Sei "Seishu" Handa is a professional calligrapher, despite his relatively young age. One day, after winning a contest, the elderly curator of the exhibit displaying his winning work criticizes it as being too unoriginal, looking as if it belonged in a textbook. Handa, being the levelheaded, rational, and mature beyond his years young man that he is, took this criticism in stride. Nah, I'm just kidding, he knocked curator the f@#% out.
In honor of today being Super Smash Bros.'s release in the States, *ahem* FALCON PAWNCH! Anyways, the curator didn't take this too kindly. In fact no one did, least of all Handa's father, who told him that he needs to get away for a bit to cool his head and hopefully mature a bit. So Handa is shipped off to the Goto Islands (which are a real thing, by the way, they are just off the western coast of Kyushu). When he gets there, he has a tough time understanding everyone because they speak a different dialect from him. To make matters worse, a little girl named Naru Kotoishi keeps breaking into his house unannounced so she can play with him. Needless to say, Handa doesn't exactly have an easy time when it comes to finding enough peace to work on his calligraphy. Is Barakamon deeper than it seems, or is it just a bunch of chicken scratch?
Handa goes through a great developmental arc as he slowly matures over the course of Barakamon. He learns to care about others, through his interactions with the villagers. He also learns to be more perceptive of human behavior and how to react. But most importantly, at least for his career, he really comes into his own as a calligrapher. His work is extremely traditional and straight at the start of the series, but as the show goes on, his work becomes more wild, more organic, and no other way to put it, but more beautiful. I know next to nothing about calligraphy, but damn it I can at least tell that his work later in the series looks vastly better than his work at the start of the series. It actually has passion and a personal touch put into.
The lengths this show went out of its way to be authentic is a sight to behold. All of the elementary school children are voiced by honest to goodness children. It adds an edge that no adult voice actor, regardless of their talent, can ever quite hit. Then there is the dialect. They speak the actual Goto Islands dialect in this series, and it is perfectly understandable why Handa had trouble at first, because it sounds pretty damn distinct from "normal" Japanese. They even go as far as to list the episode titles in both the Goto dialect and its translation.
Unlike many comedic shows where the comedy is often telegraphed, I was time and again caught off guard by Barakamon's humor. Most of the time I never knew when to expect it. Hell, sometimes when I thought the show was setting up a joke, nothing happened. This all greatly works in Barakamon's favor as nearly anything and everything could be twisted into a sidesplitting slapstick or visual joke. There is even comedy after the end credits, as Barakamon has some pretty fun little stinger skits at the very end of the episodes, not that different from the stingers in Yowamushi Pedal.
This is probably just something that works for me because it reminds me of my life a bit, but I like seeing Handa being the person who is the one who, whether by his own choice or not, has to look after and entertain the kids in the cast. This resonates with me because at family gatherings, I usually fill this same role of corralling the young ones. Speaking of the kids...
What is this witchcraft? Child characters who actually behave like freaking children, rather than miniature adults? Whoever is responsible for this deserves a medal. No, seriously, I mean it. While there have undoubtedly been a whole host of children in anime, they very, very rarely actually behave like kids do. Like I said above, I have to deal with a lot of children often, so I know from personal experience how they act, and Barakamon nails it to a T.
While all of the kids in Barakamon are pretty great, the best one is far and away Naru. And it isn't just Naru herself, though she is quite an enjoyable spark plug that can brighten the day of even the most weary of people, that is great. Her friendship with Handa is amazing, and it isn't just a friendship, but a two-way teaching relationship. Handa teaching Naru about calligraphy and city life, while Naru shows Handa, for good and bad, the things she loves about the Islands. Handa and Naru are easily one of the greatest adult/child duos in anime, period.
Realistic children aren't the only things Barakamon nails. It perfectly encapsulates the small town country lifestyle that I'm personally quite fond of as well. A community that bands together to help others for no real reason at all. Beautiful, wide expanses that you don't ever get to see in a big city, and of course, the stars.
Twelve episodes is nowhere near enough time to spend with the characters in Barakamon. As is often the case when I bring this up, I'm just being greedy. I'm not ready to say goodbye to these characters, and I don't think I ever will. This isn't actually a complaint against the series, though. Just me being selfish.
I'll admit, I have a soft spot for slice of life shows set in the Japanese countryside, because they remind me of my life so damn much. With that in mind, I just love Barakamon. After much thinking, and rethinking, Barakamon is my favorite show of the season. Not only is it one of my favorites of the season, it is one of my favorites of the whole year so far. It does everything I love in anime. It has great characters, it has a good story, and the comedy is some of the best of the year. That being said, I don't think it is the king of the recent country slice of life shows. Let me be clear, that is still Silver Spoon, but Barakamon is still a damn good second place winner.
Barakamon can be watched on the Hulu and FUNimation streaming services in North America and the Crunchyroll streaming service in select countries around the world. Barakamon is based on a manga by Satsuki Yoshino and is currently running in Square Enix's Gangan Online web magazine.