Barakamon Review

This is review number three hundred and sixty seven. This anime is part of the Summer 2014 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Barakamon. It’s a twelve episode anime about a guy and a child playing together and having fun. It’s a really good show, but I have my complaints. Let’s read on.

Story

The anime follows a guy named Seishu Handa. After a big confrontation that ended with him punching another person, he is advised to cool his head off in one of the islands of Kyushu. In the countryside, he plans on improving his calligraphy but he is often bothered by the people of the island. Rather than improve his technical prowess in calligraphy, Seishu realizes that there is a chance to grow as a person as he spends time in the island along with the residents.

Taking the Pants Off

I remember this series as one of those shows people were raving about when it came out. I would browse top ten lists of 2014, and Barakamon would be among them with high praises from the writers. It’s one of the shows I’ve been dying to see for a while now, and I was really excited because of the hype behind it. I just finished it recently, and I am very sorry. I do not get the hype. Barakamon has a great premise, and I love the playful setting, but it’s not really something to get worked up over. The experience for me is a bit incomplete, because there were areas in the show that just didn’t sit right with me. I guess on a weekly basis the format of the show worked, and it’s a big reason why people love this anime to death. I saw it in the span of three days, and the anime certainly showed its weakness. It’s a great show, and I’m not denying that, but I’m honestly not impressed. The comment section is ready for your insults and complains. I will say though, that I love the approach to the marshmallow format. Marshmallow anime are slice of life shows featuring cute girls doing cute things. It doesn’t really have a story, and its focus is solely on the cute girls doing random things. These activities can be funny, but they’re mostly cute. The marshmallow format is such a strong force that it was actually a go-to of a lot of studios for a f*cking decade. It’s easy to make, and there is always a crowd ready to love it. This anime is a marshmallow show, but it features a guy recovering from a nervous breakdown. Barakamon is a marshmallow show crossed with some Seinen element. This is what I liked about the anime, but the combination still had some problems.

The anime follows a guy named Seishu Handa. In the first episode, he punched an old guy and threw his shoe at him after the guy criticized his calligraphy. I instantly liked the anime for that. Seishu punched an important guy though, and he is advised to cool his head for now. He travels to one of the remote island of the Kyushu region, and he will now live the simple life. He is off the grid in a backwater town and he is instructed to try to improve his calligraphy writing there. It’s a very small town, so word of a new neighbor quickly spreads. The anime now follows this city guy’s life in a laidback rural area as he interacts with the energetic people of the town. Seishu didn’t liked being put in a small island at first, but it soon proves to be something that’ll change his life for the better.

It’s a pretty straight forward anime. The premise just focuses on Seishu interacting with the people of the town and doing some random stuff with them. Some of the activities prove helpful to Seishu though, and he often gets a big realization about life thanks to the people surrounding him now. I think one of the big reasons why people like this anime is because they can relate to Seishu. He is a guy that likes to overthink, and he takes life for granted. He prefers to be alone, and he is definitely a weird guy. Despite being a loner though, the people of the island would often hang around him and teaches him how to have a good time. In the first episode, a kid asks him to climb a giant wall to watch the sunset. He was hesitant at first, but he was soon awed at the beautiful scenery he is witnessing. The episode ends with as valuable lesson about enjoying the simple side of life and taking risks to enjoy them. In a sense, most of the audience can understand Seishu’s position. Like him, we are also hesitant at enjoying life and we are afraid to take risks. The anime is inspirational, and I believe this is why as lot of people has it in their favorite lists. I can personally relate to Seishu, because I was in a bad place once too. I soon learned that surrounding yourself with people that’ll help you grow is actually the best thing I needed. It did a lot for me, and I would often smile seeing Seishu experience the same things I went through. It’s poignant, but it’s so powerful. I think a lot of the viewers also want what Seishu has, and they want to experience what he is experiencing as well.

