Handa’s return to the island is hardly glamorous, but his continued time at the village continues to yield interesting stories.
Seishuu Handa has returned to the island after failing to win the calligraphy competition with a new outlook on life. No longer feeling trapped on the island, he decides to continue to search for his individual style. The villagers have their own ideas for him though, ranging from attending school performances to making a cake to performing manual labor. Much is going on, as Hiroshi prepares for life after high school, the middle school students go on a school trip, and a member of the village becomes ill.
Slice-of-life fans will find this series appealing, as Barakamon embodies many of the traditional scenarios the genre follows with its own twists.
Following Handa’s return from Tokyo, his life of ‘quiet’ village living picks up once again in the seventh and eighth volumes of Barakamon. Having participating in several calligraphy competitions, Handa seems content to join the island children (for the most part) in their daily hijinks. Mischief that characterizes the earlier volumes, needless to say, resumes. There felt like a shift in focus away from Handa as a calligrapher in these volumes as he doesn’t actually write as often, instead opting (‘willingly’ is up for debate) to participate in various activities around the village.
The narrative structure for Barakamon as a series doesn’t appear to be all that different on an episode-by-episode basis, and continues to be individual events that happen to Handa, often involving other villagers. However, episodes in these volumes are tied closer together on average as there are many running jokes as well as plot threads that last for multiple chapters. For example, in the first chapter of the seventh volume Handa gets a new window only to have it broken by a mishap involving Naru, and the window continues to show up (often to get broken) in other chapters. Other key bits such as Hiroshi’s impending future career plans and the middle school girls’ school trip stretch over multiple chapters and function more or less as minor arcs of story, making the series feel like slightly less of a purely episodic manga.
Several of these arcs actually serve to focus on developments of or at least centering around individual members of the village. Hiroshi, as a high school third year (senior/grade 12 by Western standards), is pursuing a potential career of cooking but is plagued by the classic comedic bit the series likes to use with him: his ordinariness. He has a desire to find his own individual uniqueness, and the other cast members have a desire to mess with him while he does it. This developing arc is an appealing portion of the story both for its coming-of-age vibes and its moments of hilarity. Hiroshi’s continued development is good both for his character and for Handa’s since it serves as a similar yet different young adult to offer comparison for readers. Several of the most funny chapters, such as Handa performing a mock interview for Hiroshi, were part of this development and were high points of the two volumes.
While Handa’s actual development is less of a focus (although it does happen) in volumes seven and eight, his development in relation to the village children and adults is what really gets showcased. This is emphasized throughout the volumes, sometimes subtly and sometimes more blatantly. The primary duo of Handa and Naru is, predictably, the most explored relationship. Moments such as the elementary school’s talent show, where when asked what she learned this year Naru answers that she ‘learned how to write good’, really show how much of an influence Handa has had on her life as a virtual father figure. Whereas previous volumes focused on how much influence the village has had on Handa, seeing how he has influenced the village is a nice change of pace and makes the series feel as though it has come in a full circle in some ways.
Barakamon as a series continues to be a very uplifting and feel-good kind of story, and manages to maintain this through the new facets of character exploration as I have mentioned. This is especially prevalent in the village elder Kiyoba’s portion of the story. Kiyoba is essentially the ‘grandma’ for the entire village, so when she falls ill the effects are substantial. In highlighting her role in the village, Handa’s role too is emphasized and is a ‘good feelings’ emotional moment that works quite well. This, along with other developments, is made much more impactful by author Satsuki Yoshino’s imagery when depicting the town and island nature during emotional moments. The quality of the characters’ facial expressions really help sell their emotion for me as well, even outside the comedic bits.
Barakamon has always been as feel-good series, and it plays its strengths in its most recent volumes. Handa’s effect on the villagers and his individual relationships with them serve as quality developments, aided by a more connected series of episodes. If you were concerned that the series might lose its appeal or grow stale over time, I think it is safe to say that this has yet to happen, so if you are a fan of previous volumes (or the anime- these volumes now take place after the end of the 2014 adaptation!), be sure to pick these ones up.
Barakamon Vol. 7/8 were authored by Satsuki Yoshino and published by Yen Press on October 27, 2015 and December 15, 2015. Barakamon is an ongoing series in Square Enix’s Gangan Online magazine, and received a single-cour anime adaption by Kinema Citrus in Summer 2014. Volume 9 will be released in English on February 2, 2015.
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