Rakugo Shinju Tells A Story, Sure, But Not a Very Consistent One
I recently watched two popular anime from last season for the sake of going over them like this on my blog here and getting some content out for you fans. I’ll be covering the other show, ReLife, sometime later but for now let’s talk about Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. Not sure where to start on this anime if I’m being truthful. I… liked it? But I also really didn’t? I get why people do like it. It’s hard not to see the appeal. It’s different. There’s not another anime quite like it that I’m aware of. It’s set in the unique post-war world of Showa-Era Japan and follows the lives of two young Rakugo (a type of storytellers who perform entire stories acting out the characters themselves while in a sitting position) performers as they grow up together and aim to be Rakugo masters.
I just want to know… what is it about this show that garners so much praise that it gets? It’s worthy of some praise for sure but I can’t quite dissect the appeal that makes certain people give it 10/10’s and say embellished bull crap like how it was the ‘most artful anime from the last 5 years’. Spoiler warning, it isn’t. It was a sloppy mess with lots of highs and lots of much worse lows. You see, it felt like the strongest part of the story was the very beginning which is about a former gang member begging an old Rakugo master to let him become his disciple. This had a lot of potential but the entire rest of the series was a flashback to show you how the old man became a grumpy, miserly asshole. Not to say this story wasn’t interesting by itself. I’d be lying if I said Kikuhiko’s upbringing and sibling love/rivalry with Sukeroku was boring. There were some parts of it I really liked honestly.
I liked how Kiku struggled with even liking Rakugo, and how at first he was doing it because it was the only thing he had left since his family didn’t want him. I enjoyed watching him discover that his talent laid in performing more risque R-rated stories than the boisterous ones that Sukeroku had a penchant for. But really things just started to go downhill for me when that rampant homewrecker Miyokichi was introduced. I actually had several moments where I paused the show and me and my girlfriend made jokes about what she was going to do next. We were in certain agreement that she was going to hook up with Sukeroku to spite Kiku for ignoring her and then it literally happened right after we said it, and then I joked ‘now watch, Kiku is going to magically be back from his cross-country trip in Japan just so he can watch the exact moment they hook up’. Imagine how hard we laughed when that EXACT thing happened… The drama was predictable in every way and I hated it.
It didn’t need to be about a dumb love triangle, this anime was more than interesting just focusing on their Rakugo careers. It could have been a more natural falling out just because Kiku continued to be successful while Sukeroku’s bad behaviour cost him points from the association leading to less jobs, but no. It had to be about a generic love triangle with a sultry, uninteresting femme fatale. Miyokichi was really bad, too. I didn’t like a thing about her and felt her ‘oh woe is me I’m a prostitute I’ve never been loved before’ shtick to be disgusting, especially when she married Sukeroku, had a kid with him, abandoned him after giving birth to their daughter who she had no love for.
Sukeroku and Miyokichi’s daughter was pretty great though, she was almost the only reason my interest spiked back up again in the last few episodes for being so adorable, and I liked her interactions with Kiku. Sukeroku became really unlikable at the end of the series despite being really fun and engaging earlier on. I just don’t like how he was apparently scummy enough to just sleep all day unemployed while making his daughter work so they could eat and he could drink. Like, they didn’t even go as far as to make it seem like abuse. It wasn’t done dramatic either it was played as ‘oh Sukeroku what a scumbag haha’ instead of ‘you have a fucking daughter what the hell is wrong with you’. It was really a disservice to his character.
Then Sukeroku and Miyokichi died in a really dumb way and I internally played the world’s smallest violin. At that point Sukeroku had reached the last shreds of sympathy I had for him while I had already hated Miyokichi almost instantly soooo… and I felt the whole thing with Konatsu wanting to get revenge and kill Kiku when she was older was just forced as hell. Yeah you go ahead and swear vengeance on the dude who raised you because your dad was in love with a literal whore. Go head and swear vengeance on him after he came into your home, saved you and forced your dad to do things instead of making you work so he could drink. You’d think most people would grow up out of this childish thinking but apparently Konatsu never does as even in the modern day she talks about this kind of crap to the man who raised her.
SPEAKING OF THE MODERN DAY, the transition back to this part of the story was stunningly awful that I can’t believe more people weren’t thrown for a loop by it. We go from 11 straight episodes of telling Kiku’s backstory… back to the modern day where Yotaro is getting a haircut from becoming a Shinuchi. A rank that took Kiku and Sukeroku quite a lot of time to get. That’s it. That’s it…? The entire damn flashback was shown with old Kiku telling Yotaro and Konatsu about his life and we never get to see Yotaro or Konatsu react to this. It just ends suddenly and we’re back in modern day after a few years apparently out of nowhere and Yotaro is suddenly promoted. What was probably the strongest section of the show was just ruined instantly for me with this transition. I really have to ask, as the manga hasn’t been translated yet I have no way of knowing but… was the manga REALLY like this? Did they have to skim over stuff when adapting it or something because I just can’t even imagine someone thinking this transition was a good idea. It broke all my immersion because I was like ‘okay now we get to see what Yotaro and Konatsu thought of Kiku’s epic life story, I can’t wait to see their faces WAIT WHAT’.
I… don’t know. Is being different and refreshing all it takes for the majority of people to give this show a 10/10? Is that all that people think matters instead of a decently told story? It upsets me but I can’t argue that Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju has a lot going for it. It’s still probably worth a watch despite how harsh I was on it, and I’ll still watch season 2 when it’s over just to see how things go.