August 7, 2022

Dance Dance Dancer is a hidden gem

Aired Season: Spring 2022

Number of episodes: 11

Genres: Drama, Romance, Sports

Thoughts: Among the many MAPPA anime of recent years, Dance Dance Dancer entered the scene without fanfare. Whether due to the characters’ unique eye designs, emphasis on ballet, or the manga’s lack of a fanbase, members of the anime community haven’t really noticed the series. I’m glad I noticed it, though, because I would have missed a new anime to fall in love with.

In Dance Dance Dancer, Junpei has a passion and talent for ballet. However, after the sudden death of his father, he chose to become as “manly” as possible for the sake of his family. He cut his hair short, he invested time in martial arts, he joined sports clubs with other boys and he cut ballet out of his life. However, her hidden passion boils once again after Miyako, the daughter of a ballet teacher, notices her ballet form and tricks her into dancing with her. Under his and his mother’s tutelage at ballet school, Junpei meets the withdrawn but talented Luou who rivals him in both ballet and love.

The show’s greatest feat is its ability to weld multiple storylines into one cohesive plot without feeling rushed or too slow. There’s Luou’s hidden trauma from excessive bullying and an abusive grandmother who raised him, Junpei’s struggles to accept a part of himself he’s denied for so long, the affection of boys for Miyako while developing their own friendship, Junpei learning the ballet basics he gave up when he dropped out of ballet as a child, and other rivalries from other ballet schools. That’s a lot to fit in just 11 episodes, but Dance Dance Dancer weaves the plot points together in a beautiful basket, making each plot point happen with purpose due to the direct actions the characters take.

many plot threads tightly woven together

By far, my favorite arc is about Junpei’s internal conflict with masculinity. As I have already written an entire article explaining why this was important for Dance Dance Dancer to include that plotline, it also ties into her wonderful character development throughout the series. Junpei has talent – no one denies that. However, at the same time, he is reckless, selfish, and faces self-esteem issues that come across as aggression.

At the end of the series, Junpei is unrecognizable from the boy who stood up with a clenched fist, ready to deny his passion and punch anyone who spoke ill of him. Now he is emotionally caring, supportive, and respectful, while never losing the wild side of him that appealed to Miyako and her mother, Godai-sensei. Her character has changed so much that I went from being genuinely angry at Junpei’s actions in the first episode to feeling proud in the last.

The anime also makes risky decisions in developing character relationships. Many viewers are particularly upset about the resolution of a love triangle, but I personally find it to be the icing on the cake for Junpei and Luou’s respective arcs. Luou represents everything Junpei pushed against – he is feminine, delicate, shy in school, and a master at ballet due to years of grueling practices. Junpei, on the other hand, is everything Luou hates in people: aggressive, social, loud, and clumsy due to his lack of ballet basics.

A love triangle dance

The immediate contrast of their characters set up by Junpei and Luou for the shounen rivalry anime is famous, but I personally prefer seeing them go from being antagonists to caring for each other. The two still compete with each other, yes, but there’s no doubt that they end up caring more about each other by the end of the series. Junpei is quick to step in to physically and mentally defend Luou when other boys bully him, and in return, Luou often backtracks on others’ mean comments when they point out that Junpei doesn’t understand the basics.

It’s a classic technician versus performer trope, but instead of the two being locked in a competition with one winning over the other (where the performer usually wins), the two are teaching each other what they’re each missing. Junpei as a “performer” is geared towards learning balance and control while Luou as a “technician” is learning to be free and selfish. Luou’s conclusion is particularly satisfying to me because Luou is a victim of physical and emotional abuse. I applaud any story that wholeheartedly tells victims to find freedom out of their abuse while showing a whole host of characters that support them emotionally.

I should note that there is one particular episode that might trigger some viewers. This anime features one of the most realistic depictions of bullying I’ve ever seen – showing exactly how it starts, how it escalates, and how it can end. His commitment to this realism is commendable, but at the same time, I struggled to watch the whole episode. Many reviewers also noted that they were forced to stop some scenes or even skip them due to the brutal depiction of bullying.

Beautiful character designs

As for the actual ballet, I’m not the right person to take specific notes on that. I have no knowledge of ballet and never participated in dance classes growing up. However, what I can easily observe is the character design’s commitment to the physique of the ballet dancers – their height, long neck, flexibility, and muscle. The arm and leg movements are gorgeous, the characters’ facial expressions are expressive, and their costumes and makeup sparkle. Unfortunately, this series would have benefited from depicting a full scene from the show’s final performance instead of constantly cutting it to audience reactions. The whole point of this performance is to amaze the spectators, not to show us how they react.

However, maybe my lack understanding of ballet is why the series resonated with me. I don’t need or expect ballet to be precise in movement or performance. I was invested in the characters’ journey, their developing relationships, and their own growth into adults pursuing an artistic passion.

ballet in Dance Dance Dancer is a tool used to accurately display the harmful effects of toxic masculinity on boys, push characters towards each other, and develop their personalities through their changing styles. There is just something so poetic when a dance steeped in history and tradition is used as a medium for change and growth into the future.

Evaluation

Chart: 9 (3.5 multiplier)

Characters: 8 (3.5 multiplier)

Voice: 7

Art/Animation: 7.5

Soundtrack: 7.5

FINAL SCORE: 81.5