First Impression: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

Winter16-ShowaI may be an old man at heart, but that just makes me the target audience even more


I don’t care what reasons you might have.  I don’t care if you are watching literally every other show that is coming out this season.  I don’t care even if you don’t actually watch anime anymore, you just like reading Metanorn cause reasons.  If you aren’t watching Showa Genroku you are missing out on THE BEST show of the season.  No exceptions, no qualifiers.  Well okay, maybe there are a “few” qualifiers, but seriously guys.  This is the raddest show about elderly Japanese people’s past times since Roujin Z!

Let Me tell you a story

Showa Genroku2016-01-13-18h59m06s412

Describing what happens in Showa Genroku is the easy part.  The real meat of the show, and why I am so drawn into it, is the incredible amount of reading into the characters that is available solely in this first episode.  First things first I guess.  Showa Genroku is set during the Showa era of Japanese history (which extends from 1926 to 1989).  We haven’t seen an exact date as far as I am aware, so I am going to guess this show is set in the 70s.  The primary focus of this show is Rakugo, which is a traditional Japanese style of telling folktales, moral lessons, and comedies.  There must be a parallel in western culture that I just can’t name write now.  An interesting conflict this show sets up from the beginning is that even 50 or so years ago, Rakugo was still considered a dying art form.  You can only imagine how now its prescense in society must be very small.

Our story starts with a young punk named Kyouji being released from prison.  And like all people set free from prison, Kyouji immediately gets a job (okay, maybe some fantastical elements are present in this show).  You see, Kyouji was able to see the man who is considered the master of Rakugo do a performance for him in prison of a special story called the Shinigami.  Kyouji was so enamored by this performance he begs master Yakumo to take him in as a diciple.  It is worth noting that Yakumo is not the masters actual name, rather it it the name he inherited upon becoming the master of Rakugo.  I expect this to be a major source of conflict, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Also living under master Yakumo’s roof is a women named Konatsu.  She is the daughter of master Yakumo’s former Rakugo partner, though she doesn’t have any living family, which led to here living with Yakumo.  We see Kyouji doing some Rakugo practice like tounge twisters, his boss from his previous life shows up, and two major Rakugo performances occur.

Showa Genroku2016-01-13-19h00m19s844Hey there slick

Again,  just describing what happens doesn’t show why Showa Genroku is so impressive.  It all comes down to how well a possibly boring premise can be executed.  The centerpiece of this double episode was a 10 minute stretch that on paper was just Kyouji telling a story.  But even though almost no dialogue was used aside from the story, you can literally see Kyouji’s character evolve as he tells his story.  Kyouji was called out by his old boss to go back to doing a job for him, and he would probably be roped back into his life as some street punk.  Which perfectly intersects with the story Kyouji tells called Dekigokoro, a story of a not so master thief and a not so rich victim.  What is so impressive is that you can see all of Kyouji’s growth in his face.  He starts off nervous, questioning what he is even doing on stage.  But why does he stick it out?  For the audience.  Their laughter, the approval and enjoyment that is present on the face of the audience gets Kyouji going too, and he uses the encouragement to make his performance even better.  And while I can understand the lack of appeal in listening to 10 minutes of essentially Japanese folklore, it is really fun!  The story itself is perfectly entertain, and at the halfway point, when things start getting really funny, the score turns to a jazzy tune that brings the laughs and makes the story even more engaging.

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I came this far without really discussing the other cast members, but the other two main characters so far deserve plenty of discussion.  Konatsu has already been setup as a very effective tragic character.  She might love Rakugo even more than Kyouji, but she isn’t really in a situation to express her love.  I don’t want to disillusion anyone, but there is a good chance that this traditional art form doesn’t really allow for much female participation.  Not to mention that she is chasing the Rakugo style of her father, which clearly isn’t something master Yakumo is fond of.  In this episode it is only known that her father has died a tragic death, but the details and the cause is a story for another day.

Master Yakumo is also a slightly tragic character, but in a different way.  Unlike Konatsu who seems to be tragic due to loss, Yakumo is tragic because he has everything.  He has the title of Rakugo master, he is the most respected practitioner of the art in the whole world.  And yet, Yakumo is clearly haunted, possibly in the literal sense.  Sukeroku, Yakumo’s rival and Konatsu’s father looms incredibly large in this story even though he hasn’t actually appeared.  This also reflects in how both master Yakumo and Konatsu see Sukeroku’s shadow in Kyouji, which explains why they both show an interest in him.  Master Yakumo doesn’t seem to be a very good teacher, which is why Kyouji spends more time practicing with Konatsu than anyone else.  When Kyouji interrupts on of the master’s performances, and the resulting fallout, you can feel Kyouji’s heart break.  He truly doesn’t have anything in this world for him to do and rely on aside from Rakugo, and by extension master Yakumo’s kindness.  Since it is clear that Yakumo sees a shadow of his friend in Kyouji, I wonder if there will be any projection done by Kyouji onto Yakumo?

Showa Genroku2016-01-13-19h03m18s521This scene got me right in the feels

The first episode ends with Yakumo about to tell Kyouji and Konatsu about his history with Sukeroku.  I am unsure of how much of this show will be flashback and how much will involve the current setting.  I imagine that the flashback will have to tie back into the present, because I would be sad to no longer see the adventures of Kyouji and Konatsu.  We may know who master Yakumo’s story has to end, but I believe the telling will impact the audience (us, Kyouji and Konatsu) in ways beyond my imagination.


This is a show for me.  It is a show with already very strong character writing.  It is a show about a niche subject that I honestly didn’t know about.  I love period pieces (I lost count of how many samurai manga/movies I have read).  I acknowledge that Showa Genroku isn’t going appeal to every fan.  I refuse to acknowledge that anyone who watches the first episode can deny the shows strengths.  If you didn’t laugh while watching Kyouji’s rendition of Dekigokuro, you are missing out.  If you don’t want to understand more about the way all these characters are haunted literally and figuratively by the ghost of Sukeroku you are missing out.  Showa Genroku doesn’t offer itself to everyone.  I am committed to seeing this show through, because I believe that I will be rewarded greatly by this show in a way NO OTHER show is even bothering to do this season.  So please, I hope everyone with even a faint interest in this show will give it a look, because Showa Genroku has so much for you after just a little effort and a good viewing.


As someone of questionable tastes and even more questionable ethics; if we laugh at the same things you are one of two things: A person of discerning taste or a weirdo. Guess where I fall.
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3 Responses to “First Impression: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju”

  1. Highway says:

    Unfortunately I stopped watching this about 10 minutes in, because Kyouji was just insufferable. I want to hear the story. I don’t want to hear you fangirling out constantly! Dude, just SHUT UP! SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP! But of course he wasn’t shutting up. He just went on and on and on, and I looked and thought “40 more minutes of this?” and “NOPE!”

    Unless his throat is cut out sometime, I don’t see coming back to this show.

  2. skylion says:

    Well, I for one would never sneer at an older form of storytelling, just because it’s older. But the rakugo here is a backbone. Like you say, you can see a character evolve just by telling a story. It’s on old story, just as his own personal one, a junior to a senior thief is an old one as well. Life and history repeats itself.

    But the parallels between the master and the thief, and how the other master is now gone? That’s the story I’m following. Both the current master and the gang boss feel just to similar for it to be coincidence….

  3. zztop says:

    Showa Genroku’s mangaka mostly does yaoi works, but this is her 1st josei series. It got some awards too.

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