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Friday, March 9, 2018

Selah's Manga Mania: Descending Stories Vol. 1 by Haruko Kumota

Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū
by Haruko Kumota
January 17, 2017
160 pages
genre: historical, YA, manga
Demographic: Josei
Volumes 10
Published by Kodansha Comics
THE STAGE IS SET A hapless young man is released from prison with nothing to his name, but he knows exactly what he wants: to train in the art of rakugo comedic storytelling. After seeing an unforgettable performance from one of Japan’s greatest masters, Yakumo Yurakutei VIII, during his time in jail, he will settle for nothing less than to become apprentice to the best. Yakumo, notorious for taking no students, is persuaded to take him on, and nicknames him Yotaro—the fool. Yotaro has no formal training or elegance, but something about his charisma reminds Yakumo of someone from his past.

Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Haruko Kumota. It began serialization in Kodansha's ITAN magazine in 2010.
Stories and their importance can provide brilliant fodder for series – just look at the success of Sandman. While not in the same area, the series I look at today is interesting in its own right.
photo credit
Kyoji has recently been released from prison and desires to learn the art of rakugo. This is a type of Japanese entertainment where the storyteller sits on a stage with minimal props and performs different tales (usually somewhat comedic), while portraying various characters usually while staying in that sitting position. He gets Yakumo to take him in, and what follows is not only Kyoji’s training, but a look back at Yakumo’s life and training in the art, along with his friend, Sukeroku. Both had different styles, with Yakumo preferring the traditional, refined style of his master, and Sukeroku playing off the audience to make them react and wanting to find a style that moved with the times. It’s also important to note that throughout the series characters go through various name changes, taking on the names of their masters/stations, so for simplicity I’m keeping to the names that we see people the most as for better clarification.
I’ve just finished volume 4 and it’s ongoing, and so far I’m really enjoying it. It’s fascinating to not only learn about an art form I was completely unaware of, but also see how it influences and is influenced by each character. Sukeroku is more of a ne’er do well who means somewhat well, Yakumo probably tries a little too hard but gets the results the association wants and lives to become the most famous performer of the art by the time he takes in Kyoji. Kyoji has various reasons for wanting to learn, and he’s also something of a rival for Konatsu, Sukeroku’s daughter who is taken in by Yakumo, though she has a healthy resentment for him, believing he had something to do with her father’s death, and also disliking the traditional rakugo style that doesn’t let women perform.
Yeah, it’s a lot, and I guarantee reading the series is easier than me trying to explain everything. You get to see a healthy dose of flashback through different time periods of Japan leading up to and after the war, which is interesting to see from a different perspective. The characters also really shine in scenes where they’re performing – it shouldn’t work so well on paper, yet it does. You get a true sense for each performer’s different style, aesthetic, and voice. 

While the series starts in the “present,” getting to go back in time with their memories really helps you to develop empathy for them (I wasn’t a huge fan of Yakumo until the story focused more on his youth and upbringing), and it’s just a really interesting look at the different characters and how they view art. The author also talks about rakugo, itself, in the back of each volume and how the real thing might differ from how it’s portrayed in the series, so you have that aspect balanced out, as well.

I picked this up on a whim, and so far I’m really into it. Every time I see a new volume I grab it. While it doesn’t have the insta-drama of some series, it’s a well-crafted story and much more fascinating and in-depth character-wise than I would have imagined. For those who aren’t into specific genres like romance or horror or action, but still want a really interesting, ongoing story, definitely, give this one a look.

4 sheep

About Selah Janel:
Selah Janel is a writer who is trying to start doing that again instead of reading manga all the time.

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