Accepting the Yakumo Name:
Is it odd that I didn’t get emotional during the opening scenes of this finale? Sukeroku and Miyo have just died, after all, yet the way it was handled didn’t make me well up or reflect on the difficult lives they both had. I expected something more emotional – though Konatsu’s harsh words are painful to hear, knowing she lost both her parents in a single night. It almost feels like the mourning occurred off-screen, allowing us to move on. At first I was left unsure about this direction, but after some reflection I feel it was a smart choice; we don’t need to be emotional manipulated any longer. We knew what was going to happen, it happened, and so we must find out how our characters deal with that loss.
This episode once again proved why Yakumo is such a fascinating character. Every decision he makes, every selfish inner thought, every contradiction between his actions and his feelings – it’s all so compelling, and when you add in his likeable and unlikeable traits, you end up with this flawed, damaged, regretful person that we were introduced to in the first episode. He accepted the Yakumo name with tears in his eyes, after doing everything he could to ensure Sukeroku got that spot. It’s painful that the gift of a powerful name came at such a horrible price, especially after learning he never wanted that name in the first place. He was the last one left to inherit it, and so he had no choice but to embrace the mask and hide behind it, throwing away the tragedy of his life story to appease his audiences.
Once you add Konatsu into the equation, it makes sense why the two have a strained and potentially unhealthy relationship, even if he is technically her guardian. They seem just as distant in the past as they are in the present. The scene that stood out to me would be Konatsu promising she would kill Yakumo. While it could have been played off in the same way kids say “I hate you!”, there was venom in her words. And when asked who she learned that language from, she cited Miyokichi. Despite what Yakumo says later in the episode, I think it’s clear that Konatsu is the daughter of Sukeroku and Miyokichi. For all the positivity and love she is capable of, there is hatred within her that matches that of her scorned mother.
Return to the Present!:
And just like that, we return to the present! I predicted we would jump back in the finale, but I didn’t expect some time to have passed since the first episode. It’s not stated, but I would say several years have gone by, as every character is either in a new place or is showing their age. Yotaro has learned 100 stories and moved up in the ranks, shaved his head, and seems a little more mature despite his ever-present goofiness. Konatsu has grown out her hair and has left Yakumo’s household, returning only to visit and announce she is in fact pregnant (though won’t say who the father is). Meanwhile, Yakumo and Matsuda have aged, with Yakumo’s grey haired now white, as he remains haunted by the ghost of his closest friend.
It appears him telling his life story, and of the death of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, has not healed his wounds. If anything, he is more reminded of the man he dearly misses with Yotaro by his side. He may be a goofball, but he’s incredibly likeable and his rakugo is charismatic and genuinely hilarious (I found myself laughing a few times during his short performance and interactions with the audience). To make matters more complicated, the episode ends with Yotaro professing that he wishes to inherit the Sukeroku name, to which Yakumo is left stunned. Could you imagine if it ended there? I would probably freak out and then screamed at the clouds for several hours. Thankfully, there is no need, because a second season has been confirmed!
Overview – Final Impressions:
Let me begin my final impressions by saying how good it feels knowing Rakugo Shinjuu is going to get the full adaptation it deserves. It’s such a relief that I can no longer imagine what my reaction would be if that weren’t the case. But aside from that wonderful news, all I can say about this show is that it was about as perfect as any drama can be. From the first episode to the last, I was enthralled, I was grinning, stricken with grief, confused about whether I was supposed to love or hate the characters, entertained by all the marvelous rakugo performances, and seriously impressed by Omata Shinichi’s directing and attention to detail.
I have read that some people were not emotional connected to the characters, and so couldn’t care as much for the series as they would have liked (although those same people all say that the series as a whole is undeniably great and deserves the acclaim it gets), but I can only repeat what I said last week: I have never come across a cast of characters so easy to love and hate, who are fickle and selfish and make bad choices, but who are decent people who have had troubled lives, who came together through a string of bad decisions and unfortunate circumstances that felt out of their control. I never thought any of the developments as forced, as if the original writer was pushing the characters to fit her ideal narrative; but rather we saw them at their highest and lowest, just getting on with their lives and either embracing or fighting against whatever came their way.
I often try to be positive and praiseworthy in my final impressions of a series, even if I didn’t especially love it, but let me make this clear: I think Rakugo Shinjuu is special. Its storytelling, writing, characters, drama, everything – it’s sublime. It shows that anime is a wonderful art form when stories like this are told. Stories that aren’t easy to sell, but are human to the core. All things considered, I would say Rakugo Shinjuu is one of the best anime I’ve ever watched, and it’s been an absolute treat to write about it every week. And knowing that I will be able to do so again once the second season comes around is a wonderful feeling. As Yotaro says in the epilogue, this was Act I of the story, which focused on the tragedies of the past. I imagine Act II will instead be more hopeful, focusing on the future – the future of the Yakumo and Sukeroku names, and the future of rakugo as a whole. Seeing the empty audiences and hearing about the theaters shutting down is disheartening because it’s likely what happened in real life. But we know that rakugo has a future. It is a still a respected art form to this day, with women now performing on the stage, adapting to the changing world by having performers travelling the world and telling their stories in other languages. That’s what Sukeroku meant when he said rakugo had to evolve. Unfortunately, Yakumo is not cut out to pursue that dream, no matter how much he wants it. Instead I would place my bets on Yotaro and Konatsu – the future faces of rakugo who will live to see their passion regain the appreciation it deserves, and hopefully long enough to tell the tale to future generations.
