On balance, I’d have to say that was the best episode of Kabukibu! so far. And that’s a good thing, because my views on it after last week were fairly conflicted. If it were a bottom feeder I was enjoying it plenty enough to keep watching, but as a show for which I had considerable expectations, it had some ground to make up. And this week’s ep fundamentally course-corrected the biggest problem I saw with Kabukibu!, namely by having the plot develop organically and the characters behave in a manner that seems true to themselves rather than service to the plot.
The biggest strengths of this series remain fully on display – namely Kurogo himself being an unstoppable force of nature, and a rather winning way of bringing kabuki into the context of the story. We begin with a field trip to the Kabuki-za – where Kurogo and his recruits happen to watch the one kabuki play I’ve actually seem live, Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami. As you saw it’s a rather dark tale, especially in the fourth (and usually final, as the fifth is rarely performed) act. In the modern context it’s hard to imagine a scenario where an audience would be expected to feel sympathy for a man who willingly sacrifices his own son’s life in the name of honor (I certainly don’t). But at the time the play (also performed in bunraku theater) was written, it would have been received quite differently.
This is one of the best things about Kabukibu!, I think – it doesn’t shy away from kabuki’s oddness, but rather confronts it head-on. Kaoru and Hanmachi are horrified by what happens in “Sugawara’s” final scene, as most would be. And it’s quite odd, indeed, for 21st Century teens like Kurogo to be kabuki otaku. But something not being “normal” doesn’t mean it’s bad – it just means we have to re-frame our thinking a little to understand it.
This is quite evident in the dismissive attitude the teacher has towards Kurogo, assuming he’s just a dilettante who’s interested in kabuki as a lark. Kurogo is serious about it, very serious – but he too confronts the reality of kabuki from the perspective of a modern child’s interest head-on. His vision of a kabuki group is one that does things professional troupes can’t – it has fun performing, and do cool things on stage pros (or even adults) could never get away with. This is tied in with Murase’s rather elegant definition of what an “amateur” is – and why being an amateur at something doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t be worthy of respect.
I also felt that this episode somewhat redeemed Hanmachi’s rather jarring transformation in Episode 2. It at least a gave an explanation of why his behavior changed so radically – a bad experience with a girl who didn’t take him seriously as a man spurred him to create a new persona. The whole thing was still rather silly but it at least makes sense now. I also enjoyed the addition of Janume Maruko (Uchiyama Yumi), the sharp-tongued cosplay expert Murase has pegged as a potential costume designer. There’s some danger with that character for sure, but a lot of upside to – depending on how Kabukibu! handles her character arc. All in all there was a lot of encouraging stuff this week, and I’m feeling pretty good about where this show is headed.