English readers enter the special stage of rakugo, a type of theatrical storytelling with Kodansha Comics’ translated versions of “Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju” by Haruko Kumota.

The manga’s protagonist is an energetic but ditzy man who has a plan. After leaving the prison for serving his sentence, he seeks out the rakugo master that captivated him by his jailhouse performance. Locating the correct yose (rakugo performance hall), he finds Yurakutei Yakumo VIII and begs to become his apprentice. The elderly man surprisingly takes him as an assistant and also names him Yotaro. Though excitement flows through his body in anticipation to start his training, Yotaro instantly hits many obstacles including from his own so-called teacher Yurakutei who is hesitant on giving his new ward a lesson. It appears that there are some things from the past haunting the master that needs to be expelled in order to progress to the future.

Kumota steps out of her usual genre of BL (Boys Love) and creates an enthralling historical drama. Not many anime and manga fans would know about rakugo unless they conduct their own research. Those that follow the Japanese comedy scene may be familiar with it since Hosei Tsukitei (formerly Yamazaki) of the show “Gaki no Tsukai” is part of the Tsukitei rakugo group since 2013. Westerners might compare it to dramatic readings but only memory to go with and the performer using their own skill to become each of the story’s characters. While some are comedic, other tales can be arousing or even bone-chilling (cooling.) Kumota helps those new to the art throughout the story as Yotaro and Yurakutei go on and off stage. Kodansha Comics also provides supplementary notes in the end of the volume listing definitions and literary sources. The publisher also works on the translations with the watchful eye Rakugo Kyokai Association, making sure that the words remain true to its meaning and value. “Descending Stories” definitely deserves such care because it won the 2014 Kodansha Manga Award while Kumota recently received the 2017 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for New Creator.

It will take time before all ten volumes of “Descending Stories” will be translated. For those interested and impatient fans, Crunchyroll has Studio DEEN’s 2016 anime adaptation. It condenses the series into 25 episodes and may help those new to rakugo understand it better. Visit Crunchyroll’s page to watch it online or visit Kodansha Comics’ site for more on the manga including a free preview.

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