Thanks for great reviews, Samu!
Thank you! I hope you got just as much enjoyment from reading my posts as I did from writing them.
That I forgot to say. Thank you for reviewing this series. Passerby and you are my favorite RC writers so I was glad you are the one assigned for Rakugo.
Ah, such kind words. Thank you!
And make no mistake, I wasn’t assigned Rakugo. I took it with my own two hands and made sure no one else had an option in the matter :>
Easily my A.O.T.S
Such a good show and to be honest I was on the fence about even watching it when episode 1 first came out but damn am I glad that I gave it a chance and we’re getting a season 2? You really cant ask for much more. Sukeroku is definitely my favorite character and Bon, I love his character over all. Pretty sure everyone hates Miyokichi lol. She was interesting when it first started but damn I just hated her when everything went down. I guess my biggest question is who is Konatsu baby’s father?!
But overall I guess this show 9/10
A lot of people do hate Miyo, but I don’t. Up until episode 11 she was the most sympathetic character of the main trio (for me at least). After learning about her history with men and being left alone in a foreign country and only being able to make a living from selling herself, I can’t bring myself to hate her.
Though there’s several valid reasons why people could hate her, like her leaving her daughter or trying to push Yakumo over the balcony with her. But when people dislike her because “she’s a slut/whore” or because she got in the way of people’s precious pairing, it infuriates me.
While I’d confidently say Yakumo is the most developed and multi-dimensional character of the cast (since this was basically his life story), I think Miyo is way more complicated than people give her credit for. Her feelings were genuine in the beginning, and through a series of bad decisions made by other people, she found herself consumed with hatred for rakugo and for the man who was too late in returning her love. And even if you think she’s a terrible person, that doesn’t stop her from being a brilliant character.
I can definitely agree with you on a lot of points. My biggest problem with her and yes its a selfish reason but its because she lead to Sukeroku’s death. She was definitely an emotionally damaged character but I feel like she could of been saved. But I dont think I can forget the way their deaths played out. I find it rare for deaths in anime to have as much impact as theirs did.
Add me on the camp that doesn’t hate Miyo (Even though I’m a bit biased because I simply love Megumi’s voice) I pretty much agree with everything you have said. I think that her being a terrible, albeit tragic, person doesn’t warrant hating her. But “every head is a different world” says my mother.
I’m so glad that we will get a complete adaptation. Man, this kind of things make hope that anime isn’t dead as storytelling medium.
What really helped make the show it is besides the great plot, story, execution, art style etc…
Was the voice actors.
The youngest of the main cast of VA’s is 34. After that they’re late 40’s upwards so hugely experienced and they really are all perfect for the roles, especially miyokichi (who’s VA did faye valentine in bebop) and Kiku/yakumo’s VA…who I never used to like because of gundam seed but hey ho, what an amazing job 🙂
Hating Akira Ishida. I’ll bite you. ＞Д＜
I posted once before saying I was a little let down by the premiere because it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but this series easily became my most anticipated every week by a long shot. It’s so rare for for me to feel like I received such a complete story out of a 12-13 episode anime, but I felt completely satisfied with this ending. Even with that cliffhanger and knowing Yotarou’s story still needs to be told, this adaptation fulfilled itself through Yakumo’s story, and Yotarou’s is just more to look forward to. I’m curious to see if there’ll be a significant difference in tone now that the goofball is center stage (though I’m sure there’s still plenty of drama to come).
And for how nasty he could be, I think I’ll weep when Yakumo dies (if the series goes on long enough for that to happen on-screen, anyway). I started off pretty neutral on him but the complexity of his character drew me right in and I couldn’t help loving him. Like you said, the characters were too easy to love and hate–and even if I hated them I loved to hate them for all their complex issues.
And thank you for the weekly coverage, Samu. A large part of what kept me coming back to the series in the beginning was your endless praise and excitement.
(And I still can’t believe this is a DEEN show–here I thought Sankarea and Rozen Maiden were nice-looking DEEN shows, but this blew them both out of the water completely)
I marathoned the entire show in one day and by God I’m really glad I did.
I found the first episode dragging a bit, but once Yakumo started telling his life story the hours just flew by. It all just flowed so wonderfully like some sort of art form. Much like how a Rakugo performer must capture their audience I was myself captured by how this story was told/unfolded and the characters that we came love/hate. In hindsight it should have felt rushed, but somehow it all just…worked. Yakumo was definitely the most well defined and I never found myself really hating Miyo either as I too understood her circumstances. I’d dare say that she added something more to the show, and while yes she did do some reprehensible things I can’t completely fault her.
