Dance Dance Danseur – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser April 8, 20220 Comments
Jumpei on one knee with arm outstretched

What’s it about? Murao Jumpei’s heart was captured by ballet as a grade-schooler, but his classmates’ teasing and his father’s untimely death pushed him to pursue Jeet Kune Do instead. But his crush on classmate Godai Miyako leads him to her family’s dance studio and unexpectedly back to his buried passion.

“Please, please, let me have a dance anime that doesn’t suck,” I pray to the anime gods every now and then. “And can it also not kill someone this time?” Well, it would seem that the first wish has been tentatively granted! I’d make a joke about the second one not being guaranteed, but frankly the reports about MAPPA’s even-by-industry-standards brutal treatment of its workers made it too depressingly plausible.

Animators and voice actors should all be allowed to unionize, y’all.

Ugly realities of the art form we all love aside, this really is a fantastic premiere. It’s already crossed the most difficult starting hurdle: making the dancing on display look like it has weight and impact. Ballet is one of the most physically impressive artforms out there, and it can be genuinely awe-inspiring to see a professional dancer work. While I’m not in love with the characters’ facial designs—the ratios of the eyes to the jutting mouths is slightly off-putting—their bodies are noodley in a way that accentuates the long lines prized in ballet form without looking like they escaped from the old XxXHolic anime.

The episode doesn’t skimp on dance scenes either. It’s not limited the opening performance that inspires Jumpei either; all of his movements have a fluidity stemming from his buried love of dance, whether he’s leaping around the studio or goofing around with his friends. It conveys that this is something he can’t live without long before he starts to admit it himself. This premiere even nods to the fact that ballet is an art form with a very short lifespan: Jumpei is basically out of the window of professional consideration because he didn’t start serious training by the time he was ten. The demands of ballet take an ugly physical toll on dancers, and most pros retire by their mid-30s. I’m guessing we’ll see more focus on Jumpei’s ability to overcome those hurdles, but it’d be cool to see it brought up as a cost he has to consider.

Jumpei leaning against a barre. subtitle: "not manly" equals "not cool"

The gender commentary here isn’t exactly new—it’s at least as old as Billy Elliot, which is now so ubiquitous it was directly homaged by the last anime featuring ballet. Honestly, it’d be nice to have a story about a teen boy doing ballet that isn’t about him struggling to square his masculinity with his love of dance (while being heterosexual, of course). I say that, but I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that toxic masculinity is very much alive and well as it’s depicted here, and that as long as those issues keep happening we still need stories to hold our hands and tell us that gendering hobbies is bullshit. I can even see why it’s wrapped in a heterosexual romance in hopes of luring in the Jumpeis of the world.

As love interests go, I like Miyako, though this seems destined to be the kind of story where the heroine who’s studied for a long time at something is quickly outpaced by the male lead. On the bright side, she and Jumpei are being set up to dance together rather than in competition with each other, which will hopefully keep her from being sidelined. And despite this joke featuring a “she jumped and I saw her panties” bit, the audience doesn’t actually see the panty shot, and that’s a base level of restraint I can’t always safely expect.

Jumpei's teacher pulling hard on his neck as he looks pained

Miyako’s mother also makes a fine example of the “brusque but brilliant” mentor. Some viewers may find themselves uncomfortable with the amount of casual touch between her and Jumpei as she corrects his form, but I can tell you from my years studying dance that it’s only about 15% exaggerated, and it’s also framed in the very no-nonsense sense that it’s intended in-universe.

Part of me is hesitant to get too invested too quick—I also gave a glowing premiere review to Welcome to the Ballroom, a series that ultimately turned out to be a visual nightmare and a cringefest of sexism. This definitely has “love triangle” warning signs all over the posters, involving a character who’s only really foreshadowed in the final minutes of the episode. But I can only rewatch Princess Tutu so many times before I pass out from tear-related dehydration, so please indulge me in getting my hopes up a bit.  

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