Review/discussion about: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen
It’s not every day that we get to witness history in the making.
Take the first season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. As critics such as myself agree on, it is nothing short of phenomenal. The drama, the maturity, the writing, the execution. That first season redefined what anime as a medium is capable of. Greatness incarnate.
So, understandably, the sequel here, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen, not only has the difficult job of concluding this tale but also maintaining that same level of excellence. The big question, then, is: did Rakugo Season 2 make history?
Suffice it to say, it did.
Taking place ten years after Bon’s personal recount on the origins of his life and the art of rakugo that guided him, Rakugo Season 2 instead looks to tell the tale on the ending of his life and where rakugo ultimately goes from here. With this mirrored approach, the series finds itself right where it wants to be: within a narrative rife with strength.
Nearly (if not every) episode has at least one downright major moment that grips the audience with its care and its purpose. In episode three, Yotaro berates the gangster boss as a declaration of his love for Konatsu and Shin. In episode five, Bon collapses on stage after witnessing Miyokichi in the surrounding smoke during his performance of “Hangon-ko” which in turn leads to Sukeroku finally (and briefly) speaking to him for the first time in his fever dream.
But no doubt two of the most incredible moments occur in episode seven and episode twelve. Episode seven features the amazing plot twist predicated by the entire first season and Bon’s perfect storytelling. Therein, the audience learns that he lied about the night of Miyokichi and Sukeroku’s deaths, forcing everyone to reevaluate this man and his character. Episode twelve does something similar. It drops the bombshell that possibly, maybe Shin is the biological son of Bon himself, wracking the audience with one last morsel to interpret.
These awesome moments occur again and again and again throughout the entire season. But Rakugo Season 2doesn’t just stick with series-defining scenes, though. True to form, it also focuses on the smaller details that make up the wonderful nuance in the presentation.
For example, the anime opens with a meta rakugo performance by Yotaro. With no other patrons in sight, he directly addresses the audience, recapping them on the events thus far. He goes so far as to joke how the one-year stretch between both seasons has had him bowed for so long that he can “hardly tell his head from his feet anymore” (with rotated perspectives for good measure).
Or how in episode eleven the anime foregoes showcasing anything related to Bon’s real-world death (e.g., a funeral, the reaction of his loved ones). Instead, it focuses purely on his final, spiritual journey before he officially passes on. Sukeroku, even in the afterlife, asking to borrow money from Bon solidifies the show’s deliberate care.
A new atmosphere also blankets across the ensuing plot. The feelings of subtle sadness and complete loneliness pop up time and again as Bon endures the outcomes of his decisions from many years ago. However, a twinge of hope persists. An optimism that the larger cast, the uplifting events, and the greater focus on Yotaro (especially in the first half) curate to a noticeable extent. This newfound mood aligns with the parallel structure of this season in conjunction with the previous one, once again marking the anime’s layered construction.
Not to mention that the rakugo performances themselves return and roar with a vengeance. Just as with the first season, rakugo represents more than just an entertaining few minutes for the audience to get lost in right alongside those who paid to see the performers. Rather, the unique storytelling contributes to not only the events but also the characters involved.
For instance, Bon recites his signature “Shinigami” in episode nine which literally summons a demon who nearly kills him before his destined time. Or how, in episode six, Yotaro performs “Inokori”, an act that captures the very essence of his rakugo.
Simultaneously, rakugo develops throughout the season. It becomes more progressive when Konatsu, a female in a male-dominated field, performs a wonderful rendition of “Jugemu” in episode four and, at the series’ end, becomes a regular performer herself. Eisuke writes new stories for Yotaro and the others as a way to start the next set of storied works. Its popularity dips and rises as the events and the characters play out.
Rakugo’s development hones in on one of the anime’s most important themes: time. Time is an ever-flowing stream that pushes everything forward whether willed or not. It can change ideas like rakugo itself. It can also change people like Miyokichi who tells Bon not to worry about his mistreatment of her in a “time heals all wounds” approach. For some entities, though, time has no influence. Yotaro remains Yotaro (both in the show and in this review) despite his couple of new names, and time cannot affect something like the past because, in the end, what’s done is done.