As I said before, this is a marshmallow anime. It’s a slice of life but the focus isn’t on cute girls doing cute things. Actually, they’re here but Seishu is the centerpiece of this anime. Can you imagine a serious grown up being the focal point of a cute girls doing cute things anime? This is what Barakamon is trying to achieve. It’ll have Seishu participate in a lot of random activities, and it often ends up with a few laughs or two. It follows the marshmallow format by having different skits in an episode, and the focus is often on the cute activities the characters do. Seishu as the centerpiece of this is actually a really brilliant thing. He is childish, so he often plays along with the younger characters. He’ll act serious at first, but soon he’ll be playing along. He’d be playing games with them, going to the mountains or the beach with them and he’ll also just indulge in their annoying childish whims. It’s cute, and the gags are actually pretty great. Part of what makes the marshmallow premise unique is the fact that Seishu is experiencing a rural laidback lifestyle. This is the same approach Non Non Biyori had, but the experience is more expansive. In Non Non Biyori, the characters would play outside and they’d go to school in one classroom since they’re the only students in the area. In Barakamon, it goes beyond the typical marshmallow routine. Seishu would not just interact with the kids in the area, but he’d also be having some playful skits with the older people as well. This is what I like about Barakamon, because the characters aren’t all cute moe-blobs carrying the entire show with their scene stealing cuteness. Don’t get me wrong, the moe-blob force is unstoppable but changing it up a bit is also gladly welcomed.

In the series, Seishu would be having fun playing child games with actual children. He’d also be a straight man for the middle schoolers and he’d be the confused kid for the grown-ups of the island. The interactions are all unique, and this makes the show pretty fun to watch. Seishu has a big range as a character, and it leads to different kinds of comedy. I personally love the ones with the older people of the island, because they’d act mature but they’d often be eccentric as well. The large cast doesn’t just lend strength to the comedy though. Seishu interacts with these characters to have fun, but he also learns life lessons from them. Every episode has some life lessons in them, and it’s often delivered in the most special way. For example, caring for others would be expressed in a scene where a guy tackling another to get some mochi would later give hot mochi food to those that didn’t get any food before. It delivers the life lesson of the episode but also punctuates the attitude of people in the laidback rural area. There is togetherness and people really do look out for one another. In fact, this is actually one of the best elements of Barakamon. Life in the rural towns is simple but they’re undeniably irreplaceable.

I personally experienced this first hand. I lived in the city for two years, and I absolutely hated my life there. After not finding any job, I moved back to my rural hometown. You certainly feel the close knit familiarity in the area, and the simple life is evident. It proved therapeutic for me, and I’ve been here for five years now. I’ve picked up all my broken pieces, and I’m ready to move on with my life. In Barakamon, you can feel the author’s longing for the rural life. She would go into detail how fun the kids are playing, and she’d emphasize how totally different life for them is. The various activities Seishu would participate in feels really intimate with how involved the author is in making up those scenes. It’s not just intended to be a vehicle for the gags, but the activities themselves serve as a great element that makes the anime really feel special. I especially love the beach episode of Barakamon. Most beach episodes are forced and tacked on, because they only serve as fan service for the anime. In Barakamon, there is no fan service and the process by which the kids play is actually really refreshing to watch. The gags aside, the way they enjoy the beach is something that feels really genuine and I think it’s because the author grew up with the same experience. She’s a country girl missing her old life, and she’s putting her feelings of longing in paper. I guess another example of this unique rural experience is the extensive episodes focusing on the simple activities in the island. Playing at the cemetery, stacking rocks in preparation for a storm and even fishing at a small river feels really intimate with how the scenes are delivered. I know it’s another way to endorse the Kyushu islands, but you can tell there are genuine emotions put behind every scene and I actually like that about Barakamon.

