Let’s talk about my anime of the season (so far). Unless it will end like Gangsta., I am probably one of the few who will continuously shout that wasting an hour will not hurt to see this one heck of a gem this season.
For those who are following my blog, I am sure that you already know my rabid fanboyism with this show. The elitist in me initially wanted to watch it because there is the phrase “award-winning” attached to its source material. I have zero idea and interest with what that manner of storytelling called Rakugo is. The first episode went and flew as if I was watching a movie. Then the rest is history.
It was 3 am today and a thought suddenly entered my mind. Why am I abnormally attracted by this show? Being the amalgamation of anime tropes, I know my fudanshi self pings high enough like a hyperactive Jyushimatsu jumping in the corners of my brain. The normal watcher and the elitist in me think that there is something else though. Before my lengthy discussion, immerse yourself with this haunting opening of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.
It might seem ridiculous and weaboo-ish but I really have a positive bias for anything from (and before) the Shouwa Era when it comes to Japanese literature and animation. Who does not want interesting insights from the then-rural life of Japan to its post war commentaries? Concrete Revolutio, Grave of the Fireflies and Kids on the Slope are the other animes I absolutely adore which setting also came from this range of time frame. In terms of literature, I read hundreds of haikus and Japanese stories stemming wayback hundreds of years ago (The Tale of Princess Kaguya is just… Wow.). Yes. I am one hell of a bookworm back then which is kind of weird because all of my other high school classmates were interested with Western Literature. Then there I was, submerging myself with my country’s novels and some Japanese ones. That was even way before I converted myself as an otaku.
Ten years ago, I stumbled a novel in the high school library and read it for the sake of wasting my time. It was titled The Big Wave and is written by The Black Pearl. Ironically, the author of the Big Wave isn’t even Japanese but the place is set in Japan. The story goes as follows: Kino lives in the mountain and his best pal Jiya lives near the sea. It explored the mundane lives of these two boys until *ehem* the titular event came. It literally wiped the fishermen village leaving Jiya as the only survivor. Jiya’s life turned 180 degrees and his knowledge in fishing became totally irrelevant to adjust himself in the mountains. He went to meet Kino’s sister (who became his wife later) and the old man who wanted to adopt him (which he declined given his passion to live in the seas).
As I examine this novel, I had to reread some of its parts as the last time I read The Big Wave was in 2007 for my reading report in school. A realization hit me – Kino and Jiya’s lives in that story rings a familiar bell in Shouwa Rakugo. Hence, I started to write this post today with a speed of the narrator’s speaking manner in The Tatami Galaxy.
What made this show worked for me aside from its historical value and the josei tag?
I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if I consider it as one of the best animes I watched if it keeps up on whatever it is doing. The characters in this show are just rich. There are no anime tropes in Shouwa Rakugo – they are just real and flawed albeit really interesting people. The major characters are multidimensional with Kikuhiko being a compelling case to study – from his motives to his uncomfortable reliance to Sukeroku. Episodes 5 and 6 made a hallmark on how to develop your character from an insular guy to someone who has gathered enough confidence to present what he likes to do in terms of presenting his craft.
This is not only squared about the character interactions here. The relationships between them are too palpable to ignore. Even the old master contributed his share to make the third episode the best episode ever this season. Well, some might be turned off by the shounen ai vibes this show gives because of the uncomfortable closeness of Sukeroku and Kikuhiku but man, I wouldn’t mind seeing flying pink unicorns in this case if their characters are that well developed. Sukeroku on the other hand is just a ball of sunshine which really contrasted to Kikuhiko’s demeanor. He knows his best pal like the back of his hands but his usual face changes whenever Miyokichi is mentioned. He might be not as good as what we initially think. I love the way this show portrays how goofball this guy is while throwing smart lines as long as rakugo is concerned. Miyokichi is not just thrown as the one who will surely disrupt the balance between them but the show has made efforts to make her emphatic. I saw her transform as someone who is a real annoying character to a positive moving force for Kikuhiko to search for his own brand of rakugo. She also loves him genuinely so I cannot see the reason why that guy continues to turn her advances down!
Well, there’s bromance with Sukeroku but.. ugh. Sorry, my fudanshi tongue slipped.
All in all, this is a show in which you are sure to care about its characters.
The direction as well the pacing is genius too. Some might say that this kind of show does not need much animation given its nature but no – people will notice how fluid the movements more in this case since the scenes mostly involve quiet character moments. Not to mention the motion of their mouths (episode 4 is a big hiccup in this) whenever they are doing rakugo. This show may not have high budget like let’s say, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime or Phantom World, but the character designs (as well as the background) in this series are just beautiful. Behold some Kikuhiko wallpaper in dozens of Tumblr accounts after this show. Seriously.
A major chunk of animes present this certain this as the big one but Rakugo is humble enough to show that this profession is not something that can make you rich. Heck, these two have moved a notch in their rank in the rakugo world but remained so poor that Kikuhiko has to find a work as a waiter. It was even portrayed as a dying thing in Japan. The World War II backdrop is used thoughtfully enough to remind us that luxuries are meant to be gone first in case something horrible happens in your country. Hence, rakugo approached its near death towards the war. Yet just as Sukeroku said, once people have their tummies full, they will go and see rakugo again. He was right.
The pacing is just enough to tell us a compelling story about these people and it is quite an amazing task to make a viewer feels like 24 minutes passed like they just sad there for like – five minutes. Every episode presented itself very neatly with a few hiccups between transitions from one scene to another. Situations are also handled subtly too, with an emphasis on excellent body language which rivals that of OreGairu Zoku. From Kikuhiko’s stare to Sukeroku’s stark changes in facial expression, one can find a lot of meaning with these scenes. The director is also kind enough to show and not tell the scenes, like Kikuhiko’s internal conflict and his default motivation just to be useful that’s why he is doing things. On a less serious note, I think I saw some tweets regarding its smart way of showing phallic gestures that I don’t think I see or I wish I won’t see in the future.
Lastly, what I think is the major force why this show is great is due to the use of excellent soundtrack. Jazz is always my thing in anime and this show sure knows how to use it. From Kikuhiko’s dreadful rakugo in the second episode to his triumphant sexually charged rakugo this week, the music played a big role. I can also never get tired of hearing traditional Japanese music serving as a major background music during rakugo performances. This gives the show another punch in pulling its viewers to its own world. Just to prove my point, episode four contains what this series made great but is abnormally quiet so it paled in comparison with the other five episodes.
In the end, I humbly recommend this show to everyone who loves anime regardless of your trope. Man, if Erased is the community darling right now, this is the real dark horse this Winter season.