Morally Grey Characters:
Another week, another tragic episode of Rakugo Shinjuu. If there’s one thing that stood out to me while watching this, it was how there’s no clear good or evil in any given character – but instead they are a person made with smudges of kindness and dread. Over the course of this look into the past we’ve seen that every major player is capable of doing wrong and right. Miyokichi is sure to get the brunt of the hate from fans, ybut ou cannot ignore that everyone else has had their ugly moments. While it was clear that the current Yakumo was going to die thanks to last week’s preview, this wasn’t exactly the heartfelt sendoff I was expecting. He may have been shedding tears on his deathbed, but this was in fact his moment to let out some hurtful truths that had been haunting him over the years.
We get a flashback to the master in his youth, when his father held the title. Back then he didn’t really care for rakugo, until a certain apprentice appeared one day and started proving worthy of inheriting the name. With that roadblock ahead, the 7th Yakumo tried to improve his storytelling skills, but in the end he got the position of master because he made his father admit so in front of an audience. And as his son by blood, it wasn’t something that would be questioned. It’s a tricky little story, showing how dirty tactics are used to get into a powerful position. But once we find out that the other apprentice was Sukeroku, the former master of the current Sukeroku, everything begins to make sense.
The reason why Sukeroku walked up to Yakumo as a young orphan was because he knew who his master’s rival was – the one who took his position and prevented him from becoming a success. And when you think back to him muttering about someone with his name becoming Yakumo, we now know why he thought that. Yet right up until his passing, the 7th Yakumo made sure neither Sukeroku got the title they perhaps deserved or earned. And to top it off, in his final moments he even admits to Kiku that he doesn’t truly want him to become Yakumo, which makes this whole ordeal so much more unfortunate than I thought possible.
The New Yakumo’s True Loneliness:
With that, the 7th Yakumo meets the grave, yet Kiku (who I will now go back to calling Yakumo) never shed a tear. It wasn’t until he stood on the stage a day after the funeral that he got the show his grief, yet embrace the oppertunity. He mulls over whether he should go for something more fitting for the occasion, but knows that wouldn’t be his style of rakugo. Instead, he tells perhaps the most twisted tale given the circumstances: the same shinigami story that Yotaro first heard when Yakumo came to his prison. We weren’t given the whole thing before, but here we got to see Yakumo embracing the sinisterness, almost to the point of elation.
Like many performances before it, the directing was brilliant. Some of the art wasn’t that great in the first half of the episode (especially compared to last week’s gorgeous offering), but the intentions and the execution of the stage performances still resonate strong. The moment where Yakumo appeared behind himself, watching the shinigami tell the story, was haunting; followed by the dim lights and many candles, as the character wavers to try and light his own candle. I can only imagine how stressful this was for the audience, especially since it appeared Yakumo was going to tip over the edge at any moment. Yet he didn’t. He did mention that he was now truly alone now, as everyone who he was close to over the years had either left, abandoned him, or died. At first I thought he was going to get over emotional, but before too long he thinks to himself: “At last, this is the solitude I crave.” Again, we’re seeing these characters as morally shifty people – grey to the core, and Yakumo is perhaps the biggest offender. Yet that only makes him more fascinating to watch, despite all the horrible things that have happened and are yet to happen.
Bridging the Past and the Present:
You could say this episode acted as the bridge between the past and the present, bringing all the tragedy that awaits with it. A few years have passed since last week’s dramatic finish, and it appears some things have changed. Before the death of the 7th Yakumo, we saw a young boy begging on his hands and knees to become Kiku’s apprentice; reminiscent of his and Yotaro’s first encounter in the premiere. Yet there’s another character who returns this week that perhaps stole the whole episode for me. There have been parts of Rakugo Shinjuu that have been cute and heartwarming, but none more so than watching little Konatsu performing her father’s rakugo. She’s a bundle of joy who is totally in her element – yet once you remember that in the present timeline she is unable to step foot on the stage because she was born a woman, I’m reminded of how tragic this whole story is. It seems like there’s no happy ending for anyone, but little Konatsu managed to make me smile despite knowing this is where things are going to get really messy.
Overview – What’s Next?:
Another great episode, though not as breathtaking and sublime as last week’s. We get more death, more shady character actions, and an explanation as to why Sukeroku was involved in this story in the first place. With plenty of moments and a shinigami performance that called back to the first episode, it truly feels like we’re reaching the end of Yakumo’s story. With three episodes left, I suspect things will reach a climax either next week or the week after. Looking at the previews, we have mother, father, and child showing up, which seems the perfect set-up for the inevitable anguish that awaits us.
Full-length images: 36.
“But that’s one way in which I never want to be like you.”
