Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Tragedy & Art

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a historical Josei manga written by Kumota Haruko that began in 2010. Just this year, an anime adaptation aired, being brought to us by Studio Deen. You may recall them as the studio behind Read or Die, Gravitation, The law of Ueki, & Sakura Trick. Just to name some of their series I’ve looked at. How does this historical drama compare? Let’s take a look and see.

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Story:

We open our tale with a young man getting released from prison. He makes his way to the theatre and begs the Rakugo master, Yakumo, to make him his apprentice. Yakumo reluctantly accepts and take Yotarou with him. At Yakumo’s home, Yotarou meets Konatsu, a young woman who was raised by him. After committing a massive faux pas during one of Yakumo’s Rakugo performances, Yotarou begs for forgiveness. Yakumo sits him and Konatsu down and tells them the story of how he and Konatsu’s father began their lives as Rakugo storytellers. The bulk of the series follows the flashback, showing how things reached the state that they’re in at the opening of the series.

Let’s examine the series’ faults first. There are some fairly minor ones. The most noticeable is that Yakumo’s story includes scenes that he wasn’t present for and these are pretty specific scenes where there’s no real reason that someone would have told him exactly what happened in detail. Is he just guessing at what happened for the sake of embellishment? It’s also a bit jarring when Yakumo’s story ends and we abruptly skip ahead to events that take place quite a long time after. How did Yotarou & Konatsu respond to his story? What events led them to the point where they were at the end? Bugger if I know. Maybe when they get a second series they’ll spend most of it on a flashback to show us that missing time. But, as things stand, there’s really not much point to Yakumo telling his story to Konatsu & Yotarou since we see neither a reaction from them nor any evidence of character growth because of it.

That being said, there are a lot of positive aspects to the series. The series excels at illustrating realistic situations with all of the joys and sorrows that can stem from them. It does so in a very compelling and nuanced way. The way it handles its foreshadowed character death reminds me of A Prayer for Owen Meany. Both works involve a character reminiscing about a lost friend and both proceed to show you who this character was, faults and strengths, while demonstrating why they mattered to the reminiscing character and make a strong case for why they should matter to us too. See, Divergence Eve? It is possible to show a character’s death in advance and still get the audience invested. In addition to telling the tragic story of Yakumo’s old friend, the series also contains a coming of age story. Telling how he came into his own as a performer and showing his growth from child to man. The two tales are heavily intertwined and they’re both superb.

Characters:

Any strong slice of life narrative requires strong characters. Otherwise you just have a bunch of gits doing mundane things. Fortunately, that’s an arena where this series absolutely excels. We see a lot of progression for both Yakumo and Sukeroku. The way they react to one another, the way they respond to others and the way they influence one another all change over the course of the series in a very natural way. The character progression never feels contrived or forced. It’s also interesting to see how their personalities get reflected in the way they perform rakugo and how that changes as they start to develop their own styles instead of trying to copy their instructors. That isn’t a simple feat nor is it something that could have been done without complex characters. The cast in general just has a great deal of verisimilitude and is really well fleshed out.

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Art:

The animation in this is really good. There’s a lot of detail put into the snippets of rakugo performances that we see. Studio Deen clearly put a great deal of effort into making them look realistic. They actually are very impressive. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and the character designs are well done.

Sound:

The vocal cast in this is stellar. Our three major characters, Yakumo, Sukeroku & Miyokichi are portrayed by Ishida Akira, Yamadera Kouichi & Hayshibara Megumi. Three spectacular actors and all of them are brilliant in this. The more secondary characters are well acted as well. Seki Tomokazu & Kobayashi Yuu voice our present day characters, Yotarou & Konatsu and they do really well. The music has a very classical feel, complementing the old-fashioned story telling tradition quite nicely.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any.

Final Thoughts:

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, is a pretty impressive series. It has a strong narrative, superb characters and acting and really good art and animation. If you’re interested in historical dramas at all, I do recommend trying it. For myself, I give it an enthusiastic 9/10. Next week, I’m looking at Yuri Kuma Arashi. It’s actually not a request. I kind of stumbled upon the basic premise randomly and I’m very morbidly curious. I’ll get back to doing requests on the 25th.. This one just sounds so bizarre that I have to try it.

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