OP: 「今際の死神」 (Imawa no Shinigami) by Hayashibara Megumi
Okay, let’s talk about that opening. When it was released online earlier last week I watched in repeat for hours, blown away by the grim symbolism, Hayashibara Megumi’s haunting vocals, and the feeling of dread that follows Yakumo as he wanders aimlessly through colourful space, throws himself from a cliff, and is watched by his friends, families, and loves ones as if he’s being judged for wrongdoing. I understand this year of anime has barely begun, but I think we’ve already found the OP of the year – or at least the one every other show has to beat. The poignant imagery is strong and much like with last season, hinting to the inevitable tragedies that will inevitably come.
What makes this opening so affective is the focus on Yakumo, who is without a doubt the best-written character in the series – and perhaps one of the best-written anime characters I’ve come across. As I mentioned in the Best of 2016 post, it helps that we saw every aspect of his life – from his youth to this old age. We know him inside and out and have witnessed all his tragedies and mistakes, and he’s survived despite them all. Yet surviving doesn’t mean he isn’t plagued by all those errors of the past. Miyokichi is the strongest reminder of his past horrors; with her voice actress behind the vocals, and with Yakumo and everyone else literally standing on her face, it’s clear he can never escape this woman. And with her being name dropped in this episode we witness Yakumo at his most vulnerable, which links to that feeling of shame or guilt he has with her. Is there more than meets the eye, or is he just grief-stricken that his infatuation lead to devastation and he can never forgive himself for it? This leads up to the excellent Evangelion-esque scene with everyone surrounding and reaching out to Yakumo as if to help him, only to have them all shatter around him and for Sukeroku to reveal he is an empty skeleton beneath his robes. My reading is that it shows this is a man who either hates himself or is not what he appears to be. Whatever the case, there’s more to Yakumo than we’ve seen thus far, which may be the most shocking thing of all.
And let’s not forget the obvious takeaway from the opening: The Death flags. I’ve been spoiled for one plot detail that I will mention when it is eventually adapted, but when it comes to the end of Yakumo’s life, my own prediction is that he won’t make it to the end of the series. He’s getting older by the episode, and I don’t think Konatsu is likely to fulfil her promise and kill her adoptive father; she admits this week that she cannot now because then her son would never hear his rakugo. This father-daughter relationship is so rich and complex that I don’t even know where to begin or how to analyse it. All I can say is the resentment, respect, and strange sort of affection they hold for one another is unique in the medium, and I can’t think of any other relationship that compares. But back to my point: I predict Yakumo will die – the preview even shows him in pain – but he’s still got a story to tell before we reach that point. It would be tragic but not too shocking if he did pass on before the end, but then the first season told us the ending right at the beginning, so perhaps the layout of this season’s arc isn’t so different after all.
Outside of Yakumo, Yotaro got a lot of attention this week, and not the good kind. At his best, he is loveable and goofy and someone who can easily put a smile on your face; having seen rakugo in real-life, I think he’d be a brilliant performer to see because of how much energy he puts into his work and how carefree his spirit feels. But this episode showed him at his weakest. Much like his master, when it comes to the mistakes of his past, but Yotaro’s are enough to turn audiences away. When it was revealed to the public that he is an ex-convict with a gang tattoo on his back, he lost half his TV deals and his audiences started dwindling. And worst of all, his performances were plagued with nerves, and he ended up making a rash decision that did not pay off and was frankly in poor taste.
After the mess he made of his show, I was surprised when Yakumo was so forgiving and even encouraged Yotaro to keep fighting, since he is so quick to smacking him and pointing out his flaws. But on reflection, it makes sense that Yakumo would have a soft spot for someone who made errors in their past. Perhaps that’s why he’s willing to perform at jails in the first place? That detail may not be further explored, but I think there’s enough to draw a connection and proves that Yakumo has a heart deep down; he isn’t the empty skeleton of a man that he thinks of himself. The more I learn about his character, the more impressed I am by the writing in this series. Yet I shouldn’t be shocked at this point. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is one of the greatest anime of this decade and I hope in years to come it’s remembered for the quality and craft it displays, even if it’s never going to be the most popular.
If we our free to speculate Show Spoiler ▼
This was in many ways a tough episode. Seeing Yotaro struggle with his scandal and try to give a good performance but get wrapped up in it was very trying. I felt so embarrassed on his behalf. It was touching too that his master truly cared enough to tell him what he needed to hear. It shows that in-spite of how closed off and harsh he can be at times Yakumo does care.
I never thought of that idea, but that would make for a perfect ending!