I’ve mentioned before that this is actually a combination of the marshmallow format and Seinen. The latter genre is defined by a guy learning to appreciate his life, and this represents Seishu’s journey as a calligrapher. One of the reasons the marshmallow x Seinen combination doesn’t work though is because Seinen needs a story. Barakamon tries to give us a story, but it’s clearly a secondary thing next to the marshmallow elements of the anime. In other words, the story isn’t that great and there is also a bit of manipulation here that I find a bit insulting. The show follows a calligrapher trying to find inspiration in the island. In the first episode, he finds one while watching the sunset and he can’t seem to find the magic again. To me, this doesn’t make sense. Seishu should’ve at least grown as a person while having that momentous epiphany gazing at the sunset. He should’ve learned something, but the episodes often start with Seishu as this ignorant city person. He’ll discover that the activity is fun and he’ll learn a lesson afterwards. The proceeding episodes would start with Seishu as the ignorant person again though, and this is frustrating to watch. He just learned how to enjoy the simple life and to not take things for granted. The episode ends, and the status quo resets?

I understand that he does grow to become a true member of the community, but it’s often not enough. He should’ve had a whole character transformation after all the great life lessons he learns, but none of them apparently sticks. The problem is that the marshmallow skits need Seishu to act as an ignorant city boy, and this makes the activities more meaningful to him. For the Seinen to thrive though, he needs to learn something from these activities. He does, but things go back to square one after the episode ends. One good example of this is the sunset he witnessed in the first episode. It taught him to be more open about life, but he didn’t follow through because the following episodes feature him rejecting the invitations of the people at first. They’d often have to force him to participate, and this doesn’t make sense. I’ve personally experienced that sunset epiphany, and I know how much it should’ve changed Seishu.

This is what I’m talking about when it comes to the emotional manipulation. The life lessons are often just a mandatory part of the anime, and they’re mostly addressed to the viewers. Seishu and the other characters are not greatly affected by them. I remember one episode where the blonde guy mentions that he should learn to be more serious about life after watching Seishu look so serious with his calligraphy. So he starts getting serious with life now, right? Nope. Actually, nothing happens. His life changing experience is never mentioned again. It’s just part of the episode, and I call bullsh*t to that. It’s pretentious to have lessons at the episodes if the characters aren’t affected by them, especially if they’re the ones realizing the importance of these lessons. This feels all the more frustrating when it comes to Seishu and his calligraphy. The story is that he had a nervous breakdown and he’s now trying to find inspiration in this rural place. The life lessons would provide him with inspiration, but nothing happens afterwards. Seishu would still be finding inspiration in the following episodes. He learned nothing from his previous experiences, and it’s really annoying. There is a gag that he is actually not getting any work done because of the activities he partakes in, but the life lessons would punctuate that he did indeed learn something and it would greatly help his calligraphy. The marshmallow element and the Seinen are now clashing with each other when it comes to the story of Seishu’s calligraphy.

The calligraphy plot point is actually something that feels a bit off to me. The show never really points out what makes a good or bad calligraphy, and sure maybe the Japanese audience doesn’t need to be taught that. That’s fine. The problem is that we never really understand what Seishu is looking for, and it’s mainly because the calligraphy thing feels so entirely subjective. The competitions he competes in and the calligraphy he makes doesn’t really feel that special, and the show never really elaborates on this. Barakamon just claims that Seishu is a calligrapher and his style needs to improve. The areas he needs improvement on are never really explained properly. He just needs to improve, and that’s that. How? He needs inspiration. How will inspiration improve his style? You wouldn’t understand because calligraphy is an art, and only artists can understand. Oh, so it’s entirely subjective. I know there are parameters to consider when it comes to judging calligraphy, but the show never really explains them. In the anime, Seishu just writes sloppy calligraphy and he’ll be fine with it. He’ll write a character with a fish, and that’s apparently enough to be considered good. Huh? I feel like the whole thing is really just an afterthought next to the experiences he has in the island. I’m sure the author is super into calligraphy as well, and it’s really odd that she left this part of the story a bit mangled and incomplete. It could’ve been better, but I think this really just serves as a plot device for the anime.

