March comes in like a dragon and out like a maid (that’s totally how that saying goes, right?).
Just a couple short weeks ago I was ready to come into this post a little tired and bummed about the season, but some strong final arcs have lifted my opinion (or maybe I’m just riding high from yesterday’s heartwarming Dragon Maid finale). We’ve had deeper and stronger seasons, but this one had its share of charm and individuality–and hey, as I said last winter, no season with a standout masterpiece like Rakugo Shinju can ever be truly disappointing.
Sure, we’re almost a week into the spring season, but it’d be bad form to say “hi” to the new gang without first bidding a “see ya later” to the old. Hit the jump for some final thoughts on an up-and-down winter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
It’s Valentine’s season, but this post is more of a Like Letter than a Love Letter.
My watch list has slipped a few shows shorter than it was at the Rule of Three. Interviews with Monster Girls is out mostly for the reasons I mentioned in that post, and Yowamushi Pedal has fallen by the wayside as well. Which suits me fine; I have other projects and hobbies on my plate at the moment and not feeling like I’m constantly playing catch-up on 10-plus series has been kind of a relief, to tell the truth. Maybe I should be pickier in future seasons, too.
Barring a few major exceptions, it isn’t what I’d call a memorable season thus far, but there’s a fair bit of “good” to make up for the lack of “great.” As is often the case when life gets hectic, I’ve found myself gravitating toward comedies, and thankfully winter has some solid ones in its catalog (although they’re not without their issues, I admit). It also has underrated gem ClassicaLoid, and of course Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, which. I mean. Just. All of the chef’s kiss gifs and emojis. Every last one ’em. So not too shabby, all things considered.
Past, present, and future all under one rickety roof.
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.
Just, uh, gimme a minute to pick my jaw and heart up off the floor.
Things had been looking up for our rakugo family as of late, but that may have just been the long slope to the top of a very steep drop. The final performance this week was so magnificently staged and such a major turn in the narrative that it’s tempting to ignore everything else and just focus on that, but there are a lot of tiny (and more optimistic) milestones that happen prior to it, and I’d be doing Rakugo Shinju a major disservice if I didn’t touch on them. Yakumo may be in a desolate place right now, but that doesn’t mean everything is.