Series Review – Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Descending Stories

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of Studio Deen

Last year brought an absolute powerhouse of a show that still has not garnered the attention that it deserved.  Along with Konosuba, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu brought in a period that can only be called Studio Deen’s renaissance.  The first season was an absolute perfect drama that managed to be a rare anime that appealed to adults while also focusing on a particular aspect of Japanese culture, namely the rakugo performances.  The follow-up is just as amazing in every way, and before I get started with a cursory look into the show, I wholeheartedly recommend skipping this review and just checking it out.  With that said, I am Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth anime review.

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Story and Characters

The first season of Rakugo surprised many viewers by mostly taking place during a season long flashback that detailed the events surrounding Yakumo’s rise to rakugo prominence as well as the tragedy that altered his life forever.  Unlike the first season though, this one takes place in the modern day and puts significant emphasis on Yakumo’s ex-con apprentice, Yotaro and his new-found family.  However, the story once again places the bulk of its focus on Yakumo, this time showcasing his depression caused by reaching his twilight years.  That is the strength of this series.  As a viewer, we pretty much got to see Yakumo at every stage in his life.  The viewer gets to see a character change from the passage of years as well as the fallout from life-altering events that occurred years prior.  Yakumo’s descent into depression is a very serious topic that is presented beautifully to the viewer.  The ending of the series was emotional, but ultimately satisfying in every way.

I believe this story arc carries a lot of weight due to the presence of Yotaro.  Despite Yakumo’s descent into darkness, Yotaro always remains a bright character.  This provides a significant sense of optimism that balances well with Yakumo’s darkness.  Despite everything going around him, Yotaro starts a family and ultimately becomes a beacon in the dying world of rakugo.  Yotaro’s relationship with Konatsu is also heavily important in this season.  After Sukeroku’s death, Yakumo was the one who took custody of Konatsu.  This was an interesting character dynamic since Konatsu blamed Yakumo for her parents’ death.  As a result, this season sees Konatsu finally addressing her emotional pain.  The interplay between Yakumo, Yotaro, and Konatsu is the driving force of this season and results in a story that is almost perfect in every way.  My only gripe is the focus on the identity of the biological father of Konatsu’s baby.  This plotline is given a significant amount of time and ultimately I think it was not really important.  Other than that, the story was excellently crafted with the same level of care as the first season, which makes it one of the strongest shows of the year.

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Animation and Sound Design

In terms of animation and sound, there is not much to say.  Both of these aspects maintain the high quality of the first season.  However, there are a few standout moments that deserve some mention.  Any scene regarding a rakugo performance from an older Yakumo is an absolute delight in animation and performance.  These sequences are filled with outstanding symbolism.  Yakumo’s performance of Shinigami is a masterpiece in every sense.  From the way the character moves, with the voice acting and character expressions showcasing dread and terror, these sequences with Yakumo are chilling to the bone, but represent a high point in terms of considering anime as an artistic medium.  Every aspect of these scenes just ooze with personality and given our experience with Yakumo as a character, the audience feels an intense emotional connection through these performances.  As to the rest of the animation, the backgrounds are highly detailed, the characters are highly expressive, and the standout scenes are the rakugo performances, which is exactly what I said during my review of the first season.

As to the music and the voice acting, I would like to focus on one particular aspect.  Before going deeper into this point, the music of this series is phenomenal and fits with every moment.  Likewise, the voice acting is just as great.  Yotaro’s cadence is captured perfectly and Konatsu’s voice actress manages to perfectly capture her inner turmoil.  The real highlight of the voice acting is Yakumo’s performance.  The voice actor of Yakumo manages to capture the ultimate tragedy in Yakumo’s older state.  The character sounds tired, but ultimately prideful.  Similarly, this cadence comes across in the astounding rakugo performances I mentioned earlier.  This is really one of the best, if not the best, voice acting performance of the year.  Overall, the presentation and sound design of this show is nothing short of amazing.

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Final Verdict

For those that have not watched the first season, do so immediately.  While this show is not for everyone, the two season of Rakugo manage to tell a highly emotional and personal story about the life of Yakumo.  The animation and sound design maintain a similar level of quality.  This is one of the best shows of the year and deserves a chance to be watched by any fan of anime.  I give Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Descending Stories my Bananaowns’ stamp of approval.  By the end of the year, this series is going to be in the running for show of the year.  I’ll be back next week for another review and thanks for checking this one out.

Bananaowns stamp of approval

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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

Winter 2016 – Anime Recommendations Part 2

Written by Bananaowns

Images courtesy of Kyoto Animation and Studio Deen.

I am currently recovering from an elbow injury and a subsequent bad reaction to medication, so this week’s piece will be relatively short as a result. The winter season has been a solid season of anime so far. As we continue towards the end of the season, I have a few more recommendations from this season. Again, this does not mean that these shows are all amazing, but have been entertaining enough to keep me watching.

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Myriad Colors Phantom World

This season’s work by Kyoto Animation is rather generic, but entertaining. The release of an experimental virus has allowed humans to see extra-dimensional beings called phantoms. Some children born after the outbreak have developed special powers that allow them to battle and banish phantoms. Naturally, the anime follows a group of high school students because everything in anime needs to involve a high school. There is no overarching story, but rather an episodic focus. It is mostly focused on dealing with the personal feelings and backgrounds of the main character’s harem. The characters are not anything special, but are somewhat interesting. So if you do not like harem shows, then you won’t like this. The animation quality is superb and the music is pretty good as well. It’s a fairly average show, but keeps me watching from some reason.

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KONOSUBA

Now this is another show with a similar concept to Sword Art Online, but with an added comedic twist. The story follows a recently deceased otaku as he gets offered a chance to be resurrected. A goddess will revive him if he defeats the Demon King of another world. In a bout of spite, the goddess gets sent to this world with the otaku as well. From there, a cast of quirky characters is introduced ranging from a masochistic knight and a mage that loves explosion magic. This series is a superb comedy and that is what sets it apart from the rest of the SAO clones. The animation is good as well, but the main focus is the comedy. It is definitely a much watch of this season.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

This show is the only one other than ERASED to have a shot of being the show of the season. The story focuses on the pursuit of a traditional Japanese performance art called rakugo. At first it follows the story of an ex-convict trying to get into the world of Rakugo. From there, it largely goes into a flashback regarding the story of the rakugo sensei of the ex-convict. The story is an adult-centric story about the pursuit of a craft and it is really compelling. The Rakugo performances are outstanding and highlight a rather unknown tradition to western audiences. The animation is beautiful as well and perfectly styles the traditional motif. That’s it for my anime recommendations for this season; I’ll be back next week for another review.