The thing that bothered me the most about the anime is the lack of “relationships” among the character. What are you talking about? The anime is built around Seishu having close knit relationship with people of the island, so of course there are meaningful relationships established among the characters. I know it sounds weird, but there should’ve been more focus on the relationships among the characters. One good example is Seishu’s relationship with the little kid Naru. Sure, it’s established that Seishu and Naru are close but it’s never expanded beyond that. Why are they close? Is it because they play games together? What does Seishu see in Naru? What does Naru see in Seishu that makes her fond of him? I remember in one episode that Seishu actually noticed that Naru only hangs out with her grandfather. Seishu realizes that Naru’s parents are either not around or they’re no longer here. He then decided to take care of Naru. Does the show actually feature more scenes of Seishu acting like a parental figure for Naru? Do we ever realize what actually happened to her parents? No. Nothing happens. Seishu just continued playing with Naru. I guess it’s enough for the marshmallow format, since it’s more about the activities and the gags than anything else. For Seinen though, making connections with people is, like, the best part about it. I guess I personally wanted more. With two characters like these, I was hoping it’d be as good as the one in Usagi Drop. Remember that show? The old guy also played with the girl, but their relationship clearly develops overtime. This doesn’t happen in Barakamon.

Seishu just play with the characters and he participates in their island activities, but they aren’t really fleshed out as characters. I think it was only revealed in the last episode that the reason Seishu acts childish is because he was actually denied playing with kids his age when he was young. Ever since he was a kid, he was strictly told to just master calligraphy. I think something that important should’ve been established early on, don’t you think? With the diverse cast, I think there should’ve been more meaningful relationships established among them. It’s just a shame that Naru’s treatment of Seishu only extends as far as someone to play or annoy. They like each other, but it’s something just subtly established in the anime. In fact, I think the only good relationship you’ll see in the anime is between Seishu and his childhood friend, Takao Kawafuji. This relationship only extends to Kawafuji knowing how Seishu thinks, and that’s about it. It’s really a shame, because I feel like this is one potential the anime needed to truly be more meaningful. The childish games would be more special if the characters actually have a deep connection with each other, right? Even Non Non Biyori and other cute girls doing cute things show knows how to develop characters to make the following skits more meaningful. The show is so centered on Seishu that nothing relevant happens to the other characters. I honestly wanted more of Naru, but the show is too preoccupied with Seishu and his journey to finding inspiration that nothing else matters, even the people he is trying to get inspiration from.

To be fair, I feel like I am nitpicking the anime. As it is, it’s really great. The comedy is great, and the premise is wonderfully presented throughout the show. The character interactions are bright and entertaining, and the life lessons are a good way to end the show on a high note for every episode. I feel like there is more potential to the show though. I feel like the characters need to be developed more, and the show should be more consistent with its story. I feel like the Seinen element is great if it’s properly utilized, and I think Seishu’s passion with calligraphy should be as clear and precise as the meaningful experiences he has in the island. I do understand why a lot of people like this anime, and it do deserve a spot in someone’s top list because it certainly is unique. It’s a familiar concept with its marshmallow format, but it’s a brand new experience thanks to the nice dash of Seinen. I’m personally not going to rave over this anime though, because it feels a bit incomplete to me. There’s a lot more to be improved to really make it an amazing anime. I think the idea of a marshmallow x Seinen show is revolutionary, and I sure hope other studios or authors try to incorporate it to their stories.

