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?
Sorry to be pedantic.. “bear witness” and not “bare witness”.
p.s. Good luck with writing about the episode of the other show which just aired that you are in love with. XD
Ty, the bare has been beared.
P.S I pretty much screamed my way through that episode~
Next episode os the climax that has been built up for several episodes :O I want to watch it but t the same time I never wished anything bad to happen to any of them.
“Miyokichi had a hard life”.
Can’t anyone love this woman already? Even her daughter despises her, no wonder she left.
Now is just wait and get mentally ready for next week’s tragedy.
Savor the last happy episode because next week’s gonna be a water fireworks. Waaaaah.
Next week’s is sure to be tragic, but hopefully the finale will give us something to smile about!
I am currently doing my mantra of I am going to see Yotaro and old Konatsu again. Lol. Optimism, isn’t?
Isnt it Konatsu and Kiku/ Yakumo kinda similar…
Kiku “wanted”, or whatever, to be a geisha but was made fun and couldnt because it was a boy and konatsu cant do Rakugo because she is girl.
Indeed. I remarked that when Kiku’s backstory was mentioned, which also makes it even more ironic since it appears he isn’t sympathetic to Konatsu’s struggles in the present. Hopefully that changes…
Love your reviews as always! It is really fascinating how complex every main character is in this series. I agree that Shin is definitely a dead beat dad. He is going through depression, I think, but even then it is hard to excuse how he treats Konatsu. He obviously loves her and teaches her his Rakugo. But, it doesn’t excuse how she is the one who has to run the household. Shin’s actions in this regard are nobody’s fault but his own.
I kind of disagree with your statement 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.” First, I’ve never thought that he chose Rakugo over Miyo, he never chose anything over her, he just didn’t choose her (which is a completely valid decision. Even if he did love her his not pursuing a romantic relationship with her is still valid). Their relationship would never have gone anywhere even if the master had never interfered. I never bought that the only reason he and Miyo couldn’t be together was because he chose Rakugo over her. Kiko never gave her much of an indication of any desire to pursue a romantic/sexual relationship (never mind marriage). Of course, just spending time with her in that time period might have brought with it an implication of romance/marriage but Miyo spends a lot of time pressuring Kiku to spend time with her (and pressuring him to kiss her also) which indicates that he wouldn’t have chosen to by himself. I mean look at all the times she came on to him and he was ambivalent/uncomfortable towards it. She wasn’t oblivious to his lack of interest either (i.e. the “not interested in women” quote). She refused to see (or acknowledge) his ongoing rejection partly because Kiku wasn’t honest/upfront with her but mostly because she refused to see their relationship outside of the fantasy she had built it up to be. Miyo had a fantasy, it was shattered, and now she can’t get over it.
Still, he wasn’t honest with her about his feelings/intentions, wasn’t a particularly supportive friend, and he used her to find his Rakugo. But, he does acknowledge his wrong doing, IMO, when he goes to her home and tells her that she has the right to vent her frustrations at him all night. He acknowledges he has hurt her and gives her a peace offering. She, of course, rejects it and instead promises to haunt him, etc.
Secondly, Miyo should be held accountable for her actions. Bon is not equivalent to a man who makes promises to a woman and then leaves her for something/someone else. She built up the fantasy of their “romantic” relationship by herself and has disregarded Kiku’s obvious physical discomfort and emotional distance from her since the beginning (the preview hints she continues to do so). Miyo’s lasting bitterness is on her. Her downfall, much like Shin’s, is mostly caused by internal issues. Issues caused by tragedy, but they both are the most culpable in their actions (both now and in the future).
I suspect that Miyo emotionally abused Shin. Miyo must prostitute herself because she forbade Shin to do rakugo thus cutting off a source of income for her family. She also denounces Rakugo, thus denouncing Shin’s entire life’s work/purpose. We know that Miyo sees Shin as the kind of man she can’t stand. He cares too much and Miyo prefers colder men, supposedly. Shin is also not sophisticated sexually, intellectually, or personality-wise. This underlying distaste at her situation/Shin could’ve bubbled up to the surface. Konatsu says that Shin is happier without Miyo and I believe her. I do blame Miyo for entangling herself with Sukeroku despite her distaste of men like him. I don’t think its a stretch to believe that she probably detested him already due to his connection to Rakugo and thus his connection to Kiku which was always much stronger than her connection to Kiku, a fact she was painfully aware of. But, I’m probably being too harsh here, this is all just conjecture and just my opinion anyway. If only empowering post-breakup playlists existed then, if only.
Nonetheless, this just proves how complex she is since I can’t seem to shut up about her, lol. I think all the characters have been selfish and have hurt others because of it, except for baby Konatsu (she’s just precious). I agree with you that it is sad to think that Konatsu’s relationship with Bon will turn sour in the future. This episode should have been pure bliss but I couldn’t get what happens next out of my head. I thought I was ready but seeing the preview just destroyed me. I’m really not ready. Thanks again for reviewing this series!
