It’s been a mixed bag with the mystery shows so far this season. We have a big win (Tsuki ga Kirei), a total write-off (Sakurada Reset, which is apparently Japanese for “awful”) and a small clowder of maybes. Kabukibu! was perhaps the biggest wild card in the deck – a series about traditional Japanese arts from the director of Akatsuki no Yona (and soon Hoozuki no Reitetsu). But it’s based on a light novel, and I’ve been burned enough times that I rarely allow myself to be falsely optimistic. That’s why I find the degree to which I’m pulling for this show a little unsettling.
Well, the good news for me is that Kabukibu! is off to a positive start. It’s not a great start like Tsuki ga Kirei, but a very solid one. But paradoxically, what might be faults of this premiere are among the biggest reasons why I’m hopeful it can make the grade. In sum, this episode was a little slow – it took some time in setting up the story and characters. It might have lost some narrative punch as a result, but I prefer to take the long view – that pacing is among the many reasons why Kabukibu! felt nothing like a LN adaptation. There was no flood of clumsy exposition, no rush to start in the middle of the story to satisfy an audience with no attention span. If you hadn’t told me this wasn’t based on a manga, I’d certainly never have guessed. Am I biased when it comes to medium? Yes, I admit it – but I think I’ve been given good reason to be.
Kabukibu! is the story of Kurusu Kurogo (Ichikawa Taichi), a kabuki tireless terrier of a first-year high schooler who loves the traditional Japanese dramatic form. So much so that he wants to put together a kabuki club at his school, which he sets about doing with the help of his brainy and serious best friend Murase Tonbo (Umehara Yuichiro). Naturally enough there’s a healthy measure of skepticism from Kurogo’s teacher, who assumes this baby-faced kid has no real knowledge of kabuki. He’s certainly wrong about that, but the challenges of putting together a kabuki club at a school are still considerable – it’s an incredibly theatrical and precise art form.
We’ve certainly seen this theme play out broadly before – Chihayafuru comes to mind, but the plucky kid trying to build (or save) a club is one of the most popular setups in anime. But kabuki provides several twists I think can work to keep the premise fresh, and Kurugo is a very winning protagonist in the vein of Chihaya or Shou from Ginga e Kickoff. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Deen has cast what sounds like a genuine kid for the role – I don’t know how old Ichikawa is, but he’s basically a newbie seiyuu and I suspect he’s not much older than the boy he’s playing.
In order to have a club, of course, you have to have five members (I believe that’s an article of the Japanese constitution), and the initial unlikely pursuit of them comprises the bulk of Kabukibu!‘s first episode. It’s an interesting mix – a rebellious son of a kabuki actor, a banchou-professional dancer who rarely shows up to school and has an osananajimi, a towering third-year girl in the drama club, and most intriguingly a mysterious first year named Jin Ebihara (Kawanishi Kengo) who performs kabuki in the corridor of the deserted old school building. All of them naturally enough show little to no interest, but tireless terriers have a way of wearing down resistance.
Again, this is mostly setup – but while that isn’t necessarily exciting, on balance I see it as a good thing. There are a lot of interesting angles that could be played here, like the role of women in kabuki (as in, none), and how a school club might have the freedom to ignore the rules. There’s good pedigree here – in addition to director Yoneda, screenwriter Nakamura Yoshiko handled the adaptations for both Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun and Shounen Maid. It’s certainly too early to declare victory, but Kabukibu! is off to a very promising start.