Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju – Review
Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju:
Original Air Dates: January 6th, 2017 – March 24th, 2017
Synopsis: Ten years have passed since Yotaro became Yakumo’s Rakugo apprentice. Yotaro has made a name for himself, yet Rakugo as a profession and art form is still on its way out. Can Yotaro find a way to preserve Rakugo or will this art die alongside Yakumo’s eventual passing?
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Descending Stories tries to balance Yotaro’s and Yakumo’s separate journeys in this second and final season. Yotaro gets a lot more focus this time around, especially in the first half of the season, heavily focusing on his personal growth. The writing here is superb as we watch Yotaro struggle with many of the same issues Yakumo faced, and his own methodology and answers to creating his very own Rakugo persona.
Linny: For any viewer who bemoaned the diminished role Yotaro played in season 1, this season puts him in the spotlight, though Yakumo seems to still be the centre of the story. You get a look into Yotaro’s struggles to make Rakugo his own, and how he brings about some changes into the art form and its general unwritten rules and procedures about how a performer should behave or act.
Tom: But Yotaro’s story is largely resolved mid season, and the series returns to Yakumo for its later half in an attempt to kind of book end the series. Yakumo’s journey is a difficult one and is largely depressing compared to Yotaro, who’s simply more upbeat innately. This focus on Yakumo’s more morbid persona, coupled with his descent into depression, makes for darker proceedings than the first half of the season and in an effort to address Yakumo’s declining health and mental issues the series harps on one particular development multiple times, making it feel sometimes like the series is merely treading water than progressing us forward. But by and large his emotional journey is as strong and gripping as ever.
Tom: Other characters however, such as Konatsu, never really come into their own. Sure a few subplots focus on her or others, but by and large the series is entirely focused on Yotaro and Yakumo’s journey. This means characters pop in and out, but we never really get a chance to get to know them, and some continue to feel like strangers. In the case of Higuchi, aspiring Rakugo writer, he mainly pops in and out to remind us of the passion for generating new Rakugo works and spurring the life blood of Rakugo forward. If you were hoping to explore the rest of the cast a little more, know that the attention really is all on Yotaro and Yakumo with only a few passing subplots focused on Konatsu and a vague address to the sexism of the Rakugo industry.
Linny: The inclusion of female performers breaking into the world of Rakugo is a nice touch but unfortunately receives very little airtime or proper development. It’s a powerful and significant moment/gesture but it would have been nice if this story line had gotten a bit more screen time to make it feel even more poignant and not just a shoved in afterthought. And for anyone who’s really enjoyed the more realistic tone, be aware that Episode 11 goes full on supernatural with attention literally switching to the afterlife. Yes, Showa has often flirted with the supernatural but they usually play out more as someone’s guilt ridden/fevered hallucination than an actual paranormal event. But Episode 11 makes it abundantly clear that what we are watching is happening in purgatory/the afterlife and it feels out of tone with the rest of the series. It has been mentioned that the supernatural tones are a lot more prominent in the manga but for anyone only familiar with the anime, this drastic change may be harder to process.
Tom: Indeed Episode 11 goes full in on the series’ more understated supernatural elements. The afterlife becomes such a focal point of the episode that not only could it be a turn off for viewers who preferred such hints remain mere teases, but it becomes so focused on exploring long dead characters and offering catharsis to the complex relationships our main cast has shared, that it could almost feel more so as the series giving itself a weird self-congratulatory pat on the back, rather than a teary eyed farewell. And in my opinion, it’s unnecessary as Episode 11 offers no new revelations or understanding to the characters, but just one last chance to see Yakumo and Sukeroku side by side.
Linny: Season 2 packs in a lot of twists and reveals, answering questions that may be lingering from the previous season and introducing new revelations on previous events, especially towards the later half, which should provide catharsis to anyone seeking answers. The final episode of this season does a major time jump and while most characters are easily or instantly recognizable thanks to their personalities remaining the same, there is a single character, Shinnosuke, Konatsu and Yotaro’s first child, who seems to have undergone a complete personality reversal. Of course, there are some ‘explanations’ one could surmise for this change, mostly having to do with a late reveal but it still feels unnatural and forced for the sake of fan girl pandering.
Tom: While this review has generally focused on the more negative aspects of the series, despite these minor quibbles, Rakugo’s 2nd season offers a satisfying and warming conclusion. It remains a generally strong drama, filled with plenty of highs and lows, and characters that you’ll enjoy so much you’ll be left begging they received just a little more screen time. The series isn’t quite flawless, as the story spans over fifty years, giving us only the most relevant fragments of characters lives, which in turn leads to a final episode revelation concerning two characters’ sexuality that could surprise and rub less open minded viewers the wrong way. But outside of such minor upsets, is a series that remains as one of the great contenders for yet another anime of the year award.
Linny: For devoted fans, this season offers up more of the complex emotional and relationship drama, even wandering into territory that has some viewers up in arms. The art and rakugo in the series is as mesmerizing as always and the story plays out even more depressing than before. But conversely, it has a lot more hiccups and stumbles towards the end, with two different issues that might end up upsetting different sections of its viewership. However, it retains enough of its magic and mesmerizing story telling to be a must watch for anyone who enjoyed season one, even if it’s only to get some sort of a wrap up to the tale.
Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com