Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju – Review
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju was awarded Best Anime of 2016 in our Anime Awards.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju:
Original Air Dates: Jan 8th, 2016 – April 1st, 2016
Synopsis: A former inmate, upon his release from prison, seeks out the comedic storyteller Yakumo after falling in love with his performance during a prison visit. Yakumo, who doesn’t normally accept apprentices, takes the man in, giving him the name: Yotaro. As Yotaro begins to become familiar with Rakugo (Comedic storytelling) he meets Konatsu, a girl in the care of Yakumo.
Yotaro takes an interest in the works of Konatsu’s late father, Sukeroku. But when Konatsu pins the blame for her father’s death on Yakumo, he sits the two down to lay out the truth surrounding Sukeroku and his own ascension to the name of Yakumo.
Review (Warning: Some Spoilers to Follow):
Linny: The first thing that strikes you about Showa is its visuals. The background, the characters, the premise, all meld together to harken of a time now long past but surely still missed. The look of the series is very retro and perfectly matches the era and atmosphere of the tale at every turn. The faces of the characters are extremely expressive and help to further establish and strengthen the mood of the story and its events, and especially the rakugo performances.
Tom: Rakugo does a phenomenal job of portraying the drama between Sukeroku and Yakumo, as well as the dramatic readings of Rakugo itself, without ever going hammy or over the top. The art is understated, but effective in bringing this personal and grounded story to life.
Linny: The show is a slow burn drama, taking its time narrating the story, but because it does so in a most engaging and intimate manner, it never feels stagnant. Even when you have figured out the approaching developments, the experience of watching it unfold is emotionally gripping. I’d attribute this to its strong cast of characters and, of course, the rakugo performances themselves. Even if you have never heard of Rakugo before, this show manages to weave a mesmerizing spell with its presentation of Rakugo and the performances showcase the talent and history of this tradition extremely well.
Tom: Showa is filled with substance that many drama oriented fans will appreciate. The pace, unfortunately, will easily turn away the younger crowds who are more geared towards shonen, action filled plots. But for anyone seeking more human drama, grounded in a reality not often seen within the anime medium, Showa’s not some pity watch for that desire, but a classic that delivers on that promise perfectly. It’s also got appeal for anyone interested in some of Japan’s older customs and forms of entertainment outside of the standard anime, j-pop, and video games.
Linny: It’s a beautiful exploration of the Rakugo culture and society that prevailed in the period depicted. For a topic that will surely be alien to most western audiences, the show manages to connect with its audience by having real and believable characters, character drama and developments. Every character in the show is sure to evoke strong emotions and reactions and Kiku-san, who’ll take the Yakumo name, makes for one of the most tragic heroes I’ve encountered in anime. He may start off as a cliche; moody and jaded and vain, but as the story unfurls, we get to see why he’s become the way he is, and he ends up feeling like a real individual and not just a collection of tropes.
Tom: Rakugo’s entire cast is fun and feels very deep thanks to how fleshed out everyone is. There’s lot of grounded drama, from Kiku-san’s desire to perform Rakugo and his frustrations with Sukeroku, to Kiku-san’s troubled relationship with a local Geisha. Because everything remains so grounded, it becomes easily relatable, even if we’re talking a foreign culture. It definitely speaks to anyone who’s into more of the artistic side of culture and has faced great obstacles in pursuing their dreams. Sadly Yotaro, the character that’s most enjoyable in the series’ premiere, takes a backseat throughout the entire season, only returning in the final episode to tease the continuation of the story. Thankfully Rakugo’s flashback, which is spread over the vast majority of the season, is equally as compelling as Yotaro’s journey and makes for a powerful watch.
Linny: Every character feels grounded and relatable as they are shown to be flawed, struggling with their own inner demons. The show also features one of the best (pardon the term but it felt appropriate) “bromances” in anime drama. Watching the relationship between Kiku and Sukeroku is heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal parts. This is a relationship that will surely make you tear up and leave you with that bittersweet ache that only a well done story can.
Tom: Because we know Sukeroku is dead from the first episode, the audience is always guessing as to what exactly finally brings about his end and causes his daughter to pin her father’s death squarely on Kiku’s shoulders. While Rakugo excels at the drama, it’s not so good at tackling the larger social issues it chooses to make part of the conversation. The show flirts with sexism, due to Sukeroku’s daughter being barred from Rakugo because of her ovaries, but never goes beyond acknowledging the issue. It’s perhaps a bit disappointing, but understandable considering the time period Rakugo is set during. I do hope, however, that with a second season announced and on the way, that we’ll be seeing more on this topic.
Linny: This show is just so enchanting all around. Every element comes together to create this vivid story. From the music, to the voice acting, the audience gets such a rich experience of the time period, the society, the characters and the art of Rakugo.
Tom: So much hinged on the vocal performances for Kiku, Sukeroku and all the other Rakugo performers. Each and everyone one of them nails it, giving the performance that sells them as true masters of Rakugo story telling. They must be praised for their efforts because without such quality acting, Rakugo just wouldn’t come together like it has.
Linny: The most disappointing part of this show was the lack of Yotaro, despite the first episode leading you on to think that it was his tale we were about to follow. While Kiku and Sukeroku make for fine protagonists in their own rights, I’m also excited for Season 2 when we finally return to Yotaro, which for the uninformed, yes, a second season has been confirmed.
Tom: Rakugo is based off an ongoing manga and I see this first season much like Berserk’s first anime adaptation. A story focused entirely on past events with only mere flashes of what’s to come. I’m thankful that, unlike Berserk, we already know the adaptation is to continue and we’ll finally get to see what lies ahead for Yotaro and co.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is available for streaming via Crunchyroll.com.