Reunion in Hell:
We’ve been gradually building up to the moment where everything would go horribly wrong, and now we’ve reached it. Rakugo Shinjuu is a tragedy in the making, and watching the horror unfold week by week is proving equally painful and brilliant. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say this was perhaps the best episode yet (or at least at the same level of quality as the 1st and 3rd episodes), and easily the most breathtaking. From the opening shot of the ocean ripples, I knew we were in for a treat. This whole episode was a masterpiece, from the crisp and colourful visuals to the powerful OST in the moments that demanded our attention. I found myself pausing from time to time just to take in what was happening and how beautiful (and tragic) it all appeared.
The most powerful scene has to be the final encounter between Yakumo and Miyokichi. The dim lights, the purple petals, the distance between them… it’s a perfectly set up scene that was destined to happen. It started off well, as both the characters and the audience knew this was going to be their “breakup” scene. Yakumo was as frigid as ever and tried to encourage Miyo to take a different path now that she’s being forced to retire as a geisha. But as everyone in this show makes terrible decisions from time to time, she instead digs her heels and insists on being by a man’s side. While I would normally hate this sort of confession, after getting her backstory last episode I can totally see where she’s coming from – she finds comfort in being with someone, in acting like the person they want her to be. It’s part of her job, but it’s clearly rooted in who she is a person after being left in a foreign land with no family and nowhere to call home. Of course, she doesn’t react kindly to Yakumo’s words – the pair don’t even know each other’s real names, to top it off. When she stands up and the wind blow the petals into the room, and the music swells with Miyokichi’s words, it’s easily the most striking moment of the entire series, made even more spine tingling by her deadly promise, of which I believe every word:
The Gift of a Title:
Meanwhile, Sukeroku and his master have their own dramatic turn of events. Ever since Yakumo (Kiku) started finding his stride, it’s been obvious that he was the preferred pupil. While Sukeroku is just as entertaining as the first time he stepped on stage, his mannerisms and lifestyle is off putting in the eyes of the rakugo superiors who barely granted his promotion. Last week brought up the interesting notion of whether rakugo should stick to its traditions or change with the times. It’s a fascinating question, but Sukeroku’s ideas aren’t well received. It’s a tricky scenario, because I think the need to change and grow is essential in any art form, but holding close to what makes it so special is just as important. His master sees it as reckless, but Sukeroku blurts out the wrong words and ends up calling his style of storytelling ‘boring’. It all happened so fast, but just like that they were almost brawling, resulting in Sukeroku being expelled and unable to perform in the theatres.
This all comes down to the importance of a name. Even though Kiku has grown as of late, Sukeroku always seemed like the likely candidate for “Yakumo”. Even in this episode both Sukeroku and Kiku are/were convinced that was how it would go. Up until he was expelled, Sukeroku was telling people it was going to be his, and when Kiku was actually given permission to inherit the name, he could only think that he didn’t deserve it, pleading that Sukeroku return and have it instead. This is another example of the audience already knowing how this turns out, but finding out the details in such a tragic fashion almost feels like we never the final outcome in the first place.
Grief, Revenge, and Sukeroku’s Farewell:
Speaking of inevitabilities, this episode saw Miyokichi and Sukeroku become an item. Sukeroku had eyes on her since she first appeared, but it’s only until she swore revenge against Kiku that she accepts Sukeroku’s feelings. Both of them know what they’re doing here, regardless of whether their intentions or honest or not. What I will say is them coming together like this felt perfectly natural, as both were scorned or tossed aside, finding each other in their lowest moments to quell one another’s grief. Of course, this appears to be part of Miyo’s grand plan (if she’s really thinking that far ahead), but it’s important that she wasn’t the sole ripple that caused this to happen. These two came together like this after a series of bad decisions, rakugo politics, and differences in opinions among the other members of the cast.
Yakumo and Sukeroku were never going to be together forever, but this felt like a proper farewell. With Miyo pregnant with Sukeroku’s child, she’s decided to return to the countryside, and since nothing is holding him back, Sukeroku agrees to go with her, to which Yakumo doesn’t understand. He so desperately wants his friend/brother to stick around and return to rakugo, but things just aren’t going to work out that way. Sukeroku is either too stubborn or just not cut out for the world of rakugo. He may be the star of the stage, but everything else behind the curtain is a world he’ll never fully be a part of.
Overview – What’s Next?:
Honestly, what an episode. It felt less like an anime and more like a top-quality live-action drama. Think Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, or some other acclaimed show I’ve yet to watch. Up until this point this flashback arc has been playing its cards carefully and slowly, giving us plenty to enjoy and laugh about. But this episode was the equivalent of flipping the board and shouting “Start over!”, expect half the cards have gone missing and most of the players don’t feel like playing any more. It’s cruel, horrible, and the outcome is going to be tragic. Next week looks just as dramatic as what was on offer here, with the current Yakumo falling ill and seemingly passing away. But with baby Konatsu arriving on the scene, perhaps we’ll be in for some sweetness before despair destroys the boards once and for all.