A Character Study – Yakumo “Kikuhiko” Yuurakutei:
Watching Rakugo Shinjuu is like watching an exquisitely well made, critically acclaimed live-action film. And not many anime can achieve that level or quality. Although there are dozens of factors to Rakugo Shinjuu’s polished delivery, the most important may be its characters – more specifically, Yakumo. I feel bad for not loving him in the premiere now, because damn… he’s such a compelling individual. More than ever, this episode felt like a character study – showing his deep (and occasionally depressing) thoughts and allowing us to bear witness to his rakugo struggles. I had previously noted that this whole flashback feels like a rakugo performance itself, and that still remains the case. This episode in particular felt like he was reading off the pages of his memoir, showing us the moment where he realised what rakugo was to him and how good he could be at it.
The death and drama hasn’t come yet, but there’s still the occasional moment where Yakumo feels disheartened or disappointed when compared to Sukeroku, who has all the charm and talent for being a performer. It’s been a harder journey for Yakumo, but finally he’s realised why he does rakugo in the first place. As we know, he was forced into this position at a young age. He didn’t appear enthralled by his master’s storytelling when he first began, and it took him all this time to understand that he does rakugo for no one but himself. As selfish as it may sound, it makes complete sense. As someone who aspires to be a writer one day, it made me think to myself: Do I write for other people, or for myself? Of course, I write for others to read, but I write because that’s the stories I would like to read. That’s how Yakumo must feel; he’s finally found comfort in a particular style of rakugo that suits his upbringing and his demenour. We saw it come out in last week’s play when he was fully dressed up as a woman, but even without the make up he’s able to confidently play one without succumbing to his earlier nerves.
Cursed with the Wrong Body:
I appreciated Yakumo reflecting on his pre-rakugo days when he was born and raised in a geisha household, taught how to dance despite being born a man. It was a life he would never be able to live, even if his leg never got damaged, so having him embrace his femininity and familiarity with being around woman is wonderful to see conveyed on stage. Finally, he’s delivering a confident performance that resonates with the audience. He doesn’t aim for the gags like Sukeroku does; instead, he embodies the characters with precision and tells a captivating and occasionally amusing story. It’s less sit down comedy, and more sit down poetry.
What stood out to me from seeing a younger Yakumo get cast from his home was how his story ties with Konatsu’s in the present time. I’m missing her plenty (we may see her as a child before too long), but the line where Yakumo was unfortunate to be born a boy struck a chord with me in the same way that Konatsu’s struggles did in the first episode. If only they were born in different bodies, able to live the lives they desired, things may have been very different. Perhaps that’s why the pair have a sharp relationship in the present; they’ve both had to struggle with what they can and can’t do because of them being born a man or a woman. We know (and witnessed in this episode) that rakugo did work out for Yakumo in the end, but I can only hope that Konatsu gets her time to shine and prove that women also deserve to sit on that stage. Given that there are female performers in real life nowadays, at least we know that rakugo did eventually move with the times.
An Abundance of Anime Original Content:
Would you believe me if I said this episode was 75% anime original? The only scenes that were directly adapted from the manga were the moments shared between Sukeroku and Miyokichi at the start of the episode, Sukeroku laying his head on Yakumo’s lap and talking about doing rakugo for the audience, and Yakumo realising the crowd were enjoying his performance. Everything else was extra, and you would never have been able to tell. A sizeable portion of this adaptation thus far has been anime original, filling in the gaps and giving more life to the characters and the world they inhabit. All the stuff with Yakumo reflecting on his past, meeting with Miyokichi in the cafe, getting emotional over him not knowing why he does rakugo, watching Sukeroku perform, and then the details of the full performance, weren’t there in the manga.
I must mention Omata Shinichi once again, as his directing is something special. I haven’t seen his previous two DEEN titles (Rozen Maiden (2013) and Sankarea), but from what clips I have watched and things I’ve heard, they were among the most acclaimed DEEN shows in the longest time. Once again, he’s killing it with Rakugo Shinjuu; and now we can say that it isn’t all down to the source material, as so much of this original content has been fantastic and almost essential in hindsight. There were so many “wow” moments this week that had me thinking just how well put together this show is. Whether it be the drip of the kettle symbolising Yakumo’s tears, Yakumo carefully taking a step back whilst watching Sukeroku’s performance, the audience being transported during Yakumo’s double suicide story, or the many well composed, wonderfully lit shots that filled this episode from start to finish. I hate to sound like a broken record… but it’s all so damn good!
Overview – What’s Next?:
Once again, another A+ episode. Rakugo Shinjuu can do no wrongs in my books. Initially, I thought I would be desperate to return to the present, but the more time we spend in the past, the longer I want to stay. I want to know every little detail. I want to witness every rakugo performance. I want to see the highs and lows and everything in between – and by the looks of it we may get that next episode. It’s hard to tell whether we’re going to get more original content or whether we’re diving headfirst into the source material, but by the looks of it Miyokichi isn’t too happy. There’s bound to be trouble in paradise, which may lead to the inevitable deadly consequences.