Barakamon – 12 (Fin)

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It’s a testament to this show’s quality of characters that I can utterly disagree with Sei’s mom’s position but still love her to death simply because she’s so hilarious and awesome. As worried as she is that her son is being corrupted by island yokels, she’s the one doing childish things like sticking talismans on his door and rains down blows upon anyone who looks at her the wrong way. Mostly though, I can forgive her hypocrisy because she just plain misses her son.

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As the gang (mostly Miwa) goes through an infinite cycle of trashing, cleaning, then trashing his house, it looks like Sei’s mom may get her way by sheer force of her maternal power, but Sei, strengthened by his time on the island, isn’t going to surrender so easily.

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When her husband breaks out albums from when he was on the island, her position starts to crumble, and when the gang mails him the results of his calligraphy tutoring, she loses the moral high ground altogether, which was built upon an ignorance about what exactly he was doing there anyway.

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Seishuu has had a track record of acting impulsively, and be it punching an old man or accidentally buying corn soup on a hot summer day, it often results in painful experiences. But that same impulsiveness allowed him to act upon sudden flashes of inspiration and break out of his conservative style.

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Thus, it’s more about tempering and balancing that impulsivity rather than rooting it out. The best environment for that has been and shall continue to be the island, which he already considers “home.” And even for the gang, home doesn’t feel the same anymore without Sensei.

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When Sei arrives back on the island and the village chief is a no-show, he leaves the airport, wanders, and immediately gets in trouble. But then Naru’s grandpa offers him a ride on his tractor, and he sees the gorgeous ocean that gramps says is “nothing special”, and he’s lockedback into an Island state of mind, where “nothing special” is the best.

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As Seishuu has taught the islanders about calligraphy and entertained them with his cosmopolitan shut-in ways, they’ve taught him that there’s nothing quite like a life lived with cheer surrounded by people you care about. It’s fun, but it’s also good for the soul, and good for his artistry.

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Once a surly, willful wretch that was first exiled to the island against his will, Seishuu’s now a little more mature and content. His eyes are wide open to what the world has to offer, and how best to contribute.

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Barakamon – 11

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“All Work and No Play” – that’s what Handa Seishuu was before traveling to the island. All that work was preventing him from experiencing life and stifling his calligraphy.That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if the director provoked the punch that sent Sei away on purpose, conspiring with Sei’s dad to get the lad out of his hermetically-sealed comfort zone of Tokyo to a place where he would find new inspiration and where his talents could expand and blossom.

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Whether it was all planned or the grown-ups used the punch as an excuse, the gambit paid off nicely, as Handa Seishuu is not only doing far more interesting work, but is also a more humble, caring, present person. Of course his growth doesn’t stop him from splashing tea on his “star” masterpiece just seconds before the director has a chance to bestow a grand prize appraisal of it. In other words, it was good enough for the exhibition, but now it’s ruined, so he must come up with another, even better piece.

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The first we see of Seishuu in this episode, he’s very stern and distant-looking in a suit on a train platform, carrying over the somewhat “stranger-ish” nature of his sudden departure from the island without a word. Thankfully, as soon as he interacts with Kawafuji we see he’s the same old overdramatic overreacting man-child we know and love. And it’s actually not a bad thing to wreck what would have been his exhibition submission, since it challenges him to repeat the brilliance with new constraints of time and location.

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It doesn’t go well at first. At his stately traditional-style family home, surrounded by the bustling city, Seishuu finds he simply can’t write the way he did on the island. Trying to have Kawafuji and Kousuke role play as villagers doesn’t cut it, either. Kawafuji determines the only way to get anything out of Seishuu is to bring the villagers to him…via telephone. Hearing everyone’s voices brightens his mood and sparks his imagination, and after pulling another all-nighter, he seems confident he’s again achieved excellence.

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We don’t get to see that piece yet, but all I know for sure is that this episode achieved excellence for sure. It was an elegant, uncompromising blend of side-splitting comedy (mostly at Seishuu’s expense) and affecting drama—elements not uncommon in any episode of Barakamon but taken up a notch here, and augmented by the fresh setting and hectic circumstances. Seishuu looks to be in good shape for the exhibition, and hopefully he’ll be back in the village at some point during the finale.

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Barakamon – 10

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Being the audience this week is tough, because only we know it’s Seishuu’s last day on the island. No one, not even Naru, sees it coming from the way he acts on that last day, and maybe that’s the point. After helping Naru’s grandpa build a wall, he attends the village festival with Naru and Hina, and seems committed to not spoiling the little time he has left with them.

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He does, in fact, try to tell everyone (everyone being Naru, Miwa, Tama, Naru, Hina, and Hiro), but it’s just when the awesome fireworks are about to begin. He can’t very well say it then, now can he? The reaction would be predictable, with Naru likely having a fit and running off, possibly into danger. All episode I was waiting for that kind of confrontation.

