Barakamon – 02

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Perhaps it’s when our expectations are highest that we can be most easily unsettled.

Barakamon is another one of those series that doesn’t seem to demand a whole lot of interpretation, though there are some subtler things going on here if you dig a bit deeper.  It works either way, really – as a zany slice-of-life comedy about loveable rural eccentrics, a classic fish out of water tale.  But there’s also a lot of quite thoughtful musing on things like artistic temperament and obsessive personalities.  It’s a classic example of a show that appeals both to the heart and the mind.

What’s striking about Barakamon is that in literary terms, it’s like a playground built in a minefield.  There are so many potential stumbling blocks it’s hard to list them all.  There’s the ever-present threat of condescension towards its rural characters (and I use “characters” in more than one sense there).  There’s the matter of rose-colored nostalgia glossing over the very real problems of life in places like the Gotou Islands.  There’s the matter of kawaii overload with so many cute kids running around, especially the shamelessly cute female lead.

It’s a miracle, in a way, that Barakamon is able to nimbly dance around these explosives as well as it does.  In manga form, at least, this is accomplished just about flawlessly – it remains to be seen if the same will be true of the anime over the long-term.  Given voice and motion these eccentrics are that much more “colorful”, and Naru that much more hyper-cute.  So far so good, but I can see where, for example, Naru might be a bit much to take for a full season.  She works for now because she’s not cute in an affected way like so many anime little girls – she’s a real little girl, which is why the casting of a real little girl was so critical.  But put yourself in Seishuu’s shoes and I think it’s easy to see how she might wear out her welcome in time, even so.

As I watch the anime I’m reminded once again of why anime is such a different animal than manga, and what works in one doesn’t necessarily work as well in another.  I think it’s absolutely critical that the anime diversify itself as much as possible, which means casting a wider net in terms of focus.  Presumably such a short adaptation is going to pick-and-choose material quite a bit, which means they can either spread the wealth more evenly across the cast (and it’s a very good cast) than the manga does, or focus even more heavily on Seishuu and Naru as a “couple”.  I very much hope it’s the former as I think that will hold up much better over 12 episodes, though the fact that the anime has already skipped a very strong and important non-Naru chapter has me worried.

On that front, we get a few more faces introduced into the mix this week, starting with the village chief’s wife, who lectures her husband and son about why she’s so intent on cooking for “Sensei” every day.  That son is high school senior Hiroshi (Uchimiya Kouki), who’s always been resolutely average and sees Sensei as an unpleasant reminder that there are exceptional people out there.  The irony here is plain, of course – Sensei is wrestling with inadequacy and his confidence in his talent is shattered – and this is a classic example of where two characters can learn something about themselves through interacting with each other.  The most interesting part of this interaction is when Hiroshi sees Seishuu’s room full of discarded calligraphy and concludes that this obsessive quality (which lands Seishuu in the island’s ancient hospital) is a form of genius in itself.  Stay tuned for more on that theme.

We also meet the two teenaged girls who’ve been using what’s now Seishuu’s house as a “base” – Arai Tamako (Ookubo Rumi) and Yamamura Miwa (Furuki Nozomi).  They’re the ones who’ve been teaching Naru the vast swathes of inappropriate language she constantly parrots back, which leads to some of the funniest material in the episode.  Transplant a handsome young adult male from Tokyo into a backwater island town and it isn’t hard to see where this might be headed.  In terms of plot, the episode centers on Seishuu driving himself into the hospital by working constantly and never sleeping (though being constantly interrupted might just be a factor too), and on a strange encounter with the old man in the next room that turns out to have been empty.  The hospital episode didn’t happen this early in the story – and to be honest it lost a lot of impact because of everything that was skipped before it did.

On balance, this was not as strong as the premiere and there a couple of danger signs for me, as outlined above.  Namely, that the anime is going to focus on Seishuu and Naru at the expense of the rest of the cast, and that it may feel compelled to shoehorn more conventional plot into the works than the manga does.  Let Barakamon be Barakamon and you really can’t go wrong, but the alchemy is so exquisitely-balanced that I fear even minor changes may have far-reaching effects.  It’s too early to be really worried, but I won’t deny I’m a bit more uncertain than I was last week.

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  1. R

    I have the same feeling. I get the hidden themes that this episode is trying to plant, but somehow it is not as charming as last week's — maybe it's a little too comic for my taste or lacking the depth in how the characters interact. Having said that, this is still one of my top picks, so until next week…

  2. I'm very worried, especially given that next week is skipping more good material for another CGBC chapter.

  3. R

    Oh no…that's not a good sign… Okay, breathe…need to keep my hopes up and have faith. It's not even a third of the whole run yet.

  4. t

    well, the episode was still good and funny and everything. but something was…not really missing and not really went wrong. but something was a bit amiss I am afraid.

    I think the key for this is control. especially fine-tuning control. the pace went a bit up this time and even some characters' interaction was missing. it causes things to feel like..less natural and more a reciting of scripts and events within it.
    I think they missed a bit with the 3 new characters (Hiroshi, Tama and Miwa). even though they still conveyed the most important points, the introduction and interaction with them was a bit hit&miss, mostly due to some cuts of small dialogues and so.
    in a series like Barakamon, although maybe it doesn't seem so, little details are extremely important since they gave you lots of background and reasoning for what's going on, thus they enhance the feeling of SoL and natural vibe that the series gives to you, exactly as happened in episode #1.

    I am still enjoying a lot watching barakamon even when it misses a bit, but I hope can stick more strictly and control the flow. it's a bit hard with a series like that, yet they did that in first episode, so I know they can do it next episodes as well.

  5. They really robbed the hospital/illness chapter of its oomph by putting it way, way too soon in the narrative. Little details are indeed very, very important with Barakamon – it manages to maintain an extremely delicate balance and if you mess with that, you could be looking at a house of cards in a stiff wind.

  6. m

    Yeah I can see how Naru can get too intrusive in Seishuu's life. The show really should take it easier in terms of pacing, because I'm not seeing much payoff in the characters' development (I don't see the need to intro so many characters in one episode too, maybe because it's a one-course…. ><) It feels like too much is given to comedy, and we're kind of seeing the classic "Let's all badger this one guy and make his life hell" (typical in harem shows, but of course I'm exaggerating here) scenario which I was really afraid to see from this show. Hope the show goes back to the more laid-back and naturalistic pace of episode 1.

  7. m

    After the first ep I thought this was a really good show with good potential, but didn't see exactly why everyone here was saying it would be one of the best, if not the best, of the season. After seeing ep 2 I'm starting to understand why. I laughed pretty much throughout the whole ep which is rare for me with anime. The characters are weird and funny and yet really likeable at the same time. I usually find side characters who purposefully annoy the MC of a show to be annoying, but I haven't found one character or scene that I had an issue with. It's all really well acted and timed, and there's this underlying depth that pops up at times that really pushes this show passed just being funny. Top notch comedy and depth of characters/story is always a recipe for a great show.

  8. H

    I was expecting worse, but it was a pretty humorous effort. It reminds me of Jellyfish Princess (a bit). I do hope they keep up with the rest of the cast though since Seishuu's interactions with different age groups should keep it fresh. I thought the highschool student would be a jealous nit, but he actually demonstrated a level of depth and maturity. Not so sure about the crybaby and I didn't get much out of the ghostly encounter. Definitely stronger first half but overall solid.

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