First Impressions – Kabukibu!

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.

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9 comments

  1. Y

    I actually had very low expectations for this, so the premiere turned out fairly entertaining for me. Kabuki is less obscure than Rakugo and Karuta, and I’ve read several manga centered around Kabuki (so more or less am familiar with several of the most famous plays). Nevertheless, actually seeing it in movement and with sound, I can’t help but laugh a little (this might be disrespectful to actual enthusiasts who understand the art of Kabuki), because while there are beautiful moments there are also moments where I find it ridiculous (especially the way they enunciate). It’s going to be interesting to see how the Western audience takes it.

    Also, it was nice seeing some of the Kabuki references that appeared in Rakugo Shinjuu appear here (such as Benten Kozo and the Sukeroku-kiseru moment).

  2. Z

    This one was about what I expected it would be, and that is okay with me. Better than okay, actually, because this one isn’t 3D. Several of my other picks this season appear to be going the 3D route which limits my enjoyment of them. This was nice. Kinda predictable, but in ways I can accept, and hope for enjoying the minor variations in theme.

  3. A

    I can’t help but to wonder what would you think of LNs aimed at women (which, impressively enough, exist). So far I’ve read little of them, but then I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the ones I read. Even if the initial exposition keeps being a bit messy, the focus on politics against romance or blatant fanservice is something I’ve been thankful about, and the main characters have showed to not be damsels in distress. Later exposition seems to be much better handled, too.

    As a woman tired of seeing novels in the west that basically are horny fantasies focused on an abusive man being possesive around the ultimately helpless main character, it was a very welcome change to see women pretty able to handle matters with their own and truly in control of their story

  4. I feel like at least a couple have been made into anime, and I haven’t found them much better than the usual lot. But it’s certainly not as big a phenomenon at the moment.

  5. A

    Admittedly it isn’t like I’ve read lots of them, so I could have been lucky with what I found. Which ones do you think are like that? I’m curious, after all I can’t think of any LN adaptation that came from a truly shoujo-like one.

  6. Only shoujo-like light novel adaptation I can think of off the top of my head is Earl and Fairy, unless I count Slayers, Haruhi and Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita for having female main characters, but that’s kind of pushing it. Anyways, with Kino no Tabi getting a second season and Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files getting an anime movie, hopefully we’ll start seeing some better light novel anime getting made.

  7. A

    Those three (Slayers, Haruhi, Jinrui) are definitely not the kind of novels I see as aimed to a female audience. Slayers in particular is product of another very different time and a shounen at heart. Earl and Fairy fits, however, perfectly and it’s admittedly, from what I remember, pretty terrible and guilty of abusing all cliches imaginable (also, it was a perfect case of helpless heroine). At least as far as the anime goes, of course.

    Slayers, Twelve Kingdoms, Kino no Tabi and even Trinity Blood seem to be a different brand inside the concept of LN altogether. It would be interesting to look deeper into the market, as I think the subset that gets adaptations is a very particular one at times like these. A very popular one too, as painful as that may be.

  8. s

    This ep is not enough for me to judge the show: not bad nor good, we’ll see. Thanks for the review!
    On a side note, the only novel adaptation aimed to girls I came up with is Saiunkoku Monogatari, an incomplete adaptation but enjoyable.

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