OP Sequence

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


Gorgeous to the Eyes and Ears:

Where do I even begin? Perhaps I should start by saying that I felt the double-length premiere wouldn’t ever be surpassed; which isn’t saying the rest of the series would be bad, but that I wasn’t expecting anything that perfect again. But then this episode comes along, with half the amount of time, delivering an emotional punch to the gut (in the best way possible). Honestly, I think this was even better than the first episode, and if we get an episode better than this, then Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is going to be something else.

Before I dive into what actually happened, I feel I should talk about how great this show looks and sounds. While the animation was limited – which, as I said before, is not a bad thing – the composition, shot framing, and changing colour palettes are all top notch. Whether vibrant and filled with life, or dark and moody, every scene matches the tone of the moment, and given the years this episode covered, it was so satisfying (and saddening) to see the visuals change according to the environment and situation these characters were forced into.

The other side to this episode that has to be mentioned is the music. God, this soundtrack is killer. Whether it be the jazzy OP with its whispering vocals (and crisp, haunting visuals), the mellow ED, or the strings and pianos that accompany the stirring moments of the episode – it’s a perfect match for the series, and a serious contender for best OST of the year. However, what stood out most for me would be the oppressive wave of ambience that gets louder and louder as the war approaches. Similar to last episode which had the volume of the piano playing increase until we could barely hear Yakumo saying his words, this was another excellent example of sound editing that helped ensure the audience felt uncomfortable at just the right moments.

World War II – Everything Changes:

Not enough anime focus on stories set in Japan during WWII, but more often than not those that do dip their toe into that era end up packing an emotional punch. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is no exception, delivering a gorgeous depiction of the horrors of wartime and the trials it puts through everyday people who don’t deserve to suffer. While I wouldn’t consider it the best depiction of WWII (that award goes to Grave of the Fireflies), it provided an unfortunate backdrop, separating our characters and allowing for some wonderful, emotional drama. I knew it would be coming, but I didn’t think we’d have a whole episode dedicated to that moment in history, because that would basically mean a rakugo-less episode. We got little performances here and there, but nothing compared to the previous two episodes.

However, because this episode didn’t focus as much on the storytelling performances, we instead got to step inside Yakumo’s head space. His narration was prevalent throughout, and we got to see Yakumo go through his own trials – his own little journey, if you will – before returning to the world of rakugo, a better performer because of it. We saw him get his first girlfriend, get sent away to the countryside with the previous master’s wife, meet another (nameless) woman who we can assume was either his close friend or second girlfriend, work away in the factories, and become the breadwinner of the household to make up for the absences.

Some standout moments during this time would have to be Yakumo comparing himself to his master’s cat being cast aside, as Sukeroku is instead taken under his wing and given the special treatment. You could see the pain in Yakumo’s face when he realised he was being abandoned yet again, allowing him that moment where he spat out everything that was on his mind, even if it wasn’t enough to change the situation. The other part that stood out to me was seeing the previous master’s wife mourning the presumed loss of her husband and dwelling on whether or not he would return. While she was initially introduced as the stern and unmoving one of the two, this episode managed to humanise her and showed that she developed a genuine relationship with these two rakugo apprentices.

Love and Friendship:

One thing I love about Yakumo and Sukeroku’s relationship is how their moments feel so genuine – like things real friends would say to each other, while all meaning something deeper; like Sukeroku commenting on Yakumo sounding like he was trying to be someone else when giving his performances, or Yakumo making that pinky promise and then holding his shaking hand up during their years of separation to remind himself of that simpler, easier time. Every moment that matters is executed with such precision and purpose that I can’t help but be awed by what we’re getting. This is character drama at its finest, as we get to know every little detail about Yakumo’s early life, filled with love and friendship and everything else that turned him into the man he is in the present time.

From the moment war arrives this episode retains a certain emotional impact that had be hooked throughout the second half, but the moment when their master and Sukeroku returned to the household had me in tears, along with everyone else. It was such a satisfying and heartwarming moment, aided by the airy music and warm sunset colours. It worked on a visual and emotional level, proving just how powerful Rakugo Shinjuu can be. I just hope the drama doesn’t simmer down anytime soon.

