When a small-time crook is released from prison, he is determined to turn his life around by apprenticing himself to the great rakugo master Yakumo VIII, inspired by his performance of "Shinigami" during his incarceration. Surprisingly, the old man agrees to train him and brings his new apprentice to his own house to live, giving him the name "Yotaro", a classical word used in rakugo meaning "fool". Yakumo has much to teach about the art of rakugo, but both he and his ward Konatsu- a hot-headed young woman whose father was also a famous storyteller- are difficult people with a shared dark past. Yakumo refuses to train her, claiming that the world of rakugo is no place for women, and Konatsu has vowed to kill him, claiming that Yakumo murdered her father!
I'm so glad I decided to watch this anime: it's one of the best I've seen - and not only recently, but ever. It puts together an unusual setting, an engrossing story, very good storytelling and compelling characters. Hats off to the creators and the studio for a job very well done indeed! A warning to begin with: the first episode, about 50 minutes long, is a frame tale which sets the stage and introduces the main story that then kicks off starting from episode 2. I'm afraid it can be a bit tedious and off-putting as it starts from the end, so there are many things it's likely you won't understand and many innuendoes and undertones you will probably miss. As a matter of fact, I re-watched the first episode after having finished watching the series and I have to admit it made much more sense. Anyhow, it gives you the context in which the story unfolds. The story starts in contemporary Japan and then it goes back to the 1940s, slowly working its way to the present again. It's set in the world of rakugo, a particular form of Japanese oral entertainment whereby the performer sits alone at the centre of a bare stage and narrates usually comedic pieces involving the dialogue between several characters; the artist can convey to the public the alternating and different characters only by using his voice, tone, facial expressions and the movements of the upper part of his body. The protagonists are two young boys who in pre-war Japan aspire to become rakugo artists and present themselves to the rakugo master of the time, hoping to be accepted as his apprentices. So it's the story of the friendship between these two boys, the coming of age process, the clash with a very rigid establishment, the struggle to find their own rakugo style and gain popularity, the acceptance of failure and social responsibilities - it's also about the future of rakugo (or lack of it in a world where the forms of entertainment are constantly increasing), the direction in which it should be developed and the maintaining of its very old traditions. But above all, I would say that it's the psychological analysis of two very different people and their relationship. Apart from the first episode which tends to drag a little, the pacing is excellent. I also enjoyed the rakugo performances and learning about entertainment in that particular historical period in Japan. The only thing that bothered me was the fact that Kikuhiko and Konatsu's relationship was not developed - I'm hoping that it will be addressed in the second season of the anime. Obviously it's a character-driven anime and the characters are all portrayed and developed exceptionally well and in a incredibly realistic way. They all have flaws, weakness and failings - but no facet striked me as out of place. Kikuhiko is the character with the most complex personality - actually I wasn't sure until the end of the anime if I liked him or not. But that doesn't matter; what is relevant is that there are no false notes in his depiction. Sukeroku, on the other hand, has a pretty straightforward personality - the contrast between him and Kikuhiku couldn't be greater, so it's amusing to watch how their relationship develops. I found their friendship very beautiful. It's also interesting how Kikuhiku, while maintaining his personality traits, changes and develops as things happen to him; Sukeroku, instead, stays pretty much the same nearly until the end - and honestly his apparent reformation doesn't strike me as believable; this isn't a criticism to the portrayal of the character. Going by how they are presented in the unfolding of the episodes, it seems to me that the two of them only work well together, not only as artists but mainly as people. Anyway, you have to watch it to understand what I'm talking about. As for the other main character, Miyokichi, I find her to be very true to her character; I mean, there are plenty of reasons to think of her - and dismiss her - just as a stupid woman. But that doesn't mean her character isn't portrayed well and developed according to its premise and nature. I found the music varied and well-executed. It perfectly highlighted what was going on in the single scenes. The voice acting is superb, it has to be when rakugo plays such an important part in the anime. The animation is also of a high quality. Character designs, facial expressions, backgrounds, colours - no complaints about any of that. In conclusion, it's an anime for adults I certainly recommend.
