Despite Rakugo being an traditional Japanese art of storytelling very much associated with comedy, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu certainly didn’t play much of that comedy element when it comes to telling the stories of its characters. This series is an expert in playing the heartstrings of its audience, and true to its title boasting “double suicide”, the entirety of its storyline is a tragedy. Most, if not all, of its characters are simply very sad, but in their tragic fates, audience managed to find something beautiful that made them shine nonetheless.
So which sad character in Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu could easily make audience shed tears over their stories? Honey’s trying to rank them up, and here’s the result.
Let’s start from the one character who might have made people cry out of happiness (or his cuteness). As Konatsu’s son, Shinnosuke grew up in a fairly happy—or so it seems to him—family surrounded by the art of rakugo: with a mother, a father, and a grandfather. Shinnosuke is raised in innocence, too young to understand the ever-present emotional conflicts among the adults who raised him, though he wasn’t completely blind to the tension resulting from it. Shinnosuke isn’t inherently sad, but he’s connected to the many sad things from the adults around him.
All throughout the second season, the audience watched Shinnosuke grow up to be a rather charming, calm but cheerful kid. His cuteness really was a fresh breeze in the midst of the constant pain offered by the series. But that’s only if you don’t start thinking about Shinnosuke’s complicated background—especially after Higuchi alluded slyly to Konatsu about how Shinnosuke’s Dad might have been Kikuhiko, of all people. To top it off, the older Shinnosuke, years down the road, had none of the cheerfulness he’d had as a kid; he was more reserved, closed-off and almost aloof, which made you wonder what had happened to him in the gap between his grandfather figure’s death to now.
9. Yuurakutei Yakumo 7th
The late Yakumo 7th was Kikuhiko and Hatsutarou’s master who taught them the ways of rakugo. At a glance, it would appear that Kikuhiko was his golden child, but when he was sent to perform rakugo at war in Manchuria, Yakumo 7th chose to take Hatsutarou instead, much to Kikuhiko’s dismay. While in Manchuria, Yakumo 7th favored Miyokichi and that favor lasted even until they went back to Japan after the war. He was a simple teacher—never unnecessarily strict except when Sukeroku proceeded to do something he disagree with—but towards the end of his life, the audience was given a glimpse to the sadness he privately held.
Yakumo 7th’s favor to Miyokichi was perhaps the reason of his and Kikuhiko’s first visible tension in their long master-apprentice relationship. It’s quite sad to see this old man, who had taken care of Kikuhiko and raised him, had to accept that when it comes to Miyokichi’s favor, he could never beat Kikuhiko. Sadder still, if we looked back into the life he had led as Yuurakutei Yakumo 7th, as it is an inherited title from his father. As he once told Matsuda, Yakumo 7th had always felt that he’d lived his life under the shadow of his title—which means to him, the title, and perhaps rakugo itself, to some extent, was a heavy burden that he carried along to his death.
8. Higuchi Eisuke
Higuchi Eisuke was once one of the many people who had come to Yuurakutei Yakumo 8th to ask to be taken under his wing. And like those many people, Higuchi was rejected as well. However, Higuchi’s interest (or more accurately, perhaps, obsession) with rakugo did not end there. He appeared in front of Yotarou many years later, proposing to Yotarou and later Yakumo 8th himself to revitalize the world of rakugo by writing new classics, proudly stating that his wish was to give rakugo to the next generation and that he wouldn’t let Yakumo 8th killed rakugo along with his death.
We didn’t get to see a lot about Higuchi’s story, but we did know that he had a rather terrifying information network. However, we did see a glimpse of his past, as well as the reason how his obsession for rakugo began. Higuchi’s father was once a regular visitor to Miyokichi’s hometown, which was where young Higuchi first met Miyokichi and fell in love with her. Of course, that love is bound to become a heartbreak as Miyokichi told him about her beloved rakugo performer. Spurred by curiosity, Higuchi went to find Yakumo 8th and watched his performance—which then began his love and fervor for rakugo. To Higuchi, the beginning of his story might have been a sad heartbreak that he carried through (he did, afterwards, pursue Yakumo 8th to get him to talk about the truth behind Miyokichi and Sukeroku’s lovers’ suicide), but he steadfastly chased after the dream of reviving rakugo.
