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Goin’ Japanesque!

“Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju”, the First Rakugo Anime to Help You Understand Japan

As the Western world has performing arts with their own tradition and established format such as opera and ballet, Japan also has performing arts that have been succeeded from old times. 

Perhaps Kabuki opera is better known worldwide as an example, but this time I am introducing “Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju”, an anime work that features a specialized form of entertainment, rakugo storytelling.

 

Synopsis

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The main character Yotaro is a punk, incarcerated by taking responsibility for someone else’s crime.

When he is serving time in prison, a rakugo-ka storyteller Yakumo Yurakutei visits the institution and presents his performance.

Yotaro is fascinated by the story and actions of Yakumo.

After finishing his sentence, Yotaro storms to Yakumo’s house and forcefully makes himself an apprentice.

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While Yakumo is taking care of the young and hot-blooded main character Yotaro, his image of Yotaro starts overlapping with memory of his best friend Sukeroku, who has died young.

Yotaro seeks to build his style of rakugo while trying to ascend to the rank of shin’uchi, the highest level of rakugo-ka and Yakumo guides and trains him warmly or sometimes sternly.

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The story is staged in an era when Japan was going through significant changes between 1975 and 2000.

The story takes on rakugo, a form of traditional performing arts of Japan as an axis and depicts human dramas surrounding the main character Yotaro and his mentor Yakumo Yurakutei.

 

Analysis

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Let me start with a brief explanation of rakugo storytelling.

Rakugo is a play performed by one person.

Although it is a kind of play, it is devoid of the stage setting that represents the background world.

Thus one-person’s story telling may be a closer description of rakugo than a one-person play.

Rakugo-ka delivering a rakugo story sits in the formal Japanese “seiza” style in the center of the stage without moving around, and he expresses various characters in the story with little body languages and gestures.

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Rakugo storytelling has started during the Edo period (1603-1868) and it still entertains the Japanese people as a traditional performing art.

Manga works dealing with the subject of rakugo have existed in the past, depicting performers that present this traditional art.

However, this is the first anime work featuring rakugo as far as I can remember.

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The original of this anime is a manga with the same title published by Haruko Kumota.

The main characters are young, reckless Yotaro and Yakumo Yurakutei, a composed, old gentleman who keeps his burning passion for rakugo like subdued yet hot charcoal.

The contrasting two main characters influence each other as rakugo drives their lives.

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The stage of the anime is set in an era when Japan was experiencing rapid economic growth.

The story depicts changes and ups and downs of rakugo as a traditional art through the eyes of the two characters while many new forms of entertainment appear.

And formidable efforts are made in the work to reproduce how rakugo-ka would deliver stories including appearances, gestures and their patterns of narratives.

Rakugo has many established classic pieces similar to other stage performances and these stories are also presented in the anime with accurate description of details.

 

Although the subject is a traditional art of rakugo, the main character Yotaro tries to excel in the old-fashioned industry with his youthful energy.

His mentor Yakumo presides as a top performer of the rakugo world, and their interaction and human drama are another element that made this anime an excellent piece.

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The first season titled as “Yotaro: Horo-hen (Wandering)” broadcasted from January 2016, and the second season “Sukeroku Futatabi (Revival of Sukeroku)” has started in January 2017.

As the original manga has already completed the story, the second season anime is presumably following the original to reach the conclusion by the end of the season.

The story depicts human drama between the two rakugo-ka story-tellers with widely disparate personalities and rakugo, a traditional performing art of Japan. This is an excellent anime that helps you understand one aspect of Japan as a country.

Related: Kabuki Articles

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Berial the Demon

About the author

It has been over 40 years of reading manga in the deep world of manga. Japan’s manga has an endlessly wide variety of genres. I will be recommending special manga for you to read from such infinite amount of works.

View all articles by Berial the Demon
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