Yuri!!! on Ice was not a fluke — Studio MAPPA makes incredible sports anime that are definitely worth the watch, as Dance Dance Danseur also proves.
The following article contains spoilers for Episode 11 of Dance Dance Danseur, “Oh, I Think I Love Classical Ballet,” now streaming on Crunchyroll.
Studio MAPPA rocked the anime world when Yuri!!! on Ice was released in 2016, and it can be definitively declared that the studio was not a one-hit-wonder when it comes to sports anime. With stunning animation, complex character arcs and a balanced exploration of ballet that explains the sport without getting too technical, Dance Dance Danseur may have been overshadowed by Spy x Family and Kaguya-sama: Love is War but is just as deserving of attention and praise, with a finale that cinched the story together with a perfect bow.
With Mori Luou unstable and on his own in a country where he’s not fluent in the language, and Murao Jumpei and Godai Miyako desperately going after him, the final two episodes were crucial to seeing whether Dance Dance Danseur would live up to its potential. Themes of toxic masculinity are present throughout the show as Jumpei attempts to decide between what he’s supposed to like and what he actually loves, and the drama of the Godai family that deals with extreme child abuse ties into Jumpei’s arc in an unexpected way, making him a surprisingly nuanced protagonist. Although the show seems set up to have Jumpei and Luou as rivals, Jumpei’s fervent desire to save Luou from his tragic past elevates the show beyond childish love triangles to one where the characters truly care about each other above their own desires, making their eventual fates feel earned.
The finale episode is full of beautifully animated dancing, both from Luou and Jumpei, and is done in subtly different ways to focus on what that character needs for a completed character arc. More specifically, they need to learn from the other and take each other’s place. Luou’s dancing is full of emotion, splashing in the ocean near his grandmother’s care home, letting loose and demanding for her to see him as an individual as he shows her an unrestrained ballet far from anything she drilled into him as a child. It’s like Jumpei’s dancing down the hallways or during their production of Swan Lake: uninhibited.
Luou dances the part of Rothbart, claiming himself a “mass of hatred that exists for no reason,” before taking his grandmother’s shawl and asking for wings, finally smiling as he performs. He isn’t a mass of hatred, but simply a boy who wants to be seen as who he is. When he at last collapses, it’s to his grandmother’s applause and his family running to him and promising they will stick together. It’s only after revealing his true self through this performance that Luou finds his place — a self that his grandmother taught him to repress for so long.
Jumpei, in contrast, has learned from Luou to appreciate the basics while still maintaining his individuality. When he arrives to audition for the Oikawa scholarship, he makes mistakes such as not bending his wrist far enough. At one point, he even slips in the water on the floor and begins making up the choreography from various videos he’s watched. However, it is not the Jumpei from the Swan Lake performance. He loves classical ballet and wants to do more of it, and the sheer love he has for what he’s performing manages to win over the audience.
Jumpei will cut ties with the Godai studio and work exclusively with Oikawa, while Luou and Miyako will learn at Godai. While Jumpei sacrifices being Miyako’s prince, this does mean he gets to work with Oikawa Natsuki as his partner. Each character is shown as satisfied with where they are now, with the potential to grow even more. Jumpei has done his father proud, chasing after his ballet dreams while being the real sort of man who will drop everything to help someone in need.
The themes of masculinity, individuality and recovery played throughout the series are neatly concluded along with the character arcs, and the relationships between Jumpei, Luou and Miyako reflect the confusion and intensity of being a teenager navigating such confusing feelings for the first time. The continued use of Swan Lake throughout the anime is a clever way of borrowing the themes of ballet to aid in emphasizing those same themes in the show, particularly the struggle over the character of Prince Siegfried and the sorcerer Rothbart.
After all, in the end, Luou comes to terms with himself by accepting the role of Rothbart, whereas Jumpei succeeds by incorporating the part of the Black Swan, Odette, into his audition dance along with Siegfried. Rothbart is the one capable of breaking his own curse, and Jumpei’s mixture of roles emphasizes his skills as a dancer who’s able to think on his feet with an appreciation for all roles. It’s a joyful ending — one that could easily continue or be left as is. The storytelling, animation and soundtrack make Dance Dance Danseur stand out in the Spring 2022 lineup and as possibly one of the best sports anime in years. It’s certainly worth adding to the watch list, and any sports anime from MAPPA in the future will be highly anticipated.
Lara is a writer for CBR. She received a Bachelor’s of English from Millersville University in 2015.