Despite the tragedy that marked the end of the first season, decades later Bon finds history resolving itself in the present. Before the deaths of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, he had sought to bring them back to his home with their child to live together as a family. Now, years later, he finds himself living with both of them remade in the charismatic natural performer of Yotaro and the stubborn Konatsu, now with a child Shin who he has every bit as much affection for as he did Konatsu. Although he remains unreasonably stubborn in some things, such as Konatsu’s desire to perform Rakugo, he is finally able to enjoy some of the happiness that was stolen from him.
As his connection to those around him begin to grow, Bon is once again visited by shinigami.
The spirits of Miyokichi and Sukeroku begin to haunt Bon during his performances. Miyokichi appears in response to the lighting of Buddhist incense said to summon the spirit of loved ones in the performance Hangon-Ko. Although the spirit is silent, Konatsu calls out Bon’s name and he hears Miyokichi speak, “Kiku-san”, her private name for him. He collapses, awakening in a hallway of candles where Sukeroku stands before him. Bon doesn't willfully manifest the scene with his performance as he did years ago. Nor does he take on the persona of the Shinigami. Instead of becoming the exaltation of becoming the shinigami, they appear before Bon and he experiences fear. Rather than offer him an opportunity to save his own life, Sukeroku pushes Bon to the floor and begins to strangle him.
Bon’s episode leaves him diminished. He can no longer control his voice as he could previously and he feels certain his peak of performance is now behind him, with only a bleak future of slow decline ahead of him. He is convinced Miyokichi's appearance was evidence that he still hasn't moved on from her. Just as he was beginning to become proactive in building his relationships with his new family, his performance drew him back into isolation. Bon contemplates suicide, nearly leaping from a bridge before Konatsu and Yotaro happen upon him. Their attempt to rally his spirits with a surprise party is spoiled when it is raided by the police who arrest his friend Kida. Bon is being abandoned by his abilities and has yet another friend stolen away from him.
Miyokichi returns during Bon's visit with Kida in prison, once again in response to the lighting of hangon-ko in Bon's performance. Konatsu begins to sing in accompaniment with her samisen performance and Bon can hear Miyokichi’s voice in song. Bon pleads with Miyokichi, accusing her of attempting to take away everything from him once again and begging for her forgiveness in turn. Bon promises her ghost that he shall never take another wife, claiming he will never replace Miyokichi even as he confuses her with her daughter. Bon's oath of fidelity to her memory over her surviving daughter undoes the progress he has made toward moving on. The foreshadowing on how he might make good on this promise is written in their postures, matching the fateful moment he chose his art over their love and set in motion the events that would lead to her death.
Shaken by the event, Bon visits the Uchikutei after hours for his final performance, Shinigami. Sitting before an empty theater, he is once again alone with Rakugo. As Bon reaches the final scene, candle flames appear in the seats before him. As he approaches the climax, where the protagonist's flame dies, the flames in the candles next to Bon gutter out. He sits in an empty void. Rather than collapsing into a rapturous repose, he huddles forward in a posture of pain.
Once again Sukeroku appears. Rather than an attacker, this time he appears as Bon's lost friend. Bon confides he is afraid of losing his ability to perform and wants to keep Rakugo to himself. "And so in the end, naturally, you have no audience." Sukeroku replies. Although he doesn't condemn Bon's actions, this is the natural consequence of Bon's Rakugo. On cue, the shinigami replaces Sukeroku, telling him to see his philosophy through to the end. "Cut away from the things you hold onto." He puts a newly lit candle in bonds hand and makes him throw it into the seats, setting the theater ablaze. Bon appears surprised, but his suicide note was clearly written in his act of passing on Sukeroku's fan to Yotaro. He sits in center of the inferno on the stage, in the embrace of the god of performance.
Once again, Bon is saved by a loved one where he should have met his demise. Yotaro arrives and reaches out to Bon, but can’t quite grasp him. Bon is forced to meet him halfway to save his own life, or die with his Rakugo and the god of performance. Bon grasps Yotaro’s hand, finally rejecting isolation with his art and once again escaping his fate.
Later, in Bon’s sunlit garden, he agrees to take Konatsu as an apprentice, breaking his adherence to tradition and giving his approval for her to perform, passing on the flame of Rakugo to the next generation. It is at that moment that he passes on in peace, leaving his son and daughter, as well as his grandchildren, to carry Rakugo into the future. Passing into the afterlife, Bon is given one a chance to perform as a spirit before three generations of his family. Freed from his fear of isolation, Bon picks the light-hearted Yugembu, a favorite of Konatsu and Shinnosuke. His final performance is an altruistic Rakugo for those he loves before passing on in peace.
Shinigami doesn’t perish with Bon, however. It, too, passes onto the next generation. Each of the primary characters of the second season were introduced in the first with Shinigami. Bon’s performance, Yotaro’s conversation with a fellow fan, and Konatsu’s covert practice. Fittingly, the final performance of Rakugo was Yotaro’s Shinigami. Although Bon was able to release his hold on Rakugo, it seems he can’t quite let go of Shinigami, as he appears before Yotaro to show him how it’s done, playing the part of the spirit of death. Although astonished, Yotaro still puts his own twist on the play, sitting up where the protagonist has fallen dead to exclaim “A dream?”
Just as Shinigami informed us of Bon’s own struggles, for a time it felt as if it reflected the life of Rakugo itself. Its internal politics and performers holding onto outdated ideals of tradition were pushing away new generations of performancers and fans. Yotaro’s twist, which would have been heresy only years before, frees the series from its fatalistic weight. Konatsu’s acceptance as a female performer and Higuchi’s new plays show a willingness to change that will allow Rakugo to evolve and continue with the generations. Each performer must, one day, meet their own shinigami but Rakugo will survive. Although we may have been unsure, Yotaro never doubted this.
Peter Fobian is an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll and author of Monthly Mangaka Spotlight. You can follow him on Twitter @PeterFobian.