The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
Oh, Kabukibu. I'm getting the distinct impression that you're "beautiful on the inside." Despite its super-standard "forming a club from hesitant misfits" premise, there's a lot to love about the ideas that this kabuki-themed high school dramedy is already playing with. Our too-enthusiastic lead's deep abiding love for kabuki feels both believable and endearing, and the people he scouts as performers, from a hopelessly chuuni rocker boy who can't sing to a polite yet striking otokoyaku girl to a menacing traditional dancer who gets the only decent sequence of animation in the episode, are already a gang of potentially memorable weirdos. What's not to love, right?
Well, the big problem with Kabukibu (apart from its struggling animation) is that it's all potential at this point, but it hasn't devoted much time to establishing its own personality. While it's clear that our starry-eyed protagonist loves kabuki, we're quickly running into the "bad sports anime" problem where not enough time is spent establishing what makes kabuki so great to the audience, who might not be familiar with the artform's charms. Good sports anime like Haikyu! or Chihayafuru can take even less popular pursuits like volleyball or karuta and imbue them with a passion that has the audience falling in love with the characters and learning about the game they love effortlessly. Kabukibu only has half of that equation down, devoting its entire episode to introducing its whole cast without really indulging the unique aesthetic of its subject matter.
If you can abide a dull-looking production for the promise of a charming story, Kabukibu's refreshing sincerity and quirky flavor might be just the slice-of-life you're looking for this season. Of course, if it decides to go all-out on cute boys (and one girl) cracking wise in lieu of balancing this goofy cast with an engaging look at what makes kabuki special, it might not be able to sustain its initial charm for more than a couple episodes. I hate to end by giving out such a generic recommendation, but in true 3/5 fashion, this one is a total "give it a shot and see if it grabs you" sort of A-OK.
Is Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju ushering in a new anime trend about Japanese classical arts? If so, count me in! Kabukibu stars kabuki fanatic Kurogo and like many a high school anime protagonist, he wants to start a club about his prized hobby but also like the many lead characters before him, he has to scour his high school campus to fill the ranks. That's not exactly a unique start, but my excitement will not be tempered. Soon, soon we'll get to guys in classic make-up stomping around with swords, right?
Eh, well not quite today and not quite next week either. This episode is all about establishing its cast of characters and Kurogo's earnest pursuit to woo them into his club. And while Kabukibu and Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju both share classical art forms and an animation studio in common, the similarities end there. Kabukibu doesn't look anywhere near as good as its predecessor, and tonally it's not setting the stage to accomplish any of the deep character work either. Kurogo isn't suffering from emotional impotency. He seems pretty well-adjusted if not a little boisterous, if you ask me.
That's not a negative though. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju was about revealing its characters' desires and honest emotions through performance. Kabukibu is about admiration for the craft and bringing people together through a common interest. It's much lighter fair but so long as the end result is learning more about kabuki, its stories, and terminology, I'm all for it. It's rare that this medium decides to go out a limb to attempt to engage its audience in something that isn't otaku-centric, but I'm always grateful for the opportunity to learn and appreciate a part of the Japanese culture I'm working around everyday in a new way. I'd watch anime about traditional paper-making so long as the characters were interesting.
Kabukibu isn't making waves in its first episode. It's very by the books when it comes to the “club creation” plot line. Its cast also isn't breaking any barriers and and fill in the usual roles for an ensemble. There's a bad boy and a prideful professional to cause internal conflict with the easy-going characters. There is potential for character growth on the horizon, so it'll really come down to how the cast interacts with one another once it is officially assembled and if Studio Deen can bring out some of the animation chops it used to make storytelling dynamic in Rakugo Shinju for the kabuki performances.
Kabukibu has either excellent or terrible timing, depending on how you look at it. On one hand, it's starting right after the end of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, which probably stirred up some extra demand for anime about traditional styles of performance. One the other hand, how in the world do you follow the act that Rakugo put on? The audience might be there, but the bar is set pretty darn high. It's going to take more than a standard-issue school club story to measure up.
In fairness to Kabukibu, it doesn't have much choice in moving through familiar story beats this early in the game. It has an enthusiastic protagonist who wants to start a kabuki club with his reliable buddy, so naturally they need to go meet a bunch of prospective members. Most of these supporting characters fit into the usual genre roles, like the guy who claims to hate kabuki despite knowing a lot about it. There aren't a lot of surprises here, but Kurogo gets a wide enough variety of reactions to his offer of membership that we can at least expect a broad range of personalities.
Most of this episode's good points can be found in Kurogo's frequent monologues in praise of kabuki. They imply that there's some basic knowledge behind his blinding enthusiasm, and also serve as an assurance that the series knows what it's talking about. These moments also tend to be accompanied by a shift in visual style, with the vibrant colors of the stages and costumes creating an obvious contrast with the more ordinary school environments. The implication is clear: kabuki is an exciting departure from everyday life. That's the kind of energy this series will need going forward, especially since the actual character designs aren't all that impressive.
The sooner Kabukibu can start forging its own path, the better. Its strength will likely be its performance scenes, while the ordinary business of organizing the club looks to be far less compelling. I have a sinking feeling that we're going to be stuck wading through a few weeks' worth of Kurogo talking everyone into joining, but I'd love to be proven wrong. It's already obvious from the opening and ending sequences that these characters will be involved in the club eventually, so let's get on with it already.
Come on, Amazon. Get your act together. In previous streams during this preview guide, the subtitles on Anime Strike were behind, not popping up until two to three seconds after the characters started speaking. In Kabukibu, they're two to three seconds fast, which in some ways is even more annoying. This really isn't acceptable for a paid service.
The episode itself is basically fine, but if you're not familiar with kabuki, it may be hard to get into. Protagonist Kurogo is madly in love with the art form, and his greatest wish (at the moment) is to find three more people to join he and his friend Tonbo in creating an official kabuki club at their high school. The problem is, kabuki is one of those theatre styles that doesn't work for everyone – and that's going to be true for the anime's audience as well. There are specific speaking styles and motions that go with kabuki, and to people not familiar with it, it can sound very melodramatic. Of course, that was the style back in the day when kabuki was created, but it perhaps isn't as easy to appreciate now. That's one of the barriers Kurogo has to face, and he seems blissfully unaware of it, seizing any chance to demonstrate his kabuki skills to potential members...or just bursting into speech in the middle of the road. (The scene of Tongo apologetically bowing to passersby while Kurogo is declaiming is great.)
The main issue with this episode is that it's the kind of basic club anime set up that we've seen a hundred times before. Most of it is just Kurogo and Tonbo running around crossing people off of their list, learning that the handsome guy is actually a handsome girl in the theatre club, and discovering the Perfect Club Member at the very end of the episode. Basically the only edge it's got going for it is the kabuki theme and Taichi Ichikawa's impressive shifts between Normal Kurogo and Kabuki Kurogo. Once the actual meat of the story reveals itself, I suspect that this could become much more interesting, but as in introduction, it's kind of a dud.
Of course, it's a dud with some lovely imagery. The contrast between the school life colors and the kabuki ones is striking and really gives the image of a whole different world, one that we can see being appealing to more than just Kurogo. There's a vibrancy to the kabuki world that's remarkable, and if that's on tap for later episodes where the characters become more immersed in kabuki, this could be really gorgeous to look at. Essentially Kabukibu's first episode doesn't feel like a great representation of what the show could become, even more so than other series. This will be worth a second episode to see how it progresses...and to see if Amazon gets that subtitle thing worked out.
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