Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Volume 10
The Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju series concludes with volume 10.
It came out almost three years ago, and this volume — along with some of the others in the series, apparently — may be currently out of print. But I still wanted to talk about it because as a wrap-up, it’s beautifully in tone with the theme of the series. I’ve enjoyed reading about these practitioners of rakugo (monologues/ storytelling) because the manga stories combine personal drama with reflections on how one keeps a long-running art form relevant. How much change is acceptable? How does one balance fidelity with attracting more current audiences? It’s a subject I find fascinating.
Anyway, this volume opens with an inciting incident that means the practitioners can’t continue as they have been: the yose, the performance theater, has burned down. Yakumo, the patriarch, was injured in the fire, and he shortly passes away. That leaves the majority of the volume to cover first, his trip through the underworld, followed by seeing how the lives of the other characters continue in the future.
It’s typical of long-standing art industries that they don’t change until they have to. (As we’ve seen over the last year or so, with the pandemic forcing changes in movie and book distribution.) The fire brings some long-needed adjustment, the most obvious of which are allowing women into the formerly male-only art and opening up to new material instead of merely repeating the classic stories. It also reinforces people’s dedication to the form as they work to brink it back.
Characters reconcile, we see a new generation, and Yakumo walks back through his memories in the afterlife. It’s a lovely way to bring the story full circle and demonstrate how everyone’s learned something. Age brings reflection and acceptance, and that viewpoint is reassuring.