Random Rant: - In recent times there are lots of anime which comes with a number of themes like friendship, love, betrayal, not giving up your dreams etc. but none of them have touched my heart as "Rakugo", as I Find it a Perfect marriage of Storytelling and Anime. Now let’s gets started: - Story: - First of all, let us know what rakugo is all about, it is an art of storytelling much like a standup act in which a single actor tells a story enacting various characters and themes by use of change in tone and facial expression. The story of "Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu" is based on the backdrop of two individuals exploring and learning the art of Rakugo in the post/pre-world war time , It starts with the introduction of a character who is just out of prison and aspires to reform himself by learning the art of rakugo from an incumbent master (Yakumo a.k.a kikuhiko-san) of the art, which leads to the series of events which leads the Yakumo to tell his new apprentice and daughter(Konatsu) the story of his friend(Sukeroku) and himself in the path of discovering Rakugo. Episode 2 is the point from which the real story starts where we are introduced to our main characters, who are just beginning on the path of rakugo. This story then deals with the themes of their bro-mance, romance, anxiety, and their interdependence in learning and discovering the beauty and art of rakugo. I think more than rakugo it is a story about the characters in those era and their life in the postwar period. The story is shown mainly from the perspective of Kikuhiko (as he is the story teller) and delves beautifully in the psyche of Kikuhiko and telling the viewers about his relationship with the rakugo and importance of various characters around him, and how they influence his decisions and process of learning. The special part about this story is that despite all of this, the story doesn't stray on its main theme a.k.a rakugo. You can find various time the main characters performing a rakugo act which shows their mental state, their refinery of the art and sometimes these story is so pivotal that they almost have the feel of their own, it also helps the characters to tell their inner monologue to their audience. Like the early performance of Sukeroku which shows his carefree nature to life and later the scenes in which Yakumo and sukeroku act together which shows how art of Yakumo reignites the dim flame of performer in Sukeroku, or the act in which Sukeroku talks about the story of drunk fisherman which tells the story of his own journey of regret and rediscovery of himself in a way the act(ep 12) made me to tears , since to me it shows that the main character have finally comes to terms with himself. There are many examples of this effect. Other main characters in the lead cast also does their jobs perfectly, whether it is the leading lady, or the master of Kikuhiko/sukeroku or the servant guy, each cast including the side characters have done their work splendidly, really it is very hard for me to find hole in any of their performance. I think the weakest among all the episodes is episode one which although being great tends to drag on, and cause majority of audience to put off the show before even getting to the main story. Animation: - Let us first talk about the art of the show, if we consider this anime on artistic level this is not one of the masterpiece, there is no innovative world I found here, actually I found it similar to Ojisan no lamp. But considering Studio which is attempting this series it is certainly new, and more than that it actually fits the story perfectly, it achieves the objective of providing it the feel of the era it is based in, and tones of the image change beautifully with scene to scene which is not obvious and that to receive extra credits. The lighting of the frame in stage performances looks genuine and inspired from real life scenes, all in all it suits the task at hand. As for animation is considered , I will say it is really good, since in this type of anime it is really necessary where whole story changes from a slight change in facial expression, The transitions have to be done smoothly so that nothing falls out of the plane and you have a real performance of rakugo, this task is handled perfectly by the animation team , though they took some freedom while cutting some movement of body in some other scenes but rakugo is not a movement driven story like some sports or shounen anime , its beauty lies in its narrative style and character driven plot so that freeway with movement of hand is good, please bear in mind that I didn't say that the movement is awkward rather I say that the director (sometimes) just use camera to cut between two successive shorts of movement so that overall movement for animation is minimized like the shot where Kikuhiko and his first love by the river which moves onto a wide angle view or the scene where sukeroku and his wife in (episode 12) where the scene of fall is essentially cut between the shots with minimum movement of body. But all these shortcuts don't degrade the quality of the series since as I mentioned earlier it is a narrative driven story. Sound: - Sound of this anime is not too great but fits the tone of series, special mention must be given to voice actors especially the lead guy for Yakumo as he voiced for lead character in his three era of ages that also includes n no: of characters he voiced in his rakugo performance the way he uses his voice truly feels genuine and made me laugh and enjoy his performance as any other standup I should have , similarly the credit must also go to voice actors of sukeroku and young konatsu because they just nailed it. As for Ost’s are mentioned aside for one or two of them none of them are memorable but they blend in nicely to overall scenario. Though I don't like opening video (personally) but I do enjoy the music and find nice the excess of music instead of excess of words in it, similar is the ending which even though I can't point out what the instrument used in the music it sounds majestic and rustic giving the feel that story is some kind of old forgotten yet beautiful play(I generally listen it to the end).The sound is given 8 even though all of it, since there is nothing gorgeous for me to remember it for too long like OP shigatsu , or ED of Kekkai sensen. Characters: - I will not go too deep in the characters since I have said more than enough about them in the story and sound, though I would like to add about character design that they are nice and have their consistency maintained throughout various scenes, and thematically their actions feel genuine from heart not some out of nowhere plot development which is satisfying after entering the continuous barrage of OP characters with out of a** power up which sometimes annoys the hell out of me. It is sometimes nice to read these type of story once in a while. Enjoyment: - After reading this much long review I think you can fairly guess what is my level of satisfaction is with this anime. It feels that this anime is made after observing real life not just copy pasting old anime troupes of tsundere/harem which could have easily degraded the whole thing , But It is supposed to be a Josei and although I watch it rarely it is yet to disappoint me in terms of storytelling about human relationship(Nana, Paradise kiss, Skip Beat, Glass Mask and Kujira no Kora) .The above written series are not in any way related to the given series these are Josei series (with may or may not josei tag) which I really enjoyed.And they cherry on the top is that there is an upcoming season 2 for this series , so as we say this is not THE END , "Picture abhi Baki hai mere dost(There is much left to the show my friends :) )" The final score is the sum of all the points metioned above :-9.3 If you want a similar series with character heavy drama :- 1.)NANA is recommended which is slow burning stroy of two girls with same name nana, with the backdrop of pop culture . 2.)Manga named Kujira no Kora , it have a great potential though till now only vol.1 is scanlated by the scanlation group till now.
What I Liked: Characters are memorable and interesting, presented as complex but flawed individuals. The interpersonal relationships felt real despite dramatisation. Soundtrack was perfectly emotive, eclectic and nearly always utilised to its full potential. Animation was smooth, with great attention to detail in character movement especially in the rakugo scenes. Great set designs. Skillful cinematography and direction throughout. Akira Ishida and Kouichi Yamadera gave some of the best vocal performances I've heard as Kikuhiko and Suteroku respectively. Both the Opening Theme and Closing Theme. What I Didn't: YMMV on Miyokichi's characterisation - I'm still in two minds about her myself. Some people might find the use of a frame narrative a little disconcerting initially. Final Verdict: As complex and theatrical as its subject matter, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a enthralling character-driven drama told against the backdrop of major societal (and, for the characters, personal) change. It's presented in a flawless manner from the graceful character animations and art direction to the jazz-tinged soundtrack and stunning voice acting, serving as the perfect vehicle to the story and its nuanced characters. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the evolution of Rakugo and the ups-and-downs of the main characters' relationship, and highly recommend it. On my Favourite Anime of All Time list.
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