Hey hey hey everyone!! Weclome to Archi-Anime’s tour stop for the OWLS February blog tour. OWLS: Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect, is a group that hopes to spread the important message of respect and kindness to every human being. Our monthly blog tours reflect this message of tolerance and self-acceptance, through various analysis of the anime medium; although it is not limited to anime.
February’s theme is “Competition”:
In honor of the 2018 Winter Olympics, this month topic will focus on the theme, “Competition” because the Olympics is where athletes from all countries join together to compete in sporting events. Through these events, we see how “competition” brings out the grit, the teamwork, and the competitive spirit within athletes. This month, we will be exploring anime and pop culture media that discusses the good and the bad when it comes to competition and what it can teach us about ourselves and the world around us.
This month’s blog tour marks my 1 year anniversary of joining OWLS. For this month’s tour, I wanted to look at the world of competitive dance in the anime Welcome to the Ballroom.
Welcome to the Ballroom follows the story of Fujita Tatara and a group of his peers that are professional dancers. After watching a DVD of Kaname Sengoku, someone he unknowingly befriended that is a world champion. He’s drawn into the world of dance, and asks to be taught. With this, Fujita enters the realm of dance on a whim looking for change.
In his foray into dance he meets & befriends several people that help him along his journey: Shizuku Hanaoka, Mako Akagi, Gaju Akagi, Chinatsu Hiyama, Masami Kugimiya, Tamie Idogawa and more importantly Kiyoharu Hyoudo.
While it would be easy to focus on Fujita, I wanted to focus mostly Kiyoharu for this post, as for the end game of the series: all roads lead to Kiyoharu as the benchmark of perfection.
Kiyoharu Hyodo is the same age as Fujita, a third year middle schooler. However, Kiyoharu reigns as the champion in the junior division. He’s stoic and cold, and often appears bored. However, underneath that facade is a passionate dancer, who practices relentlessly, to the point he competes while running a high fever and he hides his injuries from everyone including his partner.
Reaching a Plateau
I’m just going to refer back to my first OWLS post where I dissected Yuri!! On Ice’s Victor Nikiforov and his leap of faith, because Kiyoharu reminds me a little bit of Victor in that post. Much like Victor, Kiyoharu is considered overwhelmingly talented and a genius dancer for his age. For Kiyoharu, it certainly runs in his blood line. Due to his name, there are a lot of people that don’t acknowledge him for his merits alone. They think he wins because of his name and connections, and that he doesn’t make an effort for practices. Furthermore, very much like Victor, Kiyoharu is steadily climbing to a plateau in his career. We see this plateau personified as he’s depicted yawning in the first few episodes we see him in. He’s yawning during practice and he yawns at accepting his first place award in just the second episode.
I’m sure this comes off as irritating to viewers. If he’s bored, then why does he dance? How rude that he would yawn at winning first place among everyone else that’s been working super hard to compete. But it’s not about dance itself that makes him bored. Despite that frosty facade, he really loves dance. You can see the subtle switch in personality when the music starts to play when Tatara watches him and Hanaoka dance for the first time. You can also catch glimpses of smiles and smirks when he’s shadowing. Even though he’s naturally talented, he still works just as hard as everyone else to compete.
The reason for Kiyoharu’s boredom isn’t because of the sport itself, but rather the fact that he’s at the top of his game. After being the frontrunner in competitions, and touted as a champion, all eyes are on him. He’s the one everyone aspires to be. He’s basically the standard everyone must reach or try to surpass to be apart of competitive dance. As long as he remains the top competitor, and with no one being able to surpass him; the top can be very lonely. Even his partner, Shizuku knows just how talented and how hard he practices, although she’s practicing just as hard, her talent can’t match up to his.
Due to some of Sengoku’s meddling, Fujita is thrown into a competition to compensate for Kiyoharu’s injury that he had kept hidden for awhile. Kiyoharu watches Fujita dance with Shizuku from the sidelines.
Prior to this, in the few times that Kiyoharu has met Fujita, he doesn’t really think much of him. Fujita is just like a newborn fawn that doesn’t have his bearings when it comes to dance. He doesn’t register on his radar as competition.
However, during the Mikasa cup, when Kiyoharu watches Fujita dance with Shizuku, something snaps in him as he watches in wonderment at the spectacle before him. Personally, I believe he’s experiencing a mix of emotions. First, he’s completely shocked to see Fujita out on the floor dancing HIS choreography and completely butchering it. But on top of all the mistakes, and the pressure of being center stage Fujita is smiling from the bottom of his heart. He’s actually having lots of fun dancing.
At the end of the waltz, Fujita welcomes Kiyoharu back and wishes him luck on the last dance: the tango. But Kiyoharu reacts by angrily grabbing him and tells him to “give it back.”
At first it struck me as odd, but the more I think about it, it could mean several things. First, it could be a reference to his choreography and Shizuku. Fujita effectively stole his choreography and stole his partner, and they almost synched well enough with one another. With Fujita having mostly practiced via shadowing with Shizuku in mind, it was clear that he had thought about her as a partner plenty of times which is why it was so easy for her to go along with him during the Mikasa cup.
