Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen – 12 (End) and Series Review

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 01Well, it’s over.  And honestly, here at the end not a lot needs to be said except for “Bravo!”.  I often feel gratitude more than anything when great series come to an end, and that’s the case with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.  It’s a privilege to have been able to enjoy something so brilliant – so profound, so emotionally powerful, so mature and so ambitious.  If you’re any sort of fan of anime as art, it’s hard to imagine you could come up with any measure by which this series doesn’t stand up as truly great.  It’s a rare and precious gem that’s surely going to age like a fine wine, and go down as one of the finest series in the history of the medium.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 02By this point I’ve said just about all there is to say about this masterpiece, and praised it to the stars in just about every way possible.  But one thing that strikes me as remarkable now that it’s over is this – as great as the first season was (my #2 series in a very decent year), “Sukeroku Futatabi-hen” was better.  And not just better – clearly better, as in not even all that close.  All of the threads that were dangled by the first season were tied together artfully and effortlessly.  It’s such a beautiful thing when a great manga gets a treatment like this, really – all the time it needs to tell its story, a superb cast and staff.  Sadly, it’s as rare as it is beautiful.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 03Any series finale post has two jobs to fill, of course, and one of them is to talk about the finale itself.  I know some people like the final episode of the series to be the “biggest” – the one where the most dramatic and traumatic events take place.  But I much prefer that to be the penultimate episode, especially with multi-cour shows.  There’s a difference between the climax and the ending, and they don’t have to happen at the same time (and in the best stories, they rarely do).  Finales, for me, are at their best as vehicles for reflection by both the cast and the audience – a time for quiet rather than bombast.  And that’s exactly what we got here (which was exactly what I expected).

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 05Was this episode the emotional meat-grinder last week’s was – the blockbuster exclamation point that hammered home all the themes of Shouwa Genroku?  No, of course not – it could never have competed with that, and it was never meant to.  Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is more Yakumo’s story than anyone else’s, and his journey ended with last week’s episode.  But part of Yakumo’s story is the impact he left on rakugo, and on the world – and that deserved an entire episode to itself.  And it’s hard to imagine it could have been done any better.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 06As I had hoped, we got the chance to see Shinnosuke perform rakugo – the jovial “Hatsutenjin”, to be precise – and that was thanks to a roughly 16-year timeskip.  Shinnosuke (now played by Ono Yuuki) is a young man freshly promoted to Futatsume and (nervously) preparing to perform at the re-opening of the rebuilt rakugo theatre.  He has a sister named Koyuki (Asai Ayaka), who loves listening to rakugo (especially her father’s) but isn’t an aspiring performer herself (sadly Koyuki doesn’t get much development, but that’s a casualty of time – it’s hard to see how that could have been avoided).

