Kabukibu! remains the biggest wild card of the season for me. It’s not that it isn’t considerably more engaging than the other series I’d consider bubble shows at this early stage (it is), but that my hopes for it are considerably higher. It Clockwork Planet or Re:CREATORS doesn’t make the cut, c’est la vie – my disappointment level will be modest. But given its subject matter, studio and director I’ll be seriously deflated if Kabukibu! doesn’t turn out to be somewhere in this season’s top tier of series.
So then, it’s really a matter of where the goal posts are than anything else that makes this series a big mystery factor for Spring 2017. I like it after two episodes, quite a lot actually. But it’s not quite closing the sale yet – there’s just some spark of something that’s still missing. Somehow the characters actions – scratch that, it’s more the plot progressions – feel too by-the-numbers. There’s a sense that things are happening because the plot needs that to happen rather than organically because the characters take them there. I could speculate that the series’ light novel roots might be a contributing factor to that, and nothing in the historical context would rise up to refute it. But in the end it’s a moot point.
What’s working for me with Kabukibu! is the series’ general tone, which is a reflection of its main character Kurogo – who’s the other main element that’s working for me. He reminds me a great deal of Shou from Ginga e Kickoff (a show which I love a great deal), and the perfect match between tone and protagonist is ever more reminiscent of that series. There’s a sense of relentless energy and forward momentum that may be somewhat fanciful in nature, but nevertheless seems like a perfect personification of the youthful spirit. The quote Kurogo attributes to his grandpa – “Young people are about action, you can think on the way” – sums this attitude up perfectly.
At this point the meat of the story is Kurogo trying to hunt down his designated targets for the kabuki group (not yet to be called a “club”). They’re a diverse and potentially interesting bunch, though at this point still mostly plot devices rather than fully realized characters. The drama club sempai Kaoru is the most positive, and the most genuinely interested too. The banchou dancer Niwa is a general basket case (his friends have nicknamed Kurogo Pochi – “Spot” – for the way he follows Niwa around like an overeager puppy).
As for the dancing scion of a kabuki dynasty, Ebihara, he remains the most interesting and nuanced of the bunch. His attitude towards Kurogo is initially friendly, but turns hostile when Kurogo reveals his intentions. He’s insulted that an “amateur” like Kurogo could imagine he’d be able to perform kabuki when Ebihara has been practicing since he was four and still considers himself a novice. Kuroguro rightly points out that most of the audience are amateurs too, but Jin is not remotely swayed by this. For him, it’s a matter of respect for the art – or so he tells himself, anyway.
The other element in Kabukibu! that’s quite welcome is its contextualizing of kabuki as a medium. Contrary to what most think now, it was historically an art form of that masses (like rakugo). It was in fact invented by a woman, Izumo no Okuni (ironically), who formed a mixed-gender troupe. And the name is said to refer to “slanting in a certain direction”, as in people who don’t quite fit in with the establishment (though there are many competing theories about that). Demystifying kabuki – like rakugo and karuta – is a good thing in my book, especially since kabuki can seem pretty mystifying, believe me.
So, as you can see, I find an awful lot here to like. I really, really want Kabukibu! to win me over unreservedly, but history has taught me that it’s dangerous to wish too hard for a series to succeed – in the end that can only fool you for so long. I still think Kabukibu! is going to find its stride and close the deal, because I believe the positive currents are stronger than the negative. But I’d love to have been sure of it by now – it’d give me one less thing to worry about, anyway.