Yakumo, Sukeroku, Miyokichi:
This more I watch, think, and write about this show, the more I fall in love with it. I’m pretty biased at this point, but this episode was as faultless as they come. Every beat was hit on cue, striking the right note as the gentle pace took us from Yakumo’s depressing lows to his euphoric highs. This episode was a joy to behold, and it’s becoming even more obvious that this is an anime like no other; this could very well be a live-action drama, and while that would make sense, I’m glad that we’re watching this as an anime. The whole thing is so polished and well-directed that I can’t help but gush. I mean, how amazing is the voice acting in this show? Ishida Akira has never been a personal favourite of mine, but he’s giving fantastic performances week in, week out – there is such range in his ability, and this is a show where his talent shines through.
It feels like we’re reaching the main stage of this flashback, now that our three main characters have been properly introduced. As is expected, we’ve got to know Yakumo the most, from his dancing upbringing, his damaged leg, to his struggle with embracing rakugo as his true calling. Sukeroku is a simpler sort; he enjoys the pleasures of life and has a natural gift that Yakumo can’t quite capture, no matter how hard he practices. And then there’s Miyokichi, Konatsu’s mother. We don’t know too much about her beyond her relationship with Yakumo, but she came across sincere and genuine this time around. I thought her appearance would ruin the friendship between Yakumo and Sukeroku, but that’s not the case quite yet. I wasn’t sure what exactly to make of her, but I really liked her quieter moments this episode.
As far as I see it, Yakumo’s occasional sharp looks of disdain toward Sukeroku have less to do with Miyokichi, and more to do with how different they are as people. Will she end up playing a larger part in the downfall that’s bound to occur? Most likely. Right now it seems she has more affection for Yakumo than he does for her; she may come across as pushy to some, but perhaps that’s because the woman is dominant one in the relationship. That’s rare even nowadays, never mind 1940s Japan.
A Praiseworthy Performance:
While the first half of this episode showed Yakumo at his lowest – feeling out-of-place in the world of rakugo, caught in a difficult place with Miyokichi and Sukeroku, and unable to do anything about it – the second half was pure bliss. Sukeroku has dominated for so long, and finally it’s Yakumo’s time to take centre stage. His nerves were palpable, but he gave a brilliant performance that showed his strengths as a storyteller. This may have been a play rather than rakugo, but his specialisation in erotic stories lends to him dressing up as a woman and playing the role of a man pretending to be a woman. It’s amusing, but in a different way to Sukeroku. Although entirely on purpose, I’ve never got much enjoyment from Yakumo’s method of storytelling, but now that he’s refining his craft, I’m beginning to like it. It’s more serious and less focused on landing the jokes. You could even call it beautiful (though the makeup may have skewered my judgement in that regard).
I wouldn’t have minded if we saw the whole story, but I loved what we did get. It truly felt like we were part of that audience watching this play unfold, as Yakumo grabbed the attention of everyone and embraced it. It’s great to see him actually enjoying himself on stage and making use of his abilities. However, the best part of it all is when they left the stage and got to revel in their success. That photograph was the perfect way to finish the episode, capturing a moment in time that will hopefully never be forgotten.
Death and Despair Awaits:
Yet despite all the good vibes, we know how this is all going to end. The details are yet to be revealed, but it struck me that perhaps this is going to be the last time where Yakumo and Sukeroku share a moment like this. It’s hard to say exactly when this flashback is going to end (though it would be fair to assume that it’s going to take up a majority of the show), but surely things are going to go downhill rather soon. With Miyokichi on the scene, and the years catching up, she should get pregnant with Konatsu before too long – but who will be the father? Will Yakumo drift away from her and allow Sukeroku to take his place? Whatever happens, it’s not going to be pretty.
Overview – What’s Next?:
I’m glad the animation hiccups from last week’s episode were nowhere to be seen here; we’re back to the solid, confident directing, and I can’t help but gush over how great this show continues to be. I’m loving all the characters… but part of me can’t wait for things to go sour. Not because I want to see everyone suffer, but because I’m desperate for answers. However, next episode looks to be going to go back to Yakumo’s childhood once again, with some more anime-original content. That’s not a bad thing – since all the material that has been invented for this adaptation has worked well – but I’m curious to get to the heart of the drama that awaits us. Also, next week’s episode is airing on Thursday, so if the simulcast also changes then we should get some rakugo goodness a day earlier than usual!