Prelude – Anticipation and Preparation:

Before I begin what is likely to be a rather lengthy and detailed post, I should preface this by saying that I’ve been anticipating Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu since it was first announced. I never got a chance to watch the 2 OVAs last year (since they were never subbed), but that works out in the end because this 48-minute premiere was essentially those two previously released episodes put together. And oh boy, I loved it. I knew I was going to enjoy it, but my already high expectations were somehow surpassed. Get ready for some serious gushing.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Kumota Haruko, the original mangaka. She’s done several short manga over the years, but Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is the one that’s received all the awards under the sun, and now we know why. Funnily enough, this is her only title that isn’t BL, so if you can feel a connection between the male characters that perhaps goes past friendship, then that’s likely very intentional on her part – though I suspect it will never be anything more than subtext. In preparation for this premiere, I went ahead and read all of Kumota’s previous works, and loved them all. I especially like the ones that focus on adult characters in a mature way that avoids the typical tropes you find in those sorts of stories. Sadly, there’s no way for us non-Japanese fans to read Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu at this time, but this anime adaptation may just be all that we need.

An Ex-Prisoner in the Showa Period:

Unlike most of the anime out this season (or the past few seasons), Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a historical piece, set primarily during the Showa Period (1960–70s). It’s a refreshing change from the typical anime high schools, or the magic-powered LN high schools. This is a mature story about adult characters that feel like they’ve already been living their lives up until this point of introduction. Within the first few minutes it felt like I’d been transported 50 or so years into the past, as if I’m reading a Murakami novel. But the unique time period isn’t all that’s worth praising, because the brilliant cast of characters carries this episode so effortlessly that I can say I already love all of them.

The main character of this episode is only known by his nickname, Yotarou (Seki Tomokazu), who has just been released from prison. He’s got no family, very little money, but after getting a visit from the “grim reaper” of rakugo storytelling while serving his sentence, he’s decided that he’s going to seek out that man and become his apprentice. He spends all that he has on a fine suit and a proper haircut, walks up to the man in question and presents himself as the goofball he is, which earns him his nickname. From the first few moments we share with Yotarou, it’s hard not to love him. We can assume that he was imprisoned for theft, but that almost doesn’t matter here, because he comes off as a loveable kid with plenty of charisma, who wants to change his life for the better. I found myself rooting for him from that moment on, and that feeling only grew as the episode progressed.

A Riveting Ensemble Cast – Alive and Deceased

But whilst Yotarou was the main character of this episode, this is an ensemble cast (you could narrow it down to four – three alive, one dead). It seems like every character is going to get their time to shine – perhaps each episode will cover its own character arc, much like this one. Arguably the most pivotal character in all of this is Yuurakutei Yakumo (Ishida Akira), Yotarou’s newfound master. He’s an older man who you can’t quite pin down, shifting from genial smiles to harsh glances. We don’t get the details of his past just yet, but this is a character that feels like he’s lived a misfortunate life filled with regret. Clearly, the death of his longtime friend and fellow rakugo storyteller, Sukeroku, has affected him. For the time being, all we see of this man from the past his hazy figure looming over Yakumo, as if purposefully haunting him.

The final ‘main character’ introduced is Yakumo’s ward with whom he shares his home, and the daughter of Sukeroku. While taking the support role for this story, it’s Konatsu (Kobayashi Yuu) who stands out the most for me. At first I thought she was going to be a stand-offish character from first appearances, but then I remembered this isn’t like your typical trope-filled anime where you can’t help but get slapped in the face by a tsundere wherever you go. This is Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, and it treats its characters like real people, all in difficult situations with their own inspirations and predicaments. Konatsu’s in particular in the one that resonates most with me. She ends up befriending Yotarou and becoming his ‘real’ tutor, as Yakumo isn’t the sort to train him directly. She does all the hard work, yet gets little credit. She’s clearly inspired by her father’s rakugo storytelling, but as a women in that time she is unable to step on the stage and do it herself. It’s painful to watch her curse her womanhood for robbing her of her opportunities, but it makes her even easier to root for. More than anyone else, I so desperately want to see her succeed. Thankfully, her and Yotarou’s storylines seem to be going hand-in-hand, so future episodes may just grant that wish.

