Ballroom e Youkoso and the Portrayal of Female Characters Within the Shounen Narrative

23 comments

Ballroom e Youkoso has generally been well-received thus far. Despite closely following the shounen narrative, which features a male loser youth struggling to find a purpose in life and can be considered trite and overdone, the series is able to demonstrate a nuanced understanding of tone through its handling of drama and comedy. The emotional moments aren’t hindered by the comedic bits, which in turn are amusing for the most part.

Yet Ballroom e Youkoso is unable to thoroughly escape the typical trappings of the shounen narrative, which include less than satisfactory depiction of female characters. Shounen series frequently fall into this snare and Ballroom is no exception as of the current episode (episode 5).

If you want examples, then you need only glance at some of the more mainstream shounen series (which have already ended by now). Haruno Sakura from Naruto gets a considerable amount of flak because she doesn’t receive as much characterization as either of her Team 7 teammates. Inoue Orihime from Bleach suffers the same fate because of similar reasons.

With these two heroines in mind, it is easy to see why fans celebrated Uraraka Ochako’s conduct in episode 22 of Boku no Hero Academia. Wanting to become a professional hero to make things easier on her parents means she has a goal that’s independent of our male protagonist, Deku. Unlike Sakura and Orihime, Ochako is not a mere stageprop that is entirely reliant on male characters. As a result, Ochako breaks the mold for female characters in shounen series.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Shizuku and Mako so far. Their characterization is minimal and viewers currently know little about them as a whole. Furthermore, they cling onto their partners, who are inevitably male. Everything we know about Shizuku as of yet revolves around either ballroom dancing or Kiyoharu, her dancing partner. The same goes for Mako since her current role has her partnering with Tatara in the hopes that she can improve as a dancer so her brother would accept her as a partner again. In other words, their personalities and importance in the story are overly reliant on male characters, which is the common fate to befall female characters in a shounen series.

And it should be noted that the characters only have words of praise for the male dancers. Female dancers are rarely, if ever, praised since the male dancers are considered to be the leaders who direct their female partners and who thus inherit the glory. Under such conditions, females are thus painted as being subservient or submissive to males. Be that as it may, ballroom dancing is an antiquated set of activities that utilizes traditional values to justify conduct (in other words, males must dance with females and males are expected to take the lead). Shizuku and Mako may become more developed and more independent later down the line, as well. But these are my observations up to the latest episode thus far (episode 5).

The behavior of one of the male characters, Sengoku, is also problematic. Not only does he aggressively grabs onto Shizuku’s clothes while shouting that she shouldn’t lose (which serves to humiliate her in front of her peers since he’s almost making her strip), but he also immaturely calls Shizuku a skank for deciding to pair up with someone besides Kiyoharu. To be fair, Shizuku’s decision is considered by all who are present to be bizarre and everyone had expected Shizuku to remain “loyal” to Kiyoharu. But Kiyoharu and Shizuku are not truly married (so dancing with other people should be within the realm of reason although outrageous) and Kyoharu has been negligent in communication for a while now, which frustrates Shizuku. These two reasons may not justify Shizuku’s choice, but they at least help explain her mindset.

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In short, both interactions are meant to be humorous (and the first instance is supposed to provide some fanservice), but it failed to deliver to part of the viewership due to its depiction of Shizuku and women in general.

But while Ballroom e Youkoso is proving to be disappointing in regards to its portrayal of women, it’s really up to the viewer to decide whether or not such instances will overshadow the series’ (excellent) execution and more positive qualities. Many shows frequently contain both good and bad elements, which makes delivering verdicts on said series to be rather difficult.

For instance, I consider the excessive fanservice, and the fact that a young boy and a young girl are involved with sexual activities, in Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon to be problematic. But the series also held genuine moments of family and love. In the end, I deem it a series that viewers should at least try to watch. Similarly, I would consider Ballroom e Youkoso to hold merit, but that could definitely change in the future. Again, this article only covers up to episode 5. As usual for these simulcast series, viewers will just have to sit tight and see if the positives outweigh the negatives.

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23 comments on “Ballroom e Youkoso and the Portrayal of Female Characters Within the Shounen Narrative”

  1. I’m not quite caught up to anime yet, but I more or less agree with all you’ve said. Having read the manga though, I can say that there are some interesting developments that might change your view on things. Although I do tend to see source materials tinted pink and I don’t remember how far along that development happens so we’ll have to see.

    Looking forward to your reaction if/when it happens!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yay, someone agrees with me about this. I’ve complaining about how the female characters have been treated like objects on Twitter.

    The least I can say is that everything that happened in the last episode happened because Mako and Shizuku wanted to do it, instead of having them to be forced to change partners. It’s small, but at least it’s there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mmm I’ve seen a few posts complaining about how female characters are treated and I had actually planned on writing something like this ever since I heard about Ballroom receiving an anime adaptation. But I am glad you agree.

      That is a good point. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I felt as though episode 5 redeemed it somewhat. Shizuku called out Sengoku for always siding with Kiyoharu and it made me wonder if there was a deeper connection between Kiyoharu and Sengoku (not that it excuses anything that happened prior).

    I also felt as though Mako didn’t want her brother’s approval so much as wanted to prove she was good to herself. Sengoku seemed quite supportive of Mako in the park though that’s probably more because he wants to tear down Gaju for dancing with Shizuku.

