You may be wondering why I’m doing this after only one episode. Perhaps maybe you think that I’m going to say its a terrible show from the get go and thus I’m writing this to warn you off. Well, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Rakugo Shinjuu takes place in what I can only surmise is somewhere within the last thirty years. It follows a young man named Yotaro, an ex-convict fresh out of jail. A Rakugo performer once performed at his prison and inspired him, causing Yotaro to seek out this performer and become his apprentice.
Rakugo is a form of storytelling that, as the show mentions, is falling out of favor. A single performer, always male, comes onto the stage, sits down, and begins to tell a story. This single performer acts out all of the characters in the story, all while remaining seated the whole time. Its sort of like a mix of stand-up comedy(Or in this case sit-down comedy.) and traditional theater.
I had no idea what to think when I first heard about this series. I saw a few images from it at first, and then I watched a review of it from Glass Reflections. That review ultimately convinced me to give it a shot because it was a bit unorthodox. It struck me as different than anything else that had come before it. And after watching the first episode, which runs an hour in length(This is also why I only needed one episode to write this. It was give or take the length of three creditless and commercialess episodes.), I saw all I needed too. And I’ve decided to continue watching it.
Prior to this I had never heard of Rakugo, and considering I don’t live in Japan, that makes complete sense. But now I want to know more. This series puts a lot of focus on the performances. The attention to detail is astounding. Not only that, but I actually laughed along with the crowd. I didn’t expect to laugh. I thought I was going to watch this and be bored, but I actually got into it and laughed. But then again I should have known better because I’m the kind of person who laughs more at situational humor rather than jokes. If someone walked into a wall, I would laugh. If a random baseball flew through a window and nailed someone in the face, I would fall out of my chair laughing. And while this is about stand-up performances, the Rakugo performers are telling stories and acting out these characters and I feel like I’m in the room with them. I can picture these scenes and the banter that’s going on and I’m laughing at it. Its not for everyone of course so your mileage may vary.
The art of Rakugo Shinjuu is pretty good all things considered. Its not mind-blowing like Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, but it hits every note that it needs too. The characters are drawn sharply and distinctly, colors stand out, and the animation is fluid. A lot of attention is paid to the movements of the characters, right down to how their eyes and mouths look at certain points. And that is crucial to this because you’re watching a performance. All those subtle nuances need to be there and in this first episode alone they did pretty good at it. Obviously I have a whole cour left to watch, but I have high hopes.
The soundtrack for this show is interesting. Parts of it sound like something you’d hear out of a film set on broadway, a showbiz kind of soundtrack. Then of course you get your standard affair soundtracks. And then, out of left field, you get traditional Japanese music, the kind of stuff that you would indeed expect to be playing at these ye olde style performances. It adds character and I’ve always loved that sound. All in all I wasn’t disappointed with it.
This is not a currently airing show so you don’t have to wait for the next episode. You can’t dig right in and keep going until its over. I highly recommend giving it a chance just like I have and if you like what you see, then great. If not, well then perhaps this isn’t your style. But it will expose you to something new regardless of how you walk away from it.
I have to give props to this story for featuring a conflict that you don’t see too often. I have no idea where it’ll go, but I feel I should mention it as it might pique some peoples interest.
In this show, there is a female character who loves Rakugo, and she is the daughter of a great Rakugo performer. However, Rakugo is viewed as a mans world. No women allowed. So she is forced to live with this fact that she will not be able to surpass her father no matter how good she is because the Rakugo culture forbids a woman from performing.
I could definitely see her eventually getting to perform, but obviously since I haven’t watched the rest yet I really can’t say. But I can say for certain that this series would be eaten alive by certain individuals because of this portrayal, no matter how rooted in fact it is. So it makes me wonder what will happen when this series eventually makes its debut in the North American market. As of right now, no one has licensed it, which I find a bit odd.