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But nothing of the kind came; in the end, Seishuu chose not to mar another happy, fun day with the villagers that just happens to be his last. Instead, he lives that day to the fullest, and doesn’t so much as betray a hint that he’s out of there the next day. He disappears from the island as quickly as he appeared, but his absence is sure to lead to despair.

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Part of me is afraid of the possibility that Seishuu always meant to leave suddenly ike this, like ripping a band-aid from a wound, and that his connection to the island was never as strong as it seemed; that he was merely here to figure out his calligraphy, and once he had, had no further reason to be there. For the record, I don’t think (or rather, don’t want to think) that’s true, but it’s hard not to think like that considering how suddenly he peaced out.

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Barakamon – 06

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This week Seishuu’s open-ended self-finding country island retreat is suddenly interrupted by fresh outsiders: his longtime friend Kawafuji, accompanied by Kanzaki Kousuke, the 18-year-old who beat him in the last exhibition. As his dealer, Kawafuji believes showing up with a rival will get Seishuu motivated, and no one knows how Seishuu works more than Kawafuji.

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In the process, however, through a misunderstanding the villagers think Kawafuji tried to kidnap Naru, so they take him to the elders meeting, which turns into a drinking party. It’s fun to see how a “normal” city slicker like Kawafuji interacts with the villagers. He’s less a “lamb in the woods” as Seishuu was, but nevertheless ends up incapacitated from alcohol for most of the episode.

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Kawafuji originally had Seishuu go to the island—a place where he’d have to form social connections—as a kind of punishment, expecting Seishuu (who is bad at socializing with people) to give up quickly, return home, and shape up. After all, if Seishuu isn’t on his game, Kawafuji doesn’t make money. But contrary to Kawafuji’s expectations, Seishuu has embraced the community.

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Kawafuji’s drunkenness and hangover mean Kousuke gets time alone with Seishuu (or at least with Seishuu, Naru, and whatever other villagers happen to be hanging around). Kousuke is a dyed-in-the-wool Handa Seishuu Groupie; something Seishuu himself never thought existed in the first place. He’s mortified when Kousuke produces all the literature, photography, and quotes related to Seishuu he could find.

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He even thinks Kousuke is having a laugh with all this, but that’s not the case: Kousuke genuinely admires Seishuu, or at least the Seishuu who made the caligraphy that inspired him to get into it himself. Now he thinks Seishuu’s “vacation” is having an negative effect on his work; using his own win over him as proof.

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But at the end of the day, only Handa Seishuu can define what he is and how he writes. The fundamentally-perfect, textbook work Seishuu produced in the past belongs in the past. He’s trying to find a new Seishuu, one just as legitimate as the last, even if it makes admirers like Kousuke mad. Admirers have to step back and realize they can’t tell an artist what to do. The artist knows best, and Seishuu is staying put.

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Stray Observations:

  • Sawa and Hiro both assumed Seishuu would react a lot worse than he does if he knew who Kousuke was, but he turned out to be more mature than that, to their shock.
  • Seishuu managed to created an A.T. Field back in school. Neat!
  • “Don’t console me wordlessly!” —Seishuu to Hina…perhaps the line of the episode.
  • The three guys crashing at Seishuu’s house are simply too much for Tama, who is, despite what she says, a classic fujoshi.

Barakamon – 05

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This episode illustrates how Seishuu, formerly the outsider, is steadily becoming “one of the gang,” someone both the adults and children of the village can trust and rely on. Rather than shun a city slicker, they welcomed him warmly, and Seishuu has settled nicely into their flow.

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While he’s periodically pacing around paper and slowly having all thought replaced by konomon, the girls (Naru, Tama, and Miwa) decide to enlist his help with their calligraphy assignment, and he takes to teaching like a fish to water, giving instruction and not suffering (or trying not to suffer) any dalliance.

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I particularly like how Miwa describes Seishuu’s present style as “fuzzy” and “showy,” and that Seishuu won’t teach it to them until it’s acknowledged; i.e. won grand prize. Naturally, he goes a bit far in vocalizing his passion for the art, and the girls’ focus pivots from their calligraphy to the fact that calligraphy seems to be all Sensei thinks or cares about.

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One would guess that Seishuu doesn’t have a girlfriend because he feels any time or energy spent on one would be time and energy taken from the calligraphy, which would be disastrous. But the fact is, he’s already spending a lot of time and energy with the girls and other villagers, and that energy is helping his work evolve and improve.

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When Seishuu is asked to chaperone the kids on a trip to the beach. It’s a beach black rocks rather than soft sand. While he has trouble with his footing on the slippery rocks, one can say he’s definitely found his footing in the village. Having to watch the kids and keep them from killing themselves makes him realize how much he’s come to care for them.

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Barakamon – 03

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It’s not very often an episode comes around where I’m snickering or laughing almost the entire time, but this was one of those. It all starts with the stern, severe, hard-as-stone gaze of SAMURAI HARU, capturