It is the stories we tell each other that make most of what we call ‘reality.’ Television, movies, books, gossip, tabloids, small talk; everything is a story. Rakugo is a story about stories, and in Episode 2 we get to see master and apprentice take another step into the future of the declining Japanese trade.
The episode makes sure that we are aware of the main theme of the episode right from the start: the past is the past and there is nothing we can do to hide from it. Yotarou (I will keep calling him that instead of Sukeroku, just in case I have to mention the latter) found solace in Rakugo after he spent time in prison because of his days spent with a gang. Now, the tabloids are more than willing to report on his past: scandals sell papers and yellow press is the master of scandals. Yotarou seems untroubled by the articles until Amaken, a rakugo journalist shoves the article in his face along with accusations of inauthenticity. He basically says that Yotarou is neither Yakumo nor Sukeroku, but an amalgam of both with no rakugo identity of his own. I’m not a rakugo expert, but the writers and animators of the show made the extra effort to show us what the otherwise slimy journalist meant – sometimes the hardest truths are said by the most unexpected people.
Yotarou tried everything in his book: he was enthusiastic; he took his master’s advice in not making his voice squeaky in female voices; he tried to adjust his play according to the needs of the audience. But he was still disappointing, and that disappointment led him to do something unheard of, strip from the waist up as a last and desperate try to make his audience laugh.
In the end, the retribution comes from the person that was the most proficient to deliver it: Yakumo. I was touched by the way he connected with this student, a connection that we first encountered in the first season, between the two students and the 7th generation, but also between Yakumo and Sukeroku. A genuine love that comes forth from a deeper appreciation and a mutual respect. To reach his true potential, Yotarou must not hide from his past, but embrace it. It’s part of him, and only through it his true rakugo can come to the surface.
I need practice, not alcohol
A brief taste of the future came with the mention of Miyokichi and the creation of the new rakugo plays. Things are going to get interesting.
Marriage: Konatsu and Yotarou are married. Call be crazy, but this might be the cutest couple I’ve seen in an anime lately. And the little rascal is so cute. Babies are cute.
Opening Theme: Probably the best opening sequence and theme of the season. The jazz feeling of Imawa no Shinigami brings a layer of quality to an anime that doesn’t really need any affirmation of that. The animation sequence focuses on the people of this story, and foremost on its true protagonist, the man that tells the story, the man that has the most to gain and the most to lose, Hachidaime Yuurakutei Yakumo.
Konatsu: Konatsu has what I call ‘deep trauma s**t.’ No wonder she cries herself to sleep, exhausted by a life that took everything from her, living with a man she hates and deeply respects. A man she wants to kill but can’t because she wants her child to listen to his rakugo. There is always an anchor that keeps us alive. A purpose that makes us go through the most difficult of days, even if we don’t realize that it’s there. It’s when that anchor disappears that the will to live fades away. I almost cried when Yakumo took Konatsu in his arms and started telling Sukeroku’s story.
Themes & Trivia
Megumi Hayashibara: Megumi Hayashibara is a legendary Japanese voice actress, singer, radio personality, and lyricist from Tokyo. She performed the opening song for both seasons, with both songs written/composed/arranged/produced by popular J-Pop singer-songwriter Sheena Ringo. Megumi is also voicing ex-geisha girl Miyokichi in both seasons. The 49-years-old anime veteran has an amazing filmo-discography, but for this writer her most memorable roles were Rei Ayanami in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop.
Kappore: Kappore is a traditional Japanese dance that was usually performed at banquet parties. It became popular in Japan through parade performances. I haven’t seen any live performances, but you can find YouTube video where the fun dance is highlighted by performers shouting ‘Kappore, Kappore’ in unison as they kick up their heels.
Business: Even if profit is not the purpose of rakugo, it is of those in charge of the theaters. After the supposed gang scandal comes to the surface, Yotarou is asked to lay low for a while. He loses many TV jobs, and the pressure negatively impacts his performance. When it comes to business, money always comes first – quality second. Just take a look at Buzzfeed.
Practice Makes Perfect: No skill can be mastered without constant and rigorous practice. Yakumo practices even now that he is president of the rakugo association, and he will probably keep on practicing until the day he dies. That’s true devotion to one’s art, a testament that one’s persistence to master his trade is one of choice.
Storytelling is not a trade that can be mastered in one night
In both seasons, Rakugo places particular importance to the characters. They are the focus and the raison d’etre of its existence. It’s probably just me, but unlike other anime that build on common anime tropes to deliver their narrative so that they can promote their subject matter (seeYuri!!! On Ice, ALL OUT!!, DIVE!, and so many more) Rakugo does the opposite. It uses the subject matter to avoid common anime tropes and deliver a narrative that is both pertinent and relevant. The essence of the show is universal. It may be delivered through a very particular medium, but it can be equally applied to every trade, sport, art, etc. And don’t start me on shounen camaraderie principles and how they are also universal.
The Future of Storytelling
Rakugo’s first season is an anime classic. The second season will probably deliver the same level of quality, but the truth is that it’s too early to make any accurate predictions. I am looking forward to this season’s antagonist, and to the tragedy that will surely come at some point. The real question is: in what kind of note is the season going to end?