The title above is a click bait, and plain bullshit, because I hate calligraphy. I don’t care, alright?
Do you know just how irritating it is to a 7 year old kid to write good calligraphy? With a calligraphy brush?? With “proper” technique??! For goodness’ sake I can’t even hold my pen steady at that time! I just can’t appreciate calligraphy,
I’m sorry. I know, it’s somehow shameful for an Asian like myself to not do proper calligraphy after 8 years of school syllabus featuring Chinese calligraphy, but I don’t care. I have since thrown away my bottle of ink, destroyed my calligraphy brush (Ah, sweet vengeance…) and burned the limitless amounts of calligraphy training books. I sincerely apologize to my teachers who taught me calligraphy, but nope. I don’t care if we Chinese use to write on bamboo stalks or papyrus paper hundreds of year ago.
And 3 – 4 years after smashing my calligraphy brush with a sledgehammer, I will now be reviewing an anime…about calligraphy.
Handa Seishuu is an up-and-coming young, talented calligrapher. He is also handsome, charismatic and unfortunately, a complete klutz. His brash attitude and emotions get the better of him one day, when a critic calls his work “conformistic” and “unoriginal”. He punches the critic and as punishment, he gets exiled to a rural island, far away from his home in Tokyo. Now far away from the comforts of his home while being surrounded by new faces: weird, energetic villagers, he must overcome his own flaws while rediscovering his drive for the art of calligraphy.
Now, in this review, I will have to ditch my usual plot, settings, characters and, animation and sound format, as I feel it will obscure me from properly explaining the pros and cons of Barakamon.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.
First off, this is a slice of life anime. Slice of life is a phrase used to describe depiction of mundane, everyday lives of characters. What all good slice-of-life anime should have in common would be slow pacing, quirky comedy and most importantly, entertaining settings. However, in recent years, the entertainment value of slice-of-life anime decreases as writers conjure up more and more ridiculous settings in an attempt to keep things fresh, while forgetting the ultimate purpose of entertainment itself in the first place. In fact, some even resort to ecchi, or cute girls, just to keep the sales ratings up. While this phenomena isn’t exactly new in anime, I still find this tactic terribly distasteful nonetheless.
In that light, Barakamon is in my opinion, the best slice-of-life anime to date. (Tanaka-kun Itsumo Kedaruge being a close second, review here) Why, you ask? Allow me to explain.
1) Entertaining Premise
The majority of Barakamon is set in the rural Gotou islands, away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. The islands are inhabited by old-fashioned people who are sheltered from modern society, thus they do not have the same character traits we would come to expect of our characters. The characters are friendly, very lively, unlike our main protagonist, and have an air of innocence around them. For example, towards the end of the first episode, the villagers go over to the main protagonist’s house to help with his settling-in at his house, much to the surprise of Handa himself. These characters live idle and carefree lives, set the tone of the story, and play a part in the anime’s narrative about life and idleness.
Not only are the characters carefree in nature, the accompanying art style and the backdrops are done with mild watercolour colours with smearing effects, giving off a really tranquil and serene vibe. This artstyle is a breath of fresh air, when compared to the bright, contrasting colours in anime today.
2) Great, Believable Characters
Barakamon is a slice of life anime, therefore unlike shows of other genres, the characters in this anime don’t have interesting backstories or elaborate narration to explain their motives. Normally, these characters would serve as simple plot devices or comedic relief that don’t really feel like real people. However, most of the characters resemble real people, despite some of them having limited screen time. Take for example, one of the non-recurring characters, Yasuba, an old lady who appears just to deliver a few lines of profound insights on life. Despite her limited screen time, her character design and development feels so real as her actions dictate who she is. The show doesn’t only rely on quirky character traits to draw the audience in, but use subtle hints like actions and narration to help develop the character.
One standout character would be Kotoishi Naru, a 7-year old child who befriends Handa, the main protagonist, in the beginning of the show. She is a child, through and through, therefore she acts like a child. Brash, loud, naughty, everything you would come to expect from a child. Despite her childish nature, she still plays an integral part to the story. She is what I would call the personification of the carefree nature of the Gotou Islands. She barges into people’s lives without second thoughts, is highly energetic and lively, and provides the unpredictability of a child in the story. There is never a dull moment when Naru is around, which is why this 7 year old child is undoubtedly the best character in the anime.
The main protagonist on the other hand, feels the most unrelatable in the beginning. He is personification of modern society: shut-in, unsociable, selfish and cold. However, as the story progresses, he is able to grow as a character too, eventually becoming the Sensei the rest of the cast know and love. The only problem I would have with this character though is that sometimes his motivations is not understandable, especially towards the end of the show. At times, he says one thing and yet, does the other, and that kind of ruins the show a teeny bit for me.
3) Good Writing and Pacing
While most slice of life anime these days tend to wander off into nothingness, this show didn’t feel like it was meandering. In fact, it had a slight sense of urgency as the show gives us a glimpse into the life of a calligrapher. He lives and breathes calligraphy, and when he is unable to produce a decent work of art, he becomes desperate. In a sense, that tiny detail in the mostly irrelevant plot is able to give the show it’s drive and propel the story forward.
I also enjoy the one piece of art per episode format. By the end of each episode, Handa produces a piece of calligraphy which summarizes the events and his emotions throughout the episode, which makes the calligraphy part of the show a lot more enjoyable then I thought it would be. However, towards the end of the show, the writers ditch this format in favour of the plot. The last two episodes quickly loses steam as the show becomes something new altogether. I understand this sudden change in pacing is required to move the story forward, but I felt it could have been a lot better if it was tweaked and modified a little.
All in all, Barakamon is a masterfully done slice-of-life anime with enjoyable settings, entertaining comedy that didn’t always relying on quirky character traits and an eye opener into the world of Japanese calligraphy. And of course, how can I end a review about Barakamon without mentioning the best child character ever: Kotoishi Naru. Seriously, I would say the show is worth watching just because of this 7 year old child. Despite a few minor setbacks in the writing department, Barakamon is still one of the best, if not THE BEST, slice-of-life anime in the world.
I’m going to give Barakamon a rating of:
I started watching this show because Handa-kun came out this season, but to be honest, I’m don’t see much of Barakamon in this prequel. The comedy feels somewhat forced and I find the lack of interesting characters really saddening. Is it going to be another slice-of-life comedy anime set in high school? ‘Cause I feel like that’s going to be boring.
Anyway, I’m halfway through rewatching Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin, so I can finally give a decent explanation as to why I thought it is the most underrated anime of all. Also, this season’s Alderamin in the Sky is also pretty underrated too, though that’s to be expected because of it’s long name and seemingly bland character design.
Anyway, till the next review, cheerio~