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Barakamon Anime Cover

Score: 8.43/10

Synopsis

Seishuu Handa is an up-and-coming calligrapher: young, handsome, talented, and unfortunately, a narcissist to boot. When a veteran labels his award-winning piece as "unoriginal," Seishuu quickly loses his cool with severe repercussions. As punishment, and also in order to aid him in self-reflection, Seishuu's father exiles him to the Goto Islands, far from the comfortable Tokyo lifestyle the temperamental artist is used to. Now thrown into a rural setting, Seishuu must attempt to find new inspiration and develop his own unique art style—that is, if boisterous children (headed by the frisky Naru Kotoishi), fujoshi middle schoolers, and energetic old men stop barging into his house! The newest addition to the intimate and quirky Goto community only wants to get some work done, but the islands are far from the peaceful countryside he signed up for. Thanks to his wacky neighbors who are entirely incapable of minding their own business, the arrogant calligrapher learns so much more than he ever hoped to. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

Watching Barakamon was like going to a birthday party or a picnic outdoors, chock full of excited children running all over the place, doing what they do best. As an adult (supposedly), you feel slightly out of place but the child in you just wants to jump up and down with them in frantic jubilation without a care in the world. There is a cake too: a black forest with strawberry toppings and as you immerse yourself in the jovial mood, you admit that the feeling of sharing a slice with everyone is sweeter than the cake itself.

And what a slice it was!

For a slice-of-life to succeed, it needs to have a decent premise which sets it up and allows it to deliver a constant flow of quality… well slice-of-lives. For Barakamon, getting the socially inept and awkward “city-boy” Handa to live in a rural island where the residents are both normal and weird at the same time was the perfect set-up. You can already see it in the first episode. In fact, for me the show stepped up a level in the scene where Handa throws out Naru and she is rolling out going “gyaaaah!” in her lovable and unique accent.

And then, we follow the life of Seishuu Handa on a place very new and unfamiliar to him: doing some things for the first time, making new friends, enjoying the beauty of nature, picking fights with grade-school kids, catching beetles and going through a plethora of experiences on the island. All the while, he is searching for his own style of calligraphy. I admit that this was the only part of the show that was sort of a miss rather than a hit, for me at least. This stemmed from the fact that I found it impossible to discern the difference of the quality of the works and how Handa’s Calligraphy evolved as the show went on. However, having said that, it is clear that the island life has a profound impact on it: after all, no one can deny the fact that he is inspired by it.

One of the impressive aspect of the show is the way in which it integrates doses of comedy here and there. In fact, I would say that it is slightly more hilarious than the norm of the genre.

The pacing of the show is wonderful. It is laid-back in general but takes longer strides if need be without rushing itself.

The only rushing in the show is the little Naru rushing to Handa’s house both of whom are totally lovable characters. Handa is surprisingly childish and immature even though he doesn’t realize it which makes it easier for him to connect with the kids and the reactions brought on by his impulsive nature are priceless and hilarious. He is the only one who is significantly developed as the series progresses but that is understandable and okay.

Little Naru is one of the main allure of the show. She is full of energy and life probably more than a normal 7-year old. You could call her a bit pesky but you would be doing so with a loving smile because her peskiness really helps break down the wall around Handa. Her attachment to Handa is cute indeed and helps their friendship blossom leading to more fun and eventful days for both of them. The only qualm here is that she is not as much developed as a character, even as the show goes on. She, more or less remains the same which is not bad as she is great just the way she is but still one senses a lost potential there.

Without going into detail about the other characters, it is suffice to say that they are all sufficiently unique and lovable. From a fujoshi in denial to a lively tomboy to a group of cheerful kids, this show has a slightly large cast. Most importantly though, they are all easily likable even if they do suffer from a lack of development which again is understandable as most of the development is focused on Handa. The best part is their interactions which are top-notch and really help carry the show forward. For instance, seeing a grown man being enlightened by 7 year olds complete with his mortified reactions is quite charming and enjoyable.

Charming is the right word for the art as well. A good amount of light and vibrant colors have been used. The backgrounds are decently picturesque and the character designs have also been neatly done and are easily distinguishable. I liked how they made the faces of the children slightly chubbier to sort of contrast them to the more ‘pointed’ ones of the adults. The different facial expressions of the characters especially of the two mains are also impressive and enjoyable. And the animation is also up to par.

For the sound, the first tick goes to Naru’s seiyuu who is a kid as well. Actually, kudos to the production team for getting child actors for the roles of those cute kids. Plus, they incorporated a unique dialect for the inhabitants of the island which just adds to the atmosphere and overall feel of the show. The BGM were also decent and as for the opening and ending: although they are not really great, they are slightly better than average. The ending especially managed to stay on my playlist for quite some time and was perfect for the show.

Final Thoughts:

This show cannot be recommended enough for those seeking a simple slice-of-life full of smiles and laughs and heartwarming moments. After a long hard day, just get yourself a slice of this cake and enjoy the utter bliss that it is.

