I cried five times during this episode.
The first was when Konatsu revealed she was pregnant, and that it was Yotaro’s child. The fact that she had to spell it out to him is so them, but dear God, these two are one heck of a couple. With each passing episode we’ve seen more affection between them, until finally they’re properly in love with each other, and here they have a child on the way. As I welled up, I was near grinning. It was perhaps the happiest moment in the series–other than Konatsu performing rakugo for the first time–and for a moment, everything felt right in the world. It lightened the mood, and proved that Yotaro and Konatsu are made to be. The fact that it came so naturally as the seasons came and went within mere seconds, shown by the sakura flowers which were consistent throughout the episode, is another impressive feat of this series. I’ve said it before, but nearly every other anime I’ve watched suffers when it jumps in time. Fune wo Amu is a recent example of a series that was on a roll to be brilliant, but it skipped what would have been the best and most human parts of the journey just to get to the end of the established plot. Here, things come and go, slow down and speed up, like we’re watching these characters lives unfold moment by moment; some close together, some months or years apart, and it flows so naturally.
The second time I teared up was a little one, but in any other show would be a scene-stealing moment. When Yotaro and Hii are on that familiar train line, and he tries to sell his new stories to Yotaro, Yotaro replies that he wants women’s rakugo. We all know Konatsu loves rakugo–I’d argue more than anyone else in the cast–but if there’s one man who wants her to do it even more than she does, that wholly believes in her talent and worth, it’s her husband, Yotaro. Women now regularly perform rakugo, but when this current storyline is set (which must be around the 80s, I haven’t been keeping count), that perhaps was still a progressive move. Yet for Yotaro, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. Even for someone like Hii, who is pushing for new rakugo stories to take the medium to the next stage didn’t even consider that. That, paired with Yotaro saying he doesn’t want to overtake his master because he loves following him, that he loves being at his back so he can admire his rakugo… that’s why Yotaro is so damn loveable. There’s not a bad bone in his body. In a series where every character is complicated and makes rash decisions that change the course of their lives for the worse, he’s made mistakes in his past that have sent him to prison, but he’s a pure soul and the perfect master-to-be in the new wave of rakugo.
The third time I cried, I wept. For several minutes. The entire Yakumo/Konatsu scene has to be the greatest scene in the entire show. It’s a moment that was notably uplifting and joyful, though you’d think the dramatic scenes thick with symbolism would be the best. What this interaction did, however, was take the hatred Konatsu had for Yakumo for her entire life, since the first episode, and laid it bare. It exposed the faults in her emotions, allowed them both to be honest with each other for what felt like the first time in thirty years. Konatsu delivers the usual line that Yakumo should have died that day with her parents, and it would be the last time she ever would. Funnily enough, I believed her almost every other time she did it, yet here it was clear she’d lost the will to keep fighting. She couldn’t hate this old, dying man who had become her father through tragic consequence any longer. When Konatsu started to break down, so did I. The screen was a blur and I couldn’t control myself, and it was a moment so gorgeous that I struggle to find words to effectively describe it.
