There are two things very obvious at the start of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku did not live til old age and Kikuhiko did not end up with Miyokichi. And these are the two things that would pop up in my head trying to figure out the how and why as I continue watching the series.
Both abandoned at young age and apprenticed by Yakumo to study rakugo, Sukeroku (Shin) and Kikuhiko (Bon) have a lot in common only on the surface. In reality, these two men couldn’t be more different.
Sukeroku is a rugged man who loves to drink, seeks pleasure of women companionship and simply living the carefree lifestyle. He loves to challenge the authorities and gets into trouble for being overly ambitious. On the other hand, Kikuhiko is more refined, often described as being feminine. He is more organized and listens to his superiors.
If there’s anything that keep their friendship going is their equal passion for rakugo.
At the early part of the series, it feels as though Kikuhiko is extremely jealous of Sukeroku. Sukeroku displays great amount of talent in rakugo and is always a few steps ahead. He shows deep knowledge in the art and is often found giving advice to Kikuhiko while the latter had struggled to find his form, often fell short of expectations and feeling left out.
The direction of earlier episodes made me question Kikuhiko’s motivations and motives towards Sukeroku. Is it jealousy that caused the brotherly relationship between these two men to fall apart as indicated in the first episode? Did Kikuhiko steal Sukeroku’s rakugo’s style? What did Kikuhiko do?!
However as the series progresses, while there’s this subtle rivalry between Kikuhiko and Sukeroku, it’s mostly one-sided. Sukeroku felt no pressure and always outperform Kikuhiko. He found success much earlier and is well received by the crowd. Kikuhiko is never a threat and will never be because he believes in his own rakugo. Whatever Kikuhiko lacks is what he has.
If there’s any indication that Sukeroku feels the same way as Kikuhiko is when Miyokichi comes into the picture. That’s perhaps when audience would soon realize Sukeroku has his own insecurities when it comes to Kikuhiko. Turns out, feeling left out is not only limited Kikuhiko. It’s precisely because these two characters are poles apart that they envy what they don’t have.
I really enjoy watching this series purely because of these two characters. Their story, their journey together is what make this series so special. I love watching how they slowly make their mark in the industry, navigating the different challenges life threw at them and ultimately falling for the same woman. Their characters are different yet they make their relationship work. They give and take. If one person put a steps forward, the other would automatically take a step back to give way. They’re always giving honest opinion of each other, maintaining the trust they built since childhood.
Being introduced to a rakugo, a Japanese verbal entertainment I never knew existed, is the reason I picked up this series. Shin and Bon are the reasons I continued watching. Rakugo Shinjuu is made special purely because of their unique relationship.