Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is one of the most culturally Japanese anime I’ve seen in a long time, and one that I’m intrigued by. So far at least I’m sold on the deeply impressive opening episode.
In the first episode, a newly released prisoner Yotaro seeks out the master rakugo performer Yakumo to become his apprentice. Given the unusual setting and topic I’ll need to define a few terms first.
An exact date hasn’t been given for the setting, but it looks like the post war Shōwa period, probably tending towards the 1960s. This makes it a relatively rare bird in modern anime, about the only other anime I can remember off hand with a similar time period is Kids on the Slope.
Rakugo has been described as:
“a sitcom with one person playing all the parts” by Noriko Watanabe, assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature at Baruch College
It is, essentially, one man sitting on stage and telling the tale with minimal props and movement. As presented in Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, rakugo rises and falls with the presence and personality of the performer.
As with rakugo, so too with Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: it will rise or fall on the presence and personality of its characters. Fortunately, the first double length episode is exceptional in this respect. The three main characters Yotaro, Yakumo, and Konatsu are distinctively designed, and solidly acted by their seiyuu
I think the double length was necessary. There’s no obvious breakpoint, and the series isn’t really set up until this episode ends.
Promises that may now fall to Yotaro to keep if he truly wants to find his own style and future as a rakugo performer.
The Interim Verdict
Right now I’m fully sold on Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. This is an anime well outside of my usual topics, but it is simply too well made to ignore. If Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju can live up to the first episode, it will be an instant classic, and I’m certainly willing to go along for the ride to find out.
 As noted in the My Anime List (MAL) forums, rakugo is very culturally specific and calls Chihayafuru’s karuta to mind. Note to self: I really must watch that again at some point and do a season 2 revuew.
 As also noted in the MAL forums, I haven’t found anything definitive anywhere else.
 Kids on the Slope is very good company to be in, and may point to a level of social commentary to come.
 Emphasis on “man” for the moment. I expect this to be a plot point.
 I suspect that the same is true in reality as well.
 Discussions in the MAL forums indicate that the first episode may be a director’s cut of two previous OAVs.
 Konatsu looks to be a very interesting character, especially as women can’t be rakugo performers. This is something that Konatsu hasn’t accepted.