Every once in a while, life gets stressful. Actually, lots of times life gets stressful. Even doing fun things like watching anime gets stressful. EVEN WRITING SERIES REVIEWS GETS STRESSFUL HNGGEHHH.
Sometimes, it’s good to take a break and get away from it all. That was me when I started watching 2014’s Barakamon, knowing full well I had already started over a dozen shows in need of finishing AND had more “important” shows in the backlog to knock out. However, I decided to take a break and treat myself to the lovely vacation that is Barakamon.
Barakamon follows the 23 year old Seishu Handa, a highly talented calligrapher who feels stuck both in his life and his career. These feelings of stress and anxiety surge to their breaking point when a critic gives a scathing review of his latest piece at an artshow, calling it “mediocre” and “unoriginal”, causing Handa to go off the rails and deck the old codger right in the face. Right. in. the. face.
At the advice of his friends and family, Handa moves out to a small village on Fukue island (the largest of the Goto islands, off the coast of Kyushu. Yes! A real place! See more comparison images here).
The true adventure of Barakamon (translated to mean “easy going person”) is for Handa to remove himself from the stresses of big city life and get more in touch with his art and find better ways to approach his interpersonal relationships.
Handa meets and interacts with a whole swath of characters from the island and hilarity ensues as he learns more about rural living and the contrasts between the life he had in Tokyo and his new life on the island. The characters are all fun and memorable and none of them strike you as anime tropes. They all seem like well written people who fit into their world and have real relationships and connections to one another. Each and every interaction feels natural, and that’s what sells the comedy most in a show as rooted in reality as this one.
A large portion of the cast in this show is made up of children, namely the secondary main character, a 7 year old girl named Naru. Naru is the resident, local, troublemaking-but-loveable brat whom Handa sees as a nuisance (and a trespasser) but eventually he learns to appreciate her and her unique ways of connecting with others. Not only Naru, but all of the children in this show are all written extremely well and encapsulate the different ways young children relate to and experience the world.
For those interested in learning more about traditional or rural Japanese culture, this is a great show to introduce those things. Handa comes to the countryside with an outsider’s understanding of things, and then has to unlearn some of his preconceived notions, while being consistently surprised along the way. As an audience member who has never been to Japan, much less rural Japan, seeing those things through the eyes of an outsider, as I would be in that situation, made his ordeal more relatable as I am also an outsider to rural Japanese culture. Plus, watching the english dub turn the old folk’s country dialect into Texan/Southern slang was quite charming and well done. I love it when anime does that. The Funimation dub (starring Robert McCollum as Handa and Alison Viktorin as Naru) was all around competent and humorously on point. No complaints from me!
I found myself relating a lot to Handa, as a person who struggles with feelings of inadequacy and frustration at life as a young adult. His journey was inspiring to me and was a great reminder to enjoy the small pleasures in life; always trying to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Barakamon was based on a manga by the same name that is currently on hiatus (as far as I can tell) written by Satsuma Yoshino. In 2013, Yoshino began a prequel manga to Barakamon about Handa’s high school days called Handa-kun, which was adapted into an anime in 2016 (that I have not yet watched nor read). Barakamon is currently available on DVD/Bluray from Funimation, and available in English on Funimation Streaming and in Japanese on Crunchyroll.