2.5D Musicals Continue to Develop! What are their charms?

“2.5-Dimensional Musicals” are stage musicals that spring from an alliance between 2-D works like manga, anime, etc. and the 3-D world through musical theater. What is it about 2.5-dimensional musicals that have made them appealing enough to become a part of Japan’s distinctive subcultures? What path have they taken, and how will they develop in the future?

■ The Popularity that Tennimu Built for 2.5-Dimensional Musicals

2.5-dimensional musicals are musicals and other kinds of live theater based on manga, anime, games, etc. Live theater based on manga goes back to 1947’s Rose of Versailles.*1 The early shows emphasized girls’ manga, but they haven’t grown as much as one might think. There were several shows based on Weekly Shonen Jump titles, and the Prince of Tennis*2 Musical (“Tennimu” for short) launched in 2003. It initially was selling about 70% of its venues, but as female fans began spreading word of mouth it grew. Today it is one of the definitive 2.5-D musicals. In 2013 the number of 2.5-D musicals per year exceeded 60 titles, and the total attendance was more than 1.6 million.
(These figures are from the following pamphlet from the Japan 2.5-Dimensional Musical Association: http://www.j25musical.jp/user/download/J2.5DMA_pamphlet.pdf

■ Meet the Characters! Watch Them Grow! The Charms of 2.5-D

How are 2.5-dimensional musicals different from other kinds of live theater? The biggest difference is of course being based on manga, anime, and other works with 2-dimensional visuals. Many fans look forward to seeing how the 2-dimensional characters will turn out when brought to life in 2.5-D form. In a sense people come to these shows not just to “see” their favorite characters, but to “meet” them. The young performers aren’t always excellent actors or singers, but the audience can enjoy watching them grow. Fans often turn out for performances to cheer their favorite performers and see how they develop. Those fans who seek a multifaceted experience can look forward to changes between performances, adlibbing, and talks after the show. These aspects have helped 2.5-dimensional musicals earn a place in audiences’ hearts and cement their popularity.

■ Not Just Hot Guys! Expanding the Audiences and Offerings

When 2.5-D musicals first started, they emphasized young, attractive male actors on the stage and young women in the target audience. However, in recent years the Takarazuka Revue*3, whose core audience is women in their 40s and 50s, has expanded its casting to include actors of the same age range, and expanded its audience. The Naruto*4 Live Spectacle in March of this year, prominently features former Takarazuka stars. 2.5-D musicals already have traction in the marketplace, and not just with young people. In 2014 a 2.5-Dimensional Musical Association was established to promote 2.5-D musicals, and in April of 2015 they opened the AiiA 2.5 Theater Tokyo in Shibuya, specifically for 2.5-D musicals.

■ The Future of 2.5-Dimensional Musicals: Expanding Overseas

With the aforementioned Association leading the charge, 2.5-D musicals are now reaching out to foreign customers, and aiming to export the musicals themselves internationally, particularly in Asia. The Association’s website makes it easy to buy tickets from overseas, and the AiiA Theater is equipped with special glasses to provide subtitles in three languages (English, Chinese, and Korean). Furthermore, as a trial Death Note*5 the Musical was offered in South Korea, re-cast with local actors instead of the original Japanese performers. The result was a 2.5-D musical with a measure of traction in the local marketplace. Will they be able to win the hearts of people overseas? Only time will tell.

■ Experience a 2.5-Dimensional Musical!

Below is the main lineup for this year. If you see a show that interests you, we’d like you to take the opportunity to enter the 2.5-D world.

Musical The Prince of Tennis 3rd Season SEIGAKU vs YAMABUKI
Musical Hetalia -Singin’ in the World-

*1)NHK anime world “The Rose of Versailles“ 
*2)The Prince of Tennis
*3)Official Website – TAKARAZUKA REVUE (English)

By Maki Kobayashi

Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by the member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests that discovered from daily life.

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