I’m glad you enjoy my reviews! Perhaps I’m going too easy on Miyo, but I am fascinated by her character and it tires me that people can’t appreciate a character even if they aren’t lawful good and don’t do exactly what a good person would do.
Yeah, I definitely agree with your frustration. There is also definitely a gender split when it comes to characters being disliked for not being completely lawful good. I have seen many people defend or at least appreciate the complexity of male characters that aren’t lawful good. This is much more rare with female characters. I myself have been frustrated with most of the characters within this show at one point or another because they are all flawed, not just Miyo.
To me, this has been a love story between two men, with one loving more (Kiku). If you switch the genders, it’s a romance, and had Kiku been a woman, he would have been happy supporting the shiftless, but talented Sukeroku. He did so for years, working with a disability, giving him food, money, a place to stay, encouragement.
Miyo is a damaged, bitter bitch who actually fell for Kiku. Too bad. Kiku’s real love is Sukeroku, later rakugo. He never pursued her; she pursued him, for her own reasons–to be taken care of in the old-fashioned “he works, she is his aid” way. He never told her he loved her. Never looked even mildly really in love. His face and body language always were sort of,”Well, it is what is is.” Going along with it. She even mentioned they barely had physical interchange. She was someone who catered to him, and any man can go along with that.
It should have been no surprise to her that, if she said we go away, he would say no. His commitment was never to her. Never.
And her choosing to get revenge through Sukeroku (take what Kiku values away from him). She knew what Kiku loved was that drunken bum, so she took him and got pregnant to force the hand. Sukeroku, dispirited over his failure, found solace in her chameleon, slut bosom. Let’s face it–she had a very hard past, and I sympathized a lot. But Kiku was right: change and be part of the new world. Instead, she decided to keep using her change-for-each-man wiles and it ended up biting her and everyone in the butt–especially dear, sweet Konatsu, who is a joy on the screen. (I rewound to watch the part with the the duo performance with silly songs, becuase it was pure happiness shinign around them, sans Miyo).
Kiku is the only one who could have brought happiness to Sukeroku and Konatsu (as we saw in the cleaning and frolicking).He’s the true mother/wife.
Miyo is the psychotic interloper. My pity for her died when she chose vengeance over making a better life for herself and her child.
Sukeroku is the second most to blame: He should strive to be a better father to Konatsu, to work, at rakugo or not. Between his undependable, drunkard ways and Miyo’s whoring vengeful ones, they will bring sorrow and hardships for Kiku and Konatsu.
It’s sad. It’s so sad. That wildly free happy moment in this episode with the rakugo duet–it’s the bliss before the fall.
Too bad Miyo’s new lover doesn’t stab the destructive harlot to death before she wreaks havoc, bloody havoc.
What a great anime.
Jesus Christ, cool it with the language, lady. I understand not liking Miyokichi as a character, but you’re taking it a little too far. The whole message behind this show is that none of them are saints, and all of them are caught up in systems that don’t let them be who they want to be, especially Miyokichi and women in general. All of them eventually reach a breaking point, some of them break more dramatically, while others break quietly. Societal pressure and expectations are a toxic thing that poisons relationships and minds, and this show lays out beautifully how the most oppressed push back the hardest, for better or worse.
Yikes, those are some harsh words. You really hate Miyokichi, don’t you? It’s a shame she gets the brunt of fan hatred because up until this episode I would say she was still the most likeable out of the main trio. Yakumo and Sukeroku have repeatedly made bad decisions and have showed they have nasty sides to them. Miyokichi was a girl who fell in love, was with him for what seemed like months or even years, and he treated her like garbage. He claimed to love her, but I still doubt that. Yakumo is a selfish man above all else and he has admitted that time and time again.
Calling Miyo a slut or a harlot doesn’t make her any less likeable. She’s a woman who was forced into that way of life and has become so numb to it that she doesn’t believe she could do anything else. She’s spiteful and loving, deceptive yet was willing to put herself down to please Yakumo when they were together. She’s not a token Evil Mistress who is coming to ruin the lives of men.
She arrived confident and charming, aware of her own sexuality, and her loving Yakumo made her a sappy mess who seemed less like herself as their relationship developed. It was doomed from the start, but that wasn’t her fault. I can understand hating her for leaving her daughter, but it seems you dislike her more because of her coming in the way of two men who probably never would have been together in the way you imagine they would.
I agree that it’s a great anime, but I would also say that Miyo is a brilliant character, who makes just as many horrible decisions as the rest. No one in this series is a true saint. That’s what resonates when watching it, because they are written less like cliched anime character and more like actual real people would think, behave, and react if they were in these tragic situations.