I love Yotaro and Konatsu as a couple, but if there’s one relationship that stands out most for me in Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, it is Yakumo and Konatsu’s. There’s not much competition in truth, but I’d say it’s the most complicated and authentic father-daughter relationship seen in anime. There are so many layers to their feelings for one another which have unravelled over this second season, but now we reach the core of it all, and it’s simple: They love each other. Yakumo played the bad guy his entire adult life to keep the events of that night from her, and just as he promised, he never told her in the end. And Konatsu, who was convinced she loathed the man who raised her, realised how thankful she was. Yakumo’s line: “How could I find time to die when I was taking care of you?”, followed by Konatsu’s: “Then if not for me, you wouldn’t have suffered so much?” is so poetic, delivered with such elegance that I have to commend Kumota Haruko for her writing; she has created a masterpiece and deserves all the awards she received for her work. But the one moment that broke me–totally, utterly, shattered me– is when Konatsu weeps: “Thank you. For raising me instead of abandoning me…”
I thought my feelings of Miyokichi were finalised last week, but it seems her presence still lingers in the air. When Konatsu mentions her mother as if she were some cursed mistress, it’s Yakumo who replies with such kindness and affection when describing her. Clearly, he has immense regret for how he treated her, and as he said he witnessed a woman’s every emotion through Miyokichi. Through the highs and lows, he still doesn’t think badly of her, even though she clearly meant to take his life that night at the inn, but ended up stabbing Sukeroku and taking him with her to the grave. You’d think out of anyone, it’d be Yakumo who would hate her most of all, but I’m sure if he met her in the afterlife he’d be the first to apologise for what he did, which says so much about his character. Based off what he says to Konatsu, I believe the only reason he wasn’t overcome with grief and didn’t take his life sooner was because he had a child to raise–their child; the daughter of the two people he cared most about in the world. And all that comes together beautifully in this scene, as they listen to Yotaro through the radio, as they laugh together, and for the first time, there isn’t an ounce of animosity between them.
Shin appearing with the sakura petals, repeating his dad’s rakugo as he tries to cheer up his grandpa was a sweet moment. Since Shin was born, we’ve seen that Yakumo has immense affection for the boy; he’s his major weakness, and Shin knows it. It’s a lovely family moment, that pairs with Yotaro’s rakugo which makes smart user of jumping around the city to locations relevant to his story. It’s a different sort of rakugo than what we’re used to, but it fit perfect with the uplifting mood of the episode, which leads into the fourth moment that brought tears to my eyes: When Konatsu asked to be Yakumo’s apprentice. But more specifically, that part that got to me was when he said he would. God, I’ve been waiting twenty-three episodes for this scene, for the moment when Konatsu finally announces that she wants to do rakugo, and that Yakumo accept her. Because she’s always played it down whenever the topic came up, I don’t know when Yakumo would have agreed; perhaps he was ready long ago, or maybe they needed to get through this cathartic moment first. But that fact that he supports her now, this stubborn, conservative old man who is stuck in his ways and doesn’t want to look beyond the rakugo that Sukeroku gave him… it’s hard not to celebrate. This episode was one life re-affirming moment after another, as every underlying thread came together in this honest and gorgeously directed heart-to-heart.
But then, it wouldn’t be Rakugo if we didn’t end on a tragic note. I’m sure we’re all accustomed to the ways the series has of twisting expectations and sending us into the pits of Hell (literally). But I have to say, it’s exactly as I expected. Just as I said last week, I predicted Yakumo would die before the end of the series, and that he would die in peace. Some will cling onto hope that he’ll survive once more, but he’s danced with death and escaped its grasp so many times now that it’s clear that his time has finally come. Sukeroku’s red eyes in the OP were the typical indication of Yakumo’s looming death playing a part in the upcoming episode, but it seems that wasn’t the case. In the end, it was the candle that always went out, suddenly lit up again. Just as Yakumo was satisfied with living on, no longer afraid of dying and facing his regrets, he reached his end. He died smiling on that porch with Konatsu and Shin, free of his burdens, free from rakugo. And that was the fifth time I cried.
I could write a thousand more words on the brilliance of Yakumo’s character, but I expect next week will be a celebration of his life, so I’ll save it for then. All I’ll say is that while tragic, this is the best way for things to end. Yakumo was never going to make it through to the end of the series, but now his passing is sure to signal the shift in the rakugo world. His presence has been felt in every moment, as he tried so hard to bring this art form that his greatest friend gave to him to the grave, but now that he’s gone and left it behind, it’s up to Yotaro and Konatsu to make their mark on the medium. What’s most painful for me, I think, is the fact that just as Yakumo agreed to take Konatsu as his apprentice, he was robbed of that opportunity. That, as well as him never being able to see Yotaro and Konatsu’s child. It’s when that realisation hits that I feel like I’ve been cast to the waves and am battered to the bones with grief.
I didn’t think it possible, but this was the best episode of the series. Perfect doesn’t even begin to cover it.