WWE SmackDown saw another strong outing from Kairi Sane and Asuka, as well as the revelation that they will be called The Kabuki Warriors. The name immediately struck many as being very problematic, but the situation isn’t a lost cause.
On this week’s WWE SmackDown, Paige took the opportunity to announce new name for the tag team of Asuka and Kairi Sane. In a brief promo before their match against Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose, we were introduced to…The Kabuki Warriors.
This did not go as WWE may have planned.
Many fans were quick to point out two problems with this name. The first is that Kabuki Warriors is the name of a video game released in 2001 for the X-Box, which may cause problems if and when WWE tries to copyright the name.
The second, and much bigger, problem is that the name by itself sounded racist and stereotypical.
WWE is trying to claim, via Paige, that Asuka and Kairi chose the name for themselves. Specifically the story is they wanted to be called “Kabuki Girls” but it was changed to “Warriors.”
Paige stated this in a backstage interview where she gave no other context or explanation for the name, dropped a version of her “this is my house” catchphrase and then stated how excited she was. She would later take to Twitter to repeat the claim that the tag team chose their own name.
Much more compelling is that a few hours after the announcement of the team’s name aired, Asuka posted the definition of “Kabukimono” to Twitter:
A quick google search and visit to the Kabukimono wiki page makes this even more interesting, as they were samurai gangs who would act out. The term in English translates to “the crazy ones,” which seems to fit the pair very well. Kabukimono were apparently known for things like “wrestling, loud singing, and dancing in the streets” and “fighting between gangs after dark.” Now that feels appropriate for a tag team.
If it is true that the team came up with the name themselves and that they want to keep using it, then it’s not beyond saving. In fact, one of the easiest fixes might be one of WWE’s favorites, a video package. Put together something that shows Asuka and Kairi explaining the name themselves, in Japanese, using subtitles.
Or at least make it look like Asuka and Kairi Sane have some agency in this relationship with Paige. You walk a fine line with a white manager for a foreign stable, especially one where you have two Japanese women being required to stand quietly while a white woman does the talking.
Let Asuka or Kairi say something in Japanese and let Paige translate for an interviewer backstage rather than appearing to speak for the two of them. Even in the announcement of the name Paige could have been told to say something along the lines of “they have decided to call themselves Kabuki Warriors,” rather than making it sound like Paige was bestowing the name on them herself.
This is not a lost cause. If Asuka and Kairi are still in favor of the name and WWE wants to make the name work it can happen. But if they don’t they risk hurting their Women’s Tag Team division as well as two of their brightest and most talented stars.
Of course, if this name came from someone in WWE creative and they’re just trying to pin it on Asuka and Kairi Sane so it doesn’t sound racist? Kill it with fire, rebuild from the ashes.