Composition is Key:

You wouldn’t believe this was by Studio DEEN at first glance, would you? They’ve earned a less than positive reputation over the past decade or so, but director Omata Shinichi was also in charge of the studio’s two best regarded (and best animated) works in recent years – Rozen Maiden (2013) and Sankarea. So while the studio itself was questionable, once the PVs started coming out and the staff list was known, it became clear that we were in safe hands. The directing, lighting, and composition in this episode was superb; this could have very easily been a standard adaptation, but there has been great care put into the production that I can’t help but gush over how good it all looks.

The animation is limited, but not in a way that’s detrimental. Not every anime has to be filled with sakuga or screaming action sequences. When the characters move around, it feels fluid and fitting with the pace and tone of the moment. The faces and expressions are utterly brilliant; whether grim or silly, it makes these characters that much easier to love. Yoratou’s goofy smile is perhaps my favourite, and I hope we get to see a lot more of it. But even better than the expressive faces is the effective composition and the smart use of lightning. I’ve read comparisons to Uchouten Kazoku, and I can certainly see that. But while that was a lovely looking show, I would argue that this was even better. There were so many standout scenes in this episode alone that I could write hundreds of words on each.

To name a few, the backseat scene with Yakumo and Konatsu was perhaps the most emotional moment of the episode, made even more poignant by the dark palette and the distance between the characters as they each stare off the screen. Yakumo’s words are harsh and barbed, and Konatsu’s tearful response is powerful even if we never see it directly. We only ever see Yakumo’s face in detail when a car flashes by, painting him in an almost villainous manner, which carries into several more scenes – whether through his performances or his cold interactions with his Yotarou and Konatsu. Another Konatsu scene that stole this episode for me was her chatting with her mother’s friend, speaking of when they were both young geisha, and how she got involved with Konatsu’s father. Although she can’t remember the incident exactly, Konatsu blames Yakumo for her father’s death, as we get a striking shot of her dying father with Yakumo sitting over him, his cheek splattered with blood. But the scene back in the present is what’s most beautiful – the deep blue night sky beyond, her face cut off from the shot to preserve her emotional response, and then the big moment when she curses herself for being born a woman. It’s tragic and beautiful all at once.

I loved the many close-ups we got as well. It felt like we were getting uncomfortably up in their faces, whether witnessing them elated or emotional, and it worked perfectly with the panning wide shots to make us feel like we were part of the theatre audience. If I were describe Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu’s aesthetic in one word, it would be cinematic. Similar to Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (the other top-quality show this season) it feels less like anime and more like a live-action drama. The characters are given room to breathe, and the dialogue feels so natural that nothing about the experience comes across contrived. It’s like watching a good movie that you just don’t want to end.

Rakugo – The Power of Storytelling:

I must confess, I knew very little of rakugo going into this episode. I didn’t know if I was going to be entertained as much as I perhaps should be from watching the in-show skits, and originally thought they we would only get the ‘highlights’ rather than the full-on performances. I presumed it a risky move to show the stories unfold in real-time, with the chance of them feeling drawn out or boring. But thankfully, I was proven wrong. The 10 minute (and yes, I counted – it really was 10 minutes!) scene of Yotarou giving his “Dekigokoro” performance was sheer brilliance. I was pretty much spellbound throughout the whole thing, finding myself smiling and laughing right when I should have been. The “three wives and a sick child” part actually had me howling – and that’s when I knew this was going to be something special. I was already immensely enjoying the character drama leading up this big performance, but the fact that this was pulled off so effortlessly has me smitten with this show already.

The two things that the make the rakugo so enjoyable are the strong directing and the individuality of it. The various cuts during Yotarou’s performance heightened the experience, making it feel like the we were watching him act out several characters that each have their distinctive mannerisms and their own place on the screen. What could have been difficult to follow ended up seamless, passionate, and totally entertaining. Since watching it, I’ve actually watched a few rakugo performances online, which is perhaps the biggest accomplishment possible as far as Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is concerned.

