I tried to distract myself the entire day, knowing that Rakugo Shinjuu was reaching its end. But then it came, all too suddenly.
First off, I didn’t cry with this episode like in the previous two–but I think that’s more because this was a wholly positive experience that didn’t play much to the dramatics. It was close to perfect, but it wasn’t quite there. I’ll get to that in a moment… but first, let’s talk about that timeskip.
Rakugo Shinjuu loves jumping in time, and it does it better than any other anime I’ve come across. It blends seasons together in seconds like magic, and here we’re transported 16 years later in what appears to be modern day, and it still feels like we’ve only missed a few stops on the bus journey. As last week’s preview gave away, we see Shin as a young adult, and his younger sister, Koyuki, who has her mother’s looks and her father’s energy. As for Shin, the first thing that struck me was how uncanny the resemblance was between him and Yakumo in his youth. More on that in a bit…
Likewise, it was a treat to see middled-aged Yotaro and Konatsu, who seem even more in love than ever before. As you’d expect in an epilogue episode like this, we are caught up to speed with where these characters are now, and it all feels so well-earned, like Konatsu being the first female rakugo performer, or Yotaro transitioning from the Sukeroku name to becoming the 9th Yakumo. I did wonder whether Konatsu would take the 9th Yakumo place, but as Yotaro points out, it’s perhaps better for both names that one becomes the other–that they live on forevermore as one and the same. Not only have our characters changed and risen in the ranks, but rakugo has finally entered the modern world, and it seems to be reaching new highs. As Yotaro points out, there are over 150 performers–young and old, male and female, from the east and west–and together they’ve made sure the art form didn’t die with the man who was so keen to take it with him to the grave. But Yakumo can take pride in his selfish wishes knowing that change did not occur until he passed on. As long as he lived, rakugo did not change. He stood in its path, and everyone waited, out of respect and love, even when others were prepared to move on. It wasn’t until passed away on that porch that rakugo could truly flourish and reach new heights.
Seeing Shin perform was another treat I was hoping for. Short lived as it was, it’s clear his listening to Yakumo’s recordings on his smartphone pays off in his rakugo, as he carries himself in much the same fashion. He may not have found a rakugo this is his quite yet, but seeing his first major performance like this was more than a enough. If I were to be picky, I’d have Konatsu get to perform in front of the crowd, as the theatre is finally up and running again and things are feeling oh so familiar. But instead we get treated to one final performance of Shinigami, this time by Yotaro, who seems like the least likely to take on such a challenging and serious story. But as I expected from the moment he began, Yakumo appeared just as Miyokichi did to him, leaving Yotaro dripping with sweat, staring up in awe and horror. Thought there was a gentleness to Yakumo’s appearence, and it all ties in nicely with his own experiences leading up to this performance.
While this episode delivered a lot that we could have predicted (and wanted), Matsuda still being alive is not one that I was expecting. We were lead to believe he died and joined Yakumo in his final trip in the afterlife, but Matsuda must really have fallen asleep, as here he mentions the dream specifically. So that means that for a brief moment he did get to say his goodbyes, which also links the dreams in the Rakugo world to the afterlife, which is as interesting as it is confusing. But I’m glad Matsuda is still kicking (aged 95!), because with Yakumo now gone, who is more fit to reflect on the events of the entire series but the man who lived through both generations and lives to tell his memories under the evening cherry blossoms. The links to the past and present was so touching, and for a moment we were shown a peaceful time in what was otherwise plagued with inevitable tragedy. The two eras coming together in one final image is just what I wanted, and needed. I want to say it was perfect, but there was one reveal early in the episode that dampened my mood and prevented me from being completely in love with what we got.
It was all but revealed that Yakumo is in fact Shin’s father. After weeks of people suspecting that things weren’t as they seemed, it turns out to be true. But who saw this coming? Not many, I suspect. I thought it would be Yotaro’s aniki from the double-length premiere, not the man who raised Konatsu and was a father figure to her. I’m not going to lie, I am left a little disturbed by this information. It taints the relationships that we’ve established and grown familiar with, from Yakumo, to Konatsu, to Shin. For the first time in the series, I don’t like what we got. There has never been a moment where I had such an adverse reaction to a reveal, and having it come in what would have been an otherwise fitting and beautiful finale was a bummer. But to the series credit, this didn’t come out of nowhere. Rakugo Shinjuu is excellently written if nothing else, and there were hints throughout the series that many of us simply chose to ignore because the possibility of it seemed so absurd. When Yotaro confronted Sukeroku’s spirit in the first season’s finale, he mentioned that his best friend must hate him for what he did to his daughter, which likely refers to getting her pregnant. There was also that scene with Yakumo and the gangster boss when they mentioned the favour he had done for him, which I never read into… until now. Finally, there’s the scene early in the second season where Konatsu is lying with a young Shin and crying over Yakumo, which means so much more knowing that they’re the real parents, and explains why Yakumo loved the kid as much as he did. All things considered, it makes sense. It really does. But that doesn’t mean I like it. I would rather it remain subtext and have theorists debate it in years to come rather than have it affect the mood of this last episode. Never did I expect Rakugo Shinjuu would get the Usagi Drop treatment….
