Sometimes, a masterclass on storytelling presents itself in meta form, with storytelling being the featured gimmick of Akane-banashi. The series revolves around Akane Osaki, an earnest, sweet, talented, and ambitious teen girl who idolizes her father. Her father, Shinta Arakawa, was a gifted, yet underappreciated practitioner of Rakugo whose ambitions go unrewarded as he fades from the industry in favor of a traditional 9-5. But Akane intends to seize the torch and avenge her father as she makes waves as a young virtuoso Rakugoka. Find out why you should check out this series in my review of Akane-banashi Vol. 1, courtesy of a complimentary copy provided by VIZ Media!
What is Rakugo?
The art of Rakugo (performative storytelling) in and of itself could get entire articles discussing it. In Akane-banashi, Akane’s father wished to be shin’uchi, a top-ranked Rakugoka (Rakugo performer) before being ultimately expelled as a middling, underpaid futatsume (middle rank, above zenza). Akane sets out as a young performer to redeem the image of her father by using the craft she eagerly studied as he practiced.
An Earnest, Grounded Shonen Protagonist
So many protagonists from Shonen Jump are far too close to perfect for their own good. Whether it’s overpowered characters with plot armor like Son Goku, or impossibly proficient spies like Spy x Family’s Twilight, it’s good to have characters like Akane. Akane is possibly my favorite Shueisha-published main character in years, an earnest, grounded Shonen protagonist.
Akane’s journey and development as a character take priority over spectacle, all while her ambitions involve becoming a top-rated deliverer of spectacles.
Akane is talented and adores her father’s techniques, using them in her routines, yet it’s pointed out that she needs more than simple technique and charisma to win over her audiences. Upon review of her techniques and growth in Akane-banashi Vol. 1, she learns about how Rakugo is also an act of service. It is meant to make the lives of others better by understanding what they want and giving it to them.
It’s in this gradual acceptance of her limitations, while rising to the challenge, that we as readers can identify with and root for Akane. She’s likable yet has room to grow, which is more compelling than your uncomplicated, overtly perfect protagonists (although there’s nothing wrong with an occasional Mary Sue.)
Expressive, Evocative Art
Akane-banashi may nail storytelling both conceptually and in practice, but you can’t overlook its wonderful art. It might not be as intensely detailed as other contemporary series, but its greatest strengths are in creating emotive, unique characters.
Each Rakugoka embodies their personas with intensely differing facial expressions, often with comedic results. Character interactions are strong and dynamic. Finally, one of the most interesting visual moments in Volume 1 was when Akane made a breakthrough while serving at a restaurant to study how to make her audience happy.
This is tested when she meets a foreign, monolingual patron, and breaks the language barrier by figuring out what he wants through intuition and empathy. To see her succeed, and her beaming face after receiving accolades for her work is heartwarming to see in real-time and would make for a wonderful anime moment.
Akane-banashi is one of the best Shonen manga in recent years, forgoing action and spectacle for character-focused storytelling. It’s wonderfully drawn, even if not mind-blowingly gorgeous, and has one of the most likable, relatable protagonists around. Akane is a young girl who adores her father and resents his humiliation while honoring him by taking up his craft.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this series has a similarly lasting cultural impact to that of Hikaru no Go. Regardless of its place on the manga cultural zeitgeist, it’s also an ongoing story, one which you can check out either physically or digitally through VIZ Media and Manga Plus!
This review was made possible by VIZ Media, along with a complimentary copy of Akane-banashi Vol. 1, available physically and digitally on August 8, 2023.
- This article was updated on September 7th, 2023