What makes this even better is how each character has their own way of performing. This is storytelling in its purest form – a one man comedy routine that differs depending on whoever is delivering the words; Yakumo does more third-person narration than Yotarou, and delivers his lines with more seriousness, whereas Yotarou takes most of his inspiration from the deceased Sukeroku, which you could almost describe as slapstick. I definitely preferred Yotarou’s approach in this episode, but it all comes down to preference. The cherry on top would be the stellar performances by the voice actors, especially Yotarou’s. This is a true test of their ability, and seeing one voice portrays 5 or 6 characters that feel distinctive and emotive helps elevate the performances to the next level. All in all, the rakugo scenes were pretty much perfect.

Looking Ahead – Stories of the Past and Present:

Another thing to add to the Checklist of Love would be how complete this episode felt. The double-length sure helped, but this felt like watching a 3 hour movie. This was certainly Yotarou’s story, but every other character got their moment in the spotlight, and every second felt vital. After finishing this premiere I was hit with a wave of emotions, but at the end of it all I thought: “We’re going to get 12 more episodes of this?“. I know the rest will be standard length, but if this quality keeps up then we are in for something special.

It looks like the second episode is going to be about the history between Yakumo and Sukeroku, which is bound to feel like another complete story in itself. Without knowing the exact age of Yakumo in the current time period, it’s difficult to say when this flashback episode is going to take place, but I would guess at least 25-50 years in the past, since it looks like we’re going to cover their time together from childhood all the way to adulthood. With the hints we got of Sukeroku’s lingering presence throughout this first episode, I cannot wait to see the real story of what happened back then, and whether or not Yakumo really did kill his friend and fellow rakugo prodigy.

Overview – First Impressions:

Whew. Well, this marks my longest RandomC post to date (2.5k words), yet perhaps the easiest to write. I could have added another 1,000 words without much effort, but I’ll stop here and save my energy for next time. If you didn’t gather from my words, I loved this episode. From top to bottom, it was pretty much perfect. I’ve now watched it two and a half times (the last half was for screen capping purposes), and each time I loved it even more – catching more details than before. I imagine this sort of show won’t appeal to everyone, which is unfortunate; and it’s unlikely that it’ll be a big BD seller, which is a terrible shame, but I’m just grateful that it exists at all.

To all those anime fans that claim ‘anime is dead’ or that they don’t make anime like they used to, I present you Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. I’ve been anticipating it for months now, wrote about my high expectations in the Winter 2016 Preview, and I must say that we could be tapping into something great here. After re-watching this episode over and giving myself time to clear my head, I think I can say this is probably one of the best first episodes I’ve ever watched. The last time I felt this level of emotional connection was with Ano Hana, which is still my favourite anime. But there’s a certain level of craft in Rakugo Shinjuu that goes beyond pure infatuation.

I cannot wait to see what’s to come, knowing we’ve got 12 more weeks of this sort of quality storytelling ahead of us. See you all next week.

Full-length images: 05, 06, 62.

ED Sequence

ED: 「薄ら氷心中」 (Usura Koori Shinjuu) by Hayashibara Megumi



    1. Why? What’s wrong with well-written non-heterosexual characters? You’re not going to get any explicit sex scenes in this sort of series, so even if the author’s BL writing carries over here then it’s only going to be woven into the character arcs. People who aren’t straight do exist as well, and they deserve their stories to be told in mature ways. It’s a rarity in anime, but if that happens to be the case with Rakugo Shinjuu then I think that could be a great thing.

    2. -_- oh look, an exact embodiment on what I was getting at with Haruchika. “Oh I’m liking this show~” *something gay happens* “Welp I’m dropping this sh*t now~” Say what you think but that’s pretty narrow-minded. Troubling again as the OP is getting more recognition.

    3. I do not agree at all with duck. I’m neither for nor against BL in anime or any other medium for that matter, I just don’t care. But I wonder why you guys just can’t leave someone alone with his opinion. He doesn’t like it, and marsh and kiraboshi don’t like it that he doesn’t like it… That isn’t open-minded either, and the word “disgusting”…this word is completely different from samu’s answer and more like “pc principal”.

