Anyone who saw the weather forecast for Western Japan knows today was a fitting day for Kaji Yuuki to arrive on the scene in Barakamon. Like an approaching typhoon his ominous presence has been bearing down on this defenseless island, its residents helpless to do anything but wait for the inevitable and board up the windows. Indeed, a great wind was coming, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.
Well, Typhoon Halong’s Eastern fringes are starting to batter Tokyo at the moment and it’s raining cats and dogs outside my window. But in truth, things weren’t as bad as some predicted and the islands in the South survived the typhoon more or less intact. And so does Barakamon survive Kaji’s arrival, for better or worse. I like to joke at his expense, but Kaji is functionally adequate in the right role, and Kanzaki Kousuke is a pretty decent fit for him. Kaji’s not really capable selling a line comedically, but most of Kanzaki’s humor is derived from situations rather than dialogue so that’s not a huge issue.
Indeed, it’s actually more interesting for me to see Kawafuji and Handa finally interact, because funnily enough in my mind’s eye I always saw Suwabe Junichi playing Handa-sensei. Kawafuji and Kanzaki are both important characters but Kawafuji more so by a wide margin – he’s a link to Handa’s past, and the person in the cast who knows him better than anyone else including his family. Kanzaki is mainly crucial as a device, and I don’t mean that negatively – it’s simply that it’s what he represents that impacts the story and Handa more than Kanzaki himself. Kanzaki is important for what he is – Kawafuji is important for who he is.
In the broad sense I welcome the arrival of these two, because it gives Barakamon a chance to shift into areas that it’s largely ignored up to this point. The presence of outsiders (besides Handa) adds a certain tonal diversity to the episode. As the fresh-faced 18 year-old who deprived Handa of the grand prize he so desperately thought Kanzaki is a threatening figure, and indeed Miwa and Hiro assume Handa will freak out if he finds out who this kid is (of course, he already knows). Kawafuji has brought Kanzaki here to be the irritant to Handa-sensei’s oyster – the impetus to force him to level up and keep providing the works that Kawafuji can sell at a handsome profit. And Kanzaki looks the part – he’s a Handa fanboy to be sure, but it’s mixed with that innate cockiness child geniuses often possess.
It is indeed a measure of Handa’s growth that he can deal with Kanzaki as well as he does. Still, the episode doesn’t quite click for me. The format the anime is using is starting to feel repetitive – a buildup consisting mostly of madcap comedy and Naru vamping, capped off with a heartwarming moral at the end. It’a hard to explain exactly why this doesn’t quite work without dipping into spoilers, but it must be noted that the source material isn’t constructed this way at all. The messages are far more subtle, and it takes a lot longer to work up to delivering them. In this ep we do get a glimpse of some of the depth Brakamon brings to the table when confronting matters like the creative process and what makes true art, but there just isn’t enough build-up for them to have a real impact.
In this way Barakamon reminds me of what usually happens when American TV chooses to adapt a subtle and subversive work from British television – it’s recognizable and sometimes quite good, but there’s a kind of ironing out the wrinkles, as if the adaptation were done by Medical Mechanica. In its own way that’s an interesting process to watch play out – though not as interesting as Barakamon itself in its unadulterated and undiluted form.