Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Volume 8
Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju volume 8 handles two major stories of very different moods.
First, there’s the aftermath of events of the previous book, where Yakumo collapsed on stage. He’s convinced his age means he’s done performing. Many others try to talk him out of retiring, but I’m not convinced he’s wrong. As a rakugo storyteller, he’s a vocal performer, and the state of his body does affect his voice. Perhaps he owes something to continuing the art, but he also has a right to leave gracefully when he can.
(I suspect the differences in American expectations, with the prominence of the individual, and the more community-focused Japanese culture are affecting my opinions here. Still, the idea of sacrificing oneself to prop up a lesser-known or even dying art is familiar to me, having lived as a comic industry observer through the 90s.)
The businessman Mangetsu plays a role here, and I find him an superb supporting character. He’s a former rakugo apprentice as well as a medical school attendee, which made him just the right person to help Yakumo at the performance. He’s from a different regional tradition, and while it’s obvious that his request for help from Yakumo is designed to make the master feel obligated to continue, his feelings behind it are potent in their mix of realism and dreams. Not everyone will be a star, or even be able to continue following an artistic path, and practical decisions can be right ones.
The rakugo theater is also feeling its age, with the owner bemoaning the need to bring it up to code while not wanting anything to change. Again, I perceived many resonances with the comics industry, something I brought to the story but that deepened the themes for me. It’s fascinating to see on the manga page such adult concerns as aging out of a desire and trying to make responsible, realistic decisions instead of following the dream no matter what.
The second major storyline starts with the discovery of rare footage of the deceased Sukeroku performing, which leads into a revelation about what really happened to Konatsu’s parents back when. We’ve been told, through multiple volumes of this story so far, one version, but what we find here puts the actions of the major characters, some of which were confusing, in new light. As author Haruko Kumota illustrates the “film”, there are some gorgeous flashbacks to the previous generation performers in their prime.
I’m very glad Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is being released, as it’s rare to find such mature concerns in a comic story expressed so well and with so many ramifications. Each volume leaves me with a lot to think about. Anyone interested in the nature of art and performance, particularly over a lifetime, should be reading this series.