As always, I find what the anime adaptation of Barakamon chooses not to adapt as important as what it does adapt, and it seems to have a penchant for skipping my favorite chapters with unerring accuracy. The trend here is obvious one that I’ve already pointed out, but the sad thing for me is that it appears by their latest cuts the anime staff has basically decided to eliminate Akki as a meaningful character. He has a rather good storyline in the manga (I won’t go into details because, spoilers, but why is he the only kid who hasn’t come over to Sensei’s to play?) and he’s quite funny as well, but the anime has skimmed over about 98% of it.
It’s obviously not coincidental that it’s characters like Akki and Kenta (who’s a lot closer to a co-lead among the children with Naru in the manga than the bit player he is here) who’re bearing the brunt of the anime’s edits. The menagerie effect in the source material hasn’t really survived the transition to anime and that’s too bad, because Barakamon is really fun when all the kids are involved in what’s going on, and the anime has the benefit of having most of them played by real kids (and Han Megumi is a perfect fit for Akki).
It’s not possible to go into detail about why that change so significantly impacts the tone and feel of the series without going into spoiler territory, but this episode did give the anime audience a taste of what they’re almost entirely missing. In form it follows the anime’s established pattern – a broadly comic first chapter followed by a more message-driven second – but for a few reasons it works considerably better than most of the episodes have so far when it comes to capturing the essence of what makes Barakamon special.
One element of the story that’s important in the manga but until this week AWOL in the anime is the process of Handa learning how to be a boy. Sounds kinds of silly, but it’s actually a huge element of Barakamon because as we’ve seen hints of, Handa-san did not have a normal childhood. His life was by no means carefree and idyllic. His interactions with Naru are cute, but when that’s 80% of what we see they become monotonal. The first part of this episode, as Handa and Kenta and his pals Daisuke (Ishikawa Tatsuki) and Yutaka (Koga Satoru) try and catch beetles for Naru’s birthday present, has a completely different energy (with no little thanks to the casting). Since Barakamon is basically a coming-of-age series about a 23 year-old child, this sort of material is critical – it’s very funny to see Handa drawn into the boys’ silliness and his competitive nature flare up, but it’s also an important experience for the character.
These scenes make Handa’s interaction with Naru that much better by breaking up the anime’s one-track thematic structure, which isn’t an issue in the manga with its much more diverse focus. And the second half of the episode, which concentrates on the observance of Obon with a visit to the grave of Naru’s grandmother, is one of the better of the “serious” chapters the anime has covered (though it sadly elected not to cover the best one of those). It achieves a balance the anime hasn’t always reached, injecting things with enough melancholy and cheeky humor to keep the twin dangers of preachiness and treacliness safely at bay. We lost some more wonderful material in-between the seventh and eight episodes, but at least we got one good enough to give a sense of hope that the final third of the series might be the best the anime has to offer.
It seems as if Barakamon will be taking a break next week, so expect coverage to resume in September.