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: -
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.
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 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.
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.
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.