The characters are all pretty great. Despite lacking connections between them, they all stand out in their own quirky way. Some of them are even defined by just one thing, and I think it’s enough given how crowded the show can be. I do have some complaints with Seishu. The show revolves around him, but there’s very little backstory to him. There’s very little information about him as a character, and I feel it’s a bit unfair. The audience can connect with him on an emotional level, so I think they deserve to know more about him. He’s a bit inconsistent finding inspiration in one episode and then forgetting about it in the next. He also can’t seem to decide just want kind of calligraphy he wants to stick with, and he’ll chose one only to change his mind in the next episode. It’s a bit hard to follow, and it’s bad considering the show revolves solely on him. He is childish though, and this makes him an interesting character. He isn’t just a city guy discovering the wonderful things of the countryside. He is also a man discovering the inner child in him, and it’s a great way to look past his flaws. He’s a lovable idiot, so I think it’s all good. Despite lacking as a character, he still serves the marshmallow aspect of the anime greatly.

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There are a lot of side characters, and I won’t go over them one by one. Again, they’re defined by one eccentric trait and it’s really enough to make them unique in the show. A good example is the fujoshi lusting over Seishu and his childhood friend. She is adorable, but that’s all she contributes to the show. It’s honestly enough though, since she also serves the marshmallow format pretty strongly. Let’s talk about Naru. She is just an adorable scene stealer, and I honestly wanted more of her in the show. Her childish innocence is refreshing to watch, and she just has a really great energy that makes every skit special. I love how the show portrays kids like her. They aren’t sarcastic know-it-alls like in most marshmallow shows. Naru is really just an energetic kid with very little idea about the world except the things that she likes to play with. Along with her big smile, she really makes each scene special and it’s a bummer there’s not a lot of episode focused on her. I think the author really likes Sieshu. Despite the story revolving around him in this anime and in the manga, the spin off manga still solely focuses on him. What’s up with that?

This anime is presented by Kinema Citrus. I think this is a solid hit coming from such a subpar studio. Some of their releases aren’t really that great, but I’m glad they had enough talent to give us Barakamon. Aside from Tokyo Magnitue 8.0, I think Barakamon is the only show that I really enjoyed coming from them. They do take big risks and put significant effort in their works though, and I appreciate that. They just don’t know how to do good anime. Code Breaker and Black Bullet is a good example of shows that aren’t really good coming from this studio. I sure hope Barakamon is the start of their consistent solid hits, because I really want more shows like it. I hope they aren’t like PA Works that would give us a solid classic in The Eccentric Family only to sh*t on us again with Nagi no Asukara. I don’t care what you think, Nagi no Asukara sucks. This anime is directed by Masaki Tachibana, and it looks like he is a main stay in Kinema Citrus. He notably directed Tokyo Magnitude as well, so I don’t understand why he isn’t leading the charge when it comes to their shows. I’m trying to imagine Black Bullet directed by this guy, and I think it would be passable. Directing both Tokyo Magnitude and Barakamon, the only good thing to come out of Kinema Citrus, means that this guy has talent. He should give us more shows, since it’s clear he understands what makes a good anime. For him to work on serious shows like Tokyo Magnitude and Noir and then a comedy like Barakamon also means that he has range. I can’t wait to see more works from this talented guy.

Sight and Sound

Satsuki Yoshino is a pretty talented mangaka. The characters are pretty much the same in the anime. The studio knows full well that they can’t do anything different to the character design. The proportions are pretty great, and the small details are really nicely added for the characters. I also love the nice range in her characters. From young kids to really old people, the characters are all nicely presented with their nice detail touches to make them standout. Satsuki’s design is actually a lot more impressive in the manga. The faces are clean, but the hair has so much detail. It then trickles down to the nice build of the characters that flows through their outfits. This mangaka is amazing, and she stays consistent despite working on small panels. The design doesn’t stop at the characters though. The scenery is also pretty top notch. She really captured the appeal of the countryside in her manga, and I love how detailed they are. The sunset scene in the first episode is very captivating in the manga as well. She utilizes smart angles and she really captures the beauty of the moment. I know the places are real, but she really went all out in delivering the awesomeness of every scene in her manga panels. In just black and white, the awesomeness of a sunset is nicely presented in intimate detail.