    4. Instead of hopping on the wagon of dismissing duck perhaps certain things should be considered. For example, I know for a fact that many excellent BL manga exist, however, I will never read them simply because I will never be able to relate to those characters. If I can’t relate to them then I can’t empathize with or absorb their emotions and this makes the manga pointless for me. It may be narrow minded but it is the way I get the most out of manga. It could be that duck has a similar issue or maybe even something totally different but I seriously don’t like words like ‘disgusting’ being thrown around for a relatively harmless opinion.

      1. I understand that some people don’t like certain things, and that’s fine. No one should be forced to watch a show that they don’t like, but I think throwing around words like “it shall be thrown away like a worn out stained piece of underpants” isn’t exactly the best way to put it either, is it? I also think that if you can empathise with a female character who has feelings for a man, or for another girl, then it should be just as easy to empathise with a man in love with another man.

        But that’s neither here nor there because it might never come to this. My viewpoint is just that I’d be fine (and make sense) if an already established BL mangaka included m/m implications in this one as well, because that’s her thing and it’s what she’s good at.

  1. I agree with Samu. I never thought I’ll get emotionally attached to an anime again. The episode was golden. I never thought I was watching a 50 minutes long anime because I was completely drawn by it. It wasn’t flashy or anything, it’s a fantastic storytelling. That 10 minutes long monologue was amazing. I just can’t find the right words to say how much I loved this. An anime like this appear once in a blue moon and I’m glad that I checked this out this season. It was truly life changing.

  2. Wow. I thought Boku Dake’s first episode was good, but this totally blew it out of the water – this was a godly episode and I wish I could watch it for the first time again. I don’t know how it could be more perfect. Like you said, everything visual – the faces, composition and lighting – was exquisite; it more than makes up for any lack of fluid animation (which isn’t even really important in this context). The backgrounds were absolutely gorgeous and I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched an anime set in this time period. Even the long absences of soundtrack were amazing, and what I loved was how as Yotarou’s performance went on, the final few minutes were gradually sprinkled with bits of drum. I loved how the directors never tried to cut down and abridge Yotarou’s performance and went with the entire thing – something which I’d imagine could be pretty risky, and could have ended up a complete bore with a less competent seiyuu. And that ED. I could listen to it all day.

    I don’t think there’s anything I can really add about the characters, only that their relationships were brilliantly teased and hinted at. Even though it’s ostensibly not a BL story, I do think there will be a strong element of unrequited love on the part of one character (is this a spoiler???) judging by the preview and the PVs; it just remains to be seen how equivocally it will be expressed. Yakumo and Suteroku’s (and Konatsu’s mother’s) relationship obviously goes beyond just that, which I can’t wait to see. I’d think that anyone who can’t handle anything remotely BL should probably get out right now, for the sake of pleasantness. ^^

    Anyways, I can’t believe there’s still 6d 1h 56m until the next episode. I’m waiting eagerly.

  3. Shouwa’s the mangaka’s only josei title; everything else is yaoi.

    I’m hoping the anime showcases the sights and sounds of early Showa Tokyo – plenty of sights and sounds there which didn’t make it past WW2.

  4. Frankly i did find it neither good or bad but it’s just…really immersive. It’s such a rare experience when a show can make me forget the flow of time. I was genuinely surprised to see that 40 minutes or so had passed. It wasn’t very special feelings to be honest, but i was so wrapped in brilliant performances by each characters, understated atmosphere, and smooth narrative that i didn’t realize it had even ended. The last time i felt the same way was with Mushishi, which means this series is special and worth my time for. I’m in!

  5. I like this one as well as its pacing and direction. I wouldn’t mind a pacing similar to a movie’s if the characters are fully utilized when it ends its run and when it’s a double episode (The Garden of Words is just a 45 minute film but is still great anyway). I would like to voice out my opinion that sometimes, it takes an hour for an anime for its set up and have the audience to be completely enthralled with its vibe and this one just did it right.

    The episode really relies on good characters (Can I like, take Yotaro home? He’s so adorable. The master is the real highlight though. He’s complex.) and the way their Voice Actors deliver their lines so I am won over by this show. I began swooning at the 20 minute mark when Yotaro began his rakugo. The last part of this episode too.

    I have never rewatched a first episode of anime for years now. This one broke my nonchalant attitude towards a show. I can’t help but gush over it. Erased is already ridiculously good but Shouwa Rakugo upped the greatness level. Wow.


