I’m very sad that Kabukibu! seems to be garnering next to no attention either in Japan or the West, but I’m also not even remotely surprised by that. One can fully expect something and still be disappointed by it of course, but to say this is “sadly predictable” is pretty close to the truth. In an anime environment where the vast majority of series are targeted at increasingly narrow and specific slivers of fans, it’s hard to see where a show like Kabukibu! fits into the commercial landscape. It sucks, but that’s just the world we live in.
The fact is, we’ve now had two light-novel adaptations in the last three seasons fully win me over, and while that may not sound like much it actually represents an atypically large number (especially given that LN adaptations – and LN – seem on the whole to be getting worse if anything). Kabukibu! is nothing like Girlish Number of course, but they do share the quality of being light novel adaptations with a difference. In the case of G;N it was the ability to cast a critical eye inwards that set it apart (that and its ability to balance meta-satire and character drama). With Kabukibu! it’s just charm, plain and simple.
There’s a definite “Ginga e Kabuki” quality to this show, no question about it – it’s transparent and totally lacking and pretense or artifice. For me it’s hard to see anyone could give this show and Kurogo a chance and not feel fond of both – there’s so much honest affection for the topic that it’s infectious (in that sense as much Yowapeda as Ginga e Kickoff). The comparison extends to Kuro, too – he’s reminding me more and more of Oota Shou as the Predators were becoming a successful team, working in anonymity as a central defender while others got the glory. But at least Shou was on the field – so far the closest Kuro has gotten to the stage is fainting at an old folks’ home and pulling the joshiki curtain across the high school rehearsal room.
Still – you do have to walk before you can run, and while I do think the above is something Kabukibu! is going to have to address before it’s finished, Kuro is accomplishing some amazing things. The club is up and running, they’re about to have a very successful debut at the Kochi Festival, and it’s very clear his team appreciates Kuro’s talents above and beyond pulling the joshiki. The most remarkable thing he’s done, of course, is tackle the problem of communicating kabuki to a high school audience in the 21st Century – tackling the seemingly impossible paradox of updating the form without losing the essence of it.
It’ll be up to the individual to decide if he succeeded, but I think the solution Kurogo (and Kabukibu!) came up with was pretty dang clever. He split “Three Kichisas” into two acts – seemingly puzzling as it’s typically staged as one. Starting with Riri prepping the audience in a decidedly modern way, this was clearly kabuki with a difference despite the traditional seating and joshiki. With a skeptical Ebihara (and Sensei’s dad, though he’s less surly about it) in the audience, the joshiki is pulled to reveal a decidedly modern set – complete with video projected behind the players and modern soundtrack. Kuro has transformed “Three Kichisas” into a modern drama – and while the students clearly appreciate the change, the hardcore kabuki types are far tougher on him. Surely when an amateur changes the form like this, “breaks it down”, he loses the essence of it?
Well – no. For Kurogo has effectively used the first act as a kind of answer key for the second – explaining “Three Kichisas” to the kids in a language they’ll understand, so they’ll then understand the second act – where he stages the play as written. It never occurred to me, but I think it’s en elegant, clever and very brave direction to take – and even Ebihara can’t escape the fact that Kuro has succeeded in communicating kabuki to high schoolers in a way he’s never seen before. And it doesn’t hurt that Shin has finally caved and decided he’ll perform, his mother be damned – and shorn his hair to do it. He’s pretty important because, frankly, Ohsaka Ryota is really good at kabuki – he throws himself into it abandon and to my novice ears, he sounds pretty natural.
I was not aware that “Kurogo” can be used as a word for “stagehand” in kabuki parlance, but even if Kuro thinks of himself in those terms he’s clearly far more than that. It would have been only natural for him to join his mates in a curtain call – in addition to beating the clappers he’s the writer and director for crying out loud – and I wish his cast had pushed him harder to do it. But his mother is proud of Kuro at least, and the performance was undeniably a success. Baby steps, I suppose…