In the first episode when Sukeroku’s phantom appears Kiku shows that he became what he said to his master he would not become. This character fascinate me.
I found Yakumo’s choice of the shinigami tale quite striking. It demonstrates a degree of flair that he’d perform that one right after his old master’s death, with everyone watching to see which play he’d choose.
I was a little confused at first by his line “At last, this is the solitude I crave.” when in earlier episodes we had seen him brought alive by the audience’s attention. I guess these things can’t be in contradiction, so while Yakumo wants the rapt attention given to his rakugo personae, that still doesn’t break the solitude of being seperated from the audience, and the solitude of performing on his own terms without the old Yakumo or Sukeroku.
Overall this was a very good ep, but I think it’s mainly a set up for the next one. Next ep looks like it’ll be a heavy hitter.
Hi. I also thought his performance was macabre. I muttered, “Is this guy nuts?”, wowww.
He wasn’t brought alive by the audience, that was actually him realizing that his performs better just for himself, and not for anyone else(including the audience). That was actually him realize that his thing is to put as much distance between him and the audience/
I think that in that moment, he realized that everyone around him whom he felt he owed something was gone, and he could finally focus on just himself and his rakugo without worrying about embarrassing his master by surpassing him, not being as good as Sukeroku, or not being invested enough in his relationship with Miyokichi. He’s not just alone, he’s free.
I think in a way, he’s trying to kill his ego in order to achieve transcendence, but that’s just my personal interpretation.
The “At last, this is the solitude I crave” is fascinating because it can be read in many different ways. My interpretation is that while he feels alone in that moment, he is able to thrive without burdens or comparison. He has his own style of rakugo and there’s been plenty of drama between him and several other characters. Perhaps this was the first time he was able to step on stage and just deliver the performance he wanted to do. Also, I think he’s generally an introverted person. He doesn’t crave attention or do rakugo simply to please his audience – he does it for himself, which is fascinating in itself.
Yakumo is a compelling character. It’s been a treat to watch his life from childhood to old age.
This one’s a breather episode but no means not great or sublime. I think the directors are saving the best for last in this series or when it matters. The revelation of the 7th Yakumo to Kikuhiko was just dark. Poor Sukeroku getting the short end of the stick. What if Sukeroku got the Yakumo name? Just what if? Sigh. It seems like history repeating all over again. Another thing, I like how the jealousy of the 7th master was portrayed over Kikuhiko’s popularity. That was the signal the student surpassed the teacher.
PS: Nevermind, I got a cute Konatsu this episode.
PPS: Give me some Yotaro. I cannot bear this heartbreak.
The master wasn’t really jealous of his popularity. He has a complex about being a fraud. He see a student coming to kikuhiko rather than him, he sees it as an act of someone identifying him as a fraud. he wasn’t saying that to Kikuhiko per se, rather to himself, because being jealous of his student’s popularity is better than someone recognizing him as a fraud
Even though a lot did happen, I do think this could be considered a breather episode. I have a feeling the next two will big ones, with the final episode (hopefully it’s an hour long!) returning to the present and preparing for the story that’s to follow.
Uhm. “must be hard being popular, heh?” – That must be very awkward if your student was approached instead of a teacher for apprenticeship given how stratified the rakugo world is.
@Samu, YES. YES. YES. AN HOUR LONG FINALE.
I actually held my breath for most of this episode, and maybe because I watched it before reading Samu’s review, I actually thought the directing to be on par with last episode. I loved the usage of the autumn colours, the candles, the music… One could not help but feel the anguish and regret the 7th Yakumo felt as he told his last story on stage. Before he said it, I think most of us expected that the 7th’s rival was the first Sukeroku, but hearing him say it still made me go “Oh no…”. Kiku’s performance of Shinigami was just amazing (Samu I didn’t even join the dots together until I read your review!). I loved how things are coming back a full circle now, with the apprentice wannabe appearing and little Konatsu giving a brilliant performance. It’s sad, but I think it’s great story writing (and telling).
What will be the change that the 8th Yakumo will bring to Rakugo in the present day, along with Yotaro and Konatsu? What is that promise? I cannot wait to find out… Please I need a happy ending…
I try and keep an eye out for the finer details, so you’re welcome! Like you, I can’t wait to see what this promise was. All I know is it’s gonna be heartbreaking.
I’m starting to feel like we’re underestimating “present-day” Yakumo. Knowing what we know now, I think that when Yotaro showed up, Yakumo recognized not only his talent, but the spirit of a potential reformer who might make it possible for Konatsu to start performing herself. Yakumo is not that; he knows his role is that of the traditionalist who holds on to the old rules, but he also knows that there needs to be a -maybe separate?- branch of his profession that embraces change in order to keep the traditional one alive.
