Synopsis: After punching a critic in the face for calling his art ‘bland and formulaic,’ Sei Handa is banished to the Goto Islands to cool his head. Together with Naru and his newfound neighbors, he grows day by day both as an artist, and as a person.
I really love Barakamon. I watched it thrice in a row. To be fair, the other two times I binged it with friends whom I’d practically dragged into watching the show with me – but they loved it, too. It’s the kind of wholesome, heart-warming entertainment you need when you’ve hit a slump and you’re down in the dumps. I’d say it’s an important anime for anyone in the creative arts, too, a grounding experience designed to touch our beating hearts.
Barakamon is a fairly standard redemption story. City-kid prodigy artist Sei is kicked out of Tokyo and sent to the Goto Islands after punching an art director in the face after he is told his art lacks personality. There he meets Naru and the other townsfolk of this rural backwater. As the series progresses we watch him grow into himself as he builds eternal bonds with his newfound friends, over matters as trivial as fireworks festivals and sunsets, pier fishing and boat naming and beetle catching. It’s a very light show.
For an anime about art, Barakamon’s art style is fairly average. It isn’t bad. I think I like it. It’s fun and dynamic, and there are some great comedic off-style moments that really hammer home the shows’ many funny moments. That being said, though, the character models and backgrounds are fairly forgettable. I appreciate Barakamon for not sexualizing any of its characters and for making sure their models actually fit their age. As far as what I could call memorable, though, only Naru and Sei really stand out.
That said, Barakamon’s cast is absolutely golden. An ensemble cast of middle schoolers, high schoolers, old people, young children and working-class city slickers are set free to bounce off one another in some of the most light-hearted, heart-warming scenes I’ve ever seen in anime. No one ever waxes pretentious or acts out of age and character. As I was watching them on screen it felt as if I was playing with them, catching mochi balls thrown from the deck of a ship with them or throwing myself into the sea hand in hand with them. They’re all monolithic characters, set in their ways and happy to be the people they are – except for Sei.
The effect that these wonderful characters have on Sei is the emotional root that runs throughout this show. He starts the show rather aloof and mean-spirited, obsessed with his calligraphy and nothing else and unwilling to go along with the wiles of the townsfolk – but they force him out of his shell in the best way possible. He’s there as they play. They’re by his side as he learns about life in the countryside, and their innocent lack of pretensions are what help him work past his insecurities. Wonderful, quiet little character moments let us know how far he has come hand-in-hand with his new neighbors. His conflict at the start of the show – that his art is too formulaic and lacks personality, and the frustrations this cause him – is solved, bit by bit, as these countryside days rub off on him. So meaningful is his time with the villagers that he finds himself drawn back to them again and again toward the end of the series, drawing on them to give him strength and purpose in life as he pushes onward into the art world, more mature than he ever was before.
There’s a really beautiful moment at the end of the pilot episode that cements what this show is about. In the first episode of Barakamon, Sei moves into his new place in the countryside. He’s got cold feet at first, grumbling and complaining about the situation that he’s been thrust in. Then he meets Naru, a precocious young child who wants nothing more than to play around with her new neighbor. She makes herself welcome along with the village chairman, and Sei spends the day dealing with their antics as he tries to unpack and get accustomed to his new place. Soon the rest of the village turns out to help him move into his place. They come into his place uninvited, which is a shock for him given his big-city sensibilities. They’re all armed with food and well wishes as they do their best to make him feel welcome on his first day in town. We see for the first time the cast of lovable youngsters who, with the power of their unbridled youth, will be pulling him right out of his shell over the coming season.
The episode ends with Sei in front of a fresh new canvas. He’s laughing, cackling like a madman as he throws wide, crazed, frantic strokes of ink at the canvas before collapsing on the ground, a massive grin across his face. A friend calls to check in on him, and he tells them about his day as the camera pans back to reveal the piece he’s been working on. It’s a frantic piece, full of the energy his previous art never had.
And the word he’s painted? ‘Fun.’
‘Fun’ is the best word to describe Barakamon. It is very fun, so fun, in fact, that I wouldn’t mind just binging it over and over and over again whenever I’m feeling low. It’s a show for the artists, and for all of us looking to stop and rediscover ourselves in the good times we have with the people around us. If you need that kind of pick me up in your life, I recommend giving this show a try. Spend time with the villagers of Barakamon, and make some memories that’ll last you a lifetime.
(+) A lovable cast to make sweet summer memories with
(+) Heartfelt moments that are never pretentious, always genuine
(?) The art is okay… I’ve put a question mark here because I haven’t decided just how exactly I feel about the art style, if I’m being honest here
(-) The last two episodes are a little rushed, but the ending is fantastic