But thankfully, things end on a lovely note. Anytime we cut back to the cherry blossoms, it feels just right, and having Yotaro stand under them and say the final words about rakugo: “Something this good could never go away!”, is about as perfect of a final scene as we could ask for. It strikes to the core, and proves that all along this dying artform was never going to meet its end. Yotaro never believed it for a minute, and seeing it come back into popularity (as seems to be happening in real life), is as good as note to end on as any.
I feel like I’ve run out of words by this point. The past two weeks were behemoths that took me to places few anime have gone before, and I had to much to say. With the death of Yakumo, it feels like the series truly ended last week (or perhaps even the week before). If it did, I would have been fine with that, but getting this epilogue is like a sweet desert to send us off in the best of moods. As mentioned above, the revelation of Shin’s true parents is the single issue I have with the series, but it’s enough that I unfortunately cannot call it my favourite anime ever, as I was prepared to do. Even so, this second season has been as close to perfection as possible, with each episode surpassing the last. It shouldn’t have been possible, but somehow my already high expectations were exceeded.
Where do I begin in wrapping up the series as a whole? What can I say that I haven’t already? It bares repeating, but Yakumo is still in my eyes the best anime character I’ve come across. His arc ended last week, as we chronicled his life from early childhood to his afterlife, and I don’t expect to find anything as epic, grand, emotional, and layered as we witnessed here. Kumota Haruko’s writing paired with Omata Shinichi’s directing makes for an experience like no other. I’ve showered both with praise of the the past year, and I’d just like to say once more that these two are tremendous talents that only make the industry a more exciting place. It goes without saying, but I’ll follow anything either is involved with, if only to see if I can come across something as exceptional as Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu once again.
It’s rare for something to be so grand and epic in scale, yet intimate and detailed with each passing moment. Rakugo Shinjuu found that balance, and it never lost its edge. I remember being blown away by the one-hour premiere over a year ago now, and somehow, I managed to fall in love with the show even more than I thought possible. It should go on record as one of the best anime has to offer. The subject matter may seem too niche for general audiences, but excellent storytelling surpasses boundaries and demographics. This is a true gem, a sheer miracle, an anime that justifies the medium’s existence. This couldn’t be told in any other way to the same effect, and being able to watch that unfold weekly and talk about it with you all has been a blessing.
I usually have so much to say with it comes to this series, but somehow I’m having difficult finding the right words to articulate my feelings. All I know is I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. This has been the best show I’ve had the privledge of blogging on Random Curiosity. Every week it hit me, affected me, made me ponder, transported to this other world, this foreign artform, and fall in love with it. Week by week by week. I love Yakumo. I love Miyokichi. Sukeroku, Matsuda, Yotaro, Konatsu, Shin and now Koyuki. Experiencing their stories and baring witness to their lives has made my own more fulfilling. It’ll be a long time before I come across anything as moving, as beautiful, as close to perfection as Rakugo Shinjuu. And truthfully, I’m content with that. Here are the final words I can muster:
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is finally over, and it’s one of the greatest anime I’ve watched. It managed to make every characters’ story important, as we explored a tragedy in backwards motion, bringing an obscure Japanese artform to life with some of the best directing I’ve seen. It never failed to impress. It’s a story that spans nearly a century; it’s epic in scope, but the beauty lies in every detail of this family’s legacy. But perhaps most daring of all, and befitting of its subject matter, Rakugo Shinjuu lied to us. It told the life of a master storyteller, and his many layers unravelled week by week, always prepared to give us more than we anticipated. Yuurakutei Yakumo lived a tragic life, and we witnessed it all from start to finish, and further beyond. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a masterpiece, truly.
Thank you all for reading what I’ve had to say. It’s meant the world to me.