    Me too. When I saw Deen as the studio in charge, I thought it’s gonna be the doom for this anime. I was wrong. Really wrong. Well, this is from an award winning manga after all.

    PS: I was not so wrong when I sensed of homoerotic undertones in this show upon knowing the author’s background. I don’t care for as long as it’s great or ala Seven Days manga.

  6. This was the only anime I was really looking forward to this season. And not only did it not disappoint, it moved me deeply. When Miyazaki Hayao talked about the dearth of realistic portrayal of people in anime today, I did not take him too seriously. However, watching the first episode of this made me realized that I’ve missed anime like Shouwa. Anime that delved into realistic characters who face realistic problems. The subtle portrayal of human emotions underneath the surface; humanistic struggles; slice of life that really feels like a slice of life.

    While I do enjoy the fantastical side of anime (e.g. Kekkai Sensen), I think there should be more anime like Shouwa. Ok let me tone down the overenthusiastic anime-fan inside of me now…

    PLUS the fantastic seiyuus and the cinematic quality of the frames that Samu mentioned, this premiere was excellent! I hope the rest of the series maintains this quality.

    1. Some are skeptical that it will remain at this quality because this was material from the previously released OVAs, but I’d like to think things will remain this good. It does seem like DEEN are putting 97% of their effort into Rakugo Shinjuu this season, so we can hope!

  7. Strange. I’m one of those old geezers tht often complains about modern day anime, and this really didn’t do much for me. I know I should like this, and I rate this episode highly, but it somehow just felt like a bloody soap opera to me. The “ends up feeling like a 3 hour movie” thing you mentioned was spot on, but in my case it just felt fatiguing. Not completely bad fatiguing (ala *monogatari series), but still kinda fatiguing.

    1. Perhaps you’d like something much more real yes? A different story perhaps? Something grounded? Well, what kinda story would you like to see be animated then? I feel the same way. This show may be really good but it’s just not the kinda story that I really want to see on screen. I’ve got plenty of ideas for stories, but how about you? Interestingly enough, this particular anime’s story is centered around a traditional storytelling medium, so perhaps this would be a good place to start then.

      Sure, off topic. But I’m curious.

      Nishizawa Mihashi
  8. when my friend told me there were 2 ovas about this show I went to check them immediately even if they were only raws.
    I was a bit disappiointed to find that DEEN cut down a lot of character development material from them as the first one is 45 mins long and the second 35.

    I hope we can see subs for these ovas as they were really enjoyable and worth watching even if I couldn’t fully understand! Yotaro’s expresiveness and enthusiastic attitude made the story easy to follow despite the language barrier.

    This was a wonderful and very complete review, I look forward to the next one!

    1. I’ve heard a few who’ve watched the OVAs say much the same, but for me at least this episode felt well-paced and I would never have guessed there were any moments cut out of it. Honestly, it felt pretty seamless. Perhaps I’d feel different if I’ve watched those two episodes beforehand, but unless they get subbed I’ll have to pass on them. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

      And thank you! It was certainly a long review, but I’ll make next week’s a little more manageable 😉

      1. It relieves me to read this, because my friend and I (both watched the ovas before the actual episode) thought that it could feel lacking for the newcomers.

        wow, it’s been a long while since i fell this hard for a show and I just want everyone to enjoy it as much as I do o(*^▽^*)o

      2. Don’t worry, I (and many others by the looks of it) thought this was pretty amazing.

        I’ve heard that the first BD is going to include a director’s cut of this premiere, which may mean we’ll get the full thing, if that ever ends up subbed. Either way, starting next week it’s fresh material.

  9. Yeah, this was pretty much the perfect premiere. I’m so glad they gave us the full performance of Dekigokoro, because rakugo is like rolling a snowball: starts off small, but gets bigger and bigger (er, funnier and funnier) as it goes. My only complaint is that Ishida Akira is using his Katsura (from Gintama) voice, so I keep expecting Yakumo to say something completely out of left field.

  10. Maybe I just don’t get rakugo but for me the performances all felt really flat. I could see where they were trying to build it up but the most I ever got was a slight smirk and it never seemed particularly entertaining. It wasn’t awkward to watch in the way bad stand-up is, but it wasn’t enjoyable either.

