This episode very much represents Barakamon the anime in its elemental form. Pleasing idyll, cute girls being cute, the occasional razor-sharp gag, great distorted faces, and cap it off with a life’s lesson to take home with you. It’s not what I expected going in – as I said last week, sort of like Barakamon if it had been adapted by Medical Mechanica – but it is consistent, and very good at doing what it does.
As I also said, that process is interesting to watch play out independent of the themes of the source material themselves. What we see in episodes like this one – which is to say, most of them so far – is a kind of skimming approach, where the anime dips its toe into the underlying conflicts without really diving in (I kind of wish Naru would give it a push). There’s a lot happening here – Handa’s simmering resentment towards his father, Kawafuji’s role in that relationship (which causes Handa to resent him at times, too), the emotions Kousuke’s presence makes him feel – but none of it is allowed to spoil the mood.
This intense desire not to let anything spoil the mood seems to me to be at the heart of what makes Barakamon the anime a different sort of story than Barakamon the manga, and that’s why it really seems to do best when it simply plays up the fish-out-of-water elements in the story (which are certainly there in the original) to maximum benefit. About as close as we see things get to genuine melancholy is when we’re allowed to witness Hiro thinking about how he and Miwa will likely be leaving Gotou soon, prompted by watching Kawa-san’s plane take off from the adorably Beatrix Potter island airfield. This flight of the young from the countryside is a huge issue in Japan, of course – but we’re only given about ten seconds of musing on it before Naru barges onto the screen and spills soda on Hiro’s shirt. A pretty symbolic moment that.
The best scene of the episode for me comes when Hiro’s father (who’s the village chief, remember) stands smiling with Kawafuji, watching the kids frolic with Handa at the airport, and then asks in a perfectly deadpan manner “Would you like to take one with you?” It’s a completely authentic comic moment, and Barakamon is certainly capable of delivering those from time to time. I like Kawafuji – I like Suwabe-san’s performance, and I like the dynamic he brings to the series both as relates to Handa-san and to the theme of what divides city people from inaka people, and what doesn’t. I kind of wish he was staying around a while longer, to be honest, but life on Gotou will continue to amble along without him. And Barakamon will continue to do a good job of helping us understand what it would feel like to be a part of it.