Yuuki OnoKouichi YamaderaMegumi HayashibaraTakaya Hashi
Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Season 2
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2017: D
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2017
Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama
Writer: Jun Kumagai
Original creator: Haruko Kumota
Actor: Akira Ishida, Tomokazu Seki, Yu Kobayashi, Eri Saito, Kappei Yamaguchi, Koji Yusa, Kouichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Mikako Komatsu, Shigeru Ushiyama, Shou Sudou, Takaya Hashi, Toshihiko Seki, Yasuyuki Kase, Yuuki Ono
Keywords: anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=18888
Website category: Anime 2017
Review date: 6 September 2017
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
I liked Season 1. I liked Season 2 even more. It's understated, touching and quite slow-paced. It makes me care about an art form I've never experienced (rakugo) and immerses me in the world of its performers.
Season 1 was about the old generation. Most of them are now dead, but Yakumo/Kikuhiko/Bon has withered into a dessicated old stick who's probably been thinking about death for the last thirty-odd years. That's when he lost the two most important people in his life. (It's easy to see which of them was closer to his heart, but he was bound profoundly to them both.) He says the only reason he's still alive is because he's been bringing up their daughter, Konatsu.
It's the turn of the millennium, more or less. Yakumo used to have a brash, cheerfully stupid apprentice and ex-convict, Sukeroku/Kyoji/Yotaro. Sukeroku is also the nicest person we know and he's now graduated into being a rakugo performer in his own right. (Rakugo is like ritualised stand-up comedy, where the seated performer acts out one of a set list of stories that everyone already knows. You've got to make the audience laugh, but in addition it's a significant acting challenge because these stories are almost all dialogue and the performer has to play all the roles.)
Oh, and Konatsu is pregnant. She won't say who the father is.
"Shinjuu" (as in the title) means "double suicide", usually by lovers. Yakumo wants to commit shinjuu with rakugo itself. This traditional art form is dying, in this age of radio and television. There's only one rakugo theatre left in Tokyo and its patrons are liable to be elderly. Yakumo loves rakugo, but he's also hostile to attempts to update it with new stories or female performers. (Konatsu is great at rakugo, having learned her father's style when she was a child, but Yakumo refuses to let her use her skills.) He's a grumpy, abrasive git who'd sooner suck lemons than be nice to anyone, but he's supported both Konatsu and Sukeroku for all these years and we can see the depth of his feelings underneath.
It's a quiet, simple story. We see Sukeroku overcome failure and grow. We see Yakumo terrified of losing his rakugo to the failures of old age, going from reluctance to rejection to an increasingly intimate relationship with death. We uncover his taste for jet-black rakugo, with a fondness for the atmosphere in prisons and for performing sinister shinigami stories. There's an entire episode set in the immediate afterlife, starring people who died decades ago and brief impossible reunions with their children who are still alive. That was lovely, unexpected and moving. (It was also surprisingly light. You might expect material like that to be heavy, but it's actually quite relaxed and even funny.)
The episode after that jumps forward in time yet again, arriving in the present day with a forward-looking optimism for rakugo. Our friends' lives have moved forward too, in good ways. This story has covered nearly a century, from 1930-something to 2017, and I really like how it's taken us through the generations. It's rather lovely to see children grow up, follow in their parents' footsteps and find success that would have made them proud, especially when we end up being reunited with those departed parents in the afterlife episode.
I've discovered that there's a fan theory about Matsuda being a shinigami. This actually fits so well as to be intriguing, although this is a real-world series with no supernatural elements beyond Buddhism. (There are possible ghosts and of course the afterlife episode, but those could have been subjective visions that only existed in one character's mind.)
This show has made me love rakugo. I particularly enjoyed Jugemu, for what it's worth, and I expect one day I'll specifically rewatch ep.4/17 just for that.
This isn't a splashy, flamboyant series. It's a quiet little show about traditional theatre performers in a traditional theatrical world. They perform rakugo. They worry about rakugo. That's what the show's about and it's making no apologies for that. Incidentally I've also learned that some of its cast are also rakugo performers in real life (despite being better known for their voice acting) and put everything into trying to get chosen for their roles here. This is a big-name cast, with seriously famous names.
I'd recommend this. It's slow and sometimes uneventful. It's realistic. It's not for children with low attention spans, but you'll find it stirs surprisingly nuanced emotions if you watch it all the way through.