[Review] Dance Dance Danseur – An Ode to First Loves

Dance Dance Danseur is a dramatic display of first loves of multiple types. The love of ballet. The love of family. The love of romance. The love of self. You’ll fly as high as Junpei’s jumps, but fall just as painfully. Watching this show often felt like a form of self-flagellation, a repeating loop of mistakes that seemed like it would never end even if logically that wouldn’t have made much narrative sense. I have fairly strong second-hand embarassment that often results in dropping perfectly decent stories, and I very nearly did so here. Yet I found myself coming back each episode, entranced by the dance scenes and character designs. Like everyone who witnessed Junpei’s leaps and expressions, I couldn’t turn away even if I tried.

I’m glad we’re at a point now where a show like Dance Dance Danseur isn’t immediately a unicorn amid a forest of isekai and sports anime. The series joins the likes of Yuri!!! on ICE and Welcome to the Ballroom in marrying sport with artistry. I’m not knowledgeable about ballet by any stretch of the imagination, yet the performances here lifted right off the screen and I fullheartedly believed Junpei’s fasincation with the art form.

Equally convincing was his internal conflict about following his passion. Despite his family’s support, explicit encouragment to pursue ballet isn’t voiced after his father’s death. As an outside viewer, I can see their surprise and quick approval, but that obviously isn’t as clear for Junpei. He takes it upon himself to follow in his father’s footsteps as a stuntman and practitioner of Jeet Kune Do (which I have never ever heard of until now) with the misguided notion of doing what’s best for his family. This desire to fill an absent role coupled with the external pressure of his peers’ perception of what is or isn’t cool or masculine lands him in a place far away from his love of ballet.

There are several themes at play here, like the typical argument of passion versus precision and talent versus hard work–we’ve seen these time and time again with sports and the arts. There’s the aforementioned grief surrounding the death of Junpei’s father. An area I didn’t expect to cover was child abuse. Multiple of the characters, notably Luou, suffer trauma at the hands of the same grandmother figure. A former ballerina who rose to great heights in her time turned her disappointment at “failing” into determination; unfortunately, that focus was not on herself, but on her descendants. We’re not shown Chizuru or Mazuru’s pasts, but we do get a window into the abuse heaped upon Luou, both mental and physical. The results of the period stay with him up until the present day when he meets Junpei. Nothing in this show felt quite as meaningful as the moment when Luou danced as himself in front of his grandmother. Despite her dementia, Luou was able to be himself for the first time in front of the woman who refused to really see him. It felt like the first step towards recovery. Now I’m ready for him to confront his mother, a woman with another unshakeable grip on Luou’s growth.

While Dance Dance Danseur ended beautifully, first with Luou, then later with Junpei, it really seems like we’re just at the beginning of another great story. These two opposites, a boy who suffered under extreme, unyielding guidance finally letting go and another who always danced privately for himself now wishing to align himself to rigorous training, are in states of transformation that I’d like to see to completion.

The few areas of criticism I have for this anime include my excessive second-hand embarrassment and the treatment of Miyako’s character. This story takes place during our most dramatic time of growing up, when every little emotion feels overpowering and the opinions of others somehow all worth impressing. DDD captures those feelings extremely well, so well that I can’t help but want to step away for many of the early episodes. I often felt ready for the story to just move on past Junpei’s horrible lack of maturity, and his friends’ bullying of Luou, but we return again and again to moments like these in the first handful of episodes. Is it excessive? It certainly felt like it at the time, but I can’t deny that the later transition to Junpei’s ballet phase felt more satisfying as a result.

Then there’s Miyako, Luou’s cousin, also a ballerina, and a driving force of Junpei’s growth. She starts off as a strong character who knows exactly what she wants in life and isn’t shy about calling out others’ faults. I love her blunt honesty. It was completely understandable that Junpei’s would fall for her. I could also believe that she in turn would fall for him. When they kissed, as manipulated as the scenario was and the obvious drama that would ensue, the youthful excitement felt real and nostalgic. Then the writing had to go and hand her over to Luou as part of their backstory and supposed growth…for what? For these cousins to replace the romantic pairing of Miyako and Junpei? For Luou to find peace of mind in some kind of Oedipal ending? Miyako transforms from a girl who stands largely on her own into a female prop between two combative characters.

Of a far lesser concern was my initial dislike of the character design, specifically the way the eyes are drawn. The semi-circle look leaves our cast seemingly perpetually tired—that or they’re all wearing contact lenses treating astigmatism. There are also plenty of times where the dancers’ long, lean bodies appear stretched, though not as egregious as seen in Welcome to the Ballroom. The animation for the most part pleases as it emphasizes more impressive moves and known scenes from works like Swan Lake. Regardless, I still consider DDD a success and would happily welcome a second season. Even if you dislike sports, or just ballet, you should strongly consider this particular work if you enjoy a good coming-of-age drama.

Rating: 1 dango

*Rating system:

  • 0 dango – average and forgettable.
  • 1 dango – very good in its category.
  • 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
  • 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.

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