Well, those were very hard words but IMO her insight of the relationships are correct. Like Potterwhos said, I don’t think that Miyo was treated like a garbage, and more than anything, is she who must be blamed for her own choices. I really like your reviews and I think that you are doing a great job but in this episode in particular you try to justify Miyo for whatever people could think about her and her actions. IMO she doesn’t need that. Miyo is a brilliant character on her own and my personal favorite (and I think that the great Megumi Hayashibara must to be praised for that), but what making Miyo so appealing is not only her obvious charms but that sides of her personality that she carries with undeniable grace: her selfish manners, her bitchy ways. She’s likeable for many reasons but like the persons in the real world that have flaws in almost everything they do, that doesn’t mean that she’s doing great in this moment or that she made the best choices. Simply she’s a tragic character. Likeable for that, but that’s the way her character works and you must to deal with it. For that reason, I don’t think that Mirtika hates Miyo, she’s only pointing out what many others suspect: that Miyo have many many flaws, that she’s manipulating Sukeroku, that she was very pushy with Yakumo in her seek of love, that her baby probably was made on the whim of the momennt. But, well, Miyo is a human being too, with all the good and bad, and she’s the responsable for all her decisions. If that bring a tragic ending we must to accept that. It doesn’t need justification. It’s just like this.
On the other hand, she’s probably exagerating about the relationship between Yakumo and Sukeroku but, like you said, the homoerotic component is in the air. The scene with Yakumo Sukeroku and Konatsu walking hand in hand like in the countryside is another indication about who could be a real (happy) family. Miyo herself said to Yakumo that she was jealous about the relationship that he has with Sukeroku. It’s only natural: is more noticiable the affection and respect in the pair Sukeroku-Yakumo than in the Miyo-Yakumo relationship. And that’s what make this show so good. The ambivalence in the interaction between the characters. There would be a lot of to say about this but, well, I expect to do it in another post.
Excuses for my bad english. This is my first post in this blog.
Society and the tragedy have contributed to Miyo’s situation. But, as hikari states I believe its flawed to overstate the dictating power of society in her current situation. (She isn’t just a prostitute but rather a professional mistress. She doesn’t sleep with clients at night and return home afterwards with money. She finds a man who pays for her room and board. She has specifically chosen a job that allows her to live away from her family.)
Also, I don’t think Kiku treated her that horribly. He should have been more honest and supportive (i.e. not only use her as his psychiatrist). I don’t think Kiku owed her anything else. hikari points out the trend of the idea that Kiku was obligated to pursue a romantic relationship with her purely because she “loved” him. (even if he did love her romantically he would still be under no obligation to pursue an official relationship with her). I feel that this kind of interpretation disregards Kiku’s character arc and his feelings.
Many see Kiku as the active partner and Miyo as the passive one. Even Miyo paints herself as the passive woman who will love/support her man no matter what. I’ve always seen this statement of hers as disingenuous. For most of their relationship, Miyo is without a doubt the active partner. She is the one who pursues Kiku. One of the only times that Kiku is active is when he breaks up with her. But, because the break up was so dramatic its easy to interpret as Kiku being the sole active partner from the beginning, as the one who held both their fates in his hands and cruelly dropped Miyo. This is not the case IMO. It was Miyo who built up their romantic relationship while disregarding/ignoring Kiku’s feelings (I kind of disagree that Miyo “was willing to put herself down to please Yakumo when they were together” because I see Miyo’s “pitiful woman who will do anything for the man she loves” as an act). He finally takes the initiative to end a relationship that he was never fully comfortable with or interested in and that is his right. I’m not sure how long their “relationship” lasted but I don’t think it was many years. Nonetheless, the scenes between them that we are shown show a Kiku who was never fully comfortable with the intimacy Miyo wanted from him.
I think Miyo is in love with Kiku but doesn’t actually care a lot about him. She disregards/ignores his lack of interest in physical/emotional intimacy with her. She tries to emotionally manipulate him into staying with her and when that fails she threatens to emotionally traumatize him for life. I think this highlights an unhealthy aspect of Miyo’s “love” for Kiku. Nothing illustrates better the lack of genuine intimacy in their relationship than them not knowing each other’s real names. When Miyo tells Kiku he doesn’t even know her real name she is telling him that he never really knew her. That the woman he knows was more an act than her true self. His comeback is that she doesn’t know his real name (aka his real self) either. They both never much bothered to discover their true selves. Miyo’s conceptualization of their relationship was that of a woman silently loving an ideal indifferent man. According to this model, she never needed Kiku to love her back she just needed him to take her on as his woman. This is probably because Miyo doesn’t believe she is deserving of love. Nonetheless, this still asks something of Kiku but at the same time his actual feelings are rendered irrelevant. So I do think Miyo fell in love with Kiku, or at least the idea of him. Yet, I question if she really cares for him outside of her fantasy of their relationship. If she truly cared about him would she have emotionally abused his closest friend? If she was really the passive woman she says she is would she have lashed out at Kiku when he finally did something actively? If she really cared about him wouldn’t she have actually respected him whenever he expressed disinterest in hanging out with her/being intimate with her?
So, the dichotomy of Miyokichi as the passive victim and Kiku as the active perpetrator just doesn’t sit right with me.
