I’m at great pains to state that Kabukibu! isn’t Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – and it certainly is not. That was a masterpiece – this is a solid, loveable and entertaining school life/sports hybrid. But there are some similarities there, above and beyond the fact that both are produced by Deen and helmed by elite directors. Not only do we have the workings of a traditional Japanese performing art explored in both, but we have the chance to hear modern actors performing them – and that’s one of the real pleasures of both series for me.
I have to wonder if that element isn’t just as much fun for the seiyuu as it is for us. I wouldn’t imagine Ohsaka Ryouta has had all that much chance to perform kabuki, but he gets to throw himself into the moment here, over and over, as the bombastic Akutsu Shin. And I have to say, he’s pretty darn good at it. When he steps in for Kuro to save the kabuki group’s performance of “Three Kichisas”, his Oshou does just that – he’s the clear standout of the performance, as natural at kabuki as he is an atrocity at J-rock. And I think a measure of the credit for that certainly has to go to Ohsaka-san.
Is there scar tissue for Kuro for having crashed out on the verge of his stage debut? Well, I think it remains to be seen whether Kabukibu! is the sort of series that explores such things at all deeply, but for now Kuro seems to have shaken it off. There are the demands of the club to consider (a major festival, the “Kochi Matsuri”, is coming up) and it doesn’t hurt that Akutsu-kun is a definite asset for the club. He’s rude, vain and utterly preposterous (the only thing he hates worse than kabuki is being left out, and he’s only mad that Kuro didn’t chase him harder to begin with), but he’s genuinely good at kabuki. And for this troupe, that transcends everything else.
The practical issue for the Kochi Festival is that the untenured kabuki group (bunny girl Miwayama Riri – Asai Ayaka – had so much fun she’s decided to become a permanent member) has no place to perform. That means trying to get the much-ballyhooed drama club to give up their green room for the kabuki group to perform. Not their performance stage, mind you – just their fucking green room. But even that is too big an affront for their ogress of a president, who’s still bitter that Kaoru has been “stolen” from her, and refuses. The spineless student council refuses to take a decision, so the president challenges the kabuki group to a throwdown performance duel of “The Medicine Peddler“, Ichikawa Danjuurou II’s legendary play.
“The Medicine Peddler” is a particularly pointed choice by the president, given that it’s one of the most famous kabuki plays ever – the implication of course being that the hallowed drama club can easily beat their neophytes even at their own game. Kuro elects to use Akutsu (now back to his natural brown hair) for the duel, which seems a wise choice. There’s some interesting stuff where the advisor’s father comes to observe and offer advice – the connection being that he’s an omuko, a guy who sits in the cheap seats at kabuki and shouts the names of the actors (yes, that’s a thing – and some omuko are actually almost as famous as the actors themselves).
I think the performance pretty much speaks for itself. The drama club’s rep gives a crisp, blazing fast recitation – but what Shin gives is a performance. There’s no question which of the two carried the day, because only one of them embraced the role and performed the material as it was written. This is a recurring theme in Kabukibu!, and a good one – commitment and enthusiasm really does matter, not least when you’re part of a group of high schoolers. I would imagine we’re going to see a detente between Kaoru’s two clubs at some point, but I like the fact that the kabuki group is fighting for everything they get – they need nothing given to them except an opportunity, and even the best among us needs at least that much when we’re just starting out…