The multiple time skips then take on an even more integral role. For not only do they affect the progression of the plot but also they tie back in a meta sense to this very theme. The structure of this entire series wraps itself in time, too. Where the first season took place almost exclusively in the past, Rakugo Season 2 channels the present while heeding the future. Moreover, this season explores time as a concept such as when Yotaro speaks with the rakugo-theater proprietor in episode six about the accumulated history of that building.
With time every which way, Rakugo Season 2 channels its pristine writing skills.
A full-circle narrative returns when Yotaro celebrates his new names at both the beginning and the end of the season.
Various callbacks, both in and out of the season, add extra layers. In season, episode eight has Yotaro perform “Shibahama” as an emotional reference to Sukeroku’s last in-life performance; out of season, episode nine has Bon perform “Tachikiri” at the prison as an unseen reference to how Yotaro himself first became interested in the art by watching his master (who at the time performed “Shinigami”) at that same prison.
Smart foreshadowing of Bon’s death in one of the three initial promises he laid out for Yotaro demonstrates the show’s tight sequencing of events. The passionate dialogue between the cast likewise elevates the anime’s appeal.
Before Bon passes on, his final, heartfelt exchange with Sukeroku concludes their hand-centric leit motif. Where Bon originally slapped Sukeroku’s hand away upon their first meeting and (in his lie) had to unwillingly let go of it, they part ways one last time with a pinky promise. That the two will see each other again – someday, somewhere – beyond the ethereal plane.
Altogether, this season’s story, like its predecessor, contains an astounding amount of execution. The amazing scenes, the involved rakugo performances, the themes, the intricate writing. Nothing short of excellence, indeed.
ART & ANIMATION
Rakugo Season 2 continues with the same impressive visuals as the first season.
Once again, the rakugo performances shine. On stage, Bon, Yotaro, and the other performers act out the parts of their stories with believable, subtle movements. Faces contort to match old friends or to display emotions befitting the events portrayed. And the camera shifts and rotates in such a way as to heighten the impact of their delivery. Best of all, these performances persist in how they interweave the real with the imaginary, like how Bon summons the spirit of Miyokichi who haunts him still.
Outside of rakugo, the rest of the artistry does not let up. Locations regularly change to induce variety in the background art: a tree-filled, yellow-leaved park at a nearby hospital, the different rakugo stages setup across the city, the restaurants, villas, and buildings visited. Cinematography also plays a key role: close-up shots of the characters eyes for dramatic effect, framed perspectives provide aesthetic symmetry, strange angles allow fun, interesting setups. Lighting and coloring likewise maintain the anime’s mature mood through careful touches and balanced hues.
Like the performances, however, some of the best scenes combine the realistic setting with the imaginative possibilities. For instance, in episode six, a stylistic set of depictions accompany Eisuke’s explanation of the three distinct rakugo “expressions” (as he calls it). Bon’s refined technique resounds and reverberates his shadow into existence. Sukeroku’s sincere, in-place approach phase shifts him towards himself. Yotaro’s purity removes him entirely from the picture and replaces him with characters painted seemingly centuries ago.
Something as simple as Yotaro going from watching the film of Sukeroku to being a member of the audience in that very same room on that very same night in the blink of an eye demonstrates Rakugo Season 2’s immense desire for flair. In similar fashion, this sense of simplicity applies to the characters’ designs. Bon’s whitened hair, Yotaro’s large build, and Konatsu’s reserved beauty create in them their own looks, but the small, subtle changes to their features over time leave the longest impression. Bon wrinkles with age and appears visibly weaker as the events take their toll on him. Yotaro gains a big belly and baggy eyes after sixteen more years pass by. Konatsu’s hair grows from short to medium to long in length over the entire season.
