The seasons are changing and a chill has come to the island. When Handa-sensei makes a call to the mainland requesting some winter clothes, he receives much more than he was expecting in return. Namely, a visit to the island by none other than his own parents, and his mother is carrying quite the packet of news.
Barakamon has always been roughly focused on the meandering journey of its protagonist as he comes closer and closer to being an actual productive member of society. With the tenth and eleventh volumes, which act as two parts of a single experience, we take a look at a number of characters making choices, some more willingly than others, that may shape the rest of their lives.
Mentioned by Proton in the previous review for this series, Barakamon is starting to consist of longer narrative arcs. Instead of containing a number of small episodic vignettes, which may or may not be tied together, recent volumes have greater structure and with that comes a greater payoff for the readers. For the first time in the series, you will need to read the next volume in the series to finally peak over the cliff that lies at the end of volume 10. Lucky for you all, both volumes are out, less so for me that had to wait in between. Barakamon is changing for the better, but don’t worry, it is not changing too much. If you are a person with feelings, prepare to be touched.
Handa’s parents may be coming to the island, but they are definitely not coming alone. Not only is Handa’s publicist Kawafugi accompanying them on their trip, but so is Kawafugi’s father, who just so happens to be the elder Handa’s publicist. This is where the meat of these two volumes is found, in the relationships between two fathers and their sons, and just what it can mean to live in the shadow of a great legacy. This is a theme that has been explored somewhat in past volumes, but what may have been touched lightly upon before is now front and center. It all culminates in a particular situation when Handa and his father are making a visit to Naru’s class to teach a calligraphy lesson. Observed by the Kawafugi pair, who are experiencing their own developments, the event really escalates when the children, because this is exactly what children would do, ask which of the Handas is the better calligrapher. With an impromptu competition as the stage, we are able to see once again, that despite what flaws he may have, the elder Handa is a good father and can manage some potent words when the need arises.
But Barakamon volumes 10 and 11 still contain plenty of levity. Much of the humor of the series has been built from the meeting of different cultures and lifestyles, whether it be Handa-sensei becoming more and more of a local, or Hiroshi visiting the mainland by himself for the first time, these scenarios have always been well written. But they get a severe boost with Handa’s mother coming. If you are a fan of her rather intense mood shifts, at least in regard to her son’s well-being, you are in for a treat. And even if that is not your favorite aspect of her character, you will see her surprisingly loving side as well, especially has she grows closer to Naru and is able to observe the impact that her son is having on those around him. This is all punctuated by the elder Handa’s own return to an island he once called home and his rather physical relationship with the village chief, kind of reminds me of Miwa in regard to his belligerence. We may not get that much insight into Handa senior’s own life on the island, but we need to leave something for future volumes and that is not really what I was concerned about during these volumes, in spite of thinking about it heavily when volume 10 got started.
Outside the main narrative, there are still four excellent short stories. From Hiroshi reacting to the news of how his interview went; to Handa-sensei taking up farming for the first time, we also get some more backstory of a particular side character in that one; to volume 11’s excellent conclusion of octopus catching in the pre-dawn with Handa, Naru and her grandfather; each of these stories adds to the message these volumes convey. But my favorite has to be the one least connected to the greater narrative, it also has some of the best laughs of the series so far, a day-in-the-life story of Hiroshi from the perspective of a girl in his class and his home room teacher. It may be fluff, but it is truly superior fluff, and a great ode to Hiroshi as he has steadily become one of the most interesting and well utilized secondary characters in the series.
When Handa, Kawafugi and Hiroshi are faced with some interesting and potentially life altering choices in these volumes, we get to witness to depth and range that Yoshino’s writing and illustrations have on offer. And they do a perfect job in raising the anticipation I have for the future of this series. If you are somehow reading this review and have never read Barakamon, know that the series has both great drama and humor and despite being categorized as slice-of-life, it does go places with its story. So seriously, go, read it. Oh, and that news that Handa’s mother brought with her to the island? I will leave you to discover that yourself, just know that it is played brilliantly and leads to Naru, Miwa and Tama making some rather salacious claims.
Barakamon Vol. 10 and 11 were translated by Krista Shipley and Kara Shipley and published by Yen Press on April 26th and June 28th, 2016, respectively. Barakamon is an ongoing series by Satsuki Yoshino in Square Enix’s Gangan Online magazine, and received a single-cour anime adaption by Kinema Citrus in Summer 2014. A spin-off series, Handa-kun, is also currently being released in English by Yen Press. Volume 12 will be released in English on Oct 25th, 2016.
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