If there’s anything that pisses me off, it’s manga readers who constantly whine and bitch about every change made in an anime adaptation, often spoiling in the process. At worst they lecture you on why an anime sucks even if you think it’s good. There are times when I wish I’d never read a manga before I watch its anime adaptation, don’t get me wrong, but for the most part changes are inevitable and nothing I can’t live with so I keep my feelings to myself, knowing how it feels when the shoe is on the other foot.
What to do, what to do? This is a tough spot for me, because I’m quite certain that if I knew nothing of Barakamon’s source material I would be happy as a monkey at a banana plantation. In fact I am pretty happy as is, because this series is very enjoyable and night and day better than 90% of the formulaic crap that fills the anime schedule in any given season (though this is a pretty decent one). But I do know the source material, and I see the nature of the changes that are being made, and I feel quite acutely what’s apparently going to be lost. And it makes me sad, even when I should be happy.
So, while I don’t want to be one of those people, I’ll just briefly explain myself. Barakamon has a lot going for it, and the anime has showcased some of that so far. But it’s as important to look at what’s been skipped as what’s been adapted – the nature of the chapters they’ve chosen to cut and to keep. And the issue, in a nutshell, is that if the first three episodes are any indication (the premiere was pretty much a no-brainer) Kinema Citrus seems to be taking what in manga form is a coming-of-age story very much catering to an ensemble cast and chosen to make it more of a cute girls being cute/imouto story. It also seems to be subtly shifting the tone in flavor profile in favor of the sugar over the vinegar.
In my post after the premiere I mentioned how Tachibana-sensei’s adaptation choices would be crucial, and how Barakamon artfully manages to avoid several traps inherent in this sort of material. It’s a tightrope and it wouldn’t take much to throw that balance off – and so far, for me, it’s a bit off. Again it’s a question of what’s not in these three episodes as much as what is, and the question foremost in my mind is whether we’re looking at an attempt to change the overall nature of the series into something more commercially trendy, or a decision to put that material first in order to hook the audience in. Either way is problematical from my perspective because changing the order of things changes the nature of the series (last week’s episode should have come much later, and it suffered badly as a result), but I’d obviously prefer the latter because it would mean a little of all the stuff I love about Barakamon will make it into the anime eventually.
This episode was definitely better than the second, though there were still elements that misfired for me because of Tachibana’s tendency to reach for the payoff without doing all the necessary groundwork. I liked the short gag in the beginning about Naru’s Katakana mastery – the reason she’s tolerable is that she’s genuinely cute, not cute in an anime way. I also liked Tama’s consternation about the fact that she’s a fujoshi and her tortured attempts to deny it to herself – this is a side of Barakamon that desperately needs to find its way through, an edgier and sharper kind of comedy. And the “itai/ito” exchange between the two obaa-san’s at the general store was simple, unpretentious idiocy of the sort that this series can do quite well.
Not as successful for me was the third act, where Handa was dealing with the disappointment of finishing second in a calligraphy contest with the first work he’s submitted since his move. Things got a little syrupy here, I thought, which is a direct result of events such as this happening too soon and not enough leg work being done in setting them up. It’s a function of a long manga being condensed into a 12-episode anime, I suppose, but it’s not a given that such sacrifices must be made – we have seen other such adaptations avoid them. It’s not an easy thing to do, and Barakamon is a particularly difficult challenge because of that question of balance – when so many land mines are so narrowly avoided in the source material, even minor course deviations can have catastrophic effects. So far I’d rate what Tachibana and Citrus have done as a mixed bag – I think everything will come down to what they choose to adapt from here, and what they choose to leave out.