Previous experience seems to indicate that placing the team on Seishuu Handa’s shoulders might not necessarily be a good idea. But what happens when the responsibility falls upon him anyways?
Without the pressure of an impending calligraphy competition, Seishuu Handa is under very little outside stress. However, the annual sports festival is approaching, and he soon finds himself unwittingly drafted into participation. On the flipside, Hiroshi has an impending interview to deal with, an interview that will take him away from the island by himself for the first time...
Barakamon has had a trend recently, as I mentioned in my past review, of having volumes that feature more overarching stories, shifting slightly from what used to be an entirely episodic plot structure. This has been a nice change of pace (especially for the purpose of reviewing) as it offers more time to see character progression. However, it has become increasingly apparent over the course of this most recent ninth volume that author Satsuki Yoshino’s writing in general has improved, which is already saying something. Characters have grown seemingly on their own and have far more complex behaviors and motivations than before, and the narrative (including comedic moments) just straight up benefits from it.
The primary story of the volume centers around the annual sports festival, where the neighboring villages compete with each other for dominance in a variety of activities. As you might imagine, the villagers all take this very seriously. They recruit Handa to participate in the main event, the relay race. I had a feeling from the beginning that this would make for an interesting little arc of story, and thankfully it was. Handa’s early training, Miwa’s father’s obsession with the contest and achieving victory, and the village’s excitement in general was a very tangible feeling for me and a surprisingly effective build up for suspense in what is general a very relaxed series. That being said, one relatively minor thing that I noticed that really made me love this volume was the way that Yoshino managed to pull in little details from a variety of minor events that had occurred in previous volumes and make them relevant comedic bits again, such as Handa’s tendency to trip on rocks near the sea. Bringing back old jokes is pleasant way to toss in some throwbacks while adding a bit of extra hilarity, and I appreciated the usage in the book.
While the primary story featuring Handa was quite excellent, my favorite part of the volume was actually one of the side stories, the continuation of Hiroshi’s post-high school planning. This time, Hiroshi is finally going on an interview with a company in Nagasaki. His fish-out-of-water experience is another little detail Yoshino brought back for this volume, specifically because it is an opposite yet similar experience to what Handa faced when he first came to the island. Hiroshi has an impossible time navigating the city at first, and is pretty lost, both figuratively and literally. Interestingly enough, Handa ends up helping him in more than one way during his time interviewing, a bit that helped really show the progression of Handa from the slightly ironically-called sensei to someone who actually serves as a bit of a mentor for the other characters. Hiroshi’s struggle to find his place in society has been a long-lasting portion of the story, but its relative complexity and the effective emotional engagement it brings about for readers has made it a very welcome addition to the series.
Continuing with the pattern of introducing new members of the village to fill out the wide cast of characters surrounding Handa, this volume brings in some new, as-of-yet unseen villagers, including Tama and Akki’s parents. While many of the characters have very little development at the moment, the continued expansion of reader knowledge of the townspeople is an excellent way to bring the village to life for fans. Even characters such as the members of the opposing Rokunosaki village make appearances (although you might recognize a couple of the kids from earlier!), including an old rival of Handa’s. Even Hiroshi’s opponents during his job application shine as the story uses them in their own way and help to fill out the volume and the cast.
Although the individual interlacing arcs of story are effective on their own, what really made the volume jell was how they all kind of flowed together cohesively. As I mentioned earlier, Yoshino’s increasing skill at crafting a narrative has become quite evident. For example, although Handa and the annual sports festival and Hiroshi’s story are very separate individual tales, they are fitted together with minor connections. For example, when Hiroshi is lost in Nagasaki and Handa is put on the phone by Hiroshi’s mother and tells him where to go over the phone, the reason Handa is even there in the first place is because he is practicing for the relay in the upcoming competition. Likewise, Hiroshi is later almost late for the competition because he has just arrived back in town and wants to dye his hair again before going out in public. It may not seem like much at first glance, but these loose connections really enhance the entire volume and made this one of my favorites to date.
Barakamon as a series has been improving. I say this as someone who has been enjoying the series since the beginning. If you have read earlier volumes but were slightly iffy on the continuing appeal of the concept long term, don’t be. Fans of the slice-of-life style stories are basically guaranteed to find much to enjoy in Barakamon. The storytelling continues to improve, and the characters’ relationships and thus the overall development of the setting continues to advance. This ninth volume in particular is also arguably the best one so far, and most definitely one of my favorites.
Barakamon Vol. 9 was translated by Krista Shipley and Kara Shipley and published by Yen Press on February 23rd, 2016. 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 10 will be released in English on April 26th, 2016.
Check out our other Barakamon reviews:
and the review of the spin-off, Handa-kun Vol. 1.
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