Studio DEEN began this winter season with a forty minute premier of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, an optimistic start to a show that has the potential to be the hidden gem of the season. The show is everything I might expect from a hipster choice for best anime of the season. Its subject matter relates to an archaic art form that is distinctly Japanese, featuring adult characters with a soundtrack that appears to be a mix of mandolins and jazz to achieve an interesting musical fusion.
I must commend the show for a number of things. If anything it takes a bold and risky move to draw in its audience. The second half of this long episode features almost fifteen minutes of nothing but a single character telling a story in mixed voices and gestures. The show is, of course, about rakugo, a form of verbal entertainment where a lone storyteller presents in front of a live audience.
Yakumo delivers a riveting performance.
We are lucky to have Tomakazu Seki and Akira Isihda, two talented voice actors, who bring these pure monologues to life with their vocal range, as this show will be heavily reliant on the ability of the voice actors to deliver a quality performance. Seki, known for characters such as Gilgamesh from the Fate franchise and Daru from Steins;Gate has an impressive variety of difference voices, and takes on the voice of Yotarou, a delinquent straight out of prison, whereas Ishida boasts a voice that complements the stoic and intellectual mannerisms of Yakumo Yuurakutei.
Both play their roles to a considerable degree. We are able to laugh at Yotarou’s boisterous storytelling while Yakumo’s rakugo, while eloquent and skilled, comes off as the boring tale that lures Yotarou himself to sleep.
Yotarou is quite unimpressed.
However, there remains in my mind a number of pressing concerns. The first is whether these stories will improve and deliver a funny and enjoyable experience for us, the viewers. Perhaps the audience may laugh or cry or cheer at a performance, yet I fear there is the high probability one will be tempted to shut off or stop paying attention to the rakugo if DEEN chooses to maintain a considerable focus on the time it spends on the stories.Secondly, there is a strange pacing problem. I gave it no thought at the beginning of the show, where things were already incredibly fast paced, but there were many points where I was scratching my head at how quickly things progressed and then slowed down without reason.
Take for instance the first scene where Yakumo’s servant tells Yotarou that the Great Artist has never taken an apprentice. Yet, despite this precedent, Yotarou is invited two minutes later with no questions asked.
Yet, after crying and begging, it seems Yakumo indeed takes an apprentice!
Konatsu is an interesting woman, one who the audience should keep their eyes on.
Moneta is a member of MAL Featured Articles club.