Series Review – Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of Studio Deen

It’s rare for an anime to be a simple adult drama.  This can sound a bit confusing, but let me explain.  There is no fan service here, there’s no doing something for the sake of pleasing the otaku audience.  It’s simply an excellent story told for the sake of creating something.  I think this aspect represents this series phenomenally.  Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu encapsulated the pursuit of an art form.  While I think the cultural differences prevent me from truly appreciating everything about this show, it was still excellent.  I am Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth anime review.

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Story and Characters

A man named Yotaro is released from prison and seeks to become the apprentice of a famous rakugo performer named Yakumo.   Rakugo is a sort of Japanese performance art in which a single storyteller sits on the stage.  The performer then tells a long and comedic story that features the storyteller playing the roles of multiple characters.  As for the plot, the viewer initially thinks this series will be about Yotaro, but then the story takes a surprising turn as it mostly consists of Yakumo telling his life story.  The story only returns to the present in the final episode.

Just to keep things consistent I will continue to use Yakumo even though he goes by the name of Kikuhiko in this flashback.  Yakumo’s story is highly complicated due to his relationship with his fellow apprentice Sukeroku and a geisha named Miyokichi.  As told in the first episode, Sukeroku is involved in an accident that costs him his life.  The entirety of the series builds up to this moment where everything goes wrong.  Before that happens, the series explores Yakumo’s mixed relationship with rakugo.  He initially possesses a lot of jealously towards Sukeroku.  Unlike his fellow apprentice, Yakumo is not great at rakugo from the get go.  As a result, he struggles with pursuing this art form and finding his voice.  I would characterize this as the essence of this series.  It’s about the finding of one’s voice in an art form.  This makes the series highly enjoyable as you see Yakumo begin to realize his dreams.

Of course, this road is filled with tragedy for all the characters involved.  Every character is highly developed to an extreme degree.  There are no villains here.  The audience really feels some sort for sympathy for everyone involved.  Sukeroku is initially shown as being a bit of a vagabond.  However, he is more complicated than that.  He loves everything to do with rakugo.  It’s his ultimate dream to evolve this art form so that it can be prevented from dying out.  This creates a bit of conflict as his methods defy tradition.  On the other spectrum, Miyokichi provides some drama as well.  She heavily desires to build a relationship with Yakumo.  However, Yakumo prioritizes his art over her.  Despite her best efforts she can’t change this aspect of his character.  Ultimately, she begins to resent the art form which creates a lot of conflict.

I can’t emphasis this enough, but the story and the characters of this series are very strong.  The characters all go through very real arcs that can be quite devastating.  The drama isn’t played out and it makes sense that things happen.  There is nothing gratuitous here.  It’s just a story about people pursing an art form and the consequences that it can have.  It is very compelling to the point where I was enthralled even when I could not appreciate the intricacies of the art form in question.

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Animation and Sound

In terms of animation, this series is one of the best with non-action animation.  Most of the drama is through dialogue and the animation masterfully adds on to the effect of the dialogue.  The facial expressions are top notch.  I also enjoy the rather realistic character designs and the beauty of the backgrounds.  The cast also does a great job at bringing these characters to life.  Sukeroku’s brash personality comes off in his cheerful voice acting.  Yakumo sounds like the proper stick in the mud.  Miyokichi comes off as seductive, but troubled.  The music is also great.  There are a large variety of traditional Japanese songs that play up the fact that this is a show about a Japanese art form.  Of course, the main highlight of the animation and sound involves rakugo.

The animation and sound design are more intertwined than a typical anime because of the rakugo performances.  First and foremost, the animation of these sequences is a prime example of how minute details can influence a scene.  The subtle choreography combined with the facial expressions really brings out the performance aspect.  Under a lot of scrutiny, these scenes can show a vast difference in performance.  The way the characters move in these scenes illustrate the difficulty of good rakugo.  The performer has to play multiple characters with subtle moments and voice changes.  Speaking of the voice acting, I strongly believe that this cast deserves whatever the anime equivalent of an Emmy is.  The voice acting shows a lot of range in these performances.  There are a lot of voices involved in rakugo.  It showcases how distinct this art form is.  It’s rather impressive to see the voice actors use a plethora of voices to illustrate a story that is also contingent on timing.  The sound design and animation come together perfectly to form these scenes.  It just shows how great this series was in terms of presentation.

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Final Verdict

While I don’t exactly understand rakugo perfectly, it was interesting to be exposed to this art form.  The story and characters were outstanding.  The animation and sound were of a similarly high quality.  I give Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu my Bananaowns’ stamp of approval.  It’s not an anime for everyone, but I hope everyone gives it a chance.  I’ll be back next week for another review and thanks for checking this one out.

Bananaowns stamp of approval

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