Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu explores the old art form of Rakugo, and how it affects the lives of those who practice it over the years.
In A Nutshell
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu centers around the stories and backstories of rakugo performers and their struggle to gain popularity and remain relevant through the years. The story begins when a man is released from prison and begs to become the apprentice of a famous rakugo performer, Yuurakutei Yakumo.
Meet the Characters
Yuurakutei Yakumo is a legendary rakugo performer and the main character of the series. He was sent to train as a rakugo performer after an injury to his leg left him unable to dance. There he was given the name “Kikuhiko.” Kikuhiko had a talent for memorizing stories, but his performances were stiff. It wasn’t until he discovered his gift for playing female characters that he came to find his own rakugo. In the present, Yakumo is troubled by his past and has a cranky, yet enigmatic personality.
Yuurakutei Sukeroku is the secondary main character. He trained alongside Kikuhiko, and the two of them quickly became best friends despite being complete opposites. Unlike Kikuhiko, Sukeroku was loud, energetic, and extremely passionate. His revolutionary rakugo made him stand out, but also earned him the rejection of the most traditionalist members of the community. His tragic death left a big mark not only on Yakumo’s life but also on the history of rakugo and what the art should be.
Miyokichi is a young Geisha who befriends Kikuhiko and Sukeroku. She was introduced as the mistress of their master, whom she met during World War 2. Her character and role in the story are spoiler-territory, but it’s fair to say she left a big impact on the two friends, and she also highly influenced the course of the story as a whole.
Konatsu is the daughter of Sukeroku. She was raised by Yakumo after the death of her father, and still, lives with him in the present. In the beginning, she’s seen as cold and ruthless. She blames Yakumo for her father’s death and claims it’s something she could never forgive him for. Her character and her relationship with Yakumo is further explored in the second season.
Yotarou is an ex-convict released from prison at the beginning of the story. He falls in love with the art of rakugo when he sees Yakumo perform in prison, and so the first thing he does when he’s released is to ask him to become his apprentice. He happens to be Yakumo’s first ever student, and he’s given the name “Yotarou” (rakugo slang for “fool”). He has a bigger role in the story during the second season, when he has a big relationship with both Yakumo and Konatsu.
A Brief History of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: The When, Where, and How
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju (“Showa, Genroku, Rakugo and Double Suicide” in English) is a Japanese manga written and illustrated by Haruko Kumota. The manga began serialization in Kodansha’s ITAN magazine in 2010 and ended in 2016. The manga was adapted into an anime series by Studio Deen. It aired between January 2016 and April 2016, with a second season airing between January 2017 and March 2017.
Why It’s Awesome
The first thing that should be said about Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is that it’s a story set in both the past and present. In fact, it follows up to three generations, from the end of the Second World War to the present. The story does so putting the art of Rakugo at the center, to showcase not only how this practice affected the lives of the characters, but also how time influences and changes the art and its popularity.
Rakugo is an ancient and traditional Japanese art form that relies on a narrator telling a story and interpreting all the characters in the story while sitting down on a stage. The performer does it all with just their voice and facial expressions, and sometimes one or two props. Much like other traditional art and cultural practices like theater, rakugo sees a loss in popularity after the arrival of the radio, the TV, and mobile phones.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is all about the lives of those dedicated to keeping this unique form of storytelling alive. Sukeroku and Kikuhiko have different personalities and different ways of interpreting the art. They made a promise to ensure rakugo’s survival as an art form through the years, with Sukeroku practicing a more updated version to appeal to a wider audience, and Kikuhiko practicing the more traditional rakugo that stayed true to its roots.
The idea of a person telling stories while sitting down might not sound very exciting as a concept, but the art direction makes sure that’s not the case. Contrary to what one might expect from Studio Deen, the series has strong and wonderful art, and it goes to great lengths to make sure every important scene and every plot twists leave a big impact on the viewer. The sound direction and music also help the story come to life. By the time you’re watching the final episodes, you will be surprised at how much you ended up caring about these characters.