First Thoughts on Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Episodes 1-2

I’ve heard a LOT of good things about this show, and I needed a new anime to watch, so, hey, who am I to turn down the promise of a good story?

Centered on one man’s quest to learn the art of Rakugo from a master, here’s my first thoughts on the Winter 2016 anime, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu!

A Slice of Japanese Culture

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is an anime that focuses around the stories of the Rakugo master, Yakumo Yuurakutei, and the young ex-prisoner, Yotarou’s desire to learn from Yakumo.  Along the way, he meets Konatsu, the daughter of fellow Rakugo master, Sukeroku, and together, learn more about the art style they love, and the history that Yakumo and Sukeroku share.

This anime is…unlike most.  It provides a very traditional backdrop, with a very traditional piece of Japanese culture: Rakugo, a unique kind of storytelling performance that is enjoyed in Japan.  Throughout the first two episodes, we are introduced to these characters, and moreover, introduced to the world of Rakugo which they are so enthralled by.  In this way, we see Japanese culture shine through in interesting ways- not explicitly, but it…just feels very cultural.

 

I’m not the most well versed in that area, mind you, but that is the experience I felt from just these two episodes.  Between bath houses, apprenticeships, traditional Japanese garb, technology that adheres to the real world, and of course, the Rakugo performances themselves, this show just feels like a light immersion in Japanese culture.

Experiencing Rakugo

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If I’d want to speak more specifically about something that made Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu stand out so far, it would be how it seems to be telling its story.  It has a story to tell, absolutely, and the histories of its characters are definitely intriguing to me, but at least a good third of its runtime focuses exclusively on the performance of Rakugo.

I’m certain that the anime doesn’t do the actual thing justice, but the performances of the Rakugo, in just the first two episodes, takes up around twenty minutes.  These twenty minutes are simply done, and on the surface, feel extremely basic, but honestly, these Rakugo performances are done so well, that I can’t help but go with it.  They simply feature a few different camera angles of the character, while they perform their stories.  Talking about gods of death, or the antics of a clumsy bandit, it almost feels each time like you’re watching a live performance.

 

I don’t know where exactly they’re going with this structure- maybe they’re trying to make you care for the art that their characters are investing so much time into- but I can say for certain that it’s certainly a unique experience.  Maybe not for everyone from what I can see so far, but certainly something that stands out among its peers.

Characters, Voice Actors, and Music

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Lastly, I have to note that, as far as the actual style goes, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu excels at some things, and is only decent at others.

Animation-wise, there’s not much going for it, honestly.  I caught myself thinking about the simplicity, or choppiness, of the animation a couple times during these first two episodes, but I don’t think this is the kind of show that needs it.  There are some great choices for camera angles, and facial expressions are done EXTREMELY well, and for this sort of series, that focuses on the ability of a single storyteller, that’s all it needs, I think.

The ability of the voice actors in this show is incredible. For a show that focuses on Rakugo, it makes sense why they’d choose talented voice actors, but man.  Every character has a very distinct voice, and beyond that, during the Rakugo performances, you can EASILY tell what different characters they are acting out.  Through a combination of musical cues, great voice acting, and specific camera angles, they manage to convey to the audience just how a Rakugo show is going- whether it’s going really badly, or hyping up the audience.  Excitement is tangible, half-hearted effort is discernable, and comedy is done tastefully, all thanks to some phenomenal voice acting.

Overall Thoughts

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You know, honestly, I’m not quite sure what to think about this show quite yet.  It looks promising, if a bit odd, but I think I’ll have to watch the rest to come to an opinion on just how good Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is.  For now, based on the first two episodes, I can recommend it if you’re fine with

A. A bit of a slower pace, or

B. A focus on Japanese culture.

Overall, it’s done very well, but…I’ll just have to see for myself where the story goes.  I can see a lot of potential for the characters, and I have faith that this show just might be able to follow up on that.

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