The animation is pretty great as well. The movement is pretty smooth, and the visual gag is nicely presented. The timing is really well done, and the punch lines really come off as genuinely funny. Some of them aren’t that great, but the visual gag still comes through nicely animated. Kinema Citrus really gave the manga justice with how smooth the animation is. They also faithfully captured the manga, so the complex camera angles and close up shots done by Satsuki is nicely presented in the anime. The scenery that Satsuki also captures in her manga is also nicely adapted in the anime, and I really appreciate the effort capturing her intimate details she sprinkles in her manga. The animation really made every character especial. Naru’s energetic personality is nicely presented in the anime. From her nonstop movements to her expressive facial reactions, the show really went all out in making Naru the scene stealer she is destined to be. I also love how the kids run around all over the place while the middle schoolers are bunched together and the old people go about their own way. When they share a scene together, the animation really steps up and captures the community vibe the characters have among them. I also love how they animate the calligraphy strokes. It’s not much, but it takes insane time to perfect those strokes, and it looks like Kinema Citrus is up for the challenge. The animation is really a big aspect of the anime that makes it good. All the activities Seishu does are all nicely presented as well. From fishing to stacking up stones, the animation remains consistent and really high quality.

The anime’s OP is “Rashisa” by SUPER BEAVER. I love this opening song. It’s bright and it’s very uplifting, and it’s coupled by some really strong instrumentals. The lyrics will truly speak to you as well, and it’s about a guy trying to find himself. The song then goes through some pondering as it ends on accepting who you truly are. It’s like one of the life lessons in the anime nicely translated into a song, and I really love it. I also love the OP sequence a lot. It features Seishu thinking hard and trying to find inspiration, and this is set with the beautiful scenery serving as his backdrop. It opens with Naru’s amazing smile though, and the sequence pretty much goes insane with Naru running wild and just being a child. You can tell the animation is really top notch with how Naru’s energetic personality is featured in the OP.

The anime’s ED is “Innocence” by NoisyCell. This is a weird song, but it’s mainly because I don’t like the English lyrics. I know the lyrics comes from a really good place as it tells of someone uplifting another when they touch hands, but it just sounds so awkward. I do love the instrumentals, but the lyrics take me out of it at times, especially the chorus. You can tell the singer is having a hard time saying those engrish words. The ED sequence features stunning animation, and it reminds me a lot of Usagi Drop for some reason. It features Naru and Seishu’s relationship, which is not that special in the actual show, as Naru comes running towards Seishu wanting to play with him. Again, the animation is amazing and the approach really feels artistic. It’s very much transcendent, and I love how it captures the two characters relationship in a really cute way.

Overall Score

7/10 “It’s funny and awe inspiring despite its lack of a more meaningful story”

This is a really solid anime. The comedy is great, the characters are all wonderful and the marshmallow format is nicely presented. The anime experience is really amazing in this, and I urge everyone to try it. If you like good comedy anime, then you’ll like this one. If you love the cute girls doing cute things premise, then you’ll love how it’s presented in this anime. If you like Non Non Biyori, then you’ll enjoy how the experience is taken further in Barakamon. It doesn’t much of a story and character development is lacking, but the show is still pretty solid despite the fact. I recommend it.

2 thoughts on “Barakamon Review

  1. Absolutely love your reviews and watched Barakamon based on your recommendation. It has now become one of my favourite animes. I was wondering whether you could recommend a few more slice of life animes? Along the lines of Natsume Yuujinchou, Silver Spoon (also watched based on your recommendation — that chicken episode!) and Mushishi. Thank you 🙂

    • I’m glad you liked this, and thank you for the support!
      For an anime like Natsume, you can try GINGITSUNE. It feels like Natsume, but the main character is a school girl. Same powers = mistreated, bond with supernatural being plot points though.
      It’s a bit slow and harder to appreciate but I think UCHOUTEN KAZOKU is also a solid anime to recommend. 🙂

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