    Deen managed to not embarrass themselves so props for delivering a genuinely well-animated work…. so far. Adding to that is what I would consider the real highlight: the music. Between the suspenseful percussion and swinging ED I can safely call this my favorite soundtrack this season.

    The period setting and general ambiance to the whole show felt novel enough but I wasn’t as much a fan of the pacing as others here. Nearly 15 minutes go between Konatsu accusing Yakumo of a severe crime and anything being shown to address what would seemingly be a pretty important plot piece. The rollercoaster of Yotarou’s abilities transitioning between bad to supposedly quite good before going back to bad all within the same episode only heightened the feeling that this should have been stretched out over 3 or 4 normal length episodes instead of (effectively) 2.

    Paying attention for a few more episodes because of the interesting characters and great music, but unless the actual rakugo picks up for me I can’t really bother to watch all the way through.

  11. Seki’s rakugo was brilliant. I’m told he is actually a semi-pro rakugo artist because he is a part-time apprentice of a professional. I expect Sukeroku(Konatsu’s father) and young Yakumo’s story will come up the next episode and I hope we can see Sukeroku’s rakugo because Sukeroku will be voiced by Yamadera Kouichi, who also has strong rakugo background.

    1. I never realised the seiyuu have rakugo backgrounds, but that’s even better. Seki did do a fantastic job this episode, now I can’t wait to see everyone else give their performances.

    2. Yamadera Kouichi?
      Yamadera Kouichiii?!!
      Just felt in love twice for this series.
      This series is like seiyuu-induced orgasm from the old good days.
      (and those kind of surprises happen when you don’t look to the cast announcement)

  12. Ishida-san and Seki-san have really nailed and brought to life these gentlemen they are voicing for. I think they have been the souls of this episode, where I never realised it was longer than the normal duration at all. Just raptured, and feeling just as nervous for their characters as well as for the seiyuus when they did extended rakugo performances. As a middle-aged anime fan (still one!), such shows suddenly become more poignant because life changes me from the time I was a child watching anime, to the current me who has more scars and seen a lot more in life watching anime. It is emotional, perhaps on an emphatic level to younger viewers, but to us older ones, it becomes you, it becomes us.

    And this is why I still watch anime. For series such as these to occasionally pop up and wave to us. And I’m in love all over again.

  13. I loved it from the OVAs. I really like how it focus on “slice of life” genre. The comedy is light hearted and automatically drawn to the story and the character. No waiting for the story to build and no pace. It was structured well each scene moved smoothly.

    We are yet to find the secret about what really happened and the calm and poised like demeanour of Yakumo draws me even deeper. He is like that teacher who say very little but in fact he has given quite a lot through just a couple of words.

    I been rakugo events in the UK and really find the idea of storytelling to be a fascinating experience. Books are great but these stories are better than watching a movie in some aspects as it is more personal.

    I hope we see more anime like this and this will be a silent favourite as it will not be classed as the best anime of 2016 due to the whole fan hype and sales.

    I really enjoy the cultural and historic animes.

    I am really amazed that Ishida-san voice is that off Gintama’s Zura the Joi Leader lol.
    Complete contrast to what we heard from him.

    1. That’s a fair comparison – both are set during a similar time period and both are josei manga, after all. Most Josei anime end up very good/great anyway. I can’t think of a single bad anime adaptation from that demographic…

  14. Ah hearing Smith-san’s husky voice in Konatsu is very soothing to the soul.

    Then I’m surprised that Yotaro’s VA voices Koro Sensei and Gilgamesh. I think he’s the right VA for the job if we’re doing rakugo. The range of his voice.

  15. My most anticipated anime of Winter 2016 and I’m glad to see a real good pilot episode.
    I love every bit of it!!
    The atmosphere and seiyuu performance (especially Seki Tomokazu) were brilliant!
    I’m excited to see the future episodes!

  16. <3 Kobayashi Yuu as Konatsu.

    This was excellent. Besides ERASED, another top-tier anime this season. I couldn't believe how fast this episode flew by, despite the extra long run-time. As you said, it felt like a feature length film, even. It was really something special.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *