A Breather Episode:

Another week, another episode of Rakugo Shinjuu. The best way I’d describe this week’s offering is that it’s a breather episode – there’s no big rakugo performance to keep us entertained, the drama isn’t heavy (just yet), as we focus more on Yakumo entering a new stage in his rakugo career. It’s good that we got this time to collect ourselves and simply enjoy the characters chatting, drinking, or feeling scorned, because I suspect this will be the last time before the inevitable downward spiral that’s bound to follow.

One reason for the drama taking time is because of the anime original content injected into the series. I mentioned how majority of last week’s material expanded on what was in the manga, but this episode was entirely anime original. Yet, just like last week, it feels essential to the characters, their conflicting emotions, and the individual arcs they have. Yakumo (I should probably call him Kiku or Bon, but I’m so used to calling him Yakumo by this point that I can’t stop) has finally found his passion for rakugo and is being recognised for his ability. For once, his master is choosing him rather than Sukeroku for his tour. Meanwhile, Sukeroku is being forced to shape up and dress properly if he’s to make that final leap. And then there’s Miyokichi, who wants nothing more than to be with Yakumo… but he’s doing everything he can to shun her without being totally honest. So whilst the episode itself wasn’t packed with action, it’s certainly setting up for things to go awry.

A Heartbroken Geisha:

Poor Miyo. Her time on Rakugo Shinjuu has been interesting, even if her entire story is about her love for Yakumo. I’m typically not a fan of a woman’s entire story being based around a man, especially when the men have their own goals, motives, and interests that they aspire for. Yet, I can’t help but love this tragic tale that’s unfolding. Perhaps it’s because Miyokichi is a much more fascinating character than I (and many others) gave her credit for. I never disliked her, but I expected fans to jump on her for being a “homewrecker” or for outwardly expressing her love for Yakumo and now getting in the way of his relationship with Sukeroku. Perhaps those who watch Rakugo Shinjuu aren’t as quick to judge female characters. Either way, I can now say I enjoy her character and her story just as much as Yakumo and Sukeroku.

It’s painful to see how desperate she is to be with Yakumo, who clearly doesn’t feel the same way. He does have his reasons; first and foremost, he’s focusing on his rakugo career more than ever before, while Miyokichi is technically his master’s side piece, so you can tell he feels guilty for that. Yet, his master doesn’t seem as affected by it as Yakumo is himself. Clearly, he prefers the company of Sukeroku to Miyokichi; if you didn’t know any better, you’d think Yakumo were Sukeroku’s partner – they go shopping together, Yakumo picks out his clothes, they bond and drink when no one else is around, he lets him sleep on his lap (which we’ve seen several times now), and he even cleans his ears, which from what I understand is considered an intimate gesture in Japan.

When Miyo arrives on the scene, she’s desperate for the same affection, but he’s just not giving it. He held back on telling Sukeroku about the tour (perhaps because he felt guilty for taking his spot), but if he hadn’t passed by Miyokichi in the street that evening, he likely never would have told her he was leaving. That’s a dick move no matter how you look at it. Yakumo clearly has a lot on his mind, but he has no intention of sharing that with her. He’s stilted when conversing with her, while she tries her best to comply and please him. It’s unfortunate, because earlier on in the relationship it was Miyo who was the driving force, and Yakumo seemed to get swept up in her initiative. Yet here we see her in a meeker state, doing everything she can to please her boyfriend, and getting nothing in return. The kick in the teeth comes in the final moments of the episode when Miyo promised she would wait for him to come visit, to which Yakumo only said “goodbye”, before getting merry with Sukeroku, leaving a heartbroken geisha waiting for a man that’s never going to return.

Overview – What’s Next?:

Initially, I wasn’t as in love with this episode as the previous few, but now that I’ve thought more about what this does for the characters (mainly Miyo and Yakumo), I’ve got to say this was another brilliant episode. The art was shoddy at times and there wasn’t much animation to speak of, but damn, the composition and lighting is ever impressive. The scene where Yakumo and Miyokichi meet in the alley was utterly gorgeous – every detail was crisp, and the colours of the sunset (and Miyo’s painted tears) were perfect for the mood of the scene. Looking ahead, the preview doesn’t give too much away, but it does seem that Sukeroku makes a move on Miyokichi, perhaps when Yakumo is away on his tour. Will he return enraged with his friend or perhaps upset that he (repeatedly) messed up his opportunity to be with Miyokichi while he had it?

Full-length images: 35.




  1. Man, I love these characters and how ugly things will go from now on. I guess it is really an original episode given how scene transitions are too abrupt this time. Nonetheless, I am really amazed on how these original scenes easily mingle with the manga being animated. Uhm… Is the mangaka has her hands-on in the series? Because it felt like she is.

    This remains an excellent shouwa rakugo episode but man, it was incredibly hard to watch. Not because it is boring or it lacks rakugo but.. darn, these characters are too palpable and are already developed that we understand their reasons. Outsiders will view Kikuhiko as a cold hearted freak but the previous episodes established that he will react that way…

    … which I understand but I’d be lying to say that I am not heartbroken for Miyokichi at this point. She is a good woman, she has pure intentions but she fell for the wrong man.

    PS: Worse, this could go White Album 2 route in terms of presentation but I don’t mind. I like that anime and all but I am sure it is bound to be better than that.
    PPS: I suppose anime originals are meant to add some meat to the characters and they succeed.
    PPS: I guess Deen is also aware on how close Kiku and Shin-chan is, isn’t it? It felt at some scenes that a staff in the form of Miyokichi is giving out his comments to the character interaction.

    1. It wasn’t the best put together episode, that’s for sure. But it was still fascinating, even if anime original. I’ve seen several people bring up WA2 when discussing this episode… but I’ve not watched that series so I can’t comment.

  2. @Samu: Since this episode was entirely anime original, would you say that the character portrayals are in line with the manga? When I was watching this episode, the moment of silence between Miyokichi and Kiku jumped out to me as slightly strange. Why wouldn’t he just tell her that he’s going on a trip?

    1. As I’ve said before, I’ve not actually read the source material, but I do look over the corresponding chapters to what is adapted (if only for comparison). It’s not really a spoiler but I’ll put it under a tag to answer your point.
      Show Spoiler ▼

  3. I’m surprised to hear it’s all anime original, because it’s really good. The painted tears really got to me. I might not like Miyokichi much, but I definitely feel bad for her. That whole scene, I was just waiting for Kiku to tell her he was leaving, especially when she asked when the next time he’s coming would be. But he walked away 🙁

  4. Like you, I’m also not a fan of seeing female characters’ lives revolve around men, but I do think that it’s fine if it’s done well. There’s a sense that Miyo is essentially just lonely in a world where her profession makes her the target of much unwanted attention and really just needs someone to treat her kindly (I think she mentioned this in the episode she was introduced). Social conditions being what they were, I think it’s difficult for her… Also, I love that she has a childish side.

  5. I must have missed bits and pieces as I was watching, as I didn’t know Miyokichi was Yakumo’s master’s side piece (does that mean his mistress?). I always thought the feelings were mutual up until now, as I recall earlier on Yakumo did seek and found comfort in Miyokichi’s arms…

    I would never have picked up this series if not for Samu’s high praises for it, and I don’t regret it. While I agree the transitions in this episode have been a bit abrupt (even in the background music–and I don’t normally notice these things), I cannot fault the voice acting and just the overall animation of this series. I could really feel Yakumo’s inner dilemma when being told he would be taken on a tour instead of Sukeroku, when his master asked how he and Miyokichi were going, and that look when he called Sukeroku a pain… Every little bit pulls on the heart strings!

    Wish I could find the manga, can’t wait to find out what happens though I know it ain’t going to be happy…

      1. For anyone still thinking about it, don’t, just dive for it! I went in not really knowing if I would enjoy this, but the animation, voice acting and storyline just keeps drawing you in. 😀

  6. There is so much to say about this anime, and yet all of it can be expressed in a few words. There’s just no way around the fact that this show is a masterpiece and I consider it superior to ERASED. Everything about it is so masterfully done I almost forget that it is in fact an anime.

    If it has any flaws it would be the occasional BL subtext, that’s the most “anime-ish” trope the series has. I say it is a flaw, because if this was made live-action I very much doubt it would have the actors make a pinky swear while they are in bed next to each other, and also rest their heads in the other’s lap, as they occasionally do.

    1. I agree about it being superior to ERASED (though that’s a brilliant series), but the simple fact is not many people are going to watch this. It’s a shame, but it at least seems like everyone who is watching it is loving it.

      As for the BL subtext, I’d have to disagree. It’s part of the mangaka’s style and I don’t think two men bonding like that is all that tropey. And honestly, I’m glad this isn’t a live action – it may feel like it from time to time, but I think watching it unfold in anime form allows the series to flourish in ways that perhaps wouldn’t come across as well if shot with a camera.

      1. You really can’t deny that it’s tropey. Imagine if this was a 1930’s noir crime drama and one of the two detectives rested his head on the other’s shoulder… in spite of being a complete womanizer. We just don’t see anything wrong with it because it’s anime, and the BL aspect or simply the unique idiosyncrasies of anime are so ingrained in our heads that we don’t question it. The characters feel so damn real, and that’s why I find it a little off, like the author can’t contain her BL tendencies. It reminds me of my grandfather (God rest his soul), he used to tell me a lot about his youth in the 40’s and 50’s and I’m pretty sure he never put his head in another man’s lap, lol!

        But alas(?), my grandfather was not a Japanese rakugoka so who knows if my analogy is valid. All I know is that it got me talking about my grandfather in a site dedicated to blogging about East Asian cartoons, so that just goes to show how outstanding this anime is.

      2. I can see where you’re coming from, and I agree that the BL vibes are there because that’s what the author does and is known for, but perhaps I don’t find it that ‘out there’ that Sukeroku (who seems as hetero as they come) would rest his head on his best friend’s lap. Obviously this is set in a different era from our own, but one comment (which I think I read on reddit) that made me laugh was: “There’s nothing gayer than two straight men.” Being gay myself, that made laugh… because it’s hilariously on point. Of course, not every man is going to be as affectionate as Sukeroku is, but some also are, and I believe that that person could have exist in this 1940/1950s rakugo world.

        What I’m trying to say is that while the behaviour is there because the mangaka put it in, I don’t think it’s totally unrealistic. As you point out, this is set in Japan, and neither you nor I nor your grandfather lived there. The culture is strikingly different, and although it often seems like a reserved nation in many ways, it’s not uncommon for the younger generation to be very open and affectionate with one another in a way that us (male) westerners usually aren’t because we would be labelled “gay”. To the best of my knowledge, that sort of thing doesn’t exist over there. Throughout the vast majority of Japanese history homosexuality was perfectly legal, which is awesome – but it’s also led to a Japan where to this day the matter is not seriously discussed. It’s very unlikely that you’d find an aggressively homophobic Japanese citizen – like you would on our side of the world – but rather people who are uneducated, uninformed, or just don’t ever talk about it.

        But I’ve gone off track and started getting into LGBT issues in Japan. What I’m trying to say is that gay people did exist back then. Though, in the time Rakugo Shinjuu is set, Yakumo or Sukeroku would likely never label their affection for one another – it’s just them being close in a way that I think isn’t totally unbelievable, even if we, from the year 2016, can totally read it as BL.

      3. I’ve thought about it and I think the reason it bothers me is because it’s basically pandering. This series is so many levels above the common, mundane anime that I almost find it offensive that they would pull stuff like the “oh look, Kiku cleaned Sukeroku’s ears, you know that very intimate thing usually done by LOVERS!” *hint hint nudge nudge.* Like if you were watching Texhnolyze and there was a panty-shot once every two episodes.

        BUT anime is a business after all, and if they to pander a little to sell at least 3k or something then I will fully accept their decisions. DEEN has been doing such a fantastic, exemplary job with this adaptation that I feel like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth.

      4. Hi. I just want to add something in this discussion. As an Asian, I think this kind of relationship is not that uncommon nor unrealistic in what I see. My (deceased) father has actually a pal who he spent much time with him and they’re like that inseparable duo. I also lived in the dormitory in my university years and have seen several of these moments (and maybe some I should not see but witnessed anyway) and these dudes are totally hooking off with girls.

        Well, given that this is presented in an anime medium, it is double the fun to poke something with this show. I kind of understand your claim but this is not yet BL context. It is almost there, but not quite.

    2. I agree with you about this being better than ERASED in terms of animation quality and all, though technically they are two very different genres and have different approaches in the expression of the story, so they can’t really be directly compared.

      With regards to the BL subtext, I actually didn’t get that impression even though Samu had mentioned the mangaka did a lot of those stories and we may see elements of that in here. These boys, having grown up together and studying under the same master, are practically brothers, and closer than what many siblings may be. It’s that love hate relationship that goes beyond being blood related (and they’re not). I really enjoy seeing them grow up and remain close up until now. If I may, Yakumo almost plays a motherly role towards Sukeroku, what with putting him to sleep by cleaning his ears in such a gentle fashion, telling him off when he goes awry, etc XD. Also given that Yakumo spent his early years with all the geishas, it’s not unbelievable that he can have such a gentle and womanly trait about him, without being attracted in the BL way, if you know what I mean…

      1. Well, if you didn’t get the BL subtext with a scene of a woman literally dragging a man off another’s man lap so she can put herself where he was, then maybe you have some experience as a harem MC.


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