In the end it is a show about people who all have some sort of baggage trying to just get by in life. These characters simply made choices which they believed would bring them happiness or give them their own little place in the world which was rapidly changing before their very eyes. Who can fault them for that? I certainly can’t.
People will have their opinions on things, but I’m off the opinion that I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time here. (Only real thing that I can say is that I didn’t always sit through all the Rakugo performance segments, and yes that sounds moronic)
As I watched it all yesterday I didn’t really have a chance to keep up with your reviews but I did read the ones for episode 12 and this one, obviously. They were fine reads nonetheless.
Onward to season 2! (Man Deen really did hit out of the ball park this season didn’t they)
Who’s the father, and why is she angry? Is it revealed in the manga?
Well I hoped Yotaro, but so far I couldn’t find any confirmation.
Maybe the guy Yotaro is gripping by the color in the S2 preview? Or it could be something really messed up like it being Yakumo, because of what he was yelling at Sukeroku, asking if he was angry about what he did to her daughter. I’d like to think that’s not the case though because in the previous scene, he seems baffled as any.
Sorry I couldn’t help but rewatch from the beginning, and I think the guy in S2 preview with the bow tie is the same guy standing next to Yotaro at Yakumo’s Shinigami performance in Ep 1!
I have a feeling that Konatsu was angry because in a way she would be following her mother’s footsteps if she really accepted Yotaro’s offer. I mean, Miyokichi got together with Sukeroku just because he offered, and she needed someone, so it was a little bit of a convenience. Konatsu hated her mother for what she did to Sukeroku, and I think she genuinely did not want to become like her mother and use a man’s kindness for her own sake. I have to say, and I’m most probably wrong, but in the earlier episode when Miyo talked about the little one inside her, I wasn’t even certain if it was Sukeroku’s child, as he didn’t respond with the likes of “yes I want our child to be happy too”, but “I’ll go wherever you (Miyo) want to go” . The way Konatsu reacted to Yotaro’s offer almost made me think Sukeroku may not have been her real father after all…
I just rewatched that little bit of the episode, and when Sukeroku went to find KiKu, he said “she (Miyo) is having a baby”, not “we are having a baby”. This makes me think Sukeroku isn’t the father after all… Or maybe I’m reading too much into it…
As I read, it’s not revealed in the manga. Author just left this question as it is.
Industry viewers say both the source manga and anime sales have been poor, so likely the decision for a Season 2 was made earlier during Season 1’s production process, to coincide with the manga ending soon.
My take about not caring foe the characters is we used to have this framework that a certain someone should be flawed but not to the extent that he or she makes decisions that are deemed stupid or bad enough to ruin their lives (maybe it is in our subconscious that we think we should see them doing things right), for us to be emotionally attached to them. Rakugo is not one of these shows. That’s why I love it more. They are real people to begin with so… yeah, you can never like them in full without those heavy flaws.
My take? Anime show of the freakin’ good Winter Season. We are off to a good start.
PS: Yotaro x Konatsu is just kawaii.
Thanks Samu for your reviews! As I’ve mentioned before if it weren’t for your posts, I would not pick up this anime at all, and I don’t regret it one bit! Can’t wait for Act 2 to start… My only question is: does anyone know how long the intermission would be? I don’t want to wait too long >_<
You’re welcome! I’m glad my posts helped you watch this gem. Tell all your friend to watch it as well! A series of this quality deserves more of an audience.
Honestly, Shinjuu is Memoirs of a Geisha depicted in the anime medium. Both rich in story and left me emotionally satisfied. We had a somewhat happy end with Memoirs, and I do hope we’ll get one in Shinjuu, too 🙁
A.O.T.S , not even close fellas
Fell too far behind to catch back up but thanks for the coverage. I’ll have to make it a priority when S2 comes around.
You won’t regret it if you catch up right now. I’ve heard people who have marathoned it have enjoyed it a hell of a lot – perhaps more than we who watched it weekly?
No doubt a masterpiece, it “made anime great again” in my mind.
Compare this to that lackluster Erased finale, and you can see which one is the real work of art and which is the generic thriller.
What are you talking about. Erased finale was beautiful. Jarringly disjointed from the rest of the show, but still beautiful on its own…as an attempt to rewrite the story on the part of the director. Oh the POSSIBILITIES…
It’s kind of disheartening that Konatsu didn’t become a rakugo actor… I understand the mangaka wanted to be faithful to the time period, still it gave me slightly unpleasant vibes of the sort ‘stay in the kitchen, woman’.
Good thing there’s a second season on the way! With any hope we’ll see Konatsu on the stage, as she should be.
I just finished this season. The anime is truly exceptional, a gem.
I just want to express that I’ve never seen a character’s aging depicted so well, in any show before this one. It was truly amazing to see how young Bon became Yakumo Yurakutei.