Rakugo Within Rakugo:

One thing that I think I – and many others – have noticed after this episode is how this whole flashback is essentially one big rakugo performance. I should have realised it sooner, since the first episode ended with Yakumo telling his story to Yotaro and Konatsu, but I think his narration (especially the final line) is what made it more obvious. It’s got all the beats to a rakugo performance – though perhaps more dramatic than comical – and we’re really getting to know so much about Yakumo’s character along the way. I, personally, did not care too much for him in the premiere, at least compared to the rest of the cast. But I feel once this story is over, we’ll all look at him a different way; we will have seen the life this man has had, and we’ll understand him on a whole other level.

An Adaptation that Fills in the Gaps:

I would like to bring up how Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is being adapted compared to the source material. For those interested, the first double-length episode covered all of the 1st volume and 40 pages of the 2nd, while the past two episodes have been adapted at a much slower pace and many of the scenes have been fleshed out from a few panels or didn’t exist at all in the source material.

Believe it or not, the previous episode only adapted 22 pages – Yakumo’s nervous performance and Sukeroku’s confident one did not exist in the manga. Similarly, in the manga the scene where Yakumo got sent to the countryside during the years of war only took up 3 pages, which ended up around 7 minutes in the second half of this episode. It’s a bold move to fill in the gaps and slow down the source material, but I think DEEN are pulling it off much better than I would have given them credit for. For those wondering how long this flashback is going to last, I’ll put that under a spoiler tag. If you’d rather not know, then don’t look. If you do, don’t discuss in the comments unless you also use spoiler tags!

Show Spoiler ▼

Overview – What’s Next?:

Again, another brilliant episode. I don’t know how I would even begin to fault it – thankfully I’m enjoying it so much that I have no intentions of doing so. I didn’t expect another episode as great as the premiere, but this is the best episode yet. Now we just have to wait and see if it will continue to improve. With the introduction of a new woman, who I would assume will be Konatsu’s mother, I expect dynamics will be shaken in the next episode, as the flashback continues. By the looks of it, Yakumo and this new woman are getting rather close, which makes wonder what role she will play in the story going forward. It’s just a shame it’ll be another week before we get to see that on-screen. Hopefully the next seven days will fly by.



  1. I don’t know if we should classify this as ‘anime’? I think this will soon invent a new name for itself. The feelings, the wait, the heartache and the desperate attempt to revive an art that time viciously tries to bury is all beautiful emotions. Let alone the story of feelings of abandonment, of excitement and love for the arts, of friendships and promises, of the pains of those who have to wait for those who go through the fight, they are all so beautiful.

    I would hate if the girl coming will sully the beautiful friendship there, but I can’t see Yakumo to be the type that would risk friendship for love. I am surprised none of the girls have yet thrown a shoe at him for not showing emotions enough, but I guess ladies of old were not as high maintence as now. I must admit, no one can really be angry at such a refined man, can they?

    Great episode. I enjoy the weekly wait, it makes you understand the episode more than when you just scrolle them all at once.

    Ty for your review, M.

    1. note: how come you did not care too much for him at the premiere? From the premiere, he was the thing that intrigued me to watch this show. fascination with a popular artist is one thing, but a popular artist with such a grim face is the very essence why I want to watch this show. That carriage scene was probably the coldest one I’ve seen and I am glad that ”yotaru” came back, or else the story would have ended right there right now 😛

      1. It’s not that I didn’t like Yakumo at all, I just preferred Yotaro and Konatsu more. However, the scene where he throws Sukeroku’s rakugo back in Konatsu’s face was enough to turn me off him – their relationship is bound to be a complicated one, we’ll just need to see how her mother factors into all this.

  2. This is some really potent stuff… even though I was expecting a tragedy which didn’t happen (thank GOD), that pinky promise scene was just… WOW. Also, Yakumo seems so much more human in this episode because of the narration.

