The best anime of 2016 returns for its second season. And if I were a betting man, I’d say it’s a shoo-in for 2017 as well. It’s so so so good to have this series back, it almost doesn’t feel real. Not many truly great anime get sequels, but Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is going to get a full adaptation, which sets 2017 off to a pretty great start, even if the rest of the winter season doesn’t appear to offer anything of this quality storytelling. I wanted to discuss the thematically rich OP that was posted online prior to this episode’s airing, but since it didn’t appear here I’ll wait until next week to dissect that masterpiece of an opening – seriously, go watch it if you haven’t already. I’ve probably do so about 22 times so far and will continue to have it on repeat for the coming weeks and months, no doubt.
What better way to re-introduce us than have Yotaro continue from the exact same spot that he left us – on stage, breaking the fourth wall, summarising the events of last season and how he’s been sitting there the entire time waiting for the show to continue. I was already smiling before the real show began, and it never left throughout the remainder of the episode. In contrast to the highly dramatic double length premiere last season, this was much more pleasant, casually paced, and barely scratched the surface of the second arc of the series. More than anything, this episode serves as an oppertunity to just watch these characters on-screen once again and appreciate their banter with one another and the passion they have for this dying art form.
Without the flashback arc, Yakumo’s character would likely seem bitter and unlikeable, but with the context we have – which is basically his entire life – it makes him impossible to dislike, even if his views and decisions contradict the destined direction of the series. He is stubborn yet acknowledges that rakugo must move forward with the times; as is pointed out here, he is the “Shinigami of Rakugo” – a man who wouldn’t mind the art form dying with him. He gets a weird satisfaction from that idea, yet he doesn’t oppose Yotaro’s choices to take rakugo into the next generation.
It’s been 10 years since the very first episode when Yotaro met Yakumo and Konatsu, and that passage of time doesn’t feel like a lost opportunity. There were likely many stories to tell in that time period, but this feels like the perfect place to pick up where we left, and witness the tale that’s meant to be told. Although I expect Yakumo to remain the lynchpin of the series, Yotaro is replacing Sukeroku (in more ways that one) as the other protagonist this season, and although we’d only seen him in two episodes before, this served as a reminder of just how likeable and fun-loving this ex-convict is. From his goofy smile to his natural stage presence to his speak-first-think-later attitude, he’s a bright light in a dim world and brings positive energy to every scene. The inclusion of his character in this second season is likely to change the tone and atmosphere here, so if the romantic tragedy of the past wasn’t to your personal taste, then I predict this season’s message of hope and adapting to the modern times will be more to your preference. Personally, I can appreciate both sides of Rakugo Shinjuu, and after being spoiled about a particular event (which I wish I hadn’t, but it’s hard these days with fans online being unable to contain themselves), I know that even if Sukeroku Futabi-hen spreads a message of hope and modernisation, it’s very likely the emotional highs of the first season could be matched, or even exceeded. We shall see…
For the time being, we have the formal introduction of writer Higuchi Eisuke (Toshihiko Seki), who pairs with Yotaro to begin writing new rakugo stories that will stand the test of time. I say formal introduction, because we briefly saw Higuchi late in the first season when he begged to be Yakumo’s apprentice. To think that a seemingly unimportant scene (except to show that Yakumo wasn’t thinking of being anyone else’s master) would lead into this new storyline. It’s deftly handled and sets up exciting prospects. But if there’s one character I cannot wait to see more of, it would be Konatsu. She’s still stubborn and likely holds resentment for Yakumo even after hearing the story of her father, but the fact she’s a new single mother puts her in an interesting position. And it also sets up that amusing “relationship” between her and Yakumo, where he is essentially the dad, even though he calls her his sister. It could be a straight-forward romance, but Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is multi-layered in everything it attempts, and this family dynamic we have between the three leads is sure to be a source of much enjoyment and drama for the rest of this season.
I’m keen to see Konatsu’s motherly side, and I expect the real father of her child won’t ever be revealed. It seems like an unimportant detail (though it could tie into the overall story by the end, who knows), but one fact I hope isn’t ignored is Konatsu’s love for rakugo. She watched Yakumo’s performance from a distance with a distasteful expression, because as a woman, she is still not permitted to sit on that stage and tell the stories of her father. Yakumo included her in the story and three promises he mentioned to Yotaro, but I expect this old man’s conservative ways are going to cause friction when it comes to accepting a woman’s right to being a rakugo storyteller. I pray she gets that time to shine and prove herself, and be an example of rakugo’s modernisation. Women are now much more common in the rakugo world, so we already know what direction things should go. I just hope that is what awaits with Konatsu’s story, along with Yotaro doing rakugo for rakugo’s sake.
I know us RC writers aren’t meant to reveal which shows we’re blogging until a few more weeks, but I’m gonna break the rules and say I’m blogging this masterpiece until its completion. See you next week!