I’m Bad at Understanding Rhythm, but the Manga “Wondance” is Changing That

For the life of me, I’ve always had trouble with musical concepts like rhythm and beats. Even though I was in a couple of band classes as a kid, and even when I’ve tried to read up on it or look up videos, I just couldn’t wrap my head around these things. But recently, I think that’s starting to change, and I actually have manga to thank.

I recently began reading a new hip hop dancing-themed series called Wondance. Because that genre of dance is likely unfamiliar to many readers, the manga uses its main character as a way to introduce ideas. Kotani Kaboku is a basketball player with a speech impediment who discovers that dancing might just be a way for him to express himself, and he even applies some of his b-ball knowledge to his new interest.

In Chapter 4, titled “After-Beat,” Kaboku’s dance teacher talks to her class about a crucial difference between the music they might be accustomed to (J-Pop, anime songs, etc.) and the kind they’re dancing to now (hip hop, R&B, and funk)–what part of the beat the music (and thus the dancing accompanying it) emphasizes. If a basic beat is “1-2, 3-4,” then pop music tends to emphasize the “1” and the “3” while hip hop emphasizes the “2” and the “4.” The “2” and the “4” are called the “after-beat. To put it differently, if the beat track of a song goes “bumm-chh, bumm-chh,” the “chh” is the after-beat.

For anyone who’s into music and dance, this is probably child’s play, but this one page was actually the catalyst for me to actually “get” ideas that I knew of but could never actually understand. That simple explanation above, as well as the demonstration of dance moves at the bottom of the page, opened up a window I thought would be forever inaccessible. I listened to both anime songs and hip hop, my ears now aware of that difference in emphasis. When I watched videos teaching about beats, I had a better notion of what they were saying.

There’s even a moment from Chapter 3 of Wondance that subtly introduces these ideas, and in hindsight it’s actually brilliant. Kaboku notices something about the rhythm of hip hop dancing, and he compares it to dribbling in basketball: if the rhythm of the basketball is down-then-up, then hip hop feels like the “up” is being emphasized, and it’s the prime moment to make a steal. In other words, the ball hitting the floor is the “bumm” and the ball returning to the hand is the “chh.” When I remembered that scene, it hit me like a sack of potatoes.

While I highly doubt that I can ever truly feel the beat as so many others can, or apply it to something like rap or dance, I feel like a new world has opened up to me. It’s almost like learning a new language. I also think it might say something about me that it took reading a comic in a foreign language to finally comprehend something as pervasive as music, but maybe that’s part of the beauty of comics. And between Wondance in manga and Tribe Cool Crew in anime, I hope we see this genre continue to grow.

You Should All Check Out the Street Dancing Anime Tribe Cool Crew

I’m not a dancer. In fact, I don’t have a single rhythmic bone in my body, and the only reason I can or will ever dance is because I’m fairly shameless when it comes to humiliating myself. That’s why it might come as a surprise that my favorite anime out of the current season is Tribe Cool Crew, a show about street dancing. Though only a few episodes have aired, I find myself looking forward to Tribe Cool Crew every week because of how it combines the best of boys’ anime and girls’ anime for children.

The thing that really drew my attention to Tribe Cool Crew from the very beginning is the dynamic between the main characters, a boy named Tobitatsu Haneru, and a girl named Otosaki Kanon, both of whom love to dance. The two complement each other well not only in terms of personality and style, but also because they’re essentially the typical morning boys’ anime protagonist and typical morning girls’ anime protagonist who have met up in a single show. Haneru is small but energetic with a constant in-your-face attitude, and his burning desire to be the best and to meet his idol, Jey-El, wouldn’t be out of place in shows like Mushiking or Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal. Kanon is shy but comes alive while dancing as the anonymous internet celebrity “Rhythm,” utilizing her great height and long limbs to accentuate her moves. In many ways she reminds me of Hanasaki Tsubomi, the main heroine of Heartcatch Precure!, especially because the show takes time to focus on her gradually building confidence.

Essentially, I find that it combines the ambition of the boys’ anime with the care and consideration of the girls’ anime. Though Tribe Cool Crew is still incomplete, it gives me the same general vibe as anime such as Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin and Ojamajo Doremi, both of which I consider to be among the best of children’s anime. As the dances are all done in motion-captured CG, it’s also clear that the show is a response to popular CG dance anime such as Pretty Rhythm and Aikatsu!, taking what was previously solely the realm of idol anime and giving it a bit of a hip hop twist. It’s the kind of expansion of a genre or trend that I can really get behind, even if I don’t quite understand dance.

One aspect of the show that might be difficult for people looking for more plot-centric or character aesthetic-focused shows is that Tribe Cool Crew is still a show meant for kids at the end of the day. For example, the show sometimes features lessons for young, aspiring dancers on topics such as isolation. That said, the anime does feature some characters that an older audience might relate to better.

The look of the show might also take some getting used to, as the character designs are somewhat unusual for anime. They appear to take lessons more from Disney or other American cartoons that emphasize heavy variation in silhouettes to a heavy level of caricature, which can be a bit jarring. It has its own charms, however, such as in the case of Kanon, who is portrayed as an awkwardly lanky girl that perfectly fits both her personality and age, looking as if she just hit puberty and is beginning to feel conflicted between how she believes her upper-class family wants her to be and her inner passion for dance.

You can watch the show on Crunchyroll. Overall, I think Tribe Cool Crew is a really solid show and perhaps the sleeper hit of the season. It has a lot of potential, and I look forward to seeing where it all goes.