HomeComics/MangaMANGA REVIEW | "Akane-banashi" - Volume One

MANGA REVIEW | "Akane-banashi" - Volume One

MANGA REVIEW | "Akane-banashi" - Volume One

To be a great storyteller, one must encapsulate the characters they bring to life. But to be considered a master, one must know their audience and how to adapt. Such is the life of a rakugo performer, who takes a tale and brings it to life using gestures and expressions that defy the imagination. Becoming a true master of rakugo takes years — maybe even decades — to reach, even if one has lived and breathed the art form their entire lives. And that’s something the main character of Akane-banashi soon realizes when she looks to become a rakugo apprentice.

The story of Akane-banashi doesn’t begin with our titular character; it starts with her father. A struggling rakugo performer, Shinta aims to become Shin’uchi, the highest rank in the medium. However, his goal is put to a stop when he is expelled by headmaster Issho. That same day, the young Akane begs his father’s teacher Shiguma to take her under his wing, in order to one day make Issho regret his decision. After six long years of training, Akane’s goal of becoming a mere apprentice is right in her grasp.

Although her skills as a rakugo are on a high level, that doesn’t mean Akane is ready to take on Japan with her storytelling ways. Even with six years of under-the-radar training, Master Shiguma knows that Akane’s talents are tinted with green. Yes, she can tell a story as grand as her father did, but to be able to read an audience is a skill that requires on-the-ground training. And as Akane realizes, that’s something that’ll require more time to master.

Like how Show-ha! Shoten demonstrates how manzai works, Akane-banashi presents the ins and outs of rakugo performances. Writer Yuki Suenaga — with the aid of rakugo performer Keiki Hayashiya — shows what goes into telling a story onstage. It’s not just reciting a narrative verbatim; performers have to engulf their entire being into the story itself. And that’s where artist Takamasa Moue showcases how a performer does that, via exaggerated expressions and over-the-top annunciations.

This is where the manga shows its greatest strengths. These rakugo stories are told and presented in a way that makes you hear and see them in your head. It’s the mark of a great manga creator to be able to give their audience a way to visualize their story in motion, and both Suenaga and Moue do this flawlessly. Even if one has never seen a rakugo performance, it’d be hard not to imagine what one looks like after reading the ones presented here.

But this does lead to one of the weaker aspects of Akane-banashi: its main character. Although Akane is a good performer, she hasn’t done much in the story that allows her to stand out from other manga protagonists. I think back to another rakugo-based manga — TNSK’s brilliant My Master Has No Tail — where the tanuki Mameda was able to grab hold of the reader’s attention right at the get-go. Akane, on the other hand, has trouble with getting out of the shadow of her father, who seems like he got gipped out of being the manga’s focus. Her character as a whole has the same issue as her current dilemma: she’s too green.

With that being said, there is potential for Akane to grow to become a better character. This is demonstrated when she’s made to work at a bar, a place where she needs to literally cater to every person’s needs. It’s here where she conjures up the skills to assist customers in the right way, with her aiding a foreigner being the precise moment that things start to click. And just as you want to satisfy a customer with good service, a rakugo performer must also satisfy their audience with an act that satisfies their tastes in the art form.

The premiere volume of Akane-banashi does a good job with showcasing the art of rakugo. There may be some character-building flaws with Akane, but Suenaga and Moue seem to already be ironing out her wrinkles for the story’s long run. Those who may want to know more about rakugo can certainly use this series to see how such a performance works, on top of experience what can be a great story. While it does have a character issue or two, Akane-banashi looks to be aiming for manga’s answer to the Shin’uchi title. With enough work and audience-studying, the headliner position may one day be in its grasp.


Promotional consideration provided by Chantelle Sturt of VIZ Media.

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The J-POP king of America, Evan has been bringing the hottest sounds of the Land of the Rising Sun to the English-speaking public since his college radio days. He's also an expert in the gaming, anime, & manga realms, never afraid to get critical when the times call for it. Born & bred in Boston, he achieved his biggest dream yet by making the big move to Tokyo, Japan in Summer 2023! For personal inquiries, contact Evan at evan@b3crew.com. For press/band inquiries, write to us at thebastards@bostonbastardbrigade.com. (Drawing by AFLM of Wicked Anime)