Every week I’m convinced Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu can’t get any better, yet every week it does it again. After last episode’s big reveal I was expecting this to be a quiet episode with less drama, but this was just as thrilling as we’ve come to expect these past few weeks. While the first few episodes of this season weren’t the best, once it found its stride in episode 4 (with Konatsu’s first rakugo performance), every episode since has been pretty much perfect. There are no flaws in the story, there’s no odd pacing, there’s nothing to pick apart and criticise because everything this series reaches for it grabs with all its might. It delivers on every crucial element, and knowing there’s only four episodes to go is perhaps even more heartbreaking than the events of the episode itself.
It appears Yakumo isn’t above suicide, as some thought after last week. It seemed to me that a man this determined to leave the world wouldn’t hold back in taking his own life, and he was prepared to do just that if Yotaro and Konatsu didn’t show up at the right moment. Would he even have had the strength or will to push himself over that bridge? We’ll never know, but we see Yakumo at his weakest here. After watching him grow throughout his life, hearing him talk about his body rotting away is truly heartbreaking. As ever, Yakumo is a compelling man who you both love and hate (though not so much hate these days). After knowing he’s purposefully painted himself as the villain to keep the truth from Konatsu, it’s hard to think of him like that in reality. But then you have scenes this one where he gives a wicked smile to Yotaro that I’m not sure how to read.
This episode once again delivered on the slow and believable progress in Yotaro and Konatsu’s relationship. In reality, a married couple taking years to get this far is ludicrous, but with each new step in the right direction, Rakugo Shinjuu sells their relationship as authentic and loving. Look how far they’ve come! Or rather, look how far Konatsu has come. Before long they’ll be kissing and doing things that actual couples do! But in all seriousness, their scenes are increasingly sweet, and you can see that both have fallen for one another after putting themselves in this arranged father-mother agreement. Likewise, Shin is growing slowly, and with each new scene he has with Yakumo, it reaffirms the idea I have that his grandchild will be the one who keeps him going until the bitter end.
Yotaro’s performance this week was perhaps the most emotional of the entire series. It relied little on gags and instead was accompanied with a lovely backing track which steered us in the direction of tearful emotions. I didn’t quite well up like Yotaro himself, or get flustered like Konatsu when she watched her husband channel her father’s story, but I felt Yotaro’s every word; he was practically pleading for Yakumo to take the stage after him, giving his story his all to inspire his master not to give in. And it was all going so well, until the police arrived and took away Yakumo’s close friend and Shin’s birth father.
I’m not going to lie, I was caught off guard by that ending, but it certainly makes for some good drama, and put Yakumo’s returning performance on hold once again. We’re getting teased for what remains, and while there’s a few possibilities in which route the story could take, this isn’t the sort of series where you can predict every plot beat just before it comes. It’s hard to know if next week will be set hours or years later, and where the characters will be. But that’s what I love about Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: It feels like we’re following the lives of these characters until they barely seem like characters anymore, and more like real people who lived these lives and we’re just privileged enough to know their stories.