And small details help to fill in the cracks. In one expert case, episode eight finds Yotaro repeating similar words to Bon as Sukeroku did before him. It instigates a swift flashback, but rather than putting Sukeroku in the frame, it leaves him out, showing instead a static shot of the some burning wood since that is all the audience needs to remember that time from the first season.
To be absolutely fair, the anime is not without error. Some of the way-in-the-back onlookers can sometimes seem as if they were hastily put together. And, in episode five, the animators accidentally and incorrectly colored Yotaro’s mouth instead of filling it with teeth to fit his toothy grin (indicated by the squiggly line therein). But these issues are nitpicky, and the anime does more than enough with its art and its animation everywhere else to make them inconsequential in the long run.
Rakugo Season 2 includes several side characters. Matsuda, the kind, silent man who has seen everything from the sidelines. Eisuke, the knowledgeable outside source who has ties to both Bon (who turned him down when seeking apprenticeship in the first season) and Miyokichi (who he crushed on when he was a young boy). Mangetsu, the doctor who returns to rakugo with the Eastern, Tokyo style in tow. Shin, the child of Konatsu who the audience watches grow from a baby to a kid to a spitting image of the men who tailored his life from behind the scenes.
Much like the first season, however, three key characters helm the charge: Yotaro, Konatsu, and Bon. The laudable writing which guides their arcs reinforces the tremendous level of execution seen throughout the entire series.
For the first five episodes, Yotaro receives much of the attention. As Bon’s apprentice and a rising star in the rakugo world, Yotaro has a lot to live up to. And with Konatsu as his new wife and Shin has his new (step) son, he likewise must contend with his personal life, too.
Thankfully, he’s the perfect man for the job, for he is Bon’s and Konatsu’s rock. Yotaro firmly believes in Bon, his abilities, and his importance. He always respects his master, listening to his commands and sitting before him in a subservient manner. He even saves him from an untimely death at the hands of the Shinigami and the burning rakugo theater. And to Konatsu, Yotaro looks out for her with coats and words and happiness. He supports her as best he can and, in doing so, forms a close bond with their child, giving her a husband and him a father that they never knew they needed.
Conversely, Yotaro is, when compared to everyone else in the cast, the most emotional. He laughs and smiles with optimism when speaking of rakugo. He reacts with passion and embarrassment whenever Konatsu reciprocates his feelings in kind. He cries and cares during the truly jubilant and the truly depressing moments around him. He wears his heart on his sleeve, turning him into a very honest, very personable character.
So, as someone who is there for everyone and who gives to everyone, Yotaro’s pure expression of rakugo makes a lot of sense. As he phrases it in episode five, “I love rakugo, and I really love the characters who appear in rakugo. A lot more than I love myself.”
But that does not leave him immune from conflict of his own. Moreover, the theme on time finds itself here with Yotaro, too. He understands that taking on the Sukeroku name means upsetting diehard followers, and the gangster lifestyle he has since ditched clouds his mind as he contemplates what to do. So, he confronts these two pasts, working hard to learn about the fabled master and completing the coloring on the tattoo that adorns his back.
Konatsu is a much more complicated character based solely on the fact that her relationships do not follow typical patterns. Having lost her parents early in her life, she never had the most stable of upbringings. She was raised by Bon, the man who (she believes) killed them, so she despises him with every fiber of her being. Then, having never experienced real love, she pushes back against Yotaro despite his sincere feelings.
Over the course of the season, Konatsu breaks down the walls that she has put up around her. With Bon, she interacts with him across the emotional map. She grabs his arm at home while sleeping, and the two discuss how she still wants to kill him for what he has done but needs him alive for her son to hear his rakugo. She frets over him after his collapse, worrying over his health and calling him (verbatim) “pathetic” as they sit together on the park bench while smoking a cigarette. She pleads on the bridge for him to not go away like her parents before him.
