I capped off the previous episode with no idea that this week would be the finale. It didn’t feel like much of a stopping point for a show like this. I assumed somehow there would still be another stage performance to close out the drama and cement Jumpei’s aspirations, whether that’s to follow the Oikawa or Godai ballet school. What we get does mostly fulfill work as soft conclusion even if I’m not thrilled with how the loose ends tied up.
Luou’s emotional arc is the most satisfying and emotionally evocative portion of this episode. We see him toy with embracing his dark impulses and succumb to the anger festering inside of him after a lifetime of abandonment and abuse. When Jumpei remains defeated in the sand, Luou quickly loses satisfaction in his angry persona. He no longer has someone to focus it on and begins dancing wildly, taking his grandmother’s shawl to give himself wings. He gives a highly interpretive, emotional performance in hopes of drawing attention to himself and finally stepping out of his mother’s shadow. All of the abuse that happened in the dark bursts out in a cry for help, “Look at me! Notice me!” It’s not just a plea for acknowledgment of his own abilities.
But it fails. It’s too late. His grandmother is gone and, to her, Luou is always Mazuru.
The entire sequence is hats-off beautiful to watch. The technique the animation has used for this series, including motion capture, has created some truly stunning dance sequences. Luou’s turn in this episode edges out his earlier turn in Swan Lake. The way the shawl is used as a prop throughout makes the entire performance even better, working as both a symbol of assuredness and a weight around him.
But we have to talk about the end result which could be favorably be described as a family circling a hurting loved one, confronting generations of abuse, and supporting his recovery. Less favorably, you could look at it as Miyako, a 14-year-old girl, being forced to abandon her own autonomy to continue placating Luou’s fractured psyche. It’s clear when Chizuru tells Jumpei that this is a “family matter” that she’s releasing him from their issues. Without much of a second thought, he runs back to the Oikawa school and leaves Miyako behind to comfort Luou. Their feelings for one another are abandoned then and there. I can’t help but think back to early in the show when Chizuru told Jumpei that he’d have to give up everything for ballet, and that’s what he did here.
Oh my god though, I can’t believe he actually touched Ayako Oikawa and dragged her back in the classroom.
Jumpei’s ability to have his cake and eat it too is especially evident here. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a case of the show trying to do too much, but does bring into question Jumpei’s commitment to…anything; to his relationships and to his own goals. He was perfectly fine skipping the selections and losing his opportunity to get the SS scholarship in order to track down Luou, but now that Miyako and his relationship is off the table he’s running as fast as he can to swoop up that option. The framing, with his footprints in the sand, almost make it feel like he’s fleeing disappointment and throwing himself into something else to avoid it.
Jumpei’s rain-soaked Hail Mary presents a couple of other emotional narrative issues that just don’t land cleanly. I honestly feel for Misaki quite a bit here, as shady as he is. This boy has done everything by the books to achieve technical perfection, something the Oikawa school heavily values. He’s done some underhanded social manipulation to give himself a leg up, like pushing Luou out and hoping that Miyako would serve as an adequate distraction for Jumpei. He delivers a pitch-perfect performance and is likely a shoe-in for the scholarship, is only possible ticket to continue ballet. Then Jumpei waltzes in soaking wet, drags the esteemed ballet instructor back into the room, and delivers a technically sloppy performance but gets the scholarship anyway.
Jumpei’s lacks what Misaki has in spades, but he continues to squeak by on charisma and intuition. Now, I’m the last person capable of judging the value of these things when it comes to classical dance performance. I went to an art school that included dance and ballet and was able to watch my peers perform but never took any of the dance courses myself (which would have been hilarious, if nothing else). Even in my limited knowledge though, it’s obvious that Jumpei is very good at emoting through movement. It’s been a reoccurring talent of his throughout the series and he channels some of his feelings over Miyako here to pretty great effect.
Unfortunately, Dance Dance Dance can’t decide how to frame this skill. It’s shown to be his greatest talent but at odds with Ayako Oikawa’s own philosophy. The show ends with Jumpei conceding to abandon his individuality, to let Oikawa “hammer” all the technical work into him. As viewers, we can assume that once he masters the technical aspects of his personality will shine through again, but speaking from an artistic standpoint that sounds boring. It felt like he threw the Godai’s method of evaluating his individuality out the window to secure his scholarship. I don’t know if Dance Dance Dance was trying to make an artistic philosophy statement here but it just doesn’t jive with my own values that appreciates an equal application of both. I mean, ultimately Misaki’s performance was technically perfect but he still lost to Jumpei’s emotional display.
More than anything, I grieve for Miyako whose emotions were never given equal weight. The nature of her and Luou’s relationship is untenable and bound to only breed further resentment. I didn’t need a clean, happy ending, but Dance Dance Dance‘s curtain closes on a less than satisfying dramatic performance.
Dance Dance Dance is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.