Kabukibu! is such a relentlessly upbeat and fun show that it’s easy to miss the fact that it’s actually rather good at subtlety. One doesn’t need to pay close attention to what’s happening beneath the surface to enjoy it, but it does take the enjoyment to another level. Although we have an A-list director here in Yoneda Kazuhiro, I suspect at least some of that comes from the source material – and not to repeat myself, but it really seems like Kabukibu! is an example of what light novels can be when they’re not subsumed by an ouroborous of self-referential cynicism and pandering.
We’ve been building up for a while to this meeting at the Shiroganeya estate. So many threads are tied together here, especially with Akutsu effectively growing into a second main character (sorry, Tonbo-kun). Kuru is the heart and soul of Kabukubu!, both its engine and its fuel – but Akutsu-kun is definitely the second breakout character. He more than anyone reflects the dual nature of this series – he’s a goofy and entertaining guy superficially, but there’s actually quite a lot going on with him that’s rather complicated. Ohsaka Ryouta had seemed to be slipping into a bit of a rut over the past couple of years, but he’s sunk his teeth into this role in an endearing and highly effective way. He brings real star power to this series, in more than one sense.
I loved everything about the scene at Shiroganeya-san’s house, which was a great showcase for all four characters involved. Shiroganeya is a clever old fox, with a clear agenda here – but he’s respectful to both his visitors, singling out Kurosu for his daring and creativity in staging a modern/period “Three Kichisas”. Not only that, he gives Kuru-kun the opportunity to act out a scene from that play with him – which is quite visibly one of the great thrills of Kuru’s life. But his main agenda here involves the other two boys, his grandson and the one he resents so plainly.
This is really fascinating stuff. Shin plays the fool when the old man asks him how he interprets the role of Osho, but his read of the play is plausible and relatable – all of the characters are desperate and willing to take any chance to try and get ahead. Jin’s deeper analysis is book smart but “tedious” – his grandfather tells him his lifetime of experience on the stage is “baggage” that he carries with him as an actor. This hurts, obviously, but Shiroganeya is trying to spur his grandson to escape the rut he’s in as an actor, while at the same time finding out as much as he can about the idiot savant of kabuki whose potential future (and past) compels him so.
No question, Shin is good – he memorizes the role of Ojo on one hearing, and grows into the challenge of playing opposite the experienced Jin. In the wake of this eventful visit, however, we learn (at the club Christmas karaoke party – where Kaoru is keeping a close eye on Tonbo…) that the story of Shin’s father being a kabuki actor was fake – he was an actor all-right, but a modern one. What we don’t learn is the identity of the mysterious teacher Shiroganeya-san has “found” for the Kabukibu (my money is still on Jin’s father there).
It’s not until New Year’s that we learn the rest of the story with Shin. It starts as another quiet but effective reminder of the easy closeness between Kurusu and Tonbo, true best friends in every sense, sharing new year’s soba and tempura (Kuru, clearly, is much the better cook – reheating tempura in the microwave??). Then Shin arrives, still goofy but uncharacteristically self-aware and reflective. It turns out his grandfather was the kabuki actor (in Kansai) and died in a car crash his Shin’s great-grandfather. Shin’s mother wanted to carry on the family name, but it’s impossible for a woman to do that in kabuki – so she rebelled, leaving the family and marrying Shin’s father. After his death she devoted herself – for a while, at least – to grooming Shin to reclaim the family name. And then he (naturally) rebelled himself. But in the end, they all love kabuki – it’s just that life is complicated.
This is a very winning sequence for Shin, his most revealing of the series. As for what comes next, it’s that performance at the new student welcome day – and Kurusu has chosen to do “Five Bandits“, which he figures will pack the flash and sizzle to wow the kabuki virgins. There is a problem in that it calls for a very large cast, but I’m wondering if the drama club may end up involved there. Even more, I’m wondering if Kuru-kun is going to wind up playing one of those five bandits – it will be his last chance to get on stage in a meaningful way in the anime, so I certainly hope so as it would feel a little incomplete if he doesn’t…