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 07It’s easy to see that Shinnosuke has changed a lot as he’s grown – fascinatingly, while as a cherubic bozu he seemed to embody the feckless charm of his grandfather, he’s now quite perceptibly taken on the pensive and thoughtful mien of the man he called “Grandfather”.  In fact he’s become a huge “Yakumo baka” in his mother’s words, a true devotee of Yakumo’s works.  Thus it’s quite fitting that he’s taken on the name “Kikuhiko” as a storyteller.  But I find the other name he’s taken on even more powerful – Yotarou has taken to calling Shinnosuke “Bon”.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 08If there was a blockbuster in this quietly reflective epilogue, it was certainly the revelation – confirmed by Konatsu’s non-denial of Higuchi-sensei’s speculation – that the boy’s real father is, in fact, Hatsutarou-Bon-Kikuhiko-Yakumo himself.  I know this was a theory widely speculated upon, but it’s one I never quite believed myself – and I’m still not sure how I feel about it, to be honest.  It casts so much in a different light – Konatsu’s conflicted relationship with Yakumo, the old man’s feelings towards Shinnosuke – and as Hii-sensei notes, it also means that Shinnosuke is a boy in whose veins the blood of both Sukeroku and Yakumo flows.  That makes his transition from boyhood to adolescence utterly fascinating, and seemingly full of symbolic meaning.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 09Well…  Now all the adults in the cast have secrets they’ll take with them to the grave, I suppose.  It seems only fitting that it should be old Matsuda-san (now 95 and in a wheelchair, but looking rather spry nonetheless) to tie all this together. It’s as Matsuda says – whatever the truth of the relationship chart is, the events we’ve seen were really driven by everyone’s kindness.  They all found a way to be decent towards each other in the end, even after the terrible tragedy that befell the group.  What a joy it was to see that Matsuda-san was there at the end after all – his act of ferrying Kikuhiko across the Sanzu River apparently a miracle of Buddha’s mercy.  Matsuda is the bridge that connects the past to the present in Shouwa Genroku – the groups gathered under each of the cherry trees, separated now by the gulf of death but forever united in spirit, and in Matsuda-san’s memories.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 10The first performance in the re-opened theatre is also the last performance, of course.  Yotarou has decided to take the name “Yakumo”, in the end – despite the stylistic detach that exists – as a final tribute to the man who will forever be “Master” to him.  Shinnosuke and he are as close as ever, united by a love thicker than blood and by a shared love of rakugo.  He who is now both “Shin” and “Bon” takes possession of the battered old “Sukeroku” fan and opens the show with  a stellar “Hatsutenjin” that both his fathers and grandfathers would have been (and are) proud of.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 11Shinnosuke is the future of rakugo, but that future will seemingly include female performers, thanks to the courage of Konatsu (now Kosekuroku) and the ego-free and undying support of Yotarou.  That we don’t get to see her perform here will no doubt disappoint some, and I think that’s probably understandable.  But there are only so many hours in the day, so many minutes in an episode, and in the end the closing of the loop in Shouwa Genroku is with Shinnosuke inheriting the mantle of both Sukeroku and Yakumo.  I think a case could be made that having anyone else – even Konatsu – perform in the finale would have diluted the symbolism of the ending.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 12As for Yotarou’s – now Yakumo’s – final performance, well – it’s also an encore for the prior Yakumo, of a sort.  “Shinigami” again, of course – it always had to be “Shinigami”.  And Yotarou seems to finally channel the spirit of his master in a way he never has before, capturing all the chilling disquiet of the piece.  Yes, there’s a lot going on here – not least the fact that Yotarou himself isn’t as young as he used to be.  He too is starting to see the candle flickering, and his hand trembles as it holds his mortality in its fragile grip.  Rakugo will go on, but it’s larger than any man (or woman).  None of our lives are timeless, and the Shinigami will always be waiting at the end of the performance.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 14As Kikuhiko’s journey ended, so Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu’s journey ends with sakura – the ultimate symbol of mono no aware.  There’s no shortage of irony here – in death, Yakumo has freed rakugo to grow and evolve beyond his own vision for it.  Yet it’s their love for him that drives all of them – his son, his protege, his step-daughter, the man who writes the new works that keep the medium vibrant – to carry rakugo forward. Kikuhiko was truly a man whose life had meaning – he changed others, and changed the world as well.  The final credits roll with the simple accompaniment of Yakumo, Sukeroku and Yotarou giving voice to the old stories one last time – ending with the words of Saheiji, the man who made a living staying behind.  Rakugo, in the end, is forever larger than any one performer.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 15It’s been an amazing journey with this series.  In Kikuhiko it gave us one of the most fascinating and complex characters in anime history, brought to life by as good an acting performance as the medium has ever seen in Ishida Akira. In terms of execution, Rakugo is probably as close to flawless as any multi-cour series since Seirei no Moribito – a masterpiece of great storytelling in manga form brought to the screen with style, grace and sheer brilliance on every level.  Whenever a show this good ends I always wonder if we’ll see its like again, but so far at least the answer has always been yes – eventually.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 12 - 16It seems only fitting that Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu should end on a day when Anime Japan showered us with a barrage of depressing and inexplicable series announcements, because it’s at times these that we need to have our spirits bolstered and our hopes renewed.  Anime, like rakugo, is a medium for storytelling – and like rakugo, those that love it have sometimes worried for its future (and now is certainly such a time for me).  By its very existence Shouwa Genroku gives us proof that creative genius can still flower in anime, and hope that perhaps Yotarou’s final benediction might cross the divide and touch anime as well: “I never worried for a second that we’d ever lose rakugo.  After all – something this good could never go away!”