Early 1900s was not the kindest time for most people in Japan, but much less so for women who are wives and mothers. Tomi, the wife of Yuurakutei Yakumo 7th, probably embodies this sadness. While her story was not touched but for a fleeting, brief look, Tomi represented the story of those dedicated wives who bore the burden of trying to keep the family intact in the absence of his husband being sent to the frontlines. Beyond the life of Yakumo 8th’s wife, Tomi had nothing left, and the possibility of how Yakumo 8th might have perished in war and would not come back, to her, was the same as her whole world crumbling down. And even after his husband came back from war, she still had to deal with the fact that he’d taken a mistress—which, despite the practice being completely normal at that time and age, definitely added to her sadness.
The one character who impressed all of the audience with his steadfast loyalty to the house of Yuurakutei Yakumo, Matsuda. Matsuda had dedicatedly worked for Yuurakutei Yakumo 7th and continued to do so as Kikuhiko took the title of Yuurakutei Yakumo 8th until the end of his life. He’s also the only other witness of Miyokichi and Sukeroku’s lovers’ suicide, and had been the one who told Yotarou and Higuchi the truth of the incident.
Not only did he take care of the Yuurakutei Yakumo house for two generations, Matsuda also always kept the secrets of the house to protect his Masters—everything out of his love for the Yuurakutei Yakumo. And yet, despite being older than Yakumo 8th, he had also been the one who outlived his beloved Master, whom he had watched growing up. It was only fitting that he was the one to row Yakumo 8th’s boat across the river to the afterworld, a scene which would definitely make you cry rivers as well.
5. Yuurakutei Yotarou/Kyouji
Don’t let his criminal record fool you! Kyouji, later renamed Yotarou as he was accepted as Yakumo 8th’s apprentice, is an absolute angel who was a blessing to literally everyone around him. In the spirit of making a new start, once he was released from the prison, Yotarou steadfastly pursued an apprenticeship with Yuurakutei Yakumo 8th, making him Yakumo 8th’s first apprentice, and later even continued the title of Sukeroku. He offered to be the adoptive father of Konatsu’s son, which resulted in them registering their marriage, and proved himself to support Konatsu in every way possible.
Much of Yotarou’s struggle pertained to how he searched for his own style of rakugo, but his rakugo career was not without a hitch. The criminal record that he had shadowed him just as his career took off, throwing him off enough for him to mess up his performances badly. The fact that the world of rakugo itself was tittering in-between survival and death at that point also didn’t make it any easier for him. As someone who came into the Yuurakutei Yakumo house and became the glue that brought the people in it together even after knowing all the painful story, it is Yotarou’s heartfelt sincerity that often brought tears to the audience’s eyes. Despite his past, his struggles, and his occasional self-deprecation, Yotarou held only love for the family he’d found and kept, and when it came to it, had simply one wish for his Master: for him to once again performing rakugo and having fun while doing so.
Sukeroku was one of the few characters we known had been dead when the first episode of the series rolled in. That being said, his story and eventual death still ended up being one of the most tragic things in the whole series, especially pertaining to his complicated relationship with Kikuhiko and Miyokichi. As a child, he managed to get apprenticed under Yakumo 7th’s wing by sheer stubbornness, and was then renamed Hatsutarou. Kikuhiko, however still called him “Shin-san”.
He played a huge part in helping Kikuhiko discover his particular talent in rakugo, and their relationship had been the closest. After taking the title of Sukeroku, he was widely known by his freestyle and rather rebellious brand of rakugo, not to mention his bad habit of drinking and playing around with women, which oftentimes drew anger from the older rakugo performers. This was why Yakumo 7th refused to pass the Yuurakutei Yakumo title to him despite his talent, and even expelled him in the end.
Sukeroku loved rakugo. His depression after being expelled was proof of how he had loved and lived for rakugo, made even more contrastingly so to Kikuhiko’s lonely success. His dream was simply to make rakugo live again, one that sadly never came to pass in his lifetime. Sinking into depression, the only thing that kept him going was marrying the heartbroken Miyokichi and moving back to her hometown, where Konatsu was later born. His story closed with Kikuhiko’s last visit and the last time they both performed rakugo together, before the incident at the inn and his supposed ‘lovers’ suicide’ along with Miyokichi. Even after his death, though, his presence still haunted Kikuhiko, who had taken the blame upon himself for the incident, but at the very end when he reunited with Kikuhiko, Shin had nothing but smile and love as he sent Kikuhiko away across the river to the afterlife.