With Yotaro, she slowly learns to love him in return. She appreciates his encouragement when he skips his after-party celebration and chases after her. She reveals her thoughts after his defiant stand against the gangster boss, commenting on holding hands (when she so desires). They embrace following her first ever rakugo performance. They remain in sync in the immediate aftermath of Bon’s collapse. She becomes his accompaniment, playing the shamisen at his own performances. She leans on him affectionately after a hard day’s work.
For both men, her relationships reach a wonderful apex that signify the development in her character. She thanks Bon for raising her and not abandoning her in a fantastic scene that goes down as their last interaction. And she conceives a child with Yotaro to consummate the love she now fully shares with him.
Looking at Yotaro and Konatsu as individual characters, they hold an amazing parallel with Sukeroku and Miyokichi. The two halves are similar in that the men embody positivity and the women wrestle fiercely with their own feelings. The two halves are different in that Sukeroku leaves rakugo whereas Yotaro uplifts it while Miyokichi tears everyone apart whereas Konatsu brings everyone together.
Other similarities and differences exist between them (marriage, character arcs), but this parallel ultimately influences the most important character of this season and the entire series: Bon.
Bon lost his best friend and his one true love to a “double suicide” in the first season. So, the audience finds Bon in a state of regret, resentment, and remorse at the beginning of the second. This negativity has followed his very being for much of his life – to the point that he solemnly wishes to take rakugo with him in death.
Yet Bon isn’t present to any significant extent in the first half of this second season. He tutors and converses and performs. But, generally speaking, Bon doesn’t have a major role. A wise decision on the anime’s part since it smartly works instead on setting up both Yotaro and Konatsu for their development and the eventual influence they have on him.
Come the end of episode five, where Bon envisions Miyokichi and when Sukeroku attacks him, the focus shifts back to Bon as he encounters one of the lowest points in his life. He has lost the strength in his voice, so he gives up on rakugo and thus himself. Then, as he feels the inevitable decay of his body, he attempts to commit suicide, and later the “god of performance” nearly burns him alive.
Thankfully, Yotaro and Konatsu are there to support the man who has given them so much. In the second half of the season, their actions keep him going. Konatsu cares about and worries for him during his hospital visits. The two convince him to come back to rakugo. Yotaro saves him from the burning theater just in time.
Their kindness elicits the same from him. He respects Yotaro enough (“Inokori” or otherwise) to pass down Sukeroku’s fan (entrusted to Eisuke) to him, and he accepts Konatsu’s request of becoming his apprentice. Yet it’s his words during their heartfelt scene that resonate the most. As Konatsu cries in his arms and “can’t give a name to this feeling anymore,” Bon responds, “Such incomprehensible feelings are what humans are made of. Just like rakugo.”
Like the ever-present theme on time, a theme on the human condition has persisted throughout this entire season. Yotaro, Konatsu, and Bon endure events that have them experiencing a myriad of emotions. They hide details from each other. They push beyond their differences and connect on intimate levels.
Thus, just as Bon says and what the show argues in a meta sense, that’s rakugo at its core. The performer recites the stories, and the audience follows along. But what rakugo does best – both the art and the anime itself – is explore the very nature of humanity. Be it a fisherman who finds a dirty bag filled with money, to the three key characters of this tale, they are more than just a set of fictitious characters. They are people.
But because Rakugo Season 2 is way too awesome, it doesn’t stop there with Bon. Instead, all of episode eleven sends him off in proper fashion. Now passed away, he has private moments with both Sukeroku and Miyokichi in which they reconcile with each other. Their words on not having everything go one’s way (how Bon couldn’t die with rakugo) and about not being able to live alone (how Bon eventually had a family and a circle of friends) echo that theme on human nature in as cathartic a manner as possible.
And, as one last hurrah, Bon performs rakugo for the final time. Not anything dramatic or even his signature “Shinigami” but rather “Jugemu.” Because the performance isn’t for him – it’s for his two old, dear friends, their daughter who he raised, and their grandson who (eventually) takes after him all too well.
