Uchi no Shishou wa Shippo ga Nai うちの師匠はしっぽがない
My Master Has No Tail story: The beginning of the Meiji era spelled the end of the tanuki’s tricks. These raccoon dogs, who are able to transform into human beings, used to love fooling humans until advanced technology rendered their endeavors futile. However, Mameda, a young tanuki girl, has not given up on this tradition, and—resolved to follow in her father’s footsteps—travels to Osaka in hopes of duping people.
As others in her village predicted, Mameda fails to deceive a single person, and she is even hunted down by an angry crowd. After finding refuge in a theater, she stumbles upon a rakugo performance given by a master of the art, Bunko Daikokutei. Fascinated by the vivid images created by the rakugoka’s acting, Mameda becomes enamored with this style of storytelling and decides to become Bunko’s apprentice!
Despite her initial reluctance to take a disciple, Bunko begins to teach Mameda rakugo after witnessing the young tanuki’s perseverance. Between undertaking a taiko apprenticeship, handling her work at the theater, and memorizing plays, Mameda needs to give her all if she ever plans to master the only art that still has a chance to fool people.
Another Rakugo show? I know that that’s a bit of a fair niche just like manzai a.k.a Japanese stand-up comedy, but while the understanding to appeal to Japan is there to be the difference, over in the West, there’s just a miniscule size of anime otakus being history buffs. And having said that, this show gets lost in translation, but how so does it fare against the come-and-gone contemporaries?
It’s been said in Japanese folklore that the raccoon a.k.a tanuki does have a rather malevolent past. The oldest and earliest tales and legends speak not only of the possession of humans but also of shapeshifting. One of the most famous myths surrounding the tanuki is its ability to shape-shift into the form of a beautiful woman with which it plays mischievous tricks on passersby. Despite transforming itself, the tanuki can also transform certain things, such as turning pebbles into gold, or faeces into food. and a common image of this magical, malevolent creature is one with a leaf on its forehead, as this is believed to be the source of its power. With time, the malevolent tanuki evolved into a much tamer one, while still using their illusionary magic, they were rather seen as a mild annoyance than an actual danger, known for bothering travelers, hunters, or monks with harmless tricks.
And this is what describes the racooon girl Mameda in a nutshell. Having been birthed and grown up in the Taisho era where the traditional trickery of the tanuki is rendered obsolete, with her racooon tribe declaring that the ways of the old are no longer effective against the new breed of evolving humans, she is the one that stubbornly refuses to let go of tradition despite being bullied over and over by fellow tanuki. In the hopes that she can master the art of trickery just like her father did, the trip to Osaka would become Mameda’s defining moment in resourcefulness of trying old habits that just fail hard and earn the ire of people, to learning new things that would entice her to keep the tradition alive. In this case, it’s the art of Rakugo a.k.a Japanese verbal storytelling.
For one, Mameda is an interesting character, no doubt. Being the pickled young tanuki that she is with the entire raccoon village already free of the burden of trickery, she tries so hard to convince to the masses that raccoons should follow their ancestral tradition, but in the process, it appealed to no one, almost forcing her to be expelled out of the village. It’s in this state that in Osaka, she meets a well-renowned Rakugo-ka by the name of Bunko Daikokutei, but she’s no ordinary human either. Bunko is what is known as the kitsune a.k.a nine-tailed fox, also carved from tradition, but there’re good and bad foxes, and she is of the Zenko (or benevolent) celestial fox that’s associated with the god Inari. They are sometimes simply called Inari foxes. Even if they do not have nine tails, these kitsune are always depicted as being white in color, have the power to ward off evil, and they sometimes serve as guardian spirits. Besides protecting Inari shrines, they also protect the local villages from the evil kitsune and other malevolent Japanese foxes. Mameda being a try-hard, she approaches Bunko for help in mastering the art of trickery, and Bunko’s answer is through Rakugo, which she slowly entices Mameda to see it for herself. The journey is set for the tanuki to learn a new form of tricks from the nine-tailed fox, and it takes a buttload of confidence and will to perform as Mameda learns the ropes and becomes a full-fledged Rakugo-ka.
This is how mangaka TNSK envisions the manga to be in the English official translation: My Master Has No Tail, meaning that Mameda’s master Bunko has shapeshifted into a human (meaning she no tail), saved by her former master when people stopped praying to her and wrecked both her home and life with injustice, and her source of trickery is through Rakugo, which in the presence of Mameda, decides that she’s worth the one shot to spread her name even further. And just for context, masters pick their apprentices very carefully, esepcially in Rakugo, because a lot is at stake here: the reception of the student in inheriting the name of his/her master, and the reputation built afterwards. Thankfully, Mameda is not alone in this regard, as there’re other characters that intersect along her lines of also becoming a Rakugo-ka, such is the case for Shirara Tsubaki. Her father is Byakudanji Tsubaki, one of the greats in the world of Rakugo, albeit his sloppy, debt-ridden image gave him a reputation that doesn’t bode well with the people. And being the daughter of such a father, she cannot take it any longer, and lik Mameda, uses Rakugo as her learning curve to help her father tide off all of his debts. And I can tell you that becoming a Rakugo-ka is NOT as easy as it looks, it takes a lot of skill, talent and on-the-fly thinking to ever make it to the finish line: the audience having fun and laughing at the jokes imposed from the many Rakugo stories. All in all, while the characters are all diverse, they certainly help Mameda in fulfilling her dream to be in Bunko’s shoes, and that’s a tall order in and of itself.
Certainly, the most surprising aspect, is that Liden Films, the studio that’s used to the overhaul workforce to pump no more than 3 shows per season, does a 180 on its fold of overworking its staff members in preparation for next season’s continuation of Tokyo Revengers. Because let’s be honest: in recent years, the production values were decent, but at least consistent towards whatever the sources were to take a breather, and in the overworked anime industry, any kind of rest is a luxury to have, and under Strike the Blood director Hideyo Yamamoto, it looks just fine.
Music artistes have come and gone, and so is the prevalence for GARNiDELiA, with her OP song being low-key catchy and an intended fun reference to the series overall, but like with Taishou Otome Otogibanashi, the quality has dropped significantly. However, Hinano’s ED is calm that it gives you the exact sense of episodes’ end and relieves all of the drama unfolded for a nice contrast with the apprentice-master duo Mameda and Bunko. Also, the after-credits of Shippona no Shippo a.k.a No Tail Tales where Maneda (in her tanuki form) explains the context of the episodes’ Rakugo stories, it’s honestly a nice touch for people who don’t really understand to be given full detail on the story, it deserves recognition, appreciation and the effort behind it, even if it isn’t interesting.
No doubt that this tale of trickery is a good one to come, but at the cost of explanation, and ultimately equalling all that down to enjoyment, which this show feels like a mixed bag of sorts. Rakugo is a very niche aspect, but unlike manzai comedy (which every country in the world has sone imitation or form to it), it’s purely a Japan-only feature that complements to those who understand, or those that are wanting to learn more about it.
Regardless of how you see this show, unless you’re in for a learning lesson about Rakugo, then it’s gonna give you boredom. It’s slow, but it has heart, and for that I can appreciate this anime for what it is. It’s a decent show overall.