ED Sequence:

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23 comments

  1. /me applauds

    What else can be done? ^^

  2. Just wanted to say “Thank You” for your reviews of this wonderful series. I had been faithfully read your review as a must do after watching an episode. Today is no difference. I really wanted to see what would be your take on the revelation. Like you, I am not sure what to think. Reading your review after each episode brought me a lot of joy and appreciation of this series. Again, thank you very much

  3. Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. It’s been a fun series to write for, but hard work…

    As for the revelation, I’m going to need to mull it over for a couple of days, I think. Still not sure how it sits with me.

  4. S

    Thank you for covering this amazing series!

  5. D

    I have to admit, that given the buildup for Konatsu as the first female performer, I was slightly disappointed we didn’t get to see her perform. Once the credits started it was obvious there just wasn’t time to include that, which is fair enough.
    I do wonder whether they’re going to do that on the physical release, either as an extended final episode, or even as extra content.

    It was still a great way to end the series, though, showing that life – and rakugo – goes on.

  6. S

    I’m really conflicted about Yakumo being the father thing too. So I went back and re-watched first season’s episode 13, and I guess it was really hinted multiple times with Bon’s lines of regret to Sukeroku’s ghost and Matsuda getting really angry while the stubborn traditional Bon’s “do whatever you like.” Still though, imo not a necessary development for Shin, since the love he has for his Grandfather would have been more than enough even without all this connection by blood.

  7. J

    It’s a testament to the show (if another one was necessary at this point) that the reveal didn’t immediately bring Usagi Drop to mind – in fact, I didn’t even register the connection it until Samu brought it up in his review, because on reviewing the series the groundwork had been laid well beforehand, as if by a master theft-worker. If (when) I do end up thinking of it as a misstep, it will be the only one across the entire series.

    But otherwise, this show has been a 20-minute weekly study in characterization and direction, giving an already incredible tale the visuals, and more importantly, the voice it richly deserved.

    I look forward to the next anime as good as this one.

  8. M

    I think people are being way too prudish about the reveal and I find the comparison to Usagi Drop rather simplistic especially since it can be read both ways after all none of these people are reliable narrators. So on one hand, we have Higuchi’s life long infatuation and obsession with Yakumo and Miyokichi looking for some poetic conclusion to the entire monogatari. After all with the exception of Konatsu there’s no left who would know the truth.

    While on the other hand, if we take Konatsu’s Glomar response as a nondenial denial, it would still be in character for the story since the players – with the exception of Yotaru and Matsuda – were always plagued by their shortcomings and faults, especially where Yakumo was concerned. Lest we forget who scorned Miyokichi in the first place and set in motion the whole tragedy. Moreover to those who find it problematic – to say the least – that’s precisely the point. It’s meant to be problematic. Just because Yakumo grew older and haunted, it doesn’t mean that his nature changed and his nature was very complicated from the beginning.

    There’s also the fact that while Yakumo raised Konatsu, I don’t think that he ever viewed her in a father-daughter light even after all that time or maybe because of it. It could even be argued that since both of them were so traumatized, trauma can make people do irrational things. Again, I don’t think that in context, it would be so OOC for either of them.

    What changed was the audience’s feelings towards him across 25 episodes, growing more attached to him and by the end, seeing him with rose-tinted glasses not unlike Higuchi.

    Hope it makes sense.

