I won’t deny I was first a little worried, then a little uncertain about Kabukibu!. But the last two episodes have sold me that this is pretty much the series I was hoping it was going to be going into the season, which effectively makes it my second-place non-sequel of the spring (before we started it could have been either this one or Tsuki ga Kirei, but that’s clearly separated itself from the field). And in doing so, it relieves the biggest slice of uncertainty still hanging over the season for me.
Is Kabukibu! perfect, or even great? No, it’s not – the narrative can still be a bit awkward and a couple of the characterizations don’t quite hit the target for authenticity. But on balance, the last two weeks have righted the ship and allowed the series’ formidable strengths to shine through. Kuro was always a great protagonist, a classic everyman hero for this sort of series – that’s been the constant. But the show’s overall tone and attitude are also on the money, and that has become clear. It has an infectious optimism and doesn’t take itself too seriously, while at the same time recognizing how serious all this is to Kuro (and now, his followers). That’s not an easy balance to achieve by the way, be a series light novel, manga or original.
There’s a pattern to these sorts of series, and Kabukibu! is following it expertly. Having gathered (just) enough members to be viable, it’s now time for the team/club/group to buckle down and get to work. Which the kabuki group does, with Kaoru-sempai quite logically taking charge of bringing up everyone’s physical level. But in order to really nose that grindstone we need a practice match – in this case, a performance for the school volunteer society at a local senior center. With only a few weeks to prepare this seems dangerous, but hey, it’s a stretch goal – and I like the fact that the vice-principal is giving this fledgling group a fair shot, even an opportunity. It’s refreshing to not see someone in the school administration portrayed as an ogre in cases like this.
Kabukibu! is rather splendid at portraying the practical difficulties of kabuki, I think, and this scenario is no exception. To start with there isn’t a whole lot of kabuki that can be done with only a few actors,, and then there’s the matter of just who those actors are. The play the young actors (well, Kurogo) eventually choose is “Three Kichisas” – a well-known story of three thieves named Kichisa and their sworn brotherhood. Kuro eventually relents and decides to play Oshou, basically on the grounds that he’s even more ill-fitted to the other two lead roles. Kaoru and Hanamichi are obviously “talent”, but Tonbo is the technical director and Maruko the costume designer. That means Kurogo has to perform, though he initially tried to beg off on grounds that as he’s also directing and scripting, it’s impossible for him to be on-stage too.
That’s not a bad argument, but where this is really effective dramatically is that it casts Kuro in a different light than we’ve seen him. Because the real issue is a matter of confidence – Kuro doesn’t think he has the chops to be a kabuki actor. For all his genki optimism he’s clearly aware (like Oota Shou) of his physical limitations – he doesn’t believe he’s cut out for dashing, manly roles. He also knows that when he has to step into character rather than recite, he’s simply not any good – as drama-clubber Kaoru spots immediately. This is his dream finally coming true, and Kurogo knows that his own shortcomings are the biggest obstacle to success. That’s actually kind of gut-wrenching to watch.
This ties in another very effective element of Kabukibu!, which is Tonbo’s unflinching devotion to Kurogo. Kabukibu! has given us a couple of character turns that didn’t immediately seem to make sense (like Hanamichi’s split personality) but I like the fact that it does eventually shine a light on them. Given Tonbo’s past – a brainy kid bullied to the point of severe emotional trauma – it’s quite understandable that he’d feel deeply loyal to the cheerful boy who accepted him unreservedly when he moved to a new town, hoping for a fresh start. I would have liked Tonbo’s backstory to get a full episode, but it was effectively portrayed given the time constraints.
When the moment for the performance comes (Kuro chooses the famous kabuki passage “What a grand sight!” as their pregame rallying cry), Kuro’s anxiety proves too much for him. Fortunately a surprise stand-by is ready – and it’s not the person we suspected might have been watching the group’s practice (Ebihara) but the wayward kabuki-rocker Akutsu Shin. Ebihara has spurned Kuro’s pleas even for informal help, but Akutsu clearly has the Nin for the Oshou role. I suspect this performance is going to go off rather well (the seniors will be an appreciative and, I think, forgiving audience) but there’s got to be some karmic trauma for Kuro to have crashed out before ever seeing the stage. That’s certainly going to be a major theme going forward, as is the question of whether his kabuki dream involves performing or not.