I don’t know why, but it seems as if Yoshino Satsuki may be one of those mangaka who’s cursed to never have their works adapted in a straightforward way (see Akamatsu, Ken – since Negima, anyway). Both Barakamon (which was a different studio, staff, and cast) and Handa-kun (its prequel) are very good series, totally different despite sharing the same protagonist. If some production committee out there had decided to adapt either or both faithfully I think they would be very successful. But Barakamon was hacked and watered-down and refocused to the point where the anime was a mildly pleasant shell of the much more incisive and bittersweet original. It remains to be seen what will happen with Handa-kun, but we’re not off to a stellar start.
Just to clarify, the whole intro to this episode wasn’t a part of the manga (well, duh I suppose). If you want to try and get a handle on whether this series is for you, judge it by the stuff after the fourth-wall breaking ended, because that was the first chapter. That would be a questionable choice even if the intro had worked, but I found it about 70% unfunny. It’s not so much that we lost 10 minutes of screen time (as Yukio-kun, my favorite of the Handa Force pointed out, that’s why the cliffhanger) but that it makes one worry whether the team behind the adaptation can deliver the goods. Still, writer Yokote Michiko is normally rock solid and director Koyama Yoshitaka is experienced and generally competent.
For me, I think it would be folly to make even an initial judgment of Handa-kun based on this episode – I need to see an entire episode of manga material first. I do like the Handa-kun manga quite a lot – it’s tonally much different than Barkamon, but for me just as entertaining. The notion of Handa-kun as a much-admired school figure who’s convinced he’s constantly being tormented is a good conceit – it’s dark and edgy but it mines a lot of humor from that setup. Handa-kun himself (played this time around by Shimazaki Nobunaga) is the height of social awkwardness, generally oblivious to whatever is happening around him and very much caught up in the version of reality he’s conjuring up inside his own head. He has a gang of male followers and a throng of female admirers based on his good looks, talent and general air of mystery – but he enjoys none of the fruits of that status. It’s a premise not quite like any I’ve seen in a school series before, and I rather like it.
But it’s all about the anime for present purposes, and the jury is still very much out there. Neither the Barakamon adaptation or the premiere here give me much confidence, but as I said I think it would be wiser to withhold even a preliminary judgment until after next week. If anything I take some hope in the fact that the Juri-chan and Maiko segment wasn’t prettied-up – Maiko is every bit the shallow little jerk she is in the manga (“Pearls before swine” – seriously??). In order for Handa-kun to work the hard edges in the writing can’t be watered down (as they were in the Barakamon anime), because much of the humor and pathos comes from Yoshino’s pretty much unvarnished look at the shallow and cruel nature of high school social politics. Right now the only grade I can give Handa-kun is an “Incomplete”, but we’ll know a lot more next week.