Seeing the literal finale to his life and therefore his full character arc puts Bon in the Characters Hall of Fame. He was already one of the best in the medium after last season, but, after this season, the Eighth Generation Yakumo enters a league of his own.
MUSIC & SOUND
The voice acting within Rakugo Season 2 delights the ears and rivals that of the previous season. Tomokazu Seki as Yotaro speaks with enthusiasm and passion as he works to support everyone and everything around him. Yuu Kobayashi as Konatsu uses a raspy voice that highlights her tomboy behavior, her short temper, and her hint of sexiness. And Akira Ishida as Bon ages his tone for the now older gentleman while still maintaining his sharp cadence.
Each of their rakugo performances, like the first season, further demonstrates their VA capabilities in that they capture the audience with their impressive delivery. A somewhat unique opening track and an instrumental ending track also return.
The OP incorporates the ticking of a clock, whispered vocals, music cuts, soft sections, rousing sections, and wedding bells. Altogether, they create a beautiful, haunting, and interesting piece while keeping with its themes on time and the human condition.
The ED, in contrast, is simpler with its casual piano playing and backing trumpets, flutes, and drums. But such simplicity brings both a calming strength that carries it along and a sincere, thoughtful goodbye whenever the piece completes.
And, in a similar trend, the original soundtrack brings back its dramatic compositions, its cultural additions, and its clever audio design, like when Yotaro’s radio rakugo performance of “Nozarashi” plays over the everyday life of the city and the tops of cherry-blossom trees.
In short, the music and the sound speak for themselves.
I am so happy that this sequel not only exists but also succeeded so spectacularly.
Personally speaking, I was caught off guard by the twist about Sukeroku and Miyokichi’s deaths. When I finished episode seven, I had to stop and mull over it while walking around my place saying, “What?!” My Thanksgiving holiday, try as it might, could not push it out of my mind.
Also, that real-father reveal then had me scrounging through comments from eight months ago. Peering through all the angles and reading about some of the extra material, I’m fine with either outcome. I like the poetic structure and the potential for even more feelings should it be Bon. But I also like the ambiguity behind it all. How it follows the “some things are best left unsaid” idea which in turn forces a meta discussion onto the audience as to whether Konatsu is really telling the truth. (I will say, though, that I’m a fan of Mangetsu being the father since it helps to explain his presence and removes the almost too crazy element.)
I love the twist and the reveal, and I love everything else about this show, too. I love the romance between Yotaro and Konatsu. I love Bon’s incredible character arc. I love the rakugo performances. I love the symbolism in the visuals. I love the drama, the maturity, and the execution that it exudes.
What more needs to be said? On its own, this story spans more than just seasons. It spans emotions. It spans interpretations. It spans generations. But, when combined with its first half, this complete tale about a complex man, the refined art of rakugo, and humanity borne from the heart creates an anime that climbs onto the stage to peer over the others. A true elite which, like the masters before it, ranks among the best of the best forevermore.
As Yotaro says in the final line of the series, “Something this good could never go away.” And you know what? After finishing it all, I could not agree more.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen concludes this stunning series with unbelievable finesse. The thorough story, the engaging artistic direction, the lifelike characters, the remarkable sound-related performances, and the sheer amount of entertaining aspects. “Greatness” does not do this anime justice; “a modern classic” instead fits it perfectly.
Story: Great, huge moments, nuanced details, a purposeful theme on time, and strong fundamental writing craft a stalwart narrative that send this series off in style
Art & Animation: Great, flavorful visuals, clever cinematography, and developing character designs form an artistic direction that invites the audience at every turn
Characters: Great, Yotaro, Konatsu, and Bon explore a theme on the human condition as their personable, loving, and troubled arcs intertwine with both parallels and connections
Music & Sound: Great, wonderful VA performances guide a haunting OP, a sincere ED, a dramatic OST, and a set of smart audio design decisions
Enjoyment: Great, a modern classic
Final Score: 10/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3