Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen – 02

OP: “Imawa no Shinigami (今際の死神)” by Megumi Hayashibara

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 02 -7I’m not sure I can ever remember a season where the gap from the best series to the rest of the field was as wide as it is in Winter 2017.  We’ve seen pretty much everything premiere except the second season of Rewrite, and while there are a few intriguing prospects, and Yowamushi Pedal continues to be a treasure,  Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen just stands head and shoulders above everything else.  This kind of subtlety, depth and directorial brilliance would be something to savor in any season – in this one it’s a veritable Godsend.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 02 -8This week starts (literally – no cold open) with the new OP, again written by Ringo Sheena and stunningly performed by Hayashibara Megumi (Miyokichi).  If one tends to believe OPs can be spoilery the symbolism in this one is as subtle as a boot to the jaw, but that aside it’s a stunner – Omata Shinichi’s (I assume it’s his work) work a real thing of beauty.  It’s an unsettling and bleak mural of scenes from the subconscious of Shouwa Rakugo, and as the narrative starts the story very much reflects that. This series is in a pretty dark place right now, even by its own lofty standards.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 02 -9It’s clear that all the major characters are somewhat lost at this point in the story, and I include rakugo itself in that because it’s very much a character in this show as well.  Yotarou is struggling to bear a weight he really wasn’t prepared to carry, despite his cheerful bravado.  He’s expected to be the savior of rakugo while at the same time trying to survive his “trial run” as husband-provider for Konatsu and the baby.  That would be burden enough, but Yotarou is still a babe in rakugo terms – he’s got to try and find his own voice in the art of storytelling, and that’s easier said than done.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 02 -10Complicating all this is the media frenzy (in truth I’m not sure you could muster a media frenzy over rakugo today) over Yotarou’s Yakuza past.  To his credit he’s never tried to hide it, but the stigma attached to that tattoo on his back and what it represents in a conservative country is hard to overstate (especially in an ultra-traditional subset of it, the rakugo community).  He’s struggling to draw big crowds, and not just because of the rumors – he’s also struggling as a performer, clearly trying too hard.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 02 -11Adding insult to injury is the return of Amaken – which of course means the blissful return of the great Yamaguchi Kappei.  Amaken seems to delight in rubbing salt in the new Sukeroku’s wounds, and as a rakugo commentator in the press he’s in a position to do serious damage.  He is right, though, that Yotarou is in a real bind – caught between the rakugo of his namesake and his mentor.  It is indeed the dilemma of a student of a great master – imitation carries one only so far, and now the young Sukeroku has to find his own rakugo.  But his confidence is shattered and his mind is scattered, and it even manifests on stage – in trembling, fidgeting, fast-talking and even a desperation strip to the waist to show off his carp.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 02 -12Meanwhile, Konatsu is groaning under the weight of her own burden – motherhood without an actual husband, lingering resentment towards Yakumo, uncertainty about Yotarou.  For his part Yakumo is struggling under the greatest burdens of all – encroaching old age and a weariness of life itself.  He’s not kidding when he says he’s been waiting for Konatsu to follow through on her threat to kill him – no matter how much she blames him for the death of her parents, Yakumo surely blames himself more.  He’s cut back on his duties as president of the rakugo association, betraying perhaps that there may be some truth to Hii-kun’s claim that Yakumo intends to take rakugo to the grave with him.  And his lessened duties have not relieved his stress, as he’s now at home more to deal with Konatsu and her baby boy.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 02 -13Of all the relationships among the living in Showa Genroku, that between Yakumo and Konatsu may be the most complex.  The opposite of love is not hate but indifference, and there’s much passion in both.  Konatsu admires the old man’s rakugo (she states her horror at the idea her son would never see Yakumo perform as her reason to spare him) , and surely feels conflicted emotions about the man himself – he raised her, after all.  Somehow, miraculously, the little boy himself possesses a bright and happy temperament – he might perhaps be the key to unlocking everyone’s heart, in the end.  Whoever his father is the boy has both the face and personality of his grandfather – and if there’s anything Konatsu and Yakumo agree on it’s their love for him.  As with rakugo, though, we’re left with the question – just where does Yotarou fit in?

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6 comments

  1. s

    Episode two and we’re already deep into the drama. This entire show is some tragic rakugo story and thanks to the talented storytellers (the author, director, voice actors etc.) I’m already completely engrossed in the story.

    “If one tends to believe OPs can be spoilery the symbolism in this one is as subtle as a boot to the jaw, but that aside it’s a stunner.” Well – if the first season is a good reference (and Season 1 was excellent) Rakugo Shinjuu doesn’t keep its cards close to its chest – it’s less about what happens at the end, but how events slowly unfold to that end point, I think.

    I’m interested in seeing if Konatsu’s boy will be the bridge between Konatsu and Yakumo’s conflicting relationship (as the episode imagery suggests) aside from seeing the new Sukeroku evolve to find his own rakugo. The rakugo that Yotarou and the other apprentice (forgot his name) performed in this ep were kind of painful to watch – but it was definitely intended to be like that. For me though it was redeemed by the baby’s babbling – the baby was just too adorable!

  2. I think the fact that the (nameless?) baby is a dead ringer for the 2nd Sukeroku is going to be the key. On the one hand he’s a constant reminder to Yakumo and Konatsu of a tragedy both blame Yakumo for. On the other, his face reminds them of the one thing both of them share, their love for Sukeroku. It’s a deliciously complex and difficult scenario.

  3. If I remember correctly the season where Death Parade aired also had a huge gap between the best series and the rest of the pack. At this point I think there’s still a chance for the non-sequels to improve, but it’ll be hard to take the crown from Showa Rakugo. Its stunning how good the production values on a series like this is despite it not earning much money back.

  4. H

    I gotta say how truly wonderful the beginning of this episode was. I got a lump in my throat when Yakumo comforted Konatsu by petting her hair. Despite their problems it is obvious that there is genuine affection there. It just makes me feel so sad that even after all he told her and Yotaro ten years ago she still holds her grudge so strongly. These two are the only people who loved Sukeroku in a personal way that are left. I would think that bond would enable them to turn to one another in their sorrow. But Konatsu is as much her mother’s daughter as she is her father’s, making this seem impossible. I doubt that the only reason she has not kept her promise to kill him is only to let her son hear his rakugo. It seems that she has held on to her hatred for so long that she just doesn’t know how to go on without it. I really hope that her animosity will go away before he dies, not just for his sake but for her own.

  5. Ah, Rakugo Shinjuu…If some days I start to wonder if anime in general is getting worse, I’m glad there are still shows like this to give me hope that it isn’t. ^-^

    By the way, any plans on reviewing the two Akatsuki no Yona OVA episodes that came out recently? Zeno’s backstory is really good.

  6. Yep, I will get to those eventually. It’s just that’s a really, really heavy arc and I need to psych myself up for it. It’s also the last Yona anime ever and I’m never anxious to watch when I know that’s the case.

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