It didn’t start out that way, and it has taken a little time, but in the end I’m coming to love Kabukibu!. There was certainly the odd misstep over the first few episodes, but of late the series just hasn’t put a foot wrong. There’s a special pleasure to be had from shows that just get better and better, because in a sense it’s like they’re always exceeding expectations. Every week is a pleasant surprise.
What really elevates Kabukibu!, I think – especially lately – is that it’s incredibly transparent and straightforward in its ideals, yet also manages to be deceptively subtle. That’s a rare combination, and a better potential description for a light novel series I could never hope to see. And it really explores the question of whether someone can make a significant difference in the lives of those around him simply by nature of being a good person. That’s what Kurugo is doing here, really – he’s kind and tireless and enthusiastic and generous, and he’s sweeping his friends along in the wake of all that. And of course, it seems that in doing so he’s paying forward what he received from his grandfather – who, it turns out, was his closest family after his parents died (Saiko – the mangaka – is actually an aunt).
The one who’s resisted Kuro’s gravitational pull the most, of course, is Ebihara-kun. But he’s struggling with an absence of everything Kuro represents in his life, and in his acting – which his teacher described as “boring”. He’s also in a seemingly terrible relationship with his father, who Ebihara seems incapable of respecting after the latter “choked” on stage during a major performance.
The scene where Kuro runs into Jin outside the Kabuki-za is beautiful, both in terms of visuals and writing. It could be argued to be the key moment Kabukibu! has been building up to, the ultimate test of whether Kuro really can change the world just by being himself. I think there’s something quite touching about a person being able to take so much pleasure simply from seeing an old building in the snow (as Kuro’s grandfather did when he first came to Tokyo), but of course, such a thing would never occur to Ebihara. There are no filters in Kurogo’s conversation with Jin, because that’s just not the kind of boy he is. And more so than at any other time, Ebihara seems to open himself up to the possibility that there could be more than one way to approach kabuki and still have legitimacy.
With the new student welcome day performance coming, Riri has hatched the idea of doing a joint performance of “The Five Bandits” with the Gymnastics Club – thus solving the problem of casting the five police officers. And Kuro and Tonbo decide to project subtitles for the audience (insanely clever, IMO). Overall things seem to be going swimmingly – too swimmingly, Kurogo points out, since every one of the Kabukibu’s performances thus far has been beset by crisis. Why should this one be any different – and indeed, that moment comes when Riri comes down with an anime cold (somehow Ebihara seems to pass it on to her without ever getting seriously sick himself). She’s too sick to perform (or rather, Kuro is too responsible to allow her to) and all of a sudden “The Five Bandits” is starting to look like “The Four Bandits”.
There’s an obvious solution here – obvious enough that Tonbo, Kuro and Shin all arrive at it more or less simultaneously. It’s not necessarily the one I’d hope for, though, because I still feel as if Kurogo really needs to have his moment on stage for Kabukibu! to feel like a complete story (hell, even Oota Shou came forward and scored the winning goal against Amarillo). But it looks like I’m going to have to resign myself to that not happening, and obviously Ebihara joining the club for a performance at some point seemed like a fait accompli. The scene where the three boys try and persuade him is classic Kabukibu! to the core – and I love the fact that it’s Tonbo who steps up and really slaps down every argument Jin tries to make (especially the Kyougen one). Tonbo has already learned the lesson friendship with Kuro teaches, which is to accept yourself for who you are – it was always going to fall to Ebihara to do so too, and if we can’t see Kuro on stage in the finale, I suspect we will at least see that.