Until I heard about SHIMAKI Ako’s Pin to Kona which won the 57th Shogakukan Manga Awards, I never expect myself to be fallen so deeply in love with Kabuki, a beautiful and “classical Japanese dance-drama” (according to Wikipedia!).
I have to give credits to SHIMAKI Ako for making the storyline of Pin to Kona simple but without being overly “shoujoly-cheesy” for me to swallow. Afterall, it is about a traditional Japanese art which I have no background understanding of, let alone its culture and language so complex that even some local Japanese found it difficult to comprehend! So-far, I have found the storyline relatively straightforward so that I could also focus on other details in the art, such as the kabuki hand gestures and movements as well as the onnagatas’ expressions of emotions…. which are the core elements I adore most about kabuki.
Other than Pin to Kona, there are also numbers of (shoujo as well as shounen) manga which are about kabuki (or adapted from a series of kabuki performances):
TAKEUCHI Masami’s True Romance is a s-h-o-u-j-o manga that shows the significance of male-only successions in kabuki world. Note that I highlight the word “shoujo”, meaning romance remains as the core theme: Yuki’s father abandoned his Kabuki family (hence honour) when he married Yuki’s mother. Now Yuki wanted to amend the relationship between her dying father and the grandfather she had never met before. To gain her grandfather’s acknowledgment, she was determined to hide her gender to become a “male” Kabuki actor, but by which would effectively threaten the chance for Wataru, whom was adopted by Yuki’s grandfather since little, to succeed the Kabuki family…..
On top of my head, the two kabuki plays being featured in greater lengths (i.e. more than one page!) were: Shunkyo Kagami Jishi (春興鏡獅子) which was Yuki’s debut dance and Kagamiyama Kokyo no Nishiki-e (加賀見山旧錦絵) which became a critically acclaimed success for Yuki.
I suppose it is okay to read this series light-heartedly with it being a very typical shoujo manga of the 90’s, i.e. in which the situations were often idealised and/or any deeper emotions of characters (e.g. jealousy or pain of betrayal, etc) were overlooked. Personally, I would have wanted the story to carry more “shounen-type-of-hot-blood” elements in it, for example the difficulties for Yuki to become a Kabuki actor on stage, etc. Having said that, when I read this series years ago, I didn’t mind it as much.. : )
SAKURAKOJI Kanoko’s Kiwametsuke Gakuya Ura Ouji
By the same mangaka of Black Bird, this one-shot manga tells the romance of the “prince of kabuki” as it evolves at the “backstage” of kabuki theatre…..
My say: Backstage it is, and so no/ little to tell on the actual kabuki performances on stage… which made it my VERY least favourite kabuki manga (…in fact, it’s going to be dropped in my “manga to be overlooked” list!)
YAMADA Nanpei’s Orange Chocolates
Since the basis of this series was about traditional nichibu dancing, I was not entirely sure if I could treat it as a kabuki manga. In fact, I thought I saw in Ritsu some resemblance to SAOTOME Taichi, whom as far as I know is not a kabuki actor. But then after few more chapters, in one of many very-sweet conversations between Chiro and Ritsu, the two made reference to their childhood hero, Bando Tamasaburo V (坂東玉三郎) who is one of the most celebrated onnagata to date (and my favourite kabuki actor of course! ^^) In one of the chapters of Orange Chocolate, Chiro and Ritsu celebrated the school festival by dancing Fuji Musume (藤娘) together on stage for the first time. In reality, my personal favourite is Tamasaburo’s version of Fuji Musume (or “Wisteria Maiden” as it is also known).
Awwww~~~ It’s such an endearing series that I just want more and more of it after each time I read it 🙂 More description on the manga can be found here.
KIHARA Toshie’s Hana no Na no Himegimi
This is a manga adaptation based on four of the very famous kabuki plays in Japan: Naurkami (鳴神), Sakura Hime Azuma Bunsho (桜姫東文章), Kagamiyama Kokyo no Nishiki-e (加賀見山旧錦絵) and Sono Kouta Yume mo Yoshiwara (其小唄夢吉原).
I originally picked up this series by the fact that it was illustrated by KIHARA Toshie, one of my all-time favourite mangakas! : )
However, I did have a difficult time reading it at first; when there was a serious lack of knowledge or at least minimal background understanding on those kabuki plays, KIHARA’s normal great sense of humour in the series became completely flat on me then.
But alleluia to the almighty Wikipedia, lord Google and the king youtube, I was able to pick up this series again with much joy after many hours of “researches” (i.e. practically glueing myself to the screen, watching Bando Tamasaburo V’s spotless performances for as much as I could……!!)
My favourite kabuki plays as well as Kihara’s adaptions are: Naurkami (鳴神) and Sakura Hime Azuma Bunsho (桜姫東文章), both contain a good deal of ironic sense of humour, though Kihara seemed to have tailored her adaptations with slightly more romantic touches (not that it bothers me of course! : ))
(tbc – Shall come back with more illustrations on Hana no Na no Himegimi……)
Note: I am still contemplating whether or not to buy Kabukumono, a kabuki-related shounen manga by TANAKA Akio (written by MIYAHARA David). I am slightly put off by his style of art after I saw clips of Shamo, a very dark psychological drama. However, by judging on the tankoubon covers of Kabukumono, I wonder if there is an exception…..