Yotarou is a former yakuza member fresh out of prison and fixated on just one thing: rather than return to a life of crime, the young man aspires to take to the stage of Rakugo, a traditional Japanese form of comedic storytelling. Inspired during his incarceration by the performance of distinguished practitioner Yakumo Yuurakutei, he sets his mind on meeting the man who changed his life. After hearing Yotarou's desperate appeal for his mentorship, Yakumo is left with no choice but to accept his very first apprentice. As he eagerly begins his training, Yotarou meets Konatsu, an abrasive young woman who has been under Yakumo's care ever since her beloved father Sukeroku Yuurakutei, another prolific Rakugo performer, passed away. Through her hidden passion, Yotarou is drawn to Sukeroku's unique style of Rakugo despite learning under contrasting techniques. Upon seeing this, old memories and feelings return to Yakumo who reminisces about a much earlier time when he made a promise with his greatest rival. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a story set in both the past and present, depicting the art of Rakugo, the relationships it creates, and the lives and hearts of those dedicated to keeping the unique form of storytelling alive. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
It is truly fascinating of what people are capable of doing to survive in society, especially when you are basically abandoned by your relatives. A young boy who once aspired to be a dancer has no choice but to learn the art of Rakugo, a form of Japanese verbal entertainment in which the storyteller sits on stage while performing a complicated comedical story. Audiences may have had the impression that it solely focuses on the profession, yet this is not the case. At first it seems that it simply served as means of survival, but it becomes apparent that the journey throughout his life was more than just Rakugo: it is a tale of a flourishing and wonderful friendship, conflict and realization of oneself.
The story of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, or “Showa and Genroku Era Lover’s Suicide Through Rakugo” in its english title, is focused around Rakugo and with that, the characters and their interactions. Instead of consisting of a simple story about the ascension of two performers, which it is to a degree, it is a character driven story that ties the lives of the various individuals implicated: Yakumo, Sukeroku and Yurie. The profession is merely used as means to develop and unfold the storyline, whilst portraying the art of Rakugo itself. It must be mentioned that the synopsis of the anime is as a matter of fact a bit misleading; it is focused upon the afore-mentioned trio, albeit showcasing Yotaro’s interactions with his master. This however will probably developed in the second season. Another aspect that is prevalent in the anime is drama: it was depicted in a subtle manner, without exaggerating it, making it much easier to digest and enjoy.
The pacing of this work is splendidly done, and very befitting, although it may seem at first sluggish and uninteresting to some. However, it becomes apparent that it is actually a necessary buildup to portray the characters relationship in a very satisfying manner. It is a journey that spans from their childhood to their puberty, culminating in their adulthood. It is a narrative ridden with little details, such as portraying subtly the daily interactions between the protagonists and the cast, or its setting, the 70’s and 80’s of Japan. Naturally, Rakugo is depicted as well in a satisfactory way: it shows viewers the difficulties of the profession, besides of the great stories contained within: it is simply delightful to listen to. In addition, it quickly becomes clear that world the protagonists live in is strongly favoured by those with status, rather than cunning. This reflects the society of that time rather well with the outdated mentality. Naturally, audiences may find the performing parts tedious, yet these are arguably rather amusing.
The cast of characters in Shouwa is rather small, consisting of a handful of characters, yet it is certainly sufficient to portray the whole scope of this tale. As mentioned earlier, Shouwa is a very character driven story, and it excels in this department greatly. because of the gradual buildup that spans various decades, the characters were slowly fleshed out and developed accordingly to the changes these experienced – this was done through subtle interactions with their peers. The two main protagonists are Yakumo and Sukeroku, who have quite diverse personalities, which enhances the narrative. By the end of the show, audiences may have a total different view of some of the characters.
Yakumo could be described a silent, cunning and self-containing character, yet from the inside insecure and delicate: it is marvelous to see his character develop through the various stages of his life, which includes the realization of himself. On the other side there is Sukeroku, a very charming and enthusiastic man, with a great talent and love for Rakugo, with no relatives. Character development and fleshing out of him is no exception either. The relationship between these two is very well-developed and presented to audiences, it is truly a tale of friendship.
Another crucial character in the anime is Yurie: she is the gear that triggers the wavering interactions between the cast and the main protagonists – in fact, romance is another theme that is present in the anime. As character she may seem rather underdeveloped, yet through various scenes and interactions with her peers, it quickly becomes clear that she is not as shallow as she appears to be. Her life, profession and unrequited love are thing that drove this character forth. The romance can be rather lacking, as it came pretty abruptly and was not really well-developed, alongside the reason on why she fell in love. However, love is not often a rational reaction, so it may be excused in a manner; regardless, some more expansion on it could have been welcome.
The studio behind Shouwa is DEEN, and the animation quality was well done, with very fluid motions. The character’s movements when showcasing the performances were subtle and very detailed presented, conveying the art of Rakugo and how these are crucial for a good play. Facial expressions, sweat and similar traits managed to portray the various states of the cast. As for the art style itself, it has a slightly different take than the usual character designs which was enticing; the backgrounds were detailed, despite being composed mainly of internal locations. In some cases some inconsistencies could be found in the background characters, but this was negligible.
Concerning the soundtrack of Shouwa it was befitting, albeit a bit startling at first with various jazz tunes, as it didn’t seem to fit the narrative: nevertheless, it quickly becomes apparent that this used to its advantage to upheave the pacing and importance of each scene when required. Piano or violin compositions are used as well, depending on the atmosphere. The voice actors did a splendid job, the various personalities matching with the characters, as well as wonderfully portraying the different intonations required for the various situations, be it the emotional states or the Rakugo performances itself. As for the opening and endings, these consisted of jazz, and blues, while having a great representation of what Rakugo is.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was overall a fantastic anime with a great story and characters, enhanced their interactions and the Rakugo. I was very surprised by the lack of attention this anime got – or rather, it is criminal. I throughly enjoyed this anime, in addition to the plays presented, which were quite intriguing at a personal level. Naturally, this may have been the main factor that have had viewers discontinue the anime, as it can be boring. Regardless, this is a necessary buildup for a great conclusion of the series. I want to mention the fact that viewers who expected a story focused on the difficulties after being jailed, will be let down, as this was not the case; however, audiences are rewarded with a great narrative. Moreover, a second season was announced which in turn may delve into said subject. I highly recommend people who like drama, or character driven stories to try this piece out.