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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