  9. C

    I have nothing to add to this show, I mean, stereotypical slow clap. I loved every minute and I will miss these reviews. As for the reveal, I’m torn between how gorgeous all-grown-up Shin/Kikuhiko2.0 is and how totally… tacked-on that reveal felt. I was looking through the Rakugo yesterday after watching the last episode, found a beautiful shot of Kikuhiko and little Konatsu in mourning garb, and… no. No I don;t see it, and not just because of the age gap. I only ever saw these two in a father-daughter relationship, albeit a dysfunctional one. Even looking back, I still don’t see any sexual tension between Yakumo and Konatsu, and there should be SOME if they did sleep together, right? Personally I think the author just really wanted the Yakumo and Sukeroku lines to physically converge, and I get that, but if this was the only way to achieve that (it was), then I wish we’d had a hard pass. Still a masterpiece, and I’ll pretend Konatsu just enjoys letting Sensei imagine the most soapy scenarios ever (he is a Yakumo groupie, after all).

  10. d

    Ah what a ride Shouwa Rakugo has been, absolutely loved it from the very first episode of the first season to the last episode from this season. As for the reveal; I personally think Konatsu is continuing the tradition of Yakumo; that is to deliberately create an air of mystery and hints of grand, scandalous, tragic secret pasts around the lives of rakugo storytellers. I can definitely see her trolling every rakugo otaku in that way, especially the Yakumo’s groupies, lol. Even her mother knows Konatsu ‘never tells the truth’. Not to mention, Yotaro lived with those two for a very long time and as Yotaro proved again and again, he’s very tuned to the emotions and feelings of those around him.

    It’s possible yes, that Konatsu in her teenage years, in all the confusion, thought she was in a romantic love/hate relationship with Kikuhiko, but I don’t think Kikuhiko would never, ever indulge those feelings of Konatsu. Even aside their history together, there’s a huge age gap between them and he did raise her. If I remember correctly, the gangster boss also had grey eyes and black hair so maybe Konatsu choose him (subconsciously or not) because he kind of looked like Kihuhiko? To me, Shinnosuke looked liked the gangster boss when he was a child. Since Shinnosuke is such a Yakumo groupie, it’s logical he wants to emulate his ( dead) idol in his later life by taming his hair and taking over his mannerism. It’s entirely normal for Yakumo to be softer and affectionate with Shinnosuke; years and years has gone by since then, he’s more at peace what happened and since he can’t make up for all those lost time with Konatsu, he’s showing all his affections towards Shinnosuke, the one who loved his rakugo more than anyone else.

    At least that’s my two cents, but like Konatsu said; she’s never going to spill the beans, haha.

  11. I see that argument a lot, but it’s really suspiciously like wishful thinking to me. Look, can you deny that “present” Shinnosuke has begun to look an awful lot like Kikuhiko? Maybe it’s just symbolic, but I don’t know. And there is a kind of symmetry to his being the son of one and grandson of the other, and this series loves that kind of symmetry.

  12. d

    idk, but I have to kindly agree to disagree here haha. If this revelation was thrown out at the very beginning of the season or played with throughout this season (or more obvious for my dumb,hard brick head haha) I would have felt differently. I’ve certainly thought at the end of season 1 that maybe, they were going into that route, yet the way the interaction between Konatsu and Yakumo played out through season 2 and the way Yakumo talks about Konatsu( always as the younglings, as someone to look over, to guide and protect) and the way he saw her in the (dream) afterlife ,it’s really hard for me but to interpret that anything else as a parent/ child relationship. I know Shinnosuke sat on that cushion, but he was also the one who has seen the least of Yakumo’s performances. For me, Konatsu is the emotional anchor/tie between Bon and Shin and both are just really happy and relieved to know that their child is continuing her life with passion and even with her own little rakugo loving family. As for the pyhsical ressemblance see first comment haha ( I’ve been mistaken for someone else a lot too, there was one girl with whom I didn’t even share an ethnicity with haha,) Idk, I guess, it’s all to everyone’s taste how to interpret it haha. One last gift Shouwa gave us.