  3. Three episodes: The fastest I cried a lot for an anime show. This show is seriously getting in my shortlist as one of the best animes this year. I hope it keeps up and I am sure it will.

    As for the episode, it managed to be a historical biopic while maintaining what made it the best this season: two extremely developed characters which are polar opposites yet complement each other. I cannot imagine what will happen to Yakumo if Shin-chan is not around, or to his rakugo, at least. I also love how Rakugo is portrayed as a not so luxurious profession in Japan that time. I mean, most animes portray a thing as if it is the greatest in the world, isn’t it?


    PS: I know I am kinda nuts for throwing this nonsense observation but I am so shipping Shin-chan and Yakumo. That pinky promise and that last scene, don’t play with my fudanshi mind! LOL

  4. I don’t think it’ll need original content since there will always be rakugo to fill the time. My question is how will they wrap the anime up as the manga is still ongoing.

  5. I guess this is the first seinen anime for a lot of people, because you are all impressed by how adult this show is… It’s a good anime, but I’m not seeing anything out of the ordinary here if you compare it to other anime of the same genre.

    1. I think you need to remember just how uncommon these sorts of anime are in this day and age. Also, this is Josei, not Seinen. There’s actually quite a lot of Seinen if you consider the cute SOL series aimed at older otaku buyers. The other side to Seinen is the more serious, gritty stories that usually have a lot of violence and gore because they aren’t limited as much by what they can do. I doubt you’d be able to find many Seinen anime similar to what we’re getting here.

      In comparison, Josei is a rarity in anime (there’s around 30 Josei anime according to MAL). Rakugo Shinjuu tells a mature story with characters that speak and act like real people, which is something that has become very rare these days. There’s also a cinematic quality to the work which you don’t see too often. Basically, this is not a mass-produced model; this is an authentic period drama, something we haven’t seen since Sakamichi no Apollon, so it’s very easy to see why people would be impressed by it. Not only does it provide something unique when compared to most anime that have aired the past few years, but it’s also a well-told story with relatable characters, an appealing aesthetic, a distinctive OST, and strong direction (especially in the Rakugo performances).

  6. This is present day Japan’s idea of what the ‘horrors of wartime’ in World War II were like? Go watch “Grave of the Fireflies” again.

    Despite the fact that it was ‘out in the country’, the factory that Yakumo was working at would probably have been bombed. Only a few factories in the far north were spared. Also if Yakumo was physically able to do factory work he would have been conscripted for Japan’s last ditch defense force, bad leg or not.

    Wouldn’t it have been considered unpatriotic for Yakumo’s second girlfriend to be wearing a western style dress instead of more traditional attire during wartime?

    My father was part of the American occupational force immediately after the war, and people in Tokyo were not going to theatres. They were begging for food. Women were selling themselves for a pack of cigarettes.

    1. Without a modicum of dignity and viewing through a tinted lens, I don’t think a story that tries to sell itself on its portrayal of rakugo culture can exist, it would far too dark for what they’re trying to get across. I appreciate your comment though, my British grandfather on my father’s side definitely told me about his experiences regarding the Japanese at war time, along with my mother’s Chinese side who recounted their experiences of the Japanese occupation of Singapore and boy were those stories brutal. I think any amount of realism would make this completely unfit for airing, on top of sponsors being unwilling to fund an anime production that would portray things in a completely historically accurate way.

    2. As I mentioned in my post, anime very rarely deal with WWII stories. GG brings up good reasons as to why that may be the case, but I’m certain a truly honest and brutal depction of the war and the effects of it would be considered controversial viewing. With Rakugo Shinjuu, the war is mainly just a backdrop for our characters’ stories. Unless the self-censorship changed rakugo after the war I can’t imagine we’re going to reference it that much more, especially as we move further into the 50s.

      1. I want to thank GG and Samu for their replies. I won’t go any further into my father’s WII experiences at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Tokyo (literally before the surrender documents were signed on the USS Missouri). I did have the privilege of working for several years in Singapore, and this was where I became aware of their outrage that the Japanese would consider that ‘a truly honest and brutal depiction of the war and the effects of it would be considered controversial viewing.’


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