Hello hello my wonderful blog readers. I’m back from an unexpected couple week hiatus as… I just moved into my first ever apartment! So I apologize for the sudden pause in posts but now that I’m finally unpacked I can get back into the swing of things, and what better way to do so than with…. some Rakugo.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a historical period drama that came into the anime industry at just the right time. After a few years of particularly bland or unoriginal anime, Rakugo came bursting through the metaphorical anime doors in winter 2016. So what is Rakugo? Rakugo is the Japanese art of one-man storytelling that became especially prominent during WWI and WWII. The series revolves around the life of one storyteller, Yakumo Yuurakutei. It is an impeccable drama about love, regret, tragedy, and the life and death of art and its artist.
I’ve written pretty extensively about Rakugo in the past on this blog so there’s not a lot more I can say. However, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the genius in the series production rather than its story, which is pretty unquestionably phenomenal.
Studio Deen is known for being very um… inconsistent. They aren’t a big name in the industry for quality production unlike Kyoto Animation, Bones, Shaft etc. So when watching Rakugo, it came as a huge shock to me that they produced such a masterful work. First, lets start with the directing, particularly the scene composition. You could pause an episode at any point and it would look as though the characters are posing for a painting. It really elevates the dramatic feel of the series and keeps you engaged. The animation itself is nothing special, but the directing and designs are so perfected that you wouldn’t even notice. Alongside the directing, the music and pacing are again… so perfect. The series never feels too fast or too slow. And the music uses a mix of shamisen and jazz music to give it that classical but riveting feeling. The music is always well-placed and used to the series advantage.
Finally, what really pulls the whole series together is the rakugo. The performances from our main characters are very different from that of other “performative” series. The rakugo performances are done in such a way that it feels like you’re in the audience watching. You can feel the difference in technique and talent from each performer. In his early career, Yakumo’s rakugo was known to be aimless and boring and you could feel exactly that from each performance. In Sukeroku’s performances you feel the charisma and excitement generating not only from him but also his audience.
Rakugo is definitely a modern masterpiece. It’s engaging and mature storytelling mixed with its stellar production makes it easily a classic from the 2010s. I will link my more in-depth review I wrote on it a few years ago here. Rakugo went into my top 5 anime the second I watched it in late 2016 and its never left since.