I also don’t think Kiku is a selfish man at heart. He has his selfish parts to him (just like Sukeroku and Miyokichi) but I don’t think selfishness defines him as a character. You kind of have to question the things Kiku says about himself. He says he wants solitude but then he goes to find Sukeroku and he feels happiest performing for an intimate crowd. He says he only came because he needs Sukeroku’s rakugo for himself but it is revealed that he also wants Sukeroku to make Konatsu happy and can someone really claim that he didn’t come back because he has always cared for/loved (almost to the point of foolishness) Sukeroku. And besides being cagey about his intentions and not being the most supportive friend I do not believe Kiku’s break up with Miyo was selfish. It was actually for the best because to stay in a relationship with her, a relationship he clearly wasn’t invested in, would have been dishonest and would have hurt Miyo more in the end. I just never saw him as treating her like garbage, he made some mistakes and he apologized and tried to reach out to her.
You could also question the other characters in a similar manner. Sukeroku acts cocky and confident but he’s actually very insecure and fragile. Miyokichi claims that she is the passive, obedient, pitiful woman who will do anything as long as she can stay by her man’s side but she actually disregards Kiku’s feelings and lashes out at him when he takes on the active role instead of her.
At the same time, Miyokichi’s life has been very tragic and as you said her self worth is not very high. This doesn’t excuse her emotional abuse towards Sukeroku and probably her daughter but there is a reason to her tragic choices. All the characters have nasty sides I agree and part of their sides can be explained by how society has treated them. It doesn’t really excuse anything though but it adds to their characters.
I feel there is a parallel between Kikuhiko and Sukeroku’s relationship and Kikohiko and Miyokichi’s relationship. For the longest time Kiku put Sukeroku on a pedestal which prevented him from truly connecting with Sukeroku and prevented him from being truly vulnerable with him. This is why he is shocked when Sukeroku reveals all his insecurities about their master. But now Kiku has acknowledged that Sukeroku isn’t the ideal confident man he once saw him as and he too is able to be vulnerable with Sukeroku and reveal his own insecurities to him. They are finally able to fully connect with each other in a genuine and raw way.
Miyokichi sees Kiku as an ideal man and their relationship as an ideal one. Kiku also idealized Miyokichi as a dignified example of femininity. Her femininity and her connection to the feminine world of his past were the reasons why he was initially attracted to her (not sexually/romantically necessarily). Yet, unlike Kiku and Sukeroku, these two were not able to look past the ideals and into their true selves. Because of this they could not truly connect with one another or be truly vulnerable with one another. Much like when Sukeroku was still on a pedestal in Kiku’s mind, there was a lack of empathy and thus genuine intimacy between Miyo and Kiku on both sides.
Yup, I mostly agree with your opinion Potterwhos….and you trully manage to explain it all a whole lot better than me. That also my take or interpretation regarding Kiku and Miyo (I also find Miyo’s character to be interesting and frustating at the same time). This title is really an underrated gem with such a simple and fascinating story about rakugo and the people around it, but also full of complex and flawed characters that both fascinating and intriguing.
I also find the idea that a man or a woman must obligated to pursue a love relationship because they’re being loved so much by others (opposite sex) in a fictional stories kind of disturbing/annoyed me a bit. I guess many anime watchers are also a shipper, and the idea or story about unrequited love/romance kind of fascinate them, but once again even if it’s fiction, no man or woman is obligated to return the affection/love approached from anyone that they’re just didn’t have the same kind of feeling.
Let me clarify that when I say this is more a love story between two men, I don’t mean literally (they aren’t having sex, having said I love you.) It is because the character of Kiku–if you remove the rakugo prohibition about women performing–is for all intents and purposes female in how he has been depicted: in a geisha house learning to dance/living with women. How he sits (note his feminine, submissive postures). How he acted and gained victory in that crossdressing performance. How his rakugo is suited to bawdy tales with female (softer, not resonant) voices. How he shoos off the prostitutes when “hubby” comes home. How he supports the non-working, boozy “spouse,” having a home clean and ready for him. How he defers the top Yakumo spot to Sukeroku, whose posture and libido are the more stereotypical sanguine male. How many times have we seen stories with this sort of female pattern? The longsuffering wife to the shiftless husband?
Kiku, while admiring Miyo’s beauty and pose of gentle femininity (which she herself admits is a fraud, as she becomes what a man wants her to be), never actually lusts for her. Never really devotes himself to her. She’s like a confidante, pal, not a lover/mistress.
To think he owed Miyo anything is ridiculous. They had their “affair” and he moved on. That she feels she has the right to destroy his happiness and his life as revenge for him not being what SHE wants him to be–supporter, male figure for her to depend on financially and support professionally and emotionally–is nuts. He never committed to her. Never even seemed fawning. Would walk right past her. She was never “in” his world. And if that angered her, fine, but to actually become an agent of destruction (do we doubt she’s not the catalyst for the death that is to come?) is to become the villain, the evil one. Period. Kiku has done nothing to justify her actions. He simply did not have feelings for her and didn’t wish to marry her or go off to the countryside with her.
