Barakamon – 03

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To say that my feelings about Barakamon are complicated would be quite the understatement.

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.

Oh, dear.

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.

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  1. R

    I was excited when Barakamon premiered, as it brought what I expected to screen — something that would stimulate your mind and warm your heart at the same time. Turns out it's quite different from what I imagined. It's still enjoyable — and I agree that this episode is better than last — but it's like a kiddie version of what it could be. I still like it, but the charm of the show when it premiered has eroded quite a lot.

  2. The manga is exactly what you thought the anime would be.

  3. n

    Clumsiness of the third act aside, this was a funny episode. I liked the fujoshi's inner monologue beautifully capturing the complex self-conscious tendency of their kinds.

  4. K

    I am personally happy I have not read the manga because I am loving every second of this anime. And I do know what it is like to be disappointed by adaptions.

    That being said thankfully (and surprisingly) this manga is already licensed in the US and once the anime is done I definitely plan to read it. It's actually been awhile that a new manga series has been licensed here that I actually wanted to buy.

  5. m

    "the reason she's tolerable is that she's genuinely cute, not cute in an anime way" That's 100% fact right there. She reminds me of the show Bill Cosby hosted 'Kids say the Darndest Things'. The opening bit had me laughing so hard, and she is funny the way a real kid is funny. She might be a bit extreme in her behavior, but as some one with multiple nieces and nephews I can attest to the fact that she doesn't behave in an unbelievable fashion.

    I've never read the manga, but from what little I have heard I guess there's not as much focus on the whole coming of age part. That is somewhat disappointing to learn bc the parts that do focus on that have been done so well. Maybe it's bc I haven't read the manga (and never even heard of it before the anime tbh) but I love this show. I absolutely abhor cute girls doing cute things/imouto stories. I can't think of more than a handful of all female cast shows that I've ever finished watching or liked if I finished watching, but somehow it's not a problem here for me. It feels like the characters are very realistic in their behaviors, which is weird to say in a comedy, but they seem to have personalities I wouldn't be shocked to find irl.

    Maybe it's bc I never read the manga that I love this show so far, but I haven't had any issues with anything that's happened yet. I can see how having more of the edgier stuff would improve the show, but since I don't know the source material it doesn't feel as if anything is missing. Though I'm definitely going to wait til after the anime ends to read the manga now so I don't get disappointed with the order and about which parts are missing.

  6. G

    I like this series but I'm struggling to understand how this guy makes a living. Is Caligraphy in Japan a real profession? If he taught it to kids in school I could understand.

  7. f

    so enlighten me please, as someone that didn't read the source material, what am i missing from the anime ?

  8. Yes, if you're planning to read the manga – trust me, wait. It's much easier to enjoy this show for what it is when you don't know what it isn't.

    Yes, shodou is a profession in Japan if you're good enough at it – they're artists, just like painters or sculptors. Though not all that many people actually make a living at it.

  9. m

    I've never been able to get into art beyond what I think does or does not look aesthetically pleasing, and I'll never get the idea of the message behind the use of certain brush strokes or the meaning of each work of art, but I think shodou would be something at the very end of my relm of comprehension. Even if I knew kanji I wouldn't know why one is better than another, and I don't think I would acknowledge it even if it were explained. I admit it looks cooler than most paintings, and I wouldn't mind it as art in my house, but I've never been able to grasp why people attach such deep meaning to that type of thing.

  10. w

    So wait. This means I get to enjoy this and then when it's over go on to read the superior source material? Sounds like the best of both worlds to me.

  11. You're lucky to still have that option, Mate…

  12. s

    Ill just chime in and say that i can understand where you're coming from enzo in not wanting to sound like the people that tend to get into an uproar about any adaptation changes. In my opinion, a lot of times, source material purists tend to get bent out of shape for the smallest things instead of having an open mind about the changes an adaptation makes and deliberate on whether those changes are for the better constructively. It doesnt really bother me too much but i do question why most of their comments are never constructive.

    In your case, I think your defense is solid because your not arguing cosmetic changes, sequence of events shuffles or omittions (though at times they can have an adverse effect on an adaptation), or even anime original additions. You make a statement regarding the way the anime is handling the tone of the series and even more important, the way it has looked the other way on the themes that make Barakamon a powerful manga. See, that's a legitimate complaint in my opinion.

    My motto has always been, as long as an adaptation retains the tone and thematic elements that make up the strength of the source material, I dont mind if changes are made, especially if they are made to enhance those themes. But when an adaptation takes away the thematic strength of a source material, that's a change that is not as positive in my eyes. To use an example of a series lots of people are following, if the tokyo ghoul adaptation was to take away the themes of humanity and find a place to belong, and what it means to live in favor of just ghouls with superpowers; you'd still probably get an entertaining series assuming the direction and script is good, but you'd lose that extra flavor that makes tokyo ghoul a much stronger story. Sure, the alternative isnt bad, but if you had a choice between a 42 inch HD tv and 60 inch HD 3D tv, you'd probably pick the latter. In your eyes, this version of Barakamon is good, but there is a better version out there and you wished that's what you were seeing in Anime form.

  13. H

    Rest assured Enzo (anime only here), Barakamon is BaROCK'n.

  14. m

    I also agree, because honestly, even without reading the manga, I feel a lack of emotional connection. The big moments come too quickly, without giving us some anticipation and buildup, so the payoff is little. Like how much calligraphy means to Sensei, we don't actually understand it because thus far, the series hasn't let us seen that much of it. It makes the show come off as a little preachy.

    I do get why they adapt it this way, in a short season, it makes sense to milk the juicy parts, and this series does work as a comedy. I only wish they'll let us see how it's much more than that.

    I'm definitely going to read the manga when the english version is out.

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