Barakamon shows that you don't need aliens, magical powers and love triangles in order to create an exciting anime. Barakamon is not a tale of good triumphing over evil or a couple finding true love within one another, but rather an example of why our uneventful daily lives is story enough, even if said life involves being assaulted by small children. There isn't a great deal that occurs in Barakamon's regrettably short 12-episode run. There is no overarching, deep story to keep you on the edge of your seat, and by the end of the final episode, not a whole lot has changed from the beginning. If you were to explain the story of Barakamon to one of your friends, they would likely respond by saying "That's it? Sounds boring." And they would be horribly wrong, as Barakamon is easily one of the best anime of the entire year. The characters in Barakamon are the story. It is about Handa Seishuu, a 23-year-old calligrapher prone to anger and misfortune, and his friendship with the villagers who continually screw him over through a myriad of hilarious accidents. He does not undergo a great transformation by the end of the anime, but simply experiences the joy of human companionship, and no-- this theme is not told through preaching morals. Barakamon is very subtle with its themes, choosing instead to develop characters gradually and believably rather than through melodrama. As immature as Handa and the characters often are, Barakamon is actually a surprisingly mature anime. When Handa finds himself staring in awe at the starry night, the writers do not feel the need to explain what Handa is feeling at that moment. At that point in the story, Handa has been characterised so believably that empathising with his thoughts and feelings becomes natural. He's not a walking gag, an archetype made to appeal to the audience's most basic instincts. He is his own person, highly flawed and vulnerable to mistakes. Whereas most anime protagonists are so dull, so devoid of personality or history that you could throw them into just about any other show, Handa feels at home in his own series. And the same can be said for all the other characters. The kids, especially Naru in particular, are unique in the way that they actually behave like kids. Naru is mouthy, aggressive and intellectually inferior to the adults. She collects bugs, finds poop funny, eats live snails (ugh!) and annoys Handa in just about every way possible. Naru is not cute in the same way that loli characters are. She is an actual child, not a pretend-child created to please the nether regions of lolicons. Just like real, living kids, Naru and her companions are often frustrating and bring ruin to just about everything they encounter, but that energy is precisely what makes them so endearing. The humour of Barakamon is also surprisingly thoughtful, and it hits the mark more than perhaps could ever be expected from an anime. There were no moments where the joke fell completely flat (as was sometimes the case with similar anime like Silver Spoon and Gekkan Shoujo). There are few, if any puns and stereotypical Japanese humour, even if it does still follow the typical manzai format of stupid-thing-happens-and-people-react-to-stupid-thing. The stupid things in Barakamon work because they are actually rooted in reality. It doesn't create its comedy through the characters reacting in some ridiculous, unbelievable way, but through the kinds of accidents that typically follow from playing with children. And from Handa suffering. Unlike most slice-of-life comedies, Barakamon knows how to strike a perfect balance between its humour and the more heart-warming moments. These moments are well-placed and purposely kept rare so that they may carry meaning. What most anime are incapable of grasping is that in the real world, we find beauty in between mountains of hardship; it is not something that can be created artificially and sold and traded at the dollar store. Barakamon understands this, which is precisely why its events feel so natural, even if they do not carry any huge wave of emotion along with them. Barakamon also deserves some praise for its willingness to tell a story with characters of all ages. There are the kids, a few teenagers in the local high school, the adult protagonist and his friends from the city, and the middle-aged and elderly villagers. It does not focus solely on 15-year-olds, and for that Barakamon is all the more special. The calligraphy aspect of the show does have its share of issues, though. Because the focus is almost entirely on the comedy and the slice-of-life, there isn't much detail given to the calligraphy world that Handa is a part of. What makes a good piece of writing? What makes a bad one? Why is Handa's new style so much more meaningful, and what is it even like to be a calligrapher? None of these questions are fully answered. If you don't have any knowledge of calligraphy (and I expect you won't-- I certainly did not), then it's likely these scenes will not do much for you. I found myself much more invested in all the immature shenanigans that occurred between Handa and the villagers. At the very least, I suppose it did show that there's a bit more to calligraphy than simply slapping cool-looking kanji on a piece of paper. Barakamon looks and sounds great. While there's no gorgeous setpieces and scenery to bring heaven to your eyeballs, the artwork is still very attractive and consistent. The opening track is also pure bliss. I would recommend giving it a listen any time you're feeling awful; it's like magic. Will Barakamon shock and bring you to tears? Probably not. But it will almost assuredly change the opinions of anyone who previously found the slice-of-life genre boring, and what it lacks in emotional value it makes up for by being executed nearly to perfection. It is one of the most enjoyable, pleasant experiences I've had with an anime in a very long time, and anyone who simply wants to have a good time and relax would be doing themselves a huge favour by giving Barakamon a try. Its greatest sin is that there just isn't any more of it to watch. As for the best anime of 2014, Barakamon is the winner in my eyes.

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