentation of flowing motion and wonkiness with how the characters bend their bodies, but you rarely ever notice such an issue. The energy, emotion of joy and rage, and the detail of the line work conveys the grace and power of each dance routine everyone performs. It’s beautiful-looking, especially in the final chapters when Tatara and Mako are doing something referred to as The Flower and the Frame. The only noticeable problem I had with the visuals were the awkward, almost out-of-place fanservice with one character in how she’s designed and how the panels frame and focus on her.
Is It Good?
Welcome to the Ballroom Vol. 3 was another amazing outing for the series that it is diving deep into the heart of a dance competition. The character growth so far has been so excellent, with intriguing, clever twists within the plot. The manga has a lot of the traditional sports series elements within it, but it’s painted over with such a fine coat of writing and artwork that it gives the usual tropes a fresh and exciting new look. I’m loving this series so far and here’s hoping the next volume brings this arc to a satisfying conclusion.
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