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.