‘2.5 - D’ Musicals, Based On Manga And Anime, Popular With Young Women

‘2.5-D’ musicals, based on manga and anime, popular with young womenAs many as 70 "2.5-dimensional musicals" were produced in 2013, bringing Japanese pop culture to melodic life, and attracting more than 1.6 million theatergoers.
The 2.5-D musical genre turns popular 2-D manga, anime and even video game titles into live musical extravaganzas, which are wildly popular with young women.

With many more popular works being adapted into stage shows, the 2.5-D musical scene shows no signs of slowing down.

The popularity of 2.5-D musicals took off in 2003 with "Musical: The Prince of Tennis" (Tenimyu). It was adapted from a manga series serialized in the Weekly Shonen Jump comic anthology.

Focusing on a junior high school tennis club, the manga features graphic descriptions of tennis matches. Producer Makoto Matsuda, who handled the musical adaptation, felt the actors' movements would be more important than the story. The tennis matches were expressed through songs and dances. The casting of uncelebrated, aspiring actors also worked its magic.

"Many Japanese comic books deal with the theme of the growth of the protagonist," Matsuda said. "The growth of the protagonist coincided with that of the young actors, and won a lot of support, mainly from women."

"Tenimyu" has become a long-running musical series, providing a springboard for many now-popular actors, including Yu Shirota and Takumi Saito.

The musical series has attracted more than 2 million theatergoers and raised the profile of 2.5-D content. Acknowledging the fact that musical adaptations can boost the value of the original manga, an increasing number of publishers are cooperating to produce live-action musicals based on their titles.

Other popular titles, such as the ninja manga "Naruto," bicycle race manga "Yowamushi Pedal" and dark fantasy "Tokyo Ghoul," have been adapted into stage productions.

Because of the evolution of theatrical technologies and the great diversity of staging methods, the special qualities of original manga works are well re-created.

The "Naruto" musical, for example, uses a trampoline to depict acrobatic moves of ninja.

"In order to adapt the long series into a two-hour stage production, we were meticulous about the costumes and makeup and placed great importance on giving the world views of the original work,” said Akiko Kodama, the writer and director of the musical.

For "Tokyo Ghoul," striking video imagery was projected on a screen in the background to enhance the impact of the drama.

The "Nintama Rantaro" musical series was adapted from a ninja manga and anime series for children. Breaking away from the original story, the musical focuses on the protagonist's senior students who attend a ninja academy.

The ninja are played by up-and-coming actors in their 20s, with the audience seats fully occupied by young women in their teens and 20s.

The show offers spectators a chance to exchange high-fives with the actors during the performance, which helps boost its popularity.

After igniting the 2.5-D musical boom with "Tenimyu," Matsuda set up the Japan 2.5-Dimensional Musical Association last year with production companies and publishers. He also opened a permanent theater for 2.5-D stage shows in Tokyo's Shibuya district in March this year.

"We want to raise its profile abroad and establish it as an entertainment genre," Matsuda said.

The forthcoming lineup includes "Token Ranbu," based on a video game, and the popular "Boys Over Flowers" manga series that spawned live-action film and TV drama adaptations.

The first successful manga-based musical production was "The Rose of Versailles," which was first presented in 1974 by the all-female theater troupe Takarazuka Revue. But it was of a different nature from 2.5-D musicals like "Tenimyu," according to Kunio Suzuki, a Kyoritsu Women's University professor of drama arts who specializes in Italian drama and opera.

"'Tenimyu' faithfully recreates (the world of) the original work by casting actors who match the image of the characters in the comic book, but 'Versailles' puts the characteristics of the Takarazuka performers first and makes repeated adjustments to the original manga," he said.

As opposed to the Takarazuka Revue, which has a loyal fan base of long-time supporters, 2.5-D stage productions are mainly backed by manga and anime fans and other audience members who usually don't see plays on a regular basis. Live-action 2.5-D stage productions are currently riding high, but their relative newness brings into question their staying power.

"It will be necessary to keep hammering out new content and win new fans to avoid falling into a rut," Suzuki said.