  13. For those who aren’t following anime news, what were the Anime Japan announcements?

  14. I can’t bring myself to list them. Nisio Isin, CGDCT, PAW doing a silly-looking game, bad sequels. Just a depressing bunch. Oh, and Peacemaker Kurogane turns out to be a movie series – with Kaji Yuuki as Tetsu. Ugh…

    At least the YYH reboot looks like it may just be a 25th Anniversary special – that would be a bullet dodged.

  15. “At least the YYH reboot looks like it may just be a 25th Anniversary special – that would be a bullet dodged.”

    I’ve just heard about this, but why would a YYH reboot be a bad thing? The reboot was the best thing to ever happen to HunterXHunter, and Yu Yu Hakusho IMHO might deserve it too. It sits at the perfect middle between that and Ushio and Tora (to mention another old shounen that had an amazing modern reboot); not as intellectual as HXH but still definitely a deeply enjoyable and often unconventional battle shounen show.

  16. To me, because YYH has been done. It got a full adaptation and doesn’t need another. Togashi himself is over it. And especially when stuff like Rorouni Kenshin – RUROUNI FUCKING KENSHIN – still hasn’t received a full adaptation.

  17. Yeah, but the same was true of HXH (up until Greed Island at least) and Ushio and Tora (that did have old OVAs). And Jojo’s Stardust Crusaders arc. And all three benefitted immensely from being picked back up again and remade, I’d say.

  18. Honestly, I don’t think the situations are analogous. YYH got a complete adaptation. H x H and Ushio and JoJo didn’t. Yeah, a few things were changed but where are you going to see a 19-volume series adapted with no changes?

    It’s not like I don’t like YYH – it’s more the principle of the thing. I just hate the see chestnuts that have already had complete animations (and good ones at that) remade when there are so many great manga that haven’t.

  19. R

    Love Shouwa Genroku from start to finish. Season 1 was my AOTY, and season 2 finished off strong — it would be a tough choice for me to choose between this show and Uchouten Kazoku.

    I’m actually wondering — it would be good to do a story about Yotaro. He’s shown as a simple and loving guy here, but perhaps there is more about him than this series shows — he’s the one who truly revolutionized the rakugo industry, allowing women and foreigners to perform. Without him, rakugo might have become an art of the past…

  20. Thanks Enzo, I’ve been watching this from the first season to the recent conclusion and I concur it’s one of the most sublime storytelling about well, storytelling. Liike you I consider the the previous two episodes the strongest and most emotional ones. This final episode puts a bow on top of it.

    Rakugo anime is over, on to the Kabuki anime next. I know you will cover it in the same vein as this.

  21. I will indeed, but realistically there’s no reason to suspect it’ll be anywhere near as good. If it’s an enjoyable show that’s good enough to blog I’ll be satisfied with that.

  22. M

    Hello Enzo! I was very confused and upset about the revelation of this final episode too, but I found a translation of the extra from the last volume of the manga that made me understand a little bit the motivations behind Konatsu and Kiku regarding the matter. Here is the link!: https://docs.google.com/document/d/17tCeZ6hVS4wRhDDvKlsYK3dnm1qhsS5oZwqXPGX4DsE/edit#heading=h.j5q31xq43z10
    Hope it helps, it made feel better after reading it at least =).

  23. S

    I have just finished watching season 2 and I kind of feel ill. Its bittersweet, sad, tragic and icky all at once. I think I’m in shock that they took it there. I had always suspected way back from season 1 that there was something off about Konatsu and yakumo’s relationship and was praying he wasnt the father of her child because that is just disturbing to me. Even when the mob boss was said to be the father I had my suspicion eapecially when he apologised in front of his friends grave for what he has done to his daughter. I can understand how it might have happened but I wish they dedicated a whole episode to explaining their relationship-when did it even happen?! He had a relationship with the mother and then he impregnates the daughther, it’s just so weird and complicated. I dont think I’ll be forgetting this anime for a long time. I’m not complaining, I really enjoyed watching the show and it was extremely well made, it’s just left me feeling a bit depressed and a bit overwhelmed. I suppose that’s the sign of a good show, one that keeps you thinking even after its ended.

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