I’m in the mode of desperately wanting to find something in Barakamon to make me fall in love with it again – the proof that it’s the great series I hoped it would be rather than the good one it’s started to turn into. I haven’t had that feeling since the premiere – which is no coincidence, as that was the only episode that featured manga material in its original place in the narrative timeline. As I’ve said before, this series is a tough one for me.
This week’s offering is another curious hodge-podge of unrelated chapters plucked from different sources, which contributes to the sense I get that Barakamon the anime feels a bit disjointed and lacking in narrative momentum. That said, it’s encouraging that the material itself isn’t as one-note as most of the last two episodes have been, which gives me some hope that Kinema Citrus isn’t totally committed to de-clawing the manga and turning it into Tamayura with calligraphy. It still doesn’t feel right, but at least we’re starting to see some variety in tone.
The cat chapter is an interesting choice here, as we’re still in the process of establishing character including that of Handa-san, and it does little in that respect as it comes from a point in the story when he’s already very much a known quantity. It’s here’s strictly for humor and cuteness – which seem very much the raison d’être of Barakamon in anime form so far – and it certainly does its job on those fronts. Cats are cute and Japan’s small towns and villages are seemingly full of them, and Handa-san has to bear the curse of being a cat lover who’s allergic to them. They do have hypo-allergenic cats now, though…
Next, we meet another in the menagerie of island children – Akihito Arai (Han Megumi) universally known as “Akki”. Akki is interesting in that this one of the few times we’ve heard Han Megumi in a boy role apart from Gon, and she’s excellent. Akki is of course the brother of Tamako, the aspiring mangaka who’s crushing on Handa-san, and he’s a well-mannered boy whose gaming skills are the stuff of legend. The business with the old-school dial phone is the funniest scene in the episode, and shows off Akki’s deadpan directness (“It’s black!” “Yes, because it’s a black phone.”). Would a guy in his 20s really have no idea how to dial a phone? Who knows, but the comedy definitely works. And 10¥ for a 5-minute call to Tokyo is one hell of a bargain.
Handa’s first reaction when he sees Akki – who’s minding the store in the absence of his Grandmother – is “There’s no end to them” – the island’s kids, that is. That’s an interesting aspect of Barakamon I hadn’t really thought about, because the reality of course is that Japan has been plagued by population decline for decades, and the countryside has a shocking lack of young people. Is there an element of nostalgia or wish fulfillment here? Perhaps so – I’m sure many Japanese think back fondly on a time when its small towns were awash in genki kids the way this one is.
As has become its wont, Barakamon concludes the episode with a “life’s lesson” chapter. This time around Miwa’s father – the scary liquor-store owner and seaweed collector – “hires” (though browbeats would be more accurate) Handa into painting a name (Yuigadokuson – “Only I am Holy”) onto the side of his boat. Handa is initially intimidated at the prospect of the unblemished whiteness of the hull and terrified of making a mistake, but the chibis splatter it with tiny handprints and goad him into action, overcoming his fear out of necessity and discovering a newfound sense of purpose in the process. With a major competition coming up, rounding into creative form is a crucial task for Handa-san, especially as success at such events is crucial for anyone hoping to make a living as a calligrapher.
Taken as a whole, this works pretty well as a standalone episode – it’s entertaining and occasionally hilarious. There’s still something missing, though, and that’s the cohesiveness of Barakamon as a story. The anime is an episodic slice-of-life that plays almost like a 4-koma adaptation, but that’s not the Barakamon I know – that’s a coming of age story that has a quite tangible progression and quite progressive character development. It’s nice to see more elements introduced into the mix as they were this week – the recipe was definitely tasting way too sweet – but what strikes me is that there’s a lack of context. The individual stories are mostly fine but there’s no sense of how they fit together, at least not yet. We still have time for Barakamon to take that next step but not all that much of it, so I hope the big picture begins to emerge sooner rather than later.