How could this episode have only been 21 minutes long (sans OP/ED)? It felt as if I’ve watched 4-5 episodes’ worth of material, with how much was covered, as the episode was split into several segments, each mirroring with other parts of the show, and the characters kept reflecting and contrasting, swirling by one another as the episode kept weaving about them, and as the story wove about us. So let’s get to it, bit by bit. Though it might get messy at times, because you can’t speak of one without the other, of the future without the past, can you now?
The episode opens with what this show is best at, setting up a feeling of a time and place. It’s a beautiful sunny day. A great day to spend outdoors. Bon doesn’t like the sun much, so it might be all fine and good for him to spend the day indoors, with his rakugo, but for all those other people? That’s quite a sacrifice, spending this lovely day, watching him. Watching his rakugo. A nice day for a social outing. A nice day for some culture.
Speaking of “culture”, there’s no culture quite like corporate culture, is there? You can’t promote one of a pair without also promoting the other, so the easy-sell Bon might not advance because his master’s other disciple is too much of a headache for his master to be able to push them through? But this isn’t actually the true focus of this scene, as is a continuation of a specific moment from last week, and further sign of things to come, in more ways than one.
Here’s the master speaking to an old friend. Even the master is just a man, who had his time of youth. And if you notice how he looks while speaking to him about the bureaucracy and the kickback he’s getting from the elders, his body is slumped. He looks tired and defeated. The master is not all powerful, he still has to answer to others and to contend with their wills. And to connect it to last week, when the master asked Bon about his relationship with Miyokichi, he certainly looked bashful, not imposing, not like an authority figure.
Also, before we move on, this small scene between Master Yakumo and Master Bonsai had shown something else that last episode was really good about – the whole interaction, especially how the whole exchange is bracketed between “Why the long face” and “Oh, your face grew even longer” is really fun, because the interactions in this show are framed as if they were part of a rakugo performance themselves.
And that took us to the train ride back home. On one hand, here is Bon, finally verbalizing his wishes. But as always, it’s about duty. If before he had to do rakugo to survive, here he has to do rakugo to pay back the master, and the older disciples, and everyone else for everything they’ve given him. Before he was forced to do it to not starve, and now he’s forced to do it for the sake of his honour. But is it true? I’m not sold on it. You see, Bon sounds as he always have, as if he’s doing it for others, but he can’t fool us, since we know he now wants to do rakugo, wants it, because he finds joy in it.
More than joy, remember how Shin-chan always speaks of his plans for rakugo, for the two of them, and Bon’s place in them as well, and how bon always sat passive as he listened, until late last episode he smiled at it? Because he can finally believe he too has room in this vision, that he too can shape this vision. Shape rakugo’s place in the world to come. At the very least, he can finally control the shape his own life will take, by his own will. So Bon is dreaming. And dreaming is indeed the right word, for he thinks that if only he’ll become a Shin’Uchi, he could do it all. Pay everyone back. Control his life. Do rakugo as he wishes. But the entirety of the master’s role in this episode, from start to finish, is to show that there’s always someone else you must answer to, always something more holding you back. And this is also the death of the capitalist dream, “If only I’ll have X then I’ll be happy!” But there’s always another X, always someone else. Unless you’re comfortable with how things are, as Shin’s mask presents him as.
Ah, masks and mirrors, the best place to speak of how characters reflect one another, how they contrast. And not just here, but across time and storylines as well. With the sweat and the story of the burglar, Shin has never been more like Yotaro than he is here. This matters later because Bon accepts the fact that if rakugo is to survive, it will have to change, which is what he tells Yotaro and Konatsu as he begins telling them the story, that they’ll have to keep rakugo alive, and thus Yotaro must find his own rakugo – something the formalist Bon dislikes, but that line to Yotaro is the proof that he’s accepted the truth of Shin-chan’s words. And in the present, rakugo is indeed a dying artform, so it’s hard to not accept it.
Further on the reflection, a tiny line by Shin rings ironic, as he says women are likely to not get rakugo. Yes, he doesn’t mean it, but it’s so very ironic when his daughter gets rakugo more than anyone else, but is barred from following it. Cutting to the other female figure of the story, Miyokichi tells us “And then I met master Yakumo and my new life began. I never want to be alone again.” And that’s Bon’s life-story, where he was taken out of his old life, deposited with Yakumo, and his new life began. And though he might act otherwise, and he definitely says differently later on in the episode, Bon’s life is all about how he always felt left behind, alone, and how he hated it (This was the focus of episode 3). So here they are, a geisha, and a boy who trained to be a geisha, whisked to a new life by Master Yakumo, and afraid of being alone. I think Bon’s trying to deal with it by abandoning others, or not letting them come close, before they could hurt him.
There’s also the obvious mirroring of Shin and Miyokichi, which the show makes clear on its own, how they’re both cast aside by Bon, and how they both try to reach for him, to be met by his cold visage. But, remember how I said Shin’s mask portrayed him as happy with how things are? Him trying to hug Miyokichi, is this his regular “make everyone happy”, or perhaps a sign that he wants something more in life, such as the life Bon is apparently aiming for?
Their talk, of splitting the world of rakugo, was nice. It’s cutting through the gordian knot – how could they keep competing with one another, without stepping over one another’s toes? By each going a different route, with the same goal, and have both routes be complementary. So one will aim for traditional and unchanging rakugo (though as old Bon had realized, there’s no such thing – every performer must make rakugo his own, or the audience will not care for it, and it will die out), and the other will try new things, new routes, so new audiences could be found. There’ll be a competition, to see whose rakugo does better, but even as they compete, they will know that the other’s work is just as instrumental for the survival of their beloved artform, and thus, for their own joy.
Speaking of mirroring, just as Bon opened this episode by allowing himself to dream, as Shin has done up to now, the episode nears its end with Shin finally confiding in Bon, his own fears, of dying penniless, without joy. And he, just as Miyokichi and Bon, was saved by a rakugo master, who’s given him a new lease on life.
But the episode ends with the cruelest unmasking, and a sign of things to come. The master is now a weary man, who’s speaking to his ancestors. Bon said he’s casting aside his love because he doesn’t wish to have regrets, that he might not get to do rakugo to its outmost, but what about the fact he might end up regretting not being with Miyokichi? And here is the master alone – doing what he can to carry on his ancestors’ legacy, a burden. The master has given these kids a new life, but at what cost?
(You can read my notes for this episode here.)