Second, holds a more symbolic, philosophical deeper meaning. When Kiyoharu says, “Give it back” we see Fujita’s face flash in his mind; Fujita’s smiling face. Our introduction of Kiyoharu the these very early episodes we’ve seen him bored, yet driven to win. He overhears people talking about him during the competition saying that he lacks effort and he only wins because of his last name and his connections.
Kiyoharu witnessing the deep joy that Fujita felt from dancing is almost painful to him. Yes, he’s angry. He’s angry that he’s lost sight of the joy dancing brought him from the beginning. Sure we see small smiles here and there, but never a face full of joy. The ones on the dance floor can’t be described as pure joy, but rather a practiced smile for effect. Kiyoharu is so consumed with practice, with winning, trying to carve a path for himself separated from his family name, that he’s lost the spark of dance. Meeting Fujita knocks the wind out of him. When was the last time he smiled like that, when was the last time he put fun first over winning?
This ultimately lights a fire in Kiyoharu, as he blows everyone away with his Tango as a follow-up to Fujita’s waltz. He pulls out a passionate performace that has the entire room looking at him. He’s sharp, precise and more than anything, he’s finally showing who he is as a dancer, and not this prim and proper dancer that everyone is expecting him to be. At the end of his dance, he passes out with a smile he flashes to Fujita indicating that that was his style of dance that he could be happy with.
Inspiration via Rivalry
Kiyoharu is effectively out of commission after his Tango, having really injured himself he’s out for 6 months (aside from also being suspended also for what happens at the Mikasa cup. Once he starts to feel better, he actually visits Fujita at his home. He’s actually smiling as he tries to relive the feeling he had in his tango. He claims that it’s not because of Fujita, but he came to encourage him to hurry up and train so that they can compete on the same stage together. This can only mean that Kiyoharu sees the potential in Fujita to become someone worthy of competition. The two form a bond in this moment, which somes into play later on.
The rest of the series focuses on Fujita’s struggles with competitive dance, learning to lead and follow, as he tries to catch up to Kiyoharu and Shizuku. At each step of Fujita’s journey, Kiyoharu is there helping him along the way with anecdotes. Though he does not have a deft hand in coaching, he tries to get his point across, hoping that Fujita’s observation skills will get him to understand the overall picture he’s trying to convey.
Fujita uses Kiyoharu as his benchmark. As he has always followed him in practice. Due to his way of watching, Fujita has catalogued a lot of Kiyoharu’s moves and also developed an understanding of how Kiyoharu thinks. So when thrown into competitions he defaults to what Kiyoharu would do in that situation. When Kiyoharu actually sees this, he can’t help but smile because Fujita gets it. He understands how dance works despite his lack of technique.
During his rehabilitation and suspension. Kiyoharu can be found pushing Fujita to keep going, to continue the path he’s on. He fully believes in Fujita and he can’t wait till they can compete with one another on the same page. Each time Kiyoharu walks away from one of Fujita’s performance he has a little spring in his step, a desire to get back to the dance studio and practice. His passion for dance is renewed when he’s around Fujita, due to Fujita’s hard-working nature and observational skills, he’s not your typical student. He adapts quickly and learns quickly which brings a breath of fresh air to the dance floor. It’s exactly the type of energy that Kiyoharu, and the rest of the group needed to really push them to be their best.
Welcome to the Ballroom
At the end of the series, Kiyoharu’s made a full recovery. Fujita has found a dance partner to call his own, and has officially entered the world of dance. All of our characters have reconciled their mixed feelings towards dance and are all excited to step on stage with Fujita.
While Kiyoharu is the benchmark of perfection, it’s easy for someone to lose their way. Maintaining that position because it’s expected of you. Finding no joy in it anymore because of the misunderstandings of your background and lack of competitive spirit from others. If everyone is looking up to you, no one is challenging you. No one will pass you when they’re only looking to meet you on even ground. But once in awhile, someone will come to shake things up, reminding you of the things you loved yet lost sight of as you climbed higher and higher.
Fujita has been the driving force of inspiration for everyone he’s encountered. He comes in like a storm shaking everything up. It’s because of him that he reinvigorates everyone’s ideas of competition with his fresh look and newly found love for competitive dance. Providing a new spark of inspiration that they felt was missing after so many years. By re-introducing the unexpected, the forgotten joy and happiness that dance can make someone feel.
Kiyoharu and Fujita play off of one another by this feeling of rivalry and comraderie, fueling one another to strive to be better. Kiyoharu encourages Fujita that he can do it even though he’s a newbie. He believe’s in that wholeheartedly. Fujita is looking for something to change him, to say that there’s one thing that he can do and really love. Once Fujita realizes how much he loves dance, and is able to compete against Kiyoharu, Shizuku, Gaju and Mako they really accept him as one of their own and essentially welcome him to the ballroom. The stage where they all put their heart, soul and passion their inspiration and rivalry into their dance.
That just about wraps up this month’s tour here at Archi-Anime. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Feel free to leave any in the comments!
And look out for Mel’s post on her site: MelinAnimeLand
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