The Brilliance of Love/Hate Characters:
You don’t come across anime like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu all that often – series that are remarkably consistent with their sublime storytelling, brilliant direction, and characters that feel like real people; people who make mistakes, who you can love one episode and hate the next because of how morally grey they are. This series is truly one of a kind. Everything is coming together nicely, but this seems like the last “happy” episode – though there were some unhappy moments here that are worth dissecting. What’s most fascinating to me, however, is how Rakugo Shinjuu continues to have me rooting for the characters despite their annoyances and terrible decisions. All the major characters have had a chance to show their poor qualities, but this week it comes back to two people: Miyokichi and Sukeroku.
First, Miyokichi. Before last week’s episode I thought of her as the most sympathetic and perhaps the most complex character of the series, especially after learning her unfortunate backstory. Yet now she appears to be the villain more than anything else. As a fan of her character, I like that – it makes sense and it’s what I (and many others, no doubt) suspected all along. I don’t think she’s necessarily evil or has a grand master plan, but she’s a scorned woman who hates rakugo and how it reminds her of Yakumo, whilst still pining for his love. Part of me feels that if Yakumo had dealt with the situation properly and not treated her like garbage, then all of this mess wouldn’t have transpired to the same degree. As I said last week, Miyo hasn’t caused all of the problems here – every character played a part in their own downfall. But it’s hard to ignore Miyo leaving her daughter; it’s a terribly selfish thing to do and I imagine she’s going to have everyone hating her now. But I would like to point out that I don’t blame her for leaving Sukeroku. I think any sane woman would, but given her profession she can’t exactly take Konatsu with her (even if she wanted to). And by Sukeroku’s words it seems he’s confident she will return from her ‘jobs’ at some point.
Speaking of Sukeroku, I’m glad he’s back, but at the same time I just want to slap him. Although Miyo came off the worst after this episode, I don’t have much sympathy for Sukeroku either. What man sits at home and gets drunk all day while his young daughter has to bring in the money? Little Konatsu doesn’t mind, but it’s pretty pathetic in my books. I still care for him and want him to return to the rakugo world, but he comes off as a bad, useless father. We can presume Miyo never truly loved him, and although she has her own spiteful reasons, I don’t blame her. They’re just lucky their daughter is so level-headed for her age, and once again my favourite character of the show.
The Rakugo Loving Konatsu:
While this adaptation has clearly been about Yakumo, his life story, and the events leading up to the tragedy that awaits us, I can’t help but love Konatsu most of all. These morally grey characters are fantastic to watch and so well-written, but there is nothing about Konatsu that can be used against her. I mentioned that I was most interested in her story in the double-length premiere, and that still remains the same. I’m desperate to see where her story will go – being a woman who is clearly made for a profession that she cannot be a part of.
She’s a ray of sunshine throughout this episode, and it’s clear how much she loves rakugo. Compare her with her father in his younger days, and there’s not much seperating them. Her glittering eyes when she found out Yakumo was a rakugo performer had me grinning, and I loved her reactions to Yakumo and Sukeroku’s genuinely entertaining performance (and you have to admit, it was a little (a lot) homoerotic). I didn’t quite blush like Konatsu when they were flirting and saying lines like “Don’t ever cheat on me” or “I’ll tickle you”, but damn, the tension was real. It’s a lovely moment between the three, with plenty more (like Konatsu getting her haircut) littered throughout the episode. But it’s still upsetting that she doesn’t yet realise she won’t be able to pursue her profession due to her gender. Yakumo tries to play it off as women instead serving as beautiful inspirations to the men doing the storytelling, but as we know, their relationship in the present time is strained. You could even say Konatsu hates him, which makes their interactions here just as unfortunate as they are endearing.
Overview – What’s Next?:
Well, it looks like this arc is reaching its dramatic climax next week. The preview doesn’t give too much away, but enough to confirm that something is going to happen between Yakumo, Sukeroku, and Miyokichi, and it’s going to result in the death of Sukeroku. I have an idea how it’s going to play out, but I’ll hold my tongue and bear witness to the horrific details. At least little Konatsu is back, proving how loveable she is. Yakumo and Sukeroku’s (b)romance has returned, and Miyokichi is up to something. This is gonna be good. Can it be Friday already?