Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 – Episode 12

Time for our final curtain call.

Since last week saw the end of our central story, this week is by nature a more subdued epilogue, a comedown from the peak we hit before. While it didn’t have quite the emotional punch of recent episodes, it’s still essential to the story Rakugo Shinju wants to tell, which is largely about Bon, yes, but also about history, traditions, and the interconnected nature of individual narratives. Bon is gone but the world is not, and it would be a disservice to that world and the other narratives within it not to see how they’d all grown.

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 – Episode 11

Teach ’em how to say goodbye.

So here we are at the end of Yakumo’s–no, at the end of Bon’s story, or at least the end of this volume. I’ve hesitated to talk about religion or philosophy with Rakugo Shinju because I was still on the fence about which direction it would eventually swing, but this episode is infused with Buddhist beliefs and folklore, and especially with that uniquely Japanese concept of mono-no-aware: a keen awareness of impermanence, a gentle sadness for that which we’re destined to lose, and an appreciation of the beauty inherent in our ever-changing world. It may also be Rakugo Shinju’s best episode to date. And for this show, that is saying something.

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 – Episode 10

For everything there is a season.

Each week I think Rakugo Shinju can’t possibly get any better, and each week Rakugo Shinju shouts “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!” and proves me wrong.

After last episode’s harrowing confrontation, we’re offered a reprieve of sorts, as everyone does their best to move on from the tragedy of the ruined theatre and Yakumo tries to turn last week’s realization into action, no longer seeking death but instead reaching out to the lives around him. It leads to a quietly, deeply emotional climax and capstone to my favorite relationship in the series, promising hope for the future–right before it drops us into another potential pit. This show will be the death of me. But man, what a way to go.

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 – Episode 9

When it comes to unnerving ghost stories, “Shinigami” has got nothing on Rakugo Shinju.

Not content to simply kick me in the feelings every week, Rakugo Shinju decides to ratchet up the tension and stress me out as well. Right from the opening theme, which sees the return of Sukeroku’s (friggin’ terrifying) shinigami eyes, there’s the promise of impending disaster lurking right around the corner; a sense that we’ve reached a breaking point and something is going to have to snap before we can go anywhere else.

I mentioned last week that we’d entered a kind of narrative twilight between past and present, “saved” and “lost,” as we waited to see which direction the characters (Yakumo in particular) chose to travel. This week we may have taken a step away from that crossroads and into a specific direction, and it may ultimately be a positive one. But it comes at a steep cost, and I ain’t just talkin’ about my poor heart.

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 – Episode 8

The portrait of the artist as a young man.

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Through its echoes of the past and its glimpses of the future, Rakugo Shinju has always fluctuated between grief and hope, melancholy and elation, as its characters and rakugo itself struggle to balance what they’ve been with who they want to be. This week sees us not just shifting between those emotions, but occupying them simultaneously, leading to some of the show’s most poignant moments to date. It’s an atmosphere that’s difficult to describe with words, although Yakumo brushes up against it when he looks through an old photo album, muttering with a wistful smile: “Natsukashii, ne…”

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 – Episode 7

History is written by the survivors.

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So, uh… how’s everyone doing out there? Still thinking about That Scene? If you’re anything like me, you haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. You may have had trouble sleeping the night after because you were thinking about it so much, reorganizing events, questioning past assumptions, and feeling oh-so-many feelings for oh-so-many characters. And rest assured, we’re gonna expend some serious word count on That Scene today. But there was some excellent build-up to it as well, so let’s rev up to it by first talking about how Rakugo Shinju set the tone and stage this week for the reveal heard ’round the world.

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 – Episode 6

Past, present, and future all under one rickety roof.

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There’s a kind of magic to an old building, an imprint left by those who lived and worked and played there. The more people, the stronger the feelings, the older the tradition, the deeper the imprint. They infuse a place, sink into its walls and floorboards, fill it humming with fragments of lives and memories. I’ve felt it on the stage of a theatre, in the spire of a church, down the hallways of a prison, and from the rafters of a fieldhouse. Places that aren’t just historical, but seem to be composed of History itself.

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