A number of anime and manga have been adapted into musicals with little attention from Western anime fans. The adaptations made are likely inspire confusion… Why would you turn Naruto into a magic show? Why would you remove all female characters from a manga dedicated to fanservice? Why is Hard Gay a samurai?
Nevertheless, this is my list of my ten favourite anime musicals and stage shows that I’ve enjoyed over the years. The vast majority are available on DVD and, while difficult to buy in some cases, can definitely be acquired by anyone familiar with online auctions or with access to a shopping service.
English Title: Ninja Illusion Naruto
Japanese Title: 忍者イリュージョン NINJA ILLUSION NARUTO-ナルト-
Date: May 2006
I’ve never deliberately sat down and watched Naruto, so my grasp of the plot may be a little shaky. However, I think it’s something to do with a boy in an orange jumpsuit who’s trying to become a ninja. Along the way, he fights people and makes friends. Sound about right?
The anime is aimed at a younger audience and is aired in the early evening when elementary school kids are returning home. Due to this, the production organisers of this musical tried to capture the kid market by using cheap magic tricks while aiming at the usual female theatre-going demographic by casting members of Johnny’s Musical Academy.
What could possibly go wrong?
The plot focuses on a princess who can bring things to life by singing. A handful of villains dressed as disco vampires set out to capture her and Naruto saves her. Other characters make cameo appearances, including Gaara. His sand powers were simulated by covering the entire stage in gold fabric. There was the inevitable sexy no jutsu.
I must admit that if I were younger (by about twenty years!), I would’ve loved this.
English Title: Shounen Onmyouji (Utaemaki) -Kono Shounen, Seimei no Koukei ni tsuki-
Japanese Title: 少年陰陽師 ＜歌絵巻＞ ―この少年、晴明の後継につき―
Date: October 2007
One of the most difficult things to decide when designing a musical based on an anime is how to deal with the cute mascot characters. In the case of Shonen Onmyouji, the story of the grandson of a famous magician Abe no Seimei, his pet fox-rabbit-cat hybrid could have been a real problem. However, the woman playing him had a lot of energy and a strong singing voice.
The songs were catchy and best described as combining Shinto-style chants and disco music. Awesome.
English Title: Neoromance Stage Harukanaru Toki no Naka de Maihitoyo
Japanese Title: ネオロマンス・ステージ 遙かなる時空の中で 舞一夜
Date: January 2008 – February 2008
Harukanaru Toki no Naka de was originally a series of one-woman-many-guys dating sims in which yet another Japanese schoolgirl finds herself in Heian era Japan (or something like it) surrounded by hot monks and samurai. The stage version was a retread of the anime film of the same name.
It opens with two characters fighting demons. The rest of the team soon joins them and they all strike dramatic poses, a screen unrolls in a split second and they stand in front of the projected logo. There was then a short sequence that looked like the credits from a TV drama series.
While walking in the rain, the female lead (Akane) falls in love with an amnesiac man who loves to do Noh dances. In the same town, a Noh stage keeps burning down, presumably due to the presence of a restless spirit. The two couldn’t possibly be connected… Their love progresses and the mysterious man gives Akane a mask. It turns out that it’s cursed and whoever performs a dance while wearing it will die. Suefumi, the man who Akane met, was once a famous dancer and performed that dance ten years ago. He was struck down, not by the cursed mask, but by a curse from within his own family.
The main characters play Heian era instruments while Suefumi dances his last dance and Akane frees his soul.
English Title: Butai [Shinsengumi Imon Peace Maker]
Japanese Title: 舞台『 – 新撰組異聞 – PEACE MAKER』
Date: May 2009
Shinsengumi Imon Peace Maker and Peace Maker Kurogane are works of historical fiction about a boy who joins the shinsengumi. Many of the characters mentioned have real world counterparts. For example, Harada Sanosuke was a real samurai who tried to commit seppuku to prove to someone that he knew how it was done. He failed. In this play, Harada is played by Hard Gay. You heard me.
You can watch a commercial on YouTube for the DVD which highlights the sword fighting and melodrama. However, my enduring memory will be of curtain call, when Hard Gay got the whole audience on their feet to thrust HG-style in time with him. Unforgettable.
English Title: MUSICAL AIR GEAR
Japanese Title: ミュージカル『エア・ギア』
Date: January 2007 – Ongoing
If you’ve read the manga, the first things you’ll think of are “flashy inline skates” and “boobs,” not necessarily in that order. The production company dealt with the problem of most theatre-goers being women in their twenties by ditching all the girls in the cast and introducing a gay couple called Romeo and Juliet who are members of an evil Shakespeare-themed skating group called Team Bacchus.
