ANIME EXPO: When Dancing Becomes a Battle “Welcome to the Ballroom” – Animation Scoop

ANIME EXPO: When Dancing Becomes a Battle “Welcome to the Ballroom”

Poor Tatara Fujita. He’s a junior high kid with no idea what he wants to do with his life. He’s smitten by Shizuku Hanaoka, a smart and attractive girl in his class but he’s too shy to approach her. He has no job and he’s flat broke.

What’s the solution to his problem?

Ballroom dancing.

Ballroom dancing? Well, yes. Even Tatara is surprised, at first. But he learns its value after he’s saved by Kaname Sengoku, a dance instructor who repels a gang of bullies by sheer machismo. Sengoku introduces him to dancing as a professional sport, where competitors earn prestige through hard work and determination. Tatara discovers that dancing is his passion, and thus begins Welcome to the Ballroom.

Tatara’s struggles were first serialized in manga form as Ballroom e Youkozo, written and drawn by Tomo Takeuchi. Kodansha published the series in Monthly Shōnen Magazine beginning December 2011. The manga grabbed the attention of Production I.G., the studio responsible for such anime classics as Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor, and more recently, Attack on Titan.

Tetsuya Kinoshita, who among his many credits produced Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai for Mamoru Oshii, Attack on Titan, Yuki Yuna is a Hero and Sengoku Basara, noted, “This is dance, but it’s very athletic and Tatara himself probably didn’t know how much difficulty he would face when he started, so it’s kind of unusual. So for myself, I really was attracted to that unusualness of the story.”

“I really seek for a story that’s interesting to me,” Kinoshita added. “Shingeki no Kyoujin [Attack on Titan] has a character that is very interesting to me. He is a character that would overcome problems and it’s similar for the Masamune Date character. My keyword is passion. In Welcome to the Ballroom, this ordinary boy overcomes a lot of obstacles and hurdles and so that’s my inspiration; that’s why I wanted to produce this. I really like people that are really going through their hardships, having struggles, and watch them overcome them.”

Director Yoshimi Itazu; Chief Animation Director Takahiro Chiba; Producer Tetsuya Kinoshita

To direct the TV adaptation of Ballroom, Kinoshita hired Yoshimi Itazu, who had animated for Satoshi Kon on Paprika and for Hayao Miyazaki on The Wind Rises. “I actually got to know him through a Kodansha producer of Haikyū!! [sic], Ms. [Keiko] Matsushita, and she said that she wanted to work with Itazu-san and he was introduced as Itazu-senpai, so after that, we decided to do it together. And I know he was also a super anime otaku for a long time. We should’ve expected that,” Kinoshita said.

Itazu said, “When I decided that I’d be working on this, I, of course, had to know what it’s about and I was interested, and so I did a lot of research; including taking classes.” He demonstrated by doing a dance pose, to audience laughter.

Takahiro Chiba, who served as Chief Animation Director on Haikyū!!, a sports-themed anime, would do the same for Welcome to the Ballroom. “I had no idea or anything about ballroom or even its existence of ballroom dancing. So, I started reading the manga and it was so amazing, that’s why I got involved,” he said.

“There’s never been an athletic ballroom dancing anime, so it feels strange to have it as a sports anime, but on the other hand, I feel like it’s very fresh and interesting.”

Kinoshita added, “Maybe because Chiba-san has been involved with Haikyū!!, some of the viewers might have a lot of similar impressions. Yuri!!! on Ice [sic], I feel, is too much boys’ love. But Welcome to the Ballroom is not love story; it’s not boys’ love. It’s just his personal growth story, so it’s a little different.”

Even though Kodansha continues to publish the manga version, Production I.G. proceeded with a season of 24 episodes. The first two premiered not in Japan, but at Anime Expo 2017 in the Los Angeles Convention Center. The episodes, “Welcome to Ogasawara Dance Studio” and “Kiyoharu Hyōdō”, were shown Sunday, July 2, at 10:30 a.m. to a capacity crowd in the West Hall.

The previous Friday, June 30, Kinoshita, Itazu and Chiba held a press conference at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel to extol the virtues of their work.

“Competitive dance has several different categories,” Chiba said. “Of course, we use music suitable for those categories, but we decided to have new music made for this anime, custom-made music. We’re hoping that, from now on, maybe at some dancing competition, there will be some pairs that might be using our songs.”

According to Kinoshita, the original soundtrack—with music composed by Yuki Hayashi—will contain 150% to 200% more than the typical anime soundtrack.

From the online trailers, one reporter noted Ballroom’s use of dynamic camera angles and sweeping camera movements.

Director Yoshimi Itazu shows a dance pose he learned as part of his research, to laughter from the press

“We want our audience, the viewers, to feel the closeness of the dance,” Chiba said. “Not just being outside of the dance, but we’re trying to make you feel like you’re actually really close to the dancers. And also, we want you to feel the temperature, the heat that’s coming off of these people dancing. So that’s the reason behind that kind of [staging].”

Producer Kinoshita compared the staging to that of Spider-Man and Attack on Titan. “This is kind of like an action anime,” he said. “It is dance, but it’s really action. Kind of like Spider-Man. It’s a treat to see that closeness, when [web-slinging with] Spider-Man it feels you are right there. Just like Shingeki no Kyoujin [Attack on Titan] you feel the movements and speed and heat and temperature. It’s a treat, in a sense.

“I was also in charge of Attack on Titan and also the members of the production company are almost the same as Attack on Titan as on Welcome to the Ballroom. Also the same production company and same group. Also the same broadcasting time in Japan. So we just want to get Attack on Titan’s fans to [like] Welcome to the Ballroom. It’s business. But it’s fun!”

On July 8, Welcome to the Ballroom began streaming exclusively worldwide online through Amazon Channels, though one has to subscribe through their service, Anime Strike, as well as through Amazon Prime.

“We really wanted to show it to the world,” Tetsuya Kinoshita said. “So we are very much excited [to distribute it on] a different platform. But don’t worry, it’s not going to be all on Amazon.”

Meanwhile, Kodansha Comics is publishing an English language version of the manga in paperback and Kindle editions, with Volume 6 available on July 18, 2017.

Bob Miller

Bob Miller

W.R. Miller - known informally as “Bob” - is a writer who has contributed to publications such as Starlog, Comics Scene, Animation Magazine and Animation World Magazine. Bob has been involved in animation for two decades, as a writer, character animator, special effects animator, and storyboard artist - For more information about Bob, check his website: http://wrmilleronline.com/
Bob Miller
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