Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 13 (Season Finale)

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -4 Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -21 Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -41

Time to breathe a big sigh of relief.

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -1It gives me great satisfaction to write that post title, believe me.  There was ample reason to believe a second season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was likely, starting with the very conspicuous roles Yotarou and Konatsu played in the premiere.  Deen is as prone to sequels as any studio, and the pace of the storytelling had the air of a series that knew it had many more chances to be on stage.  But until the announcement comes you never know, and the fact that the disc sales were so low (the manga did receive a decent bump) means that the decision was likely made in advance, and this was effectively a split-cour series.

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -2As has been the theme of many of the best shows this winter, the element of surprise is not a major factor in Shouwa Genroku’s appeal.  The greatness of this series – and it is great, second only to Boku Dake ga Inai Machi this season – is in consistently delivering profound and moving character drama week after week.  In effect the first and last episodes of the season were the bread on a sandwich, with the meat being everything that came between.  We spent eleven episodes building up to this point we knew was coming – now the season finale has the difficult job of taking us off-grid for the first time since the premiere.

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -3This show is certainly lucky in its choice of cast, because the role of Yotarou is hugely crucial, coming as it does on the heels of the departure of Sukeroku and Yamadera Kouichi.  Fortunately in Seki Tomokazu it has a seiyuu fully on-par with Yamadera and Ishida, someone capable of bringing Yotarou to life both off-stage and on, and of standing toe-to-toe with Ishida.  We’ve really only seen one gear from Yotarou so far (sixth, probably) but that’s kind of how it was with Sukeroku too – the darkness inside him revealed itself much more slowly than it did with Kikuhiko, and Yamadera proved himself as adept at the quiet and agonized moments as the bombastic and charming ones.

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -5This ep was certainly on the melancholy side despite Seki’s relentless energy, and if it had indeed been the series finale it would have been a pretty depressing way to go out.  There’s an air of loneliness hovering over everything, starting with the cremation and funeral of Sukeroku and Miyokichi.  Konatsu quite understandably feels alone in the world, but Kikuhiko (soon to be Yakumo) feels more profoundly alone in a way she can’t yet understand.  Now he must bear the burden of the Yuuraketei name he never wanted, and of the future of rakugo.  He must watch over a child not his own who deeply resents him, and blames him for her parents’ death almost as much as he blames himself.  The man who craved solitude is now more alone than he ever dreamed he might be.

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -6The weight of all that would surely have crushed a lesser man, but Yakumo is nothing if not stoic – and far stronger than he believes he is.  But there’s little warmth between he and Konatsu, who refuses to obey him and even swears she’ll kill him one day (which seems ominous in this sort of series), while he stubbornly refuses to betray any affection for her.  And rakugo is clearly suffering, yet another reason for Yakumo to berate himself.  Theatres are closing all over Tokyo, and when we finally flash forward to the “present” and Yotarou’s first appearance as a Shin’uchi, the hall is mostly empty.

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -7Make no mistake about it, there’s a strong generational theme to Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, and Bon is being ground in the relentless churning of the gears of time.  But he’s still a part of the story, and I suspect he will be for at least part of the second act as well.  Konatsu’s child (a son by the looks of the preview) may well be too, a child she conceived illegitimately because she didn’t wish for Sukeroku’s genes to die out with her.  It’s yet another burden on Kikuhiko, another debt he owes to Sukeroku.

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -8The most heartbreaking scene of the episode comes as Kiku and Matsuda-san are visiting the Seventh Generation’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death.  Bon has a vision of Shin coming to visit the grave too, slowly materializing in the haze of incense.  For once Shin refuses to speak, leaving the burden of conversation to join the other burdens Bon is already being crushed under.  In the moment, it struck me that the one thing Kikuhiko and Konatsu have in common is their love for Sukeroku (and rakugo), and that perhaps that might be some sort of hope amidst all the despair.

Shouwa Rakugo - 13 -9That Yotarou chooses that very moment to arrive on the scene and ask his master whether he might inherit the Sukeroku name is surely no coincidence.  What Kiku can never do is be the changing face of rakugo, the one that adapts to the times – no matter how he might want to bear that burden he simply lacks the capability to carry it.  But Yotarou can, for his rakugo is cut from Sukeroku’s cloth.  And if indeed he does, that lifts a part of the weight of Kiku’s responsibility to Sukeroku off his shoulders, too.

If the first act of Shouwa Genroku was about the past, then the second will surely be about the future.  In a sense we know the ending this time, too, because in our own time rakugo is not dead – it remains an important and respected part of the Japanese cultural identity.  There are so many stories to be told, both on the stage and off, and fans of good anime should feel very fortunate that Omata Shinichi is going to be given another season to share them with us.

Postscript:

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9 comments

  1. I don’t think the episode itself gave a date, but I assume the second season will be in Summer. I’m so excited that my favorite anime of this season, new found 3rd favorite anime, will also be my favorite of one of the next upcoming seasons. I just can’t imagine anything topping Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu for me this year.

  2. “I just can’t imagine anything topping Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu for me this year.”

    If something does it will be an auspicious year indeed.

  3. RealDrakeula, what are your top two favorite?

  4. R

    Showa genroku surpassed Boku dake for me……..it was the quiet shining star of the season…….and i’m so happy there is going to be a second season!!!! Yes, it would have been too full of tristesse if this had been the last episode: i’m hoping that Shin’s little grandson will be the one to bring some joy into Bon’s life before leaving this world……….i truely loved your review on this one……..

  5. J

    BokuDake went to greater heights, but had its dips as well – ShowaRakugo has been consistently stunning from the first episode to the last. Alongside Kayo’s rescue, Yotarou’s Dekigokoro and the “Lover’s Suicide” have made their way into my list of all-time favourite scenes.

    Anime is simply a better place with shows like this around.

  6. I agree with you in everything you said on you review —except that part where you claim BokuMachi is better than Rakugo—, and I’m so glad this wasn’t the end of the anime adaptation. This announcement gave a little bit of hope. Perhaps, anime hasn’t died as a story-telling medium. Looking forward to the next cour.

  7. s

    I’m really glad that this series’s turned out to be a split-cour one. Thus I can forgive the odd transition to the present in this episode: they cut Konatsu’s reaction to Bon’s story and the effect on the development of Yotaro’s character: it would have been a very disappointing move if the story had ended here. I’ll suspend my judgement until the anime is completed, but so far I think of it as the best anime of the year.

  8. b

    what I don’t get is … didn’t it start off with him telling his story to konatsu and his apprentice. but when we came back to the present in the last episode we came back to a different scene and there was no mention of her reaction. wouldn’t that have meant that she now knew the whole truth. i honestly feel so much for bon. he spent all his life feeling less than the one person he loved most, he left the girl he loved for rakugo, and then his best friend took his girl. (which i found so messed up. i really liked him before he did that. he may have been a bit wild but i thought he was more loyal than that). i never got how bon just kind of shrugged it off. then he watches his best friend chose the girl he once loved over him and rakugo and then he stays single and takes care of a shitty ungrateful brat that never knew the truth and showed an ounce of appreciation. the unfairness of it all is enough to wreck my brain. i can’t believe it’s ended like this because surely someone cannot live such an unfair life. i feel so much for him. give us a season two so justice is served!!!

  9. s

    Yeah, Bon had a miserable existence! Bon had already turned down the woman when Shin picked her up. Furthermore Miyokichi couldn’t stand to be alone and this wasn’t a secret too. Bon could have been relieved to know who she was with at least. If only his master wasn’t that envious of their happiness to suggest that he cuts his ties with her…

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