The stage consisted of a ramp in the centre and a track that led off it and looped through the audience. Before the show, the backstage crew came out, made some announcements and skated around to check that everything was in place.
The cast included three of the original voice actors from the anime, so you can imagine they aren’t the best at skating. In fact, none of the named characters had been chosen for their skating ability, so lots tended to go wrong. It was part of the fun.
English Title: Saiyuuki Kagekiden
Japanese Title: 最遊記歌劇伝
Date: September 2008 – April 2009
The manga played off concepts from the original Chinese novel. Four characters travel west (to India) in a jeep that’s actually a small white dragon.
The first Saiyuuki musical is notable for selecting actors on the basis of their looks and not for their ability to sing. The result was great chemistry between the characters, dramatic monologues and songs which had only a brief flirtation with what might be termed “music.” One of the four leads even apologised at curtain call and promised to try harder.
Despite what you might think, I loved the show and even went a second time. There was a strong supporting cast who could sing and the overall style and look was fantastic. Audiences really got behind the cast and the actors responded well to their encouragement. I also figured it would it would die quietly like the Naruto musical, which didn’t even get a DVD release. At my second viewing, which was also the final show, they announced a second musical, so I guess other people found something uplifting in the mess too.
English Title: Ongaku Butoukai “Kuroshitsuji” – Sono Shitsuji, Yuukou
Japanese Title: 音楽舞闘会「黒執事」-その執事、友好
Date: May 2009 – Ongoing
The original manga is set in creatively anachronistic Victorian England and focuses on a young boy and the demonic butler who will eventually eat his soul. The anime… was a little different.
The plot for the musical deviates from both the manga and anime, but is closer in spirit to the manga. It concerns a group of travellers from Japan and the secrets they hide.
There were songs by fan favourites like Undertaker (accompanied by pet rats) and shinigami Grell. They also found a way to allow Sebastian (the butler) to throw cutlery like daggers, which has since become an iconic scene from the first manga volume.
Another musical is planned with more original characters and focusing on the shinigami. Grell was too fabulous to ignore first time around, it seems.
English Title: SAMURAI 7
Japanese Title: SAMURAI 7
Date: November 2008
Samurai 7 was a sci-fi retelling of Kurosawa Akira’s “Seven Samurai” with giant robots. This was no problem for the high-budget stage version, which used costumes and set design to recreate the anime effortlessly.
The vast majority of the show was choreographed fight scenes interspersed with tragedy and just a little bit of comedy. There was two-handed sword-fighting, devastating death scenes, a melodramatic villain, realistic cyborgs and comedic monologues.
Definitely worth seeing.
English Title: Rock Musical Bleach
Japanese Title: ロックミュージカル BLEACH
Date: August 2005 – Ongoing
Almost everything I know about Bleach comes from this musical, but it’s not a bad way to enjoy the series. The story revolves around Ichigo, a boy who takes on the power of a shinigami when he tries to rescue her. He also possesses a sword bigger than he is.
Unlike the other long-running fan-favourite, Musical Tennis no Oujisama, Bleach doesn’t really have a large number of cast members moving in and out between plot arcs. This allows for a lot of in-jokes and chemistry between the fairly unchanging cast members. Even the back-up actors/dancers, known as TAIIN, have their own fans and photosets.
The final half hour of each musical is usually devoted to getting the audience on their feet and clapping along with the actors who vary wildly from remaining in-character to breaking kayfabe.
The final song is often “Hallelujah Goodbye,” which has evolved its own set of complicated hand movements and actions that most fans seem to have no problems with. I am a notable exception to this.
English Title: Musical Tennis no Oujisama
Japanese Title: ミュージカル・テニスの王子様
Date: April 2003 – Ongoing
Almost certainly responsible for the relatively recent boom in anime musicals starring young and attractive guys, this fairly simple musical follows the fortunes of a young boy who plays tennis with his school tennis club as they try to win the national tennis tournament.
The simplicity of the original was charming. The actors played tennis with regular tennis rackets, but with beams from stage lights as balls. Then they’d stop and sing a song incorporating their catchphrases from the manga.
It becomes more complicated when you start talking about “Dream Live,” which a revue staged at regular intervals that mixes sketches and popular songs without any plot. Filmed scenes of guys eating yakiniku and of shark attacks abound. There are extravagant costumes with the various tennis teams as pimps and pirates.
Even in the main series of musicals, there are transformations mid-song, adlibbed monologues to cacti and cascading waterfalls of dry ice. Basically, everything you’d expect from a good filler episode of the anime and a lot of fake tennis.
This was a response to Muza-chan’s call for JSOC Blog Matsuri entries. Thank you very much for hosting it this month, Muza-chan.
For more posts on anime and otaku interests, click on the tag cloud to your right. Or check out some of my posts on travel or food in Japan instead.