Barakamon is a brilliant show. In fact, I might go as far to say it is in the top twenty anime I have ever watched. I really do regard it that highly. For good reason, too!
Barakamon originally aired its twelve episodes during the Summer of 2014. The show is brought to us by animation studio, Kinema Citrus. The same studio to work on my (so far) favourite show of Summer 2017, Made in Abyss. The show was directed by Masaki Tachibana. The manga it was originally adapted from was written and illustrated by Satsuki Yoshino.
At its core Barakamon is a comedy/slice-of-life show – a favourite genre combination of mine. But it is not standard by any means. It goes deeper than what its premise might convey. It’s an emotionally charged storyline. One that has tightly grabbed at my heart-strings in a fashion far removed from most other shows.
In Different Circumstances
Barakamon focuses on Sei Handa, a calligrapher who… punches his superior in the face during a exhibition showing his calligraphy. After this, he takes up a semi-exiled residence on a remote island; a far cry from the city life he has lived so far.
Amongst this, he finds companionship in the island’s residents, and more specifically, the young children that inhabit, and run their free spirits boundless around it. This is integral to the show.
Hanada is undoubtedly driven, you suppose anyone who has managed to reach the heights he has at such a young age, has to be. And, being so motivated to continue on with his creative vision must be tiring, no matter how rewarding Hanada might find it. The island provides reprise from this, instilling him with a different set of ideals, which ultimately lets him drift away from the ‘fundamental’ style of calligraphy he has so far been recognised for, and in some sense, imprisoned by.
The environment a person resides within often dictates their actions, and what they produce – creatively, or otherwise. Hanada is a city person. The city is his life; it binds him. The hard-edged buildings, and the linear roads – his calligraphy is a representation of this formality. The way in which he has moved from one point to the next, without ever having the will to stray from the path.
This is where the island village differs. It is chaotic and unruly. It is unpredictable and undependable. The people who live there are further astray from their city counterparts. They have seen more. They have lived more; In some sense a harder life. Hanada is encircled by these people. It is only purely natural for him to become attached to many of them. For their actions to impact him in countless ways, in ways that he could never have anticipated, and ways that he might never have thought so caring, so loving.
Loving the Unexpected
At first, Hanada is wary of the village – more specifically its people. He is a solitary person. Disliking the complications and effort that come with deep social interaction. After all, he is accustomed to being by himself, creating in silence where his mind is able to freely wander in whatever direction it pleases; within the aforementioned ‘foundations’ of course.
The people of the village relieve him of this need. More specifically 6/7 year-old Naru. Alongside the other children and adolescents of the small village. Of course, the adults and elders play a part, though not nearly as much.
Naru is a wonderful character. At heart, she is the village trouble causer and mischief-maker. Yet, despite this, she is loved by each and every person who lives there. In some sense, it is her innocence and pure, relentless happiness that creates this glint in the eyes of all the people she meets. She lives alone with her grandfather. I might be mistaken, but we know nothing of her parents, though we assume they are long gone. As the show develops it’s easy to see that personal, paternal connection develop between Naru and Hanada. After all, Naru has no father around. And, despite her grandfather being there to support her, it’s hard to believe he can fill all the required gaps. So, consciously or not, she lays some of this responsibility on Hanada. A duty he comes to accept; one he comes to welcome.
For better or worse, (I believe better) Naru has a free reign of the island. In turn, she is incredibly free-spirited. A trait that suits her perfectly. And, in a time when much of the outside world is being ‘forgotten about,’ a very valuable one too. I cannot imagine Naru in an environment like Hanada’s city. Maybe it’s because I’m a country person, but I don’t think cities are any place for children. What is there to learn of real value in a city?
In the early episodes, Hanada is opposed and distant towards Naru. That is to say, at first he vehemently dislikes her being around. Whether this is because he is used to having complete control over his personal space, or because of his need to produce calligraphy in solitary confinement. It’s also understandable that he has issues interacting socially. Albeit none that he can’t handle.
Some people are uncomfortable being alone. Some people are uncomfortable being around many people. Hanada swings towards the latter. Though, he later realises that people – good people no less – are not something to shy away from.
Creating with Heart Over Mind
Creation is at the heart of Barakamon. Hanada’s calligraphy means the world to him. So much so, that at times he is unable to see anything else. There are times when he works himself too hard, and as a results ends up in the hospital with severe exhaustion – even in this state he wants his ink and brush. Though, it’s not for nothing. The experience is something of an awakening for him. He has been trying too hard, trying to create, trying for ideas. There’s nothing natural about that, just in the sense of how straight-edged his fundamentals are. They offer no room for movement, no way to let things flow in an organic state.
Hanada comes to realise that he must break away from this, his past, his father, and the ways in which he used to do things. Most importantly, he knows he must change as a person to allow for the development in his calligraphy. After all, art and identity are intertwined; inseparable.
This is something Hanada comes to understand when fellow calligrapher Kousuke pays a visit alongside Hanada’s good friend Kawafuji. Kousuke is only 17, though he won first prize in an exhibition where Hanada grasped second, one in which he was reaching for first. Through Kousuke’s idolisation of him, he realises the man he used to be is a completely different image to the one who creates art on the island. Kousuke is the representation of Hanada’s younger self. This is something he sees as clear as day. It renders him hostile to Kousuke, not because he dislikes him per se, but because of the visions of self he notices within him.
Whilst Barakamon incorporates calligraphy, it is not about calligraphy. It’s about the need to understand yourself, your surroundings, and the things you create. It’s also about who and what occupies your time, and how these small moments affect you in ways that are not always immediately visible. Though, more than anything else, it’s is about the relationships formed between people, and how these seemingly momentary connections can come to mean more than anything else in the world.
There are very few other shows that manage to form such emotional connections between its characters. Connections that are not ankle-deep. Connections that permeate throughout the themes, and throughout the conflict – be it inner or otherwise. It’s hard to imagine a more ‘real’ set of characters. People who feel the things we do. People to whom we can relate with. This is what Barakamon is all about. It makes you feel whole whilst watching it. That’s something to treasure. To hold close.
What did you think of Barakamon? Anything I’ve missed? Tell me!
As always, thanks for reading!
-Chris (follow me on Twitter below!)