Barakamon – A Trip to the Countryside (but also an island)

For this year’s Summer season, ‘Diomedea’ have been adapting Satsuki Yoshino’s Handa-kun, a story about an awkward calligrapher trying to cope with high school life, which wouldn’t be an issue – if he didn’t keep confusing the admiration people feel towards him as hate. But Handa-kun is actually a prequel to Yoshino’s Barakamon, which was also adapted into and anime in 2014 by ‘Kinema Citrus’, telling the story of Handa’s life on a rural Japanese island. While the two series may not be the most popular, they are certainly funnier than most anime in the same vein and deserve just a little more attention than they get. That being said, You miss out on a lot of Handa-kun without having seen Barakamon first, so today I’ll be encouraging you to take a trip to the countryside… but also an island. The whole island is covered with open countryside. It’s like Japan’s equivalent of the Shetlands, or somewhere like that.

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Handa Seishu, an up and coming calligrapher, is a sheltered city boy with no proper life experience. When his work is insulted by the director of an exhibition he is featured in, Handa flips his lid, punching this old crippled man in the face. Obviously this is a manga, so instead of going to jail Handa is sent to a remote island by his father, where he too spent some of his younger years. Seimei, his father, believes that the island will be the perfect place for Handa to develop not only his calligraphy, but also his character, forging the types of genuine connections with the islanders that he fails to achieve at home. So, while Handa wants to become a recluse and work solely on his craft, the super friendly villagers welcome him with open arms, trying to integrate him with their lifestyle – and are met with quite a bit of resistance. But before he knows it, Handa finds himself deeply involved in the lives of most of the villagers, especially the children.

Barakamon is beautiful to me for many reasons, but I’m about to delve into one of the most prominent. Here in Britain, well over a century ago we had an industrial revolution during which millions of people left agriculture to forge lives in the urban areas. These days we don’t think much about how farming is a dwindling profession, or how small rural communities can be affected by the younger generations leaving for the bright lights of the big city. I’m entirely sure it must still be occurring here, with many smaller areas finding their population diminished and not having enough young people interested in agriculture to sustain them much longer. Barakamon shows this happening in a modern Japanese context, but in almost a reverse discourse. There are elements of this urbanisation in the anime and manga, but the way Handa gets swept up in the lives of the people he thought of as ‘hicks’, and their reciprocated investment in his wellbeing, as well as their interest in his own way of life cultivated by a city-centric lifestyle, all comes together to show some hope – some chance of preservation for this existence that most fail to consider. However, this effect, on top of the genuinely beautiful and touching moments, wouldn’t typically be capable in a comedy anime, which proves that Yoshino has really managed to create something special.

BarakamonAmongst the characters making you laugh, cry and sigh, you’ll find:

  • Handa Seishu – A proud calligrapher who finds himself way out of his depth after being sent to live a rural lifestyle on a remote island. The locals quickly to take to referring for him as ‘sensei’. He doesn’t cope well with losing, being made fun of, talking to strangers, making friends, or pretty much any other aspect of adult life. How did he cope growing up you ask? If you watch Handa-kun you’ll realise the answer is ‘not very well at all’. He’ll be fine now that he’s surrounded by all these friendly village folk who’s accents he struggles to understand though, right?
  • Naru – A lively seven-year-old, who lives with her grandfather. Being the type who views strangers simply as new friends, she wastes no time in dragging Handa into playing with her and her friends. If Naru’s not with Handa, she’s almost definitely off causing trouble somewhere… but then she’s always causing trouble when she’s with Handa too.
  • Hiroshi – The son of the village chief who cooks and delivers most of Handa’s meals (yes, he’s even incapable of cooking). Often being referred to as ‘normal’ or ‘average’, he developed a bit of a complex, even feeling the need to dye his hair blond to stand out at High school.
  • Miwa – Almost as much trouble as Naru, Miwa has probably spent a long while setting a bad example for the younger kids of the village. Being in Middle school, the little ones look up to her as an ‘adult’, failing to see that she’s just as childish as they are.
  • Kawafuji – Handa’s childhood friend, Kawafuji now works as Handa’s manager of sorts, dealing with some of the issues that Handa comes up against with his work. Although not a prominent character in either series, Kawafuji is always supporting Handa in his own way.

And that’s all I want to say about it. Barakamon is the type of show you have to experience yourself, and while you might not feel the same way I do about it, there’s something in there that can be appreciated by everyone.

Barakamon is available to stream on Crunchyroll in America, while Handa-kun is being streamed and simulcast on Funimation’s website.

GS Blogger: Kyle Hutchinson

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