I think that we’re supposed to assume that Yotaro is a stand-in for the dead Sukeroku, and that making him an apprentice and eventually the next Yakumo will finally “lift the curse” from the Yakumo name. But my theory is that Yakumo knows that he needs to make things right with Sukeroku’s daughter, not some random dude who vaguely resembles a long-dead friend, and taking in Yotaro is how he plans on doing that. He’s clearly talented and can hold the attention of the audience, but he’s also clearly someone who won’t stick to the rules, and Yakumo must know that. He can already see it in how Yotaro stands up for Konatsu, and he secretly approves.
I think that he thinks that history will repeat itself and that Yotaro will break the rules and eventually go off to do his own thing like the Sukerokus before him, but this time, there will be no Yakumo to sabotage him and hold him back from re-inventing the craft and by that, allowing Konatsu, the real new Sukeroku, to finally be able to earn the respect the name deserves.
I like your theory, especially how Yakumo’s role is the traditionalist who holds on to the hold rules, but at the same time he wants to see the change that Sukeroku longed for. Hope this story ends with Konatsu being the first female shin’uhi with the name Sukeroku.
That would indeed be a happy ending. Right now, I’m really curious if the story will end with Yotaro, Yakumo and Konatsu breaking the cycle, abandoning the old archetypes and carving out new ones for themselves, or if they will play out their predetermined roles like the ones who came before them, but in a way that doesn’t leave behind a trail of bitter and/or dead people.
I don’t think Konatsu will be able to break the cycle if she can’t forgive Yakumo before he dies, even if she does become a rakugoka. She won’t be able to be really free unless she makes peace with him – that’s the Yakumo curse. I worry that, even though she wants to be a Sukeroku, in spirit, she may well become a new Yakumo if she can’t let go of her resentments.
Agreed, this is an interesting theory. It does seem that Yotaro and Konatsu have the same ‘style’ of rakugo storytelling (both being inspired by Sukeroku), so there could be some conflict there. It seems more likely that Yotaro would inherit the name, but Konatsu taking it would be even better. But then again, she was my favourite character from the cast of the premiere so perhaps I’m biased…
BTW. In modern rakugo world women are allowed to perform. Although they are still rare compared to male rakugoka.
I think I noted that at some point in my earlier posts. I’ve watched a few English rakugo videos since this started airing, and funnily enough most of them are performed by women. Hopefully things work out for Konatsu in the present time, I’d love to see her prove herself.
The OST part 1 and part 2 are out, btw. It’s actually surprisingly upbeat/warm for such a tragic story, I’m surprised…
Also I had this awful thought when I was watching the episode, lol. What if the manga ends with Yakumo 8 dying too… that would be awfully depressing.
That’s exactly what I think will happen – but as others have been discussing, it would be interesting to see who is chosen as the next Yakumo between Yotaro and Konatsu. The 10th (and final) volume will be released later in the year, so I imagine if it’s going to happen it will happen then. I just hope this gets a S2, since it looks like we’re going to go exactly half way and cover up to the end of Volume 5.
It’d be a shame if they don’t find a way to conclude the story, it’s already a shame that they couldn’t find a way to conclude the story in a continuous fashion. Without the last arc, the first episode stands out as something awkwardly distinct from the rest of the series, since it was an hour of mainly characters that doesn’t really show up for the rest of the show.
It’s 85 minutes actually if you use OVAs/director cut version. Full 4 eps. It’s not so few.
seeing how the title references a lovers’ suicide (Shinjuu), and 8th Yakumo being almost unequivocally the central character of this whole thing, hard to imagine and end where he doesn’t die.
The question is, who or what dies with Yakumo as part of the Shinju
Although that title could – and perhaps is more likely to – refer to Sukeroku and Miyokichi. That’s been my interpretation up until now.
I think it spent too little time on the relationship of the 2 for that to be true. If you tell a story about a lover’s suicide, you have to spend time conveying their love and difficulty to hit home the tragedy. If the Romeo and Juliet is mostly about Mercutio, it’d be a different kind of tragedy rather than one about love.
I think it’s Yakumo and rakugo, and Sukeroku is his proxy for this relationship. He finds Rakugo through him, he fell in love with it because of him, he severed his other relationship for it, and he probably eventually comes to hate it because of Sukeroku as well. Already in this episode, he’s acknowledging rakugo dying, and unlike Sukeroku, he’s not very keen to save it(hence he basically never took a student until a kid resembling Sukeroku comes to his door).
Kiku-san’s eye twitch at the very end when he met Konatsu. I died. I can’t wait to see more. Hopefully we get a little more lightheartedness before the tragedy hits. 🙁