Image Source: Sentai Filmworks on Twitter

In the art of kabuki, all the roles are filled by men—even the women. That’s why it wasn’t a surprise to have a male character in this season’s Kabukibu! who is a little more in touch with his feminine side than those around him. However, despite his effeminate personality, Hanamichi Niwa is straight. His position as a straight male who likes feminine things brings an interesting topic to the table: the topic of gender roles and sexual orientation.

Kabukibu! revolves around Kurogo Kurusu, a first-year in high school who wants to start a kabuki club, but doesn’t have enough members. One of the members he tries to recruit is Hanamichi Niwa, a second-year who is a descendant of famous kabuki actors. There’s just one problem: He’s a macho delinquent who cares for nothing but getting physically stronger. Of course, he couldn’t give a crap about kabuki, and turns down Kurogo’s invitation. According to his childhood friend Riri, he never used to be such a delinquent. So what happened?

Well, it turns out that Hanamichi actually loves feminine things, including playing female roles in kabuki. Sometime before the beginning of the story, Hanamichi fell in love with a girl he happened to see on the train, and even got up the courage to exchange numbers with her and become friends. Not wanting to lie to her about his identity, he tried being himself, continuing to speak with a feminine speech pattern, going shopping with her, and even inviting her to watch him perform kabuki.

Image Source: カブキブ!公式 on Twitter

However, because the girl considered Hanamichi as more of a girlfriend than a boyfriend, she didn’t realize that he was after her heart, and got a boyfriend. Realizing that it was his feminine speech, mannerisms and hobbies that made her think that way, he tried to change his personality 100%, speaking with over-the-top male speech and wearing a leather jacket that would make Uncle Jesse from Full House blush. It’s only after Kurogo accepts him and tells him how much he respects him that Hanamichi is able to accept his true self again.

In the story of Kabukibu!, Hanamichi is held down by the gender role given to him by society. Gender roles are the societal rules that determine what things a person of a certain sex should wear, do, say, etc. Males are expected to like “manly” things—and if they don’t, much of the time they are thought of as gay.

But contrary to the standards set by societal gender roles, gender doesn’t have to be tied to sex. For example, like Hanamichi, there are males that have a feminine personality and/or identity, but aren’t necessarily gay. And, while his performance as an effeminate guy might be just a little bit over the top, Hanamichi is a great example of a character that breaks gender roles. He likes dancing gracefully, shopping, and making snacks for others. Hanamichi shows that gender roles do not define one’s sexual identity, and the moment he accepts his true self and the things he loves, he blooms on the kabuki stage, becoming an irreplaceable asset for the team.

Image Source: Sentai Filmworks on Twitter

In anime, there aren’t a lot of characters that deal with their gender roles vs sexual identity. One of the few other examples is Kanji from Persona 4 the Animation, the TV anime adaptation of Atlus’ Persona 4 video game. When the protagonist first meets Kanji, he’s a delinquent that has been in trouble with the law more than once. He’s loud, threatening, and feared by his classmates. He is the pinnacle of macho.

However, from a young age, like Hanamichi, he liked more girly things: sewing, baking, etc. However, because the people and society around him told him “that’s not manly,” he changed his personality completely—and also started sporting almost the exact same leather jacket as Hanamichi. Because society told him that “girly” = gay, he became confused about his sexuality and was only able to accept his identity with the help of his friends.

Like Persona 4, Kabukibu!‘s Hanamichi teaches viewers that it’s OK to like things outside of traditional gender roles. Each person is different. It’s pretty rare to have this kind of a character in anime, and I’m excited to see if Hanamichi can find a new girl who will love him for who he is just as much as he loves kabuki.

Kabukibu! is streaming exclusively in North America on Amazon Anime Strike.

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