3. Yuurakutei Yakumo 8th/Kikuhiko/Bon
‘Kikuhiko’ is the name Yakumo 7th gave him when his mother gave him away and put him into Yakumo 7th’s apprenticeship after he’d injured himself, making it impossible for him to continue to learn dancing. Known as a highly technical and perfectionist rakugo performer, Kikuhiko once struggled to find his own style of rakugo. Sukeroku had largely been someone who inspired him as well as someone whose rakugo he looked up to—even if in most of their younger lives, Kikuhiko had been the one taking care of Sukeroku in general when it comes to money, food, or a place to sleep. He had been fascinated by Miyokichi, and had loved her in his own way, though later he broke up with her when he realized that he couldn’t love her more than he loved rakugo.
Kikuhiko is the one character where all the pain in this series is centered in. The talented Yakumo 8th who is perfect at a single glance, but in reality, after losing the two most important people in his life, hated everything: himself, the world, and most likely rakugo itself. Kikuhiko only saw himself as an empty vessel for rakugo, simultaneously wishing that it would die along with him but also for it to survive, because it had been his one promise with Sukeroku. Kikuhiko had lied to both Yotarou and Konatsu about what exactly happened at the night of Sukeroku and Miyokichi’s ‘lovers’ suicide’, earning himself Konatsu’s hatred as she believed that he’d killed her parents.
When it was said that being protected is the happiest role one could play, clearly that did not apply to Konatsu. Born as a daughter of a broken relationship between Miyokichi and Sukeroku, Konatsu had loved her father above everything. She had loved rakugo because her Dad had loved rakugo, despite never performing again due to the fact that her Mother had hated rakugo, and she was clearly as talented in rakugo as Sukeroku had been. Her memory of the night her parents died was hazy—all she could remember was Kikuhiko holding his bloodied Dad, which led her to believe that Kikuhiko had killed her Dad. Partly because of that, she was raised by Kikuhiko in a rather detached manner, and only much later did the audience find out that Kikuhiko did so in order to protect Konatsu from the fact that she had a hand in the death of her parents.
Konatsu’s love of rakugo was obstructed by one thing: she’s a woman. No matter how talented she is, the world of traditional rakugo did not accept womenas rakugo performers. Konatsu struggled to find her own strength and feet to stand on her own in this world, and later found support in Yotarou’s presence, who encouraged her to do small rakugo performances. Despite her rocky childhood and the absence of a warm family throughout her life, Konatsu strived to give Shinnosuke a better childhood and a happier family. When in the end, despite all the sadness and pain she’d gone through, Konatsu managed to realize her dream to be a rakugo performer, it really brought both wistful and happy tears to our eyes.
Though portrayed as a femme-fatale throughout the better part of the first season and a little bit in the second season, Miyokichi is the very image of a woman’s struggle in the early 1900s of Japan. Raised in a small village and later went to Manchuria with all her hopes and dreams, Miyokichi gained the favor of Yakumo 7th and became his mistress, following him even after the war ended and later fell in love with Kikuhiko as she worked as a geisha. However, growing insecure with how little regards she’s receiving from Kikuhiko as he got even busier with rakugo, she began to ask more of him and in the end pushed Kikuhiko to break up with her. Partly out of spite, Miyokichi accepted Sukeroku and they got married before going back to her village. However, as Sukeroku continued to drown himself in depression of losing rakugo, Miyokichi grew to hate rakugo and went back to the life of prostitution. When Kikuhiko finally visited them intending to take Sukeroku back to the world of rakugo, she reacted violently and attempted to do a lovers’ suicide, which failed but ended up in her falling off the balcony along with Sukeroku who attempted to save her.
There are a lot of reasons why Miyokichi, despite how some of the audience might see her as antagonistic, is the saddest character in the entire series. First of all, as a woman in that time, she had very little choice in life. Working as a geisha and later a prostitute might have been the only way she knew to survive in a society so very unkind. While she had loved Kikuhiko so much, Miyokichi couldn’t face the fact that rakugo was taking away Kikuhiko—who was her only safety net at that time—from her. She had loved Sukeroku for his presence, for being there for her when Kikuhiko had not, and perhaps for understanding her pain a little bit. But when she’d married him, it was again rakugo that dragged Sukeroku under the depression, stealing what little left she had of a family. She was loved, both by Kikuhiko and Sukeroku, but she was unable to see that because of her circumstances and misery. Tragedy seems to be the very word befitting of Miyokichi’s entire character.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is an anime about tragedy, but in the midst of all those sadness, the series also brought with it glimmers of hope. After everything, after the many losses and all the pain, Kikuhiko did not take rakugo along with him to death. Rakugo survived, in the hands of Yotarou, Konatsu, Higuchi, and Shinnosuke. It’s a happy ending that allowed the audience to smile through the tears and believe, all over again.
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