Ballroom dancing probably isn’t high up on the list of things people would suspect would make a compelling manga, but Sweep over the Dance Hall turns this sport into a compellingly intense coming-of-age story.
Fujita Tatara is meek and lacks confidence – but above all else, he lacks that one talent that he can feel proud of himself for. Walking home from school after a depressing guidance visit discussing his lack of a dream with his teacher, Fujita is stopped by bullies as usual but is saved by an interloper on a motorcycle scares them off. It turns out that Fujita’s savior is Kaname Sengoku, a famous ballroom dancer who immediately drags Fujita up to his dance studio for a free lesson. There, Fujita bumps into his beautiful classmate, Shizuku Hanaoka, who is an acclaimed competitive ballroom dancer herself.
Although he is hesitant at first, Fujita is inspired by the confidence shown by Sengoku, Shizuku and other dancers when he sees them dance competitively, inspiring him to join the studio. While the prospect of spending more time with Shizuku is attractive in itself, more than anything Fujita joins to build his own confidence and become a person he can really be proud of. As the story progresses, Fujita struggles through a series of increasingly prestigious dance competitions with a variety of partners, becoming a person he can be proud of as he attempts to find his own place in this new and exciting world.
Welcome to the Ballroom at first appears to be a fairly standard sports coming of age story with a dab of romance, but what differentiates it is the utter intensity with which it portrays ballroom dancing. Far from being a casual hobby for the teenagers in this story, ballroom dancing is their singular pursuit as they practice their craft with a formidable intensity. The story takes a respectful tone, never cheapening achievement in the sport as Fujita slowly learns the ropes. However, it is wonderful to see how Fujita slowly finds himself in the thrill of the competition, and the intensity and preparation required to succeed in the sport is compellingly conveyed in his journey. We see incredible triumph, and crushing defeat, showing the whole range of emotions that perfectly complement the sheer intensity the story, and the art manages to convey this as well through dance. Trust me, I would never have thought that I would be writing this about ballroom dancing of all things, but this series won me over for those reasons.
While Fujita’s own journey is compelling in itself, an extremely likeable cast of characters help him grow along the way. There’s something to be said about a series that is full of interesting characters, and Ballroom does a fantastic job giving each character their own distinctly memorable personalities. More than that, what makes the cast so special is the impact they have on Fujita’s development, and I enjoyed seeing their personalities defined by their interactions with him. As the cast bonds over their shared passion for dance, we get to see the deep camaraderie developed by having strong rivals, coming through wonderfully in Fujita’s slow growth in confidence over the course of the story. They are a suitably intense cast, but are deeply likable for this way they push each other.
The series skillfully uses this sport as a medium to convey the individual journeys of each of these characters, with each dance saying something about the given character as they struggle forward in competition. We see very vividly the intensity with which each dancer treats their craft, spurring them on to greater heights through their various rivalries. This is played out through Fujita’s journey into the world of ballroom dancing, and the series does a fantastic job growing his character over the course of the series.
This is portrayed fantastically in the art, which is downright beautiful and grows in detail as the series progresses to match the increasing intensity of the dances. These are portrayed with a wonderful amount of motion, perfectly conveying the fluidity and skill inherent in dance. The dances also convey the emotional states of the character extremely effectively - a dance later in the series between two bickering partners is shown to be passionate yet rough, showing the two engaging in a battle against one another through their dance even as they work together in the competition. I found myself constantly looking forward to the dance scenes, which are suitably climactic and are real page-turners because of this intensity. The character designs are also memorable and extremely expressive - mangaka Tomo Takeuchi excels at using the eyes of the characters to convey their expressions non-verbally, adding to the subtext of the story immensely in a number of cases.
Welcome to the Ballroom is an emotional and artistic tour de force, creating a remarkably intense coming of age story. Author Tomo Takeuchi creates an artistic masterpiece which perfectly coveys the sense of motion involved with the dancing, making each panel a thrill to follow. Those who enjoy the emotional and cinematic intensity of a series such as Your Lie in April will love this series, and this is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Welcome to the Ballroom (ボールルームへようこそ) currently runs in Kodansha’s Shonen Magazine R (and previously in Monthly Shonen Magazine. Authored by Tomo Takeuchi, the series is began in 2011 and is still ongoing. The series has been licensed by Kodansha Comics USA and vol. 1 will be published in English in Fall 2016.
Updates the article 3/22/2016: Licensed by Kodansha! Changed the title to match the official English title.
Note: All images in this article are taken from my personal copies of the series.
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