Jumpei is in full ballet training now as Dance Dance Danseur continues to tackle themes of abuse and sets the stage for a philosophical discussion about art itself. Our wild hero has his sights set on dancing but his late introduction to ballet means he has none of the foundation required and lacks the respect to acknowledge its importance. Jumpei is very gung-ho but he also doesn’t see why it’s such a big deal the land the movements as accurately as possible. This could be chalked up to haughtiness on his part, but there’s a moment in episode four where it’s evident he feels restrained by tradition.
This speaks to his interest in playing more visually flamboyant roles (the boy loves camp but doesn’t know it yet). Chizuru is practically a saint at this point, but she explains in detail why the prince role is the pinnacle of ballet and that if Jumpei wants to have the freedom to dance in any role he chooses, he should aim to achieve the perfection that role requires. So, Jumpei finds himself confined to barre work as he attempts to unlearn his sloppier habits. There’s some interesting ideas at play here as we have an upstart with natural talent and brimming with adolescent emotion. Jumpei, as a dancer, is far more interested in conveying emotionality to the audience than having precise arm and footwork, even though ballet is traditionally defined by perfect execution. As someone who values emotional storytelling, I can’t exactly fault him for it and this approach has value. It’s why he’s such a good actor when he dances with Miyako. When Chizuru told him to work harder on his motions over his acting, I understood why but I did die a little inside.
However, the saying goes that you have to know the rules to be able to break them. Luou certainly knows the rules since perfecting them was his literal means of survival. We learn that on top of being the result of a scandalous affair and shipped off to be raised by his grandmother, the old lady had him performing ballet in his underwear at a very young age and caned him whenever he got it wrong, all the while comparing him to the mother who abandoned him. A mother who, I think it’s safe to say, likely experienced something very similar. We haven’t really met Luou’s mom but I feel like we have a decent idea of her pathos at this point.
Luou’s dislike of Jumpei might initially look like a typical rivalry between the straight-laced rival and the free-spirited protagonist but there’s more going on here. Luou likely sees Jumpei’s disregard for the exacting expectations of ballet as disrespectful to his own life experience. Luou suffered humiliation and abuse to master these moves and Jumpei’s attitude is saying that it was all for something trivial. Of course, Jumpei doesn’t know that, but it’s how it likely reads to Luou. When they have their confrontation at the end of episode four it helped course correct this conflict as, perhaps for the first time, an audience member told Luou that his dancing affected him in a major, positive way. Also I’m pro Jumpei being honest about his feelings even if he still has deflect by doing random backflips.
This is all emotional set-up for what culminates into an amazing fifth episode. Jumpei, Luou, and Miyako perform the final act of Swan Lake for a ballet performance where the acting ends up taking center stage. Jumpei gets so invested in his role as the prince and internalizing Siegfried and Odette’s relationship with his own feelings for Miyako that he goes way, way, way off script. The ending is supposed to culminate into a tragedy with a bittersweet ending, but it would be very unlike Jumpei to roll over and die. This leads to an improvisational dance sequence where Luou becomes the embodiment of loathing and vengeance towards everyone who has maligned him in his life. The entire sequence is riveting, thanks to skillful use of framing, CG, and color. It’s hard to pick a standout moment here, but Luou looks terrifying and exhilarating from moment to moment. The kid is vying for MVP as part of a deal to study overseas and as much as Jumpei’s improv was likely frustrating at the time, I think he actually benefited Luou on stage the most.
Dance Dance Danseur is probably the best drama to watch right now regardless of your interest in professional dance. The team at MAPPA have created a great adaptation for screen here.
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