    Episode 5 definitely didn’t buck the trend completely (the whole bra thing?!) but it dangled that little thread of hope that Shizuku will be carving her own path and Mako will find her own confidence too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmm episode 5 is a step forward for the most part.

      There might be, yeah. But Sengoku still sucks at communication. If that’s how the series is trying to justify his behavior, then some viewers won’t be satisfied.

      Hmm fair enough.

      I’m not sure why they had to make Mako not wear a bra but it’s whatever. The series has already done worse things.

      I hope the girls find their own way, too. A little bird told me this upcoming arc is full of surprises that might render this post obsolete. We shall see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really hope so!

        Mako not wearing a bra actually makes a lot of sense. The dresses that the women wear are quite often backless and I imagine a lot of professional dancers don’t. They just didn’t need to make it a big deal of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Mmm!

        Ah you make a good point. Well, I guess Tatara is partially to blame since he overreacted, but he’s an inexperienced boy who easily loses his cool when it comes to stuff like that. On the other hand, Sengoku has shown time and time again he’s terrible at communication so he just couldn’t resist making a big deal out of things in this instance. As usual.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I completely agree with you on this one. So far, the females haven’t really had the type of development or attention as the male characters in this show especially Shizuku. We’ve seen her for five episodes now, and for four of them she hardly said anything valuable as a whole. I think episode five did do a little better since we see her arguing her case against Sengoku and who always sides with Hyodo without regarding Shizuku’s opinions.
    I also feel like the show will, at some point, develop Shizuku’s character. The way she was presented at the very end of the episode, looking into the mirror all on her own, tells me there is more to come where she is concerned. So I’m hoping things will change regarding this matter and both her and Mako are given the type of development they deserve.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think you judged it a bit early but I do understand where you’re coming from.
    There’s an upcoming character who makes an interesting point of discussion about leading in dance. And she’s a strong female character who (I think and hope?) will balance things out. Wait for her. 😀
    Kiyoharu and Shizuku are registered partners. Same with the Akagi siblings. It’s actually difficult for these dancers to find partners suitable for them. Even those two teachers Tatara has now on the studio are still “singles”, meaning, they don’t have partners to compete with them. Yes, Sengoku acted in an abrasive manner toward Shizuku, and yes, it’s terrible so I’m not gonna defend that action. But he does have his reason. Now this is a bit of a spoiler, but it’s important to understand where he’s coming from: as we can see, Sengoku does not have the best of the personalities, so even with his talent, he actually went through some difficulties finding a partner. There should be some sort of chemistry, you know. His partner now, Chizuru (a lovely female character, btw). is so far the sole person who is able to handle Sengoku. So yeah. Being/having dance partners is a big deal especially for them who are seriously aiming to be pros like Sengoku. (Though that’s still not an excuse for that rude behavior.)
    The story is mainly about Tatara’s journey to dance sport, so there’s less focus on Mako and Shizuku, though they, especially Shizuku plays important roles on that journey. I’m still anticipating their developments because there are some hints especially in the recent chapters. I don’t think they’ll be another Sakura. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I surely did jump the gun here (or was late considering how the status quo is shifting from this episode onwards). It my mistake not emphasizing that this post only pertains up to episode 5. I’m well (actually, only kind of) aware that things do change with the introduction of the two “wild mares.” I just didn’t think bringing them up when I only have second-hand knowledge of said characters was a good move. Plus that would have been moving this post into spoiler territory for my readers who only watch the anime.

      Ah, good point about them being registered dancers. It’s kind of reassuring to hear Sengoku has a reason, but it looks to be a very weak reason that doesn’t justify his behavior at all. But yes, he also struggles with communication.

      Mmm I’m sure they’re steering away from Sakura’s fate in the manga, which this post does not cover. Hooray.

      Like

  6. Can I just say I love your posts like these and the views you put forward?

    As you know, I haven’t watched this, only read your episode reviews, and all of this sound like legitimate concerns to me. Though the comment above implies things will change for the better so I’m interested to see what will happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another great article, Remy. I feel bad for missing this and many others earlier but I’ve been pretty tied up.

    In any case, I think a lot of what you’re seeing is almost necessarily tied in to the show. You’ve touched upon this already, but given that this is a shounen narrative, there is almost no chance that the female characters are going to be able to have an agenda that gets a substantial amount of focus that isn’t also tied back to the leading male. Uraraka might be an exception here, but given that I haven’t seen any My Hero Academia I can’t say much about her at all.

    Not to say that these shows can’t have genuinely good female characterization, or that even this one won’t turn around when it comes to Shizuku at least. Only that shounen narratives typically exist to tell the leading male’s story and so that’s where the focus has to be.

    The other point, which you also touched on, is that a ballroom anime might be the wrong place to look for a female character that can stand on her own. The competitions revolve around the male leading his partner, who despite being the more interesting one to watch (because all the men are just in tuxedos) is inherently taking on a subservient position in order to participate. Her skill is important, but can only exist within the confines of how the man dictates the dance.

    Sorry if I’m not adding much by reiterating some of your points, but I’ll end this by parroting your closing statement too. I don’t expect this anime to break any ground on equality anymore than its subject matter does, but I’m enjoying it all the same and eagerly watch it every week to see where it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. No worries!

      No, your comment was very helpful to read as usual. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in phrasing this and that specifically to the point that it feels static and fixed and I start to wonder if I’m even making sense. But mmm I’m with you on watching this series every week.

      Like

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