The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Title: Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio Deen
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 6 Jan 2017 – 25 Mar 2017

Synopsis: Yotaro, the ex-convict who was enthralled by Yakumo’s rakugo, has finally attained the title of shin’uchi and adopted the name of Yurakutei Sukeroku III. At the same time, rakugo is becoming less popular as fewer people are coming to appreciate it. Yotaro must find a way to balance all the important things in his life: crafting his skills as a rakugo performer, be a good father to Konatsu’s child and keeping his promises to his master Yakumo of preserving the art before he dies.

The Highlights
Characters: New main cast, same brilliant character development.
Seiyuu: Some of the best performances in a long time; look out for episode 4.
Storytelling: Multi-layered; ingenious metaphorical stage as a narrative platform.
Rakugo: A way of life that needs to be preserved for future generations.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was my dark horse for 2016. It flew completely under my radar last year and I only heard about it while writing the 2016: Year in Review editorial. As I watched the drama unfold on the tragic tale of Yakumo and Sukeroku, I knew I was watching something special. Indeed, the show is a one of a kind: it boasts one of the best narratives and seiyuu performances I’ve ever seen in a very long time. But to my surprise, it is only laying the solid foundations, and Descending Stories is where the real story takes center stage. Here, the new chapter begins, exploring the trials of the next generation as well as the demons that Yakumo faces everyday.

Rakugo is not just storytelling; at its finest, it’s a journey that transports the audience into a different world where fictional characters come to life. Using his talents and skills, the storyteller tailors his voice to animate different characters and narrate stories that range from comical and ironic to tragic and poignant. Rakugo Shinju is a story about the people who live and breathe rakugo, and its brilliance comes from the show’s ingenious way of telling its story through that medium. Like an immersive rakugo performance, it takes the audience through significant moments of the characters’ lives and their private thoughts, be it the camaraderie between Yakumo and Sukeroku or the manzai-esque conversations between Yotaro and Konatsu. The stage is not only in the rakugo hall; it’s everywhere in their daily lives, and the show vividly illustrates how they are acting out play scenes both on and offstage.

Descending Stories transitions the story from the previous generation to the present one. The first generation is made up of Yakumo, Sukeroku and Miyokichi, and by the end of the first season, the torch is passed on to the new successors Yotaro and Konatsu. The now tired and despondent Yakumo is the remaining figure from the old guard, and plays the role of the indifferent and grumpy mentor to his budding protégé. Here the show succeeded where most other sequels fail: ensuring that the new characters shine in their own light instead of at the expense of the old, and wrapping up the entire story by giving it the respectful ending it wholly deserves. As the story progresses, the characters gradually grow into their matured selves. Yotaro developed from a hotheaded ex-criminal to a sanguine rookie, and Konatsu bloomed from a vindictive and antsy tomboy to a patient and doting mother. Like a budding novice’s journey to become a full-fledged storyteller, the character development is gradual but sure and the resultant ending is priceless.

If there’s anything that particularly stands out about Rakugo Shinju, it is the sublime seiyuu performances. The show boasts some of the best seiyuu performances in anime, showcased by the most prominent veterans in the industry. Hayashibara Megumi is the coquettish Miyokichi; Yamadera Kouichi the boorish Sukeroku, and Ishida Akira, with his masterful pitch control, is Yakumo in different eras, from his risqué effeminate roles during his younger days to his grumpy retiree days in his ripe old age. Accompanying them are the new bloods Yotaro and Konatsu, both demeanors perfectly captured by Seki Tomokazu and Kobayashi Yuu respectively. A rakugo storyteller’s ability is exhibited through his versatility in using his voice to narrate different characters in a performance, and just like one, each seiyuu demonstrated his sheer prowess and exemplified what truly skillful voice acting is all about.

Rakugo Shinjuu is essentially a timeless novel that spans generations, and depicts the lives of those who see rakugo as a form of livelihood. It is a tribute that celebrates the beauty of telling captivating stories to the audience, and the sheer importance of passing down a way of life from master to student. It would be a tragic loss to see rakugo being forgotten; it has touched many lives including even mine, and the show demonstrates this in the most honorable and unforgettable way. This one deserves a standing ovation from me.

The Rating: 10

Reviewed by: AC

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