This is something that has been bothering me since I watched the opening last week. I’m marking it as a spoiler, since I don’t know if it is or not.
Show Spoiler ▼
I felt really bad for Yota in this episode. That performance was extremely painful to watch.
And then this quote:
The fact this show isn’t popular makes me very sad. I would love to own this, but I can’t justify buying the Japanese release if I can’t get it to play on any device. I was really hoping with Crunchyroll and FUNimation having this partnership that they would at least have a subtitled release on DVD or something.
Japanese blue-ray disks work on American players if you’re American.
oh shit why am i now just learning about this
Same as what he said, but basically Japan is Region A which means that
Region A = North America/South East Asia/Japan/South Korea
Region B = Europe/Australia/New Zealand/South America
Region C = China/Middle East/Russia/Africa/South Asia
I might have mixed up some from Regions B & C but essentially the regions are correct for 95% of em
I mean, it’s not popular but it’s acclaimed by most who do watch it. It’s never going to be a show for everyone, but it definitely should be considered one of the greatest anime of this decade, imo.
I am also sad that this is not popular and not much people are talking about it. Visited the MAL forums for this series and comparing the responses with other forums, Rakugo Shinjuu’s forums are lacking people discussing it.
How I wish the manga and DVDs will also be available in our area (Philippines). Sadly, only the most popular series ever make it here. I doubt this series will ever make it here… 🙁 If it does, I will gladly throw my money away for this!
Quite depressing episode, it was tough to watch this performance of Yotaro, his disappointment when no one laughed in cumulative moment. He needs to find a way for himself, as he is right now stunned between Yakumo’s and Sukeroku’s styles. Also, great moment between Yakumo and Yotaro at the end of episode. And is it just me, or this new sensei seems to be too suspicious? I can’t find myself liking him for some reason.
Also, great opening, I didn’t expect it to be so focused on Yakumo, who I guess is eventually going to die sooner or later this season (as I heard it’s going to conclude the whole story or not?)…
Yup, this second season is going to adapt the second half of the manga, so this is going to be a complete adaptation!
When I watched S2 episode 1, I thought S2 will be more on a positive note, but oh boy everything went “oMG MY HEART WHAT IS HAPPENING”, which proves how emotionally provoking this series is (and how a sucker I am for this show).
I agree that the opening song is ominous and raises a lot of death flags. As for Yakumo’s fate, putting it in spoiler tags just in case:
Show Spoiler ▼
This episode actually made me question Yakumo’s feelings for Miyokichi. On S1, I was a bit torn on whether I believe that Kikuhiko truly loved Miyokichi or not. All this time I was 80% leaning to believe that Kikuhiko did not love Miyokichi romantically but his reaction to Miyokichi’s name here made me reconsider my thoughts. (plus the other tidbits in S1 like when he tried to find her when he went to the countryside and that infamous tear-licking scene). If there is more to Kikuhiko and Miyokichi’s relationship then I would love to see it. Since S2 feels that it will surpass the depression and misery that we felt in S1, I think this bit may add that feeling just right.
(I know a lot of people hated Miyokichi’s character but I am I think one of the few people who actually loved her character and the way she tried to advance her relationship with Kikuhiko #YouGoGirl. She was strong in her own way, I think, and I totally shipped her with Kikuhiko (hahaha).)
And… I still feel Higuchi cannot be trusted. The way he said the line “I would like to know more about your life…” made me feel he was stalking Yakumo all along after he was rejected for apprenticeship. But we’ll see…
But let me talk about my favorite scene between Yakumo and Konatsu. I found the scene to be emotionally complex. A layer of it is the, albeit twisted, father-daughter relationship that they have. Konatsu may deny it all she wants but Yakumo was still a father to her. I found the way she was held by Yakumo so sweet. I think that also reflected his longing for a family. He said he would like to live in solitude but what the heck, of course he cannot and he still longed for people to be around him.
Another layer of it is Konatsu’s combined resentment and admiration towards Yakumo. Although she’s still bitter on the old man for the death of Sukeroku and more often than not she’s always saying that “my father rakugo’s is the best in Japan”, I think she still somehow admires and acknowledges that Yakumo’s way of performing is one of the best that they got in the industry. This is evidenced by her line “I would not kill you, because this child wouldn’t be able to hear your rakugo”.
Episode 3 preview… ugh, I think more sh*t will go down. Although Show Spoiler ▼
is inevitable IMO, it pains me just thinking about it after all that we’ve watched in S1.
And Samu, isn’t it the title “Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen”? 🙂
Please keep up this excellent episode recaps! This is one of the reason why watching SGRS is awesome: when you have people to discuss this series with 🙂