Kabuki: ancient anime of the stage!

green haired anime girl and kabuki actor
Kabuki, anime’s flamboyant grandpa!

Watch any action packed shonen anime and you have probably seen more Kabuki than you think. Kabuki is an ancient form of theater still preformed in Japan today and dates back to the early 1600’s. Originally, Kabuki was a kind of dance performance with short acting sketches that were preformed by all female troupes. Unfortunately, women were banned from participating in these performances in 1629 and Kabuki became an all male theatrical art. With an all male cast, Kabuki quickly became more focused on flashy battle scenes, melodrama, and the acting parts lengthen while the dancing part of the performances receded. What does all this have to do with modern shonen anime? A lot!

Kabuki action poses

Kabuki actor striking a dramatic pose
Kabuki pose

Kabuki action poses (Mie) are an important part of an action scene to express a strong emotion or to indicate that an important battle is about to begin. Mie were first seen in Kabuki in the mid 1700’s and are still very popular in the plays today. You can see these kinds of poses a lot in the tournament style arc of shonen anime like Yu Yu Hakusho, Shaman King, or HunterXHunter . They even pop up in non-tournament arcs of some shonen anime like One Piece or Naruto. One of the most well known Mie that just about every anime fan will recognize is the muscle bulging stance of the Kameha-meha from the Dragon Ball series.

Yu yu hakusho cast
Yu Yu Hakusho strikes a pose!

At times these action poses are combined with Keren, which are sudden transformations or appearances. Sometimes these sudden changes were via a trapdoor (Seri) or by revolving parts of the stage (Mawari butai). Kabuki characters might also suddenly enter the stage to strike a pose by making huge leaps (Chunori) in which an actor would be lifted through the air by wires and land on the stage to strike an action pose.

dragon ball characters doing the kamehameha
Kameha kabuki!

Kabuki battle cries

kabuki actor shouting
Epic exclamations

Shinde! Might be a favorite yell of Bakugo from My Hero Academia, but he certainly didn’t originate that battle cry. Battle cries have been used in Kabuki and also in Kendo for generations. Just like in shonen anime, certain Kabuki characters are known for their catch-phases/battle cries. Pirate captain Luffy’s “Gum Gum Gatling!” from One Piece would fit in perfectly on a Kabuki stage.

Luffy punching
Gum Gum Kabuki!

Though, Shinde! might be effective, battle cries in Kabuki or Kendo are often a bit more direct and may include specifics about the attack the hero will use. Sometimes they indicate where or how a hero is going to attack or the kabuki actor might be exclaiming a strong emotion. Much like how Kagome in Inuyasha exclaimed that she wanted to live as she pulled the magic arrow out of the half demon’s heart, bringing him back to life. Similar to the Mie, these battle cries are usually seen at the beginning of an important fight scene.

glowing pink arrow
A very Kabuki moment!

Kabuki heroes and their hair

Kabuki actors with colorful long wigs
Epic hair!

Kabuki heroes and their gravity defying hair can find direct decedents in modern anime. Once again, Dragon Ball is a great example of hero’s hair that just keeps getting more spiky, more fluffy, more gravity defying.

Dragon ball characters with glowing hair
Hair that is Kabuki worthy!

Think that ancient theater would have somber, natural colored hair? Think again! The over the top wigs (Katsura) used in kabuki come in every color of the rainbow and they are often so long that they could drag on the ground. Katsura were made from human hair, horse hair, or sometimes even yak hair.

kabuki actor with long red wig
This might be yak hair?!
colorful makeup on a Kabuki actor
It’s vibrant

Beyond Katsura, Kabuki is also known for its highly stylized face makeup (Kumadori) and elaborate costumes.

dramatic kabuki makeup
It’s dramatic
fresh kabuki makeup
It’s detailed

Though the old flee demon Myoga might think Inuyasha’s style is a bit too flashy, the half demon’s long white hair and bright red outfit would look tame on a Kabuki stage.

Inuyasha and cast attacking
Meh, not Kabuki enough.

Do you have a favorite anime that is Kabuki-tastic? Leave a comment below!

Check out my podcast!

This weeks anime exclamation is: Kakkoii meaning Cool! Kabuki ha Kakkoii desu ne!

I’m currently watching:

  • Over Lord
  • My Hero Academia
  • Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun
  • Backflip
  • Tokyo Revengers
  • Fena: Pirate Princess
  • My Next Life as a Villainess
  • Bungo Stray Dogs
  • The Great Jahy will Not Be Defeated!
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
  • Life Lessons with Uramichi Oniisan
  • The Case Study of Vanitas
  • Inari Kon Kon
  • Kageki Shojo
  • Level E

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