Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’re going to be sampling another new production, or at least new to me, as we check out the first episode of Joshiraku. Joshiraku has a bit of a reputation … Continue reading →
Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’re going to be sampling another new production, or at least new to me, as we check out the first episode of Joshiraku. Joshiraku has a bit of a reputation for impenetrability, and more specifically difficulty of translation. This makes sense – after all, the show is centered on five would-be rakugo storytellers.
Rakugo is a niche Japanese art form where a single actor sits on stage, and relates a traditional story all by themselves. Though it doesn’t even really show up that much in anime, I ended up learning a great deal about it through the outstanding Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, one of the best shows of the past decade. But without that context, I’d probably be lost from the start here – doubly so because Joshiraku apparently doesn’t even focus on these girls’ ostensible profession, and is instead more concerned with madcap, rapid-fire, reference-heavy comedy.
Premise aside, Joshiraku benefits from the fluffy, expressive character designs of Masayoshi Tanaka, he of Toradora!, Your Name, AnoHana, and much else besides. And most importantly, Joshiraku is written and directed by one of anime’s dream teams: writer Michiko Yokote, and director Tsutomu Mizushima. The two have collaborated on projects ranging from Prison School to Shirobako to Witch Craft Works; to be honest, I think they are the only team in anime I trust with comedy. Knowing this is another of their collaborations gives me a great deal of confidence, so let’s not waste any more time, and check out the first episode of Joshiraku!
And we open directly on a rakugo performance, with the camera situated directly in the audience. A classic way to open a story about performers; by starting in the audience, the effect of “panning in” to the actual story is amplified, as we shift from the role of spectator to an intimate standing with them backstage
Feels nice just to watch some rakugo again, considering how long it’s been since the show ended. This girl does the voices very well, though her character acting is limited (which I assume speaks more to the limitations of the production than her skill as an actress)
Dang. The animation is emphatically not limited during her walk backstage, which pays remarkably close attention to how her body movements would impact the folds of her kimono
A high-energy OP with vocals shared by the main cast, a slice of life staple
Aaand now they’re riding a tank. Less of a slice of life staple
I already assume there’s going to be some extreme dramatic contrast between the staid formality of rakugo, and the whimsical madness of early ‘10s anime comedy. The OP ending on their polite stage bows is a big tone shift
The music and pacing are really working in tandem as we enter the backstage. This is basically just a joke of pacing, elevated through the hesitant, fluttering flute and mournful violin
Ahaha. Our very first line of dialogue is directed straight at the audience, telling them to read the manga, because there’s no point to an adaptation like this. Now I see even the cinematography was its own joke, emphasizing the pointlessness of adapting a gag manga about girls sitting in a featureless room
Yep, she even explains that, asking why you’d want an anime about girls talking in a dressing room
“They’re working so hard to animate us even though there’s so little to animate!” And another joke built out of the art design, as this girl wildly over-emotes to prove her point. Considering these are literally jokes about the anime adaptation, I have to assume they’re anime-original, and just another clear example of Mizushima and Yokote’s collaborative approach to comedy
Obviously, the ideal for any show is that all of the elements of its production are working in tandem, all intended to elevate the intended dramatic effect. You don’t just get a script full of jokes and animate them – you work together with the directorial and animation staff, making sure the jokes take advantage of your staff’s talents, and that the overall pacing and storyboarding amplify the humor. Of course, this is a much harder approach than just adapting jokes directly from the source material – so you most often see it in more collaboratively-oriented productions, like Mizushima and Yokote’s works, or studios that emphasize collaboration like KyoAni
Gan is the green-haired one. The girls seem very comfortable piling on with each other’s bullying
“At least we’ll have more viewers than we do readers.” Oh my god this show
“This show is full of normal dialogue, so the audience can fully enjoy how cute the girls are.” Shots fired at the entire slice of life genre, christ
Their color-coded hair is very helpful for diversifying these compositions. The girls aren’t wrong, it’s hard to make a visually compelling production in one tiny room
The red-headed one also has pretty distinct body language, very casual and confident. This pose where she’s leaning one elbow on her crossed knees isn’t one I associate with slice of life heroines – it’s generally coded as a pretty masculine stance
“How casual is casual?” Lots of sturdy jokes of repetition, using the five girls to amplify some punchline’s comedic impact
Mari is the redhead
These cow pajamas are perfect
Welp, now Mari’s naked. They’re definitely frontloading some horny content too, which is also kinda par for the course in slice of life. I’ve watched a fair number of slice of life shows that open with a few risque scenes, and then get entirely chaste once they’re sure the audience is paying attention
Already tragically clear that Mari is the group idiot, and premiere bullying target
Yeah, this show loves its jokes of repetition. With five girls in the cast, and all of them essentially interchangeable in terms of executing these self-aware gags, Joshiraku will frequently amplify the absurdity of a situation by running it through four or five variations
Oh wow, some lovely painted backgrounds as we finally step outside
Gosh, it’s weird to so clearly feel how stifling that room was, compared to this open city street. Shifting from gag music to this lovely flute melody also helps, but it’s also true that I simply prefer slice of life shows with a sense of space and atmosphere, rather than the type that focus largely on conversational humor, and take place in confined, familiar places. This also makes me appreciate how hard K-On! worked to make sure the club room felt open and breezy, rather than confined
Kigu, the blonde girl, plays against type in her appreciation of death metal
And once again, every joke is a joke that gains momentum as the girls riff on it, with Gan arriving in an even more off-type gothic lolita outfit. Rather than rewarding you for your knowledge of anime tropes and archetypes, as many anime tend to, Joshiraku is actually flipping your expectations for comedic effect
The show’s self-awareness also means it can lean further into certain styles of punchlines. We’ve gotten a fair number of extended stretches of silence that lean into anticlimax, which only feels natural here because the characters are so clearly aware of the audience’s presence. It’s like their whole lives are sort of variants on rakugo performances
Also, massive props to the translators here, as this show seems to be around seventy percent bad puns. Not only are you translating puns that clearly don’t work in your target language, you’re intentionally trying to replace bad puns with equally bad puns. Not an easy feat!
Mari arrives in a tracksuit, and is of course immediately ripped into by all her friends
With the drums already playing in the background, this scene feels even more like a rakugo performance, landing on the natural punchline of them completely forgetting their fifth member
And they keep interweaving the endings of the girls’ rakugo performances into the show itself, as if to further highlight the similarities and differences between these two unique forms of Japanese comedy storytelling
This time they’re just entirely talking over Mari, a new bullying tactic
“Dogs are too distractible to make for good ghosts.” A weirdly good point
“I hate the character for ‘dog.’ Whenever I’m annoyed, I forget where to put the last stroke.” Yeah, this is one of the most defiantly unlocalizable productions I’ve ever seen
Even with the heroic translation efforts, some of these jokes just aren’t coming through, though. They’ll often congratulate characters on puns that aren’t present at all in the subtitles
They’re bantering about the usual slice of life fluff, but here, “do you prefer the mountains or the sea” swiftly shifts into a discussion of where you’d want your corpse to be discovered
Well, as expected, Yokote and Mizushima make for a natural comedy combination. Joshiraku’s script, storyboarding, and even sound design are all working in perfect synchronicity, ably elevating the show’s comedic pauses and deadpan punchlines. It’s a full-on farce, which isn’t really my sort of thing at all, but it’s very good at what it does – and I appreciate the odd points of comparison it’s drawing between rakugo and slice of life anime. Not a show I’m likely to stick with, but a fine demonstration of its team’s talents.
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