Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is back after a whole year of absence. While Season 1 used the present as an anchor to tell a story of the past, Season 2 will use the same present as the starting point of a story that will bring rakugo to the future.
My prediction: Possibly the best anime of the Winter 2017 season.
Disclaimer: The show has a ridiculously long name, so from now on it will be just Rakugo.
I wasn’t the only one that found it hard to believe that it’s been a year since the last season of Rakugo was broadcast. Yotaro broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience in the very first scene which was a direct continuation of the last scene of the first season. Yotaro raises his head and offers the best recap ever done in an anime series. In a metatheatrical rakugo performance, he went through a brief summary of the first season. In an instance, I felt like it was only yesterday that the last episode of the first season was broadcast and Yotaro promised that the story will continue. A spring, a summer, and a fall later, it’s winter again and now Yotaro, who has changed his name in Sukeroku, will tell us a new story.
The narrative that the new season will follow is simple: Rakugo is dying. The now President Yuurakutei Yakumo intended to let it die with him and that’s why he had never before taken any apprentices. Now, a former wannabe apprentice and a successful disciple will team up to save rakugo from extinction. The first season managed to give us a very tight story in 13 episodes, and I am confident that the second season will manage the same. Both Higuchi Eisuke and Yotaro represent a modern rakugo that needs to adapt in order to survive. ‘The lifespan of a cultural medium is 50 years and then stops being relevant’ says Higuchi only to add that rakugo managed to survive for hundreds of years. Like all the classics, there is an everlasting quality to rakugo that needs to be preserved, but at the same time new stories must be created to keep it fresh. The need to adjust is personified in the former apprentice, Mangetsu-san, who left rakugo for a profitable career in TV at a time when the bubble economy generously made a lot of people rich. Televised manzai acts were replacing traditional rakugo theaters, which started to close one after another.
Speed is everything. People don’t have the time to sit and listen to rakugo
Yotaro wouldn’t have any of it. He and Higuchi understand that the purpose of rakugo, contrary to cheap and fast entertainment comedy, is to invoke empathy: ‘It’s not just about laughter.’
And this is exactly what we will see this season: Yotaro being awesome. He will join Higuchi in reviving rakugo, make sure that his master dies without any regrets, and that the daughter of the master he now shares a name with raises her child in a family.
I find it hard to single out any highlights from this episode. Season 1 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has been in my top ten anime list for quite a while now, and this first episode of a second season felt like a New Year’s wish coming true. If I have to though, I must say that I missed the rakugo stories. The way the storyteller sits in the middle of the stage and performs the narrative is both mesmerizing and utterly compelling. I could sit and listen to their stories for hours if only there was a rakugo theater here and they could jump out of the screen and perform in real life.
Themes & Trivia
Breaking the Fourth Wall: The fourth wall is a performance convention in which an invisible, imagined wall separates the actors from the audience. While the audience can see through this imaginary wall, the actors act as if they cannot since they exist in a different world. Any instance where this convention is violated we talk about ‘breaking the fourth wall.’ Yotaro (or Sukeroku now) exhibits this metatheatrical act by addressing the audience directly, thus acknowledging his own fictional state.
Rakugo: There might be a few among you who jumped into the second season without having watched the first. I would advise you to binge watch the first season before continuing with the series. Still, here is a brief explanation of the art form of rakugo:
Rakugo (literally ‘fallen words’) is a form of Japanese verbal entertainment that was created by Buddhist monks in the 9th century but was made popular during the Edo period in the 17th century. The lone storyteller (rakugoka) sits on a stage called kōza, and using only a paper fan (sensu) and a small cloth (tenugui) as props, and without standing up from the seiza sitting position, he must narrate a long and complicated comical story. The story always involves the dialogue of two or more characters, the difference between the characters depicted only through change in pitch, tone, and a slight turn of the head. Think about it as a solo theatrical play where one man plays all the characters.
Geisha: The Geisha is probably one of the most identifiable cultural traditions of Japan worldwide. Often mistaken as plain prostitutes, they are traditional Japanese female entertainers, skilled in various arts such as classical music, dance, games, and most of the times possessed advanced conversational skills.
Shamisen: The shamisen is the three-stringed instruments that you hear before a rakugoka enters the stage. It’s a Japanese traditional organ that derived from the Chinese sanxian. It is played with an overgrown pick (plectrum) called bachi.
Woman playing the shamisen. Kitagawa Utamaro, “Flowers of Edo: Young Woman’s Narrative Chanting to the Samisen”, c. 1800
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu brought back the magic of the first season. Likable characters, a tight plot, and a central theme that doesn’t stray to explore non-relevant areas. This show is about rakugo, and if it’s going to address anything, then it’s going to be through the lens of rakugo. The purpose of art, the love for stories, the warmth of family, and the protection of what’s dear; the show will continue to tackle subjects like these, always keeping rakugo in the limelight.
Yotaro inherited the Sukeroku name so he could bring the art where it needs to be: in the future. If the Japanese tradition of oral storytelling is to survive, then it needs passionate young people like him to adjust to the times and create a new rakugo that people can relate to. I don’t know how rakugo is doing in Japan as we speak, but I hope that the anime brings more people to the theaters.
Did you like the first episode of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi Hen? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to check the rest of our Winter 2017 anime episodic reviews!