She was someone you felt sorry for until that moment when we know she has become the destructor. She refuses to change her life–as Kiku suggested–so she will continue to be, as I said, a harlot. At first it was pushed on her, and that was tragedy, which many women suffered in the harsh times following war and its destructions. But it was her single-minded pursuit of a man who had no real interest in her–obvious to any viewer that she was just there and comforting for Kiku, not loved, not desired, not bonded. Kiku grew up with geishas. To him, women did that as a job. He had no obligation to become her lifemate for those comforts.
That is what I meant about how it Kiku and Sukeroke’s love story–they are the true pair, who rely o each other, motivate each other, get each other out of slummps, give advice, financially support–only the female has been turned into a male, and there is no sex/actual homosexuality.
This has nothing to do with fujoshi/fudanshi. This has to do with seeing what is clearly there.
Miyo didn’t start out the villain. But she has become one. Even the daughter sees that much and wants no part of her. And if she ends up killing Sukeroke just as the spark has come back into him, some hope, then yeah, I’ll hate her all the way to hell.
I know you are (probably) a fujoshi and I understand the way you fume at her character. Yet, isn’t it a good indicator if a character is that complex that you cannot decide if you are going to hate or love her?
Unless Sukeroku and Kiku will go lovey dovey and confess, I am stopping my fudanshi self from shipping the two because it is not the best way to view this series, at least in my opinion.
Perhaps seeing their relationship as a completely mutual, realized romance is overstating it a bit. I personally don’t head canon either of the men as completely straight, nor do I head canon Miyokichi as completely straight either. But, I think as far as an interpretive lens through which the show can be examined, the “ship” is less important than the individual characters and themes.
Thus, I think seeing Kikuhiko as harboring romantic feelings for Sukeroku is not a completely unbelievable interpretation of the show. (I also think that interpreting Sukeroku as a character who, while mostly straight, does often tread the line of homoeroticism is not too out there) For me at least this interpretation is pretty close to the surface. The subtext that suggests that Kiku is in love with Sukeroku and that he isn’t a heterosexual man is myriad and takes on many forms (Kiku’s parallels with Miyokichi, dialogue, Kiku’s inner monologues, the erotic angles of shots directed at Sukeroku, the exploration of sexuality and gender and gender norms that permeates the entire series, this episode’s domesticity and specifically how it gives Kiku a rare peaceful happiness, etc.). Plus, a Tumblr user has pointed out that this show has many similarities to a Chinese film called “Farewell, My Concubine” which has a more overt gay subtext, similarities not only in the relationship between the two men but also similarities of the social/political themes that are explored.
Overall, I agree that seeing this show as a pretty straight forward mutual and realized romance between Kiku and Sukeroku potentially takes away from its nuance and the nuance of the messages it is trying to convey. However, the interpretation that there is a LGBTQ narrative being told within this show, in the level of subtext that is closest to the surface, is an interpretation that, I feel, does not take away from what the show is trying to communicate. On the contrary, I think including an LGBTQ interpretive lens in one’s analysis of this show only adds depth to its messages. Personally, I think a lot of things within the show make more sense through an interpretive lens that does include a consideration of LGBTQ themes as well as the general themes of sexuality, gender, and social expectations and norms.
First things first, I agree with the homoerotic undertones of this show at times, yet… I still don’t think it is your usual fujoshi stuff where you can view A being totally in love with B then C comes in then NTR baby!.. Kids on the Slope has similar, no, eerily same-y portrayal of these dudes being close with each other but.. it is far from being a BL or something.
Well, this is a thematically rich show so interpretations are open but I think the usual fujoshi train of thinking seriously narrows the experience one can have with Shouwa Rakugo (and to some other shows as well). I think a LGBTQ analysis can enrich this one as long as it involves deeper commentaries just like Rakugo is commenting on the rakugo industry.
I agree this isn’t BL or fits the tropes of BL. I’m not claiming that this show is about Kiku being in love with Sukeroku and NTR happens because Miyokichi gets in the way. I believe the love Kiku has for Sukeroku has always had the ability to exist whether Miyo is in the picture or not. Their relationship has its ups and downs irregardless of her presence. I do however think that Miyo is often used as a mirror for Kiku in certain scenes that blatantly parallel each other, that she is used to present “the feminine presence” that we later discover Kiku exemplifies more than she does, and I do suspect that Miyo’s interest in Sukeroku was largely due to his relationship with Kiku.
This story isn’t about two men and the woman who comes between them. But, I am confident that seeing Kiku as in love with Sukeroku does not imbue it with the narrative tropes of BL and it does not take away from the ultimate nuanced messages of the show. For example, if one were to interpret Achilles as being in love with Patroclus in the Iliad would that take way from/change the story at all? I don’t think so. It wouldn’t even take away from their warrior “brotherhood.”
