When you have watched a large amount of anime you can come to assume that you have learned a lot about Japanese culture. Though I think it’s testament to how limited it is to view Japan through anime when you come to realize that despite watching so much, you have never heard of Rakugo. Rakugo is a time of performance art that involves a man sitting on stage and telling a story. Sometimes a funny story, other times a heartwarming story or sometimes even a horror story. The man is given no props and much convey each actor and event in the story with his voice and mannerisms alone. Rakugo is the art of the storyteller and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a story about those storytellers. Truthfully it’s difficult for me to explain exactly why this series is so great. It could be considered a landmark in character drama and a true mature anime for those tired of superpowered teenagers fighting monsters. Rakugo is a story about tragedy, about the harshness of time, about the stories that lie within stories. It follows the tale of a young boy entering the art to his final days performing in old age. In a way this story isn’t about Rakugo but instead how it affects those involved with it and their passion to perform.
Admittedly though this isn’t the show for everyone. For one a large amount of the show is dedicated to Rakugo performances. While you can admire the skill of the voice actors emoting and the general outline of the story, it’s clear that a lot is lost on ears that cannot understand Japanese. This is a character driven story and the characters are driven by Rakugo so if the Rakugo itself doesn’t quite appeal to you then admittedly that’s a large chuck of the show you won’t enjoy. Even for those that do enjoy it there is the issue that while the first season is near perfect, the second drags out it’s conclusion which can be a detriment if it isn’t tugging your heartstrings as much as it wants to. Through if Rakugo hits that sweet spot for you then it will likely be a series you hold close to your heart. The characters are great with Yakumo being center stage for most of the story. We see him go from an insecure young man to a confident performer to an old tired professional in the span of a single season. Sukeroku is the lovable mooch whose passion for what he does is unmatched. Likewise you have Yotaro who is a man that’s loud and straightforward, but delightfully genuine. With Konatsu being the snarky girl with a heart of gold. What truly makes these characters special is that they lack the common anime tropes which seem to invest each anime character nowadays. The characters of Rakugo are genuine in personality and that’s what makes the drama so strong.
Animation and art wise the series is relatively subdued and a lot of the effort goes into the emotions during Rakugo performance. This series isn’t a visual tour de force but frankly that’s not the point. Music again is suitable but not really all that memorable. If you happen to have an interest in Japanese culture and feel worn out by the modern cliches of anime then Rakugo is a breath of fresh air for you. It will take you on a ride with twists and turns before ending with a conclusion that leaves no loose ends. By its very nature I think Rakugo will be a niche gem of the anime medium. Through however niche, it will truly beloved. Much like the art of Rakugo itself.