There is just so much to dig into if one does see Kiku as in love with Sukeroku. It touches on the greater themes of modernity, individualism, strict social expectations, gender, emotional disconnection and connection, allusions to the culture of the edo period, sexuality, perfection, desire and the denial of desire, etc. For example:
One parallel that really solidified for me that Kiku was in love with Sukeroku is when Miyo states she doesn’t actually enjoy Rakugo. She only likes to hear Kiku’s voice. Sukeroku then alludes to the greater theme of gender norms when he states “A man wouldn’t get that” and then Miyo adds “That’s what it means to be in love (with a man).” Yet, a couple scenes later we have Kiku and Sukeroku in the Jazz club where Kiku confesses “When I’m with you, I have so much fun. I see new things, I want to share everything with you.” But the most important point is that Kiku states “I’d like to stay with you forever, listening to your Rakugo.” This parallels with Miyo listening to Kiku’s voice which Miyo claims is a sign that she is in love with Kiku. This kind of feeling and behavior, Sukeroku claims, cannot be understood by a man. Yet, here Kiku is basically expressing the same thing Miyo is. It’s hard to see Kiku’s feelings as only friendship (even though their friendship is very important if not more so) with scenes like this and all his talk of “indescribable emotions” and the “pain” Sukeroku puts him through. Yes, on the surface this describes Kiku’s envy of Sukeroku but they also describe his admiration, his pride for Sukeroku. Yet, these images and words that Kiku uses are so often evoked when “longing” and “desire” are being discussed. Kiku is often associated with shots of the moon (like Miyokichi) which in Asian literature is often used to symbolize loneliness, love, and longing for loved ones.
So yeah, I just think that interpreting Kiku’s feelings towards Sukeroku as romantic love doesn’t actually take away from the story because not all homosexual love in anime has to follow the patterns of BL. IMO, it can only add more depth. Plus, a character can be canonically not straight, there can even be a canon romantic relationship between two characters of the same sex without the story being BL or GL. I think that kind of “genre” distinction is inherently flawed. We don’t say that Sword Art Online is SL (straight love) just because a man and a woman fall in love within the story. At most we say the show has romantic elements. If possible romantic elements and tropes are present in a show but this time it is between a man and another man this doesn’t make it BL, IMO.
I have so much to say regarding my different take on Kiku’s line of stating he needs Sukeroku’s rakugo but I think it’s up for another discussion. What I can say for now is Kikuhiko grew up with Sukeroku and the latter’s manner of delivering rakugo is his inspiration for developing his own rakugo (see episode 6) because the former can never achieve what Sukeroku is doing as far as this storytelling is concerned. Which is far off from Miyokichi’s romantic (or sometimes sexual) reasons (see episodes 5 and 6, for instance where she commented she likes Kikuhiko’s rakugo because he makes good facial frames or his voice). Uhm… regarding the genre segmentation, marketing management wise, if the niche product is delivered to the wrong audience, it is bound for failure. Sakurako-san (that anime last Fall) for example is supposed to be a mystery series but is mostly took SOL moments – so much for the furious people looking for some good mystery.
I don’t think we can ever agree on this, so let’s keep the differences in the dark. At least we both think that this is not your typical stuff. If what you’re stating is true for the show, subtle handling of the final scenes should be great or… well, the backlash will follow.
To me, Kiku’s and Sukeroku’s rakugo have always been sexual/gender coded. It is no coincidence that Kiku’s “awakening” was when he played a cross-dresser (a character that requires the audience to undress him with their eyes which is symbolized when Kiku actually does undress himself with a flourish. This hearkens back to Miyo’s claim men who undress her with their eyes. Yet, here Kiku is being invigorated, inspired, one could even say “turned on” by the audience doing the same thing Miyo says men do to her, undressing him. The fact that it is Sukeroku who had seen the erotic appeal of Kiku even before WWII and Miyo is also not without meaning.) It’s no coincidence that Kiku’s Rakugo specialty is specifically in the erotic through a feminine persona. This contrasts of course to Sukeroku’s rough, boisterous and Masculine rakugo style. Thus, Kiku’s desire of Sukeroku’s rakugo, his need of it is thus partly framed as his desire of/aspiration to the masculine. After all, if Kiku is the moon than Sukeroku is the sun and the moon needs the sun’s light even if the moon can never have the Sun all to itself.
I think to say that Miyo’s fascination with Kiku has some connections to romantic/sexual/gendered themes but that Kiku’s fascination with not only Sukeroku’s rakugo but also Sukeroku himself is concerned purely with artistic improvement and artistic expression requires one to ignore just how much sexual/gendered motifs appear throughout Kiku’s journey of discovery not only in Rakugo but also self-discovery. The reviewer in Anime News Network goes further with this and describes how the camera angles that are used when Kiku is observing Sukeroku are often times erotic. (i.e. close-ups of Sukeroku’s thighs, his bare chest, etc.) and that there is possible phallic symbolism.
Kiku ends up adopting the feminine to Sukeroku’s masculine (I’m not saying that Kiku being feminine makes him not straight. Just that the romantic dynamic Miyo desires is more clearly observed in Kiku’s relationship with Sukeroku). Kiku plays courtesan with Sukeroku when he blows Miyo off and drinks with Sukeroku, he “humors” and “entertains” him. (He even has a “fox face” which is deeply imbued with sexual/romantic/gendered meaning. Foxes, in Japanese folk lore were tricksters that had the ability to shape shift into men and woman. In many stories they disguised themselves as beautiful women who men would fall hopelessly in love with. The fox would often fall in love too and become a devoted wife but nothing could ever change that they were a fox, not a woman. The fox would have to leave). The ear cleaning scene can be seen just as fujo pandering or you can see it as a scene that purposefully bathes in its romantic/homoerotic implications. The fact that Kiku chooses to clean Sukeroku’s ears and not Miyo’s could just illustrate that Kiku is closer to Sukeroku because they grew up together. But, it could also be a declaration that Kiku has romantic feelings for Sukeroku, and more importantly that he places Sukeroku in a position that Miyo so desperately longs to be. She is subconsciously jealous of Sukeroku not only because he takes Kiku’s time but also because it’s Kiku’s relationship with him that Kiku invests what could be seen as his romantic/sexual energies into and not her relationship with Kiku which remains romantically/sexually barren.
For me, it’s hard if not impossible to completely extract the romantic/sexual implications/motifs from Kikuhiko’s artistic (Rakugo) journey and his relationship with Sukeroku. But, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. And the thing about genre specification, I guess I just disagree that homosexual/LGBT narratives are niche or that they should be. This show is a josei historical drama with a focus on subtle world-building, character growth and relationships. Thus, Kiku being in love with Sukeroku would actually fit right in with the rest of this subtle story and wouldn’t be opposite of what the show promised to be about. One viewer could say “I didn’t sign up for gay themes!” but I would reply “gay themes are as normal and pervasive as any other themes in day to day life. LGBT existence is not completely separate from other existences and it touches upon the same human emotions and dilemmas. You signed up for a subtle character study framed within the artistic world of Rakugo during the Shouwa period. What part of that description excludes LGBT narratives/characters?” But, it’s ok if we disagree. I’ll stop leaving so many walls of texts now, lol. Sorry about that.
Man, I love your in depth analysis. I can only dream of writing a wall of text that is not repetitive.
Potterwhos analyses are fabulous. If you have a blog, link me up
I’ll add that I searched for a manga version of the anime, and couldn’t find it. But the author has a a lot of stuff scanlated, and it’s all yaoi that I can see. So, I guess it’s not strange both Potterwhos and I find the BL stuff embedded in the characterization/situation/reactions of Kiku/Sukeroku. I hope she does more of this kind of non-yaoi stuff. I love this anime like mad.
Seriously, take a look back at your description of Miyokichi and you’ll see why I commented the fujoshi thing in your post. It’s not like she is just a character who is portrayed as someone who destroyed the relationship of our lovable duo. Nonetheless, another hallmark of being a great show because we are now discussing things about something outside this episode.
She herself said she would get revenge? How? She took away Sukeroku. So, let’s not say that she didn’tc come between their “romance.” She did. And she fully intended to. Her coming on to Sukeroku is principally motivated by hurting Kiku for his rejection of her great life plan for them.
And yeah, we’ll have to disagree. I think she herself made it dang clear that she would find a way to hurt him. She has. And, I suspect, will yet do worse by her own hand (or be the catalyst for the death).
For Sukeroku, I can somehow understand his slump. He kind of person who lives with the dream, he will not change or act accordingly to adapt to the society. Those people will be very successful on his dream career due to their sheer enthusiasm and focus invested on it, but if those dream are taken from them, in this case, Rakugo for Sakeroku, he will be losing the only things he lives for and he will have nothing left. Another good sample case for this kind of character will be Gin, Gon’s dad in HxH.
A great episode, like always, and the performance at the end being the cherry on top. But this time the BL-elements were pushed down harder than usual. The lovey-dovey BL family which is happy as long as the annoying female is out of the picture cliche… Heh. How did I not see it coming?
Still, I already mentioned it, but that two-man “rakugo”… Genius, just genius. Can’t believe we only have two episodes left.
Have to agree, Konatsu was all kinds of adorable. Though this is slightly wrong use for the phrase, I believe “Konatsu best girl” is quite appropriate here.
Yes I happen to like when we get children who are portrayed as children in anime
I wasn’t going to write this but… Eh, gotta get this rant off my chest I suppose.
As much as I like Shouwa Genroku, I’m finding I have a really weird issue with it; I’m seriously getting weary of listening to Akira Ishida… Which is really weird because I like his performances, especially as Kiku/Yakumo. But I suppose I’m getting an overdose of him, since he has so many roles this season and he sounds pretty much the same in them all… I just find myself instinctively glancing at the time when his characters start to talk, which is unfortunately affecting my enjoyment of several shows. I’m just glad this didn’t happen earlier this season
AGREED. Man, he is Oz in Divine Gate, that dude in Dimension W and Izana in Shirayuki=hime. Kikuhiko’s too strong a character for me not to laugh (or dampen) some of my experience in these other shows. Well, he’s a good VA so yeah. I wouldn’t mind that much in the end.
Yeah, it’s not something that will stop me from watching these shows (especially this late into the season), but it is something that’s starting to bother me at times. Besides, like you say, he’s good.
Btw, he also has a supporting role in later episodes of Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu. Now that I think about it, that’s probably the show I had this problem worst with, even though his screentime in it was pretty short (might or might not be related to how that’s probably the least good show he’s in).
It’s a shame that lingers in your head when you’re listening to him here, because I think this is easily one of his best performances not just this season, but in years. He does have a very distinctive voice, but he’s been able to show great versatility throughout this flashback (as well as in the premiere) that proves he has a much larger range than his other roles would indicate. I’d consider him a serious contender for Male Seiyuu of the Year after what he’s done with Yakumo. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to him for 11 weeks now, but I can’t imagine another seiyuu giving quite the same performance.
I agree with everything you wrote (maybe except for the Male Seiyuu of the Year, since the year is still young). That’s why I find the whole issue weird in the first place. I suppose it’s a kind of a “too much of the good thing” situation.
Konatsu makes me smile so big. I haven’t enjoyed a child in anime this much since Naru in BARAKAMON, whom I utterly adore.
Sorry….but I also agree with Potterwhos above, I also want to add the things based on my observation at other sites, the fact is I see many watchers solely only blame Kiku, especially male watchers cuz he can’t accept Miyo’s love like that is his “freaking” obligation, since Miyo is sooo hot, so Kiku totally in the wrong for not accepting Miyo’s love and dedication. I agree he should just handle the break up or whatever their relationship is better, in fact I said he should just steer clear from Miyo and reject her immediately since the beginning if he didn’t have any serious intention in having “serious” relationship with her hard and cold, and be done with it, but why I still have the feeling that even if Kiku did that, then people still blames him solely for having shit taste or attitude for dare to even reject Miyo since Miyo is so hot and poor her for having such miserable life, right…so the only right thing to do for kiku is to make her his wife even if he didn’t want to and didn’t have the obligation to do so if he didn’t want to, just like it’s Miyo’s rights to fall in love with whomever, but people also have the rights to reject that feeling if they didn’t share the same feeling. Yep, I’ve seen this attitude plenty of time, everywhere…that it kinds of irk me. As a female, I certainly didn’t want to be forced to accept love confession from any male just because they’re hot and they totally love me a lot while I didn’t have the same feeling. The problem is many watchers expecting that kind of thing from Kiku and put the blames only on him regarding his relationship with Miyo, and I kind of remembering the same thing in Brinhydil where the main lead is being offered or seduced by one of the girls to have sex with her, even though the mc didn’t have that kind of feeling toward that girl…so when he rejects the offer, plenty of the audiences, especially the male ones just said all kinds of shits toward the mc attitude, cuz how dare he reject one of the hottest girl approach…right. He should just have sex with her despite whatever feelings he got and consider him lucky cuz such a hot girl is offering herself to him, right. So, these kind of attitudes from some of the audiences are also rub me in the wrong way….like a male should just accept any kind of love from a hot and pitiful anime girl/woman, and he’s so totally in the wrong if he even dare to reject that notion.
Kiku, Shin, Yakumo, etc did plenty of mistakes and they’re definetely no saints, but Miyo is definetely not blameless, especially regarding her relationship with Kiku….and just because she had a miserable and hard life as a female in that kind of society, doesn’t justified her mistakes or can easily erased all of her bad deeds, heck my great grandmother live at that kind of age in time of oppresions (I’m from Indonesia), but never once she succumb to prostitution or what not, despite she’s born poor without education and anyone at her side (her parents also dead and she’s all alone), but she managed to survive with dignity, doing anything or hard works from farm works, selling vegetables or whatever until she met my great grandfather and even raising all of her kids by herself when my great grandfather go to war for our country’s independence…heck my great grandmother also join in the independence war by becoming the messenger for the patriots while selling vegetables across the lands. She’s a fighter and she can survive just fine while still living live full of dignity despite her miserable conditions and fate in the society as a woman at that time (1930-1940). The point is if Miyo want to, she can live independently through very hard works and messy life first without solely depending on mans, she can try sewing, farming, selling vegetables or whatever that proper to earn her living, heck Kiku said she even had a great voice and should try to be a singer, but she didn’t even want to try….just like Shin, despite he has a small daughter but only want to do rakugo and never once try to work a living…any kind of works (despite he’s the man of the family) and instead little Konatsu that has to make a living for her family, no wonder Kiku smack him when they met again for the first time. Yeah…the lives in Japan at that time is really hard and miserable just like in any other Asian countries, but that doesn’t mean the opportunities is practically non existant for females…my grandmother and plenty of other females proved that, heck Konatsu even proved that, she didn’t have to become a prostitute and solely depending on males to make a living, if they want to and willing to suffer a bit in the beginning, there’s still other jobs that they can do as females at that period of time.
For some reason whenever I watch this it feels like the Emperors Concubine film from South Korea.. Not everything just sometimes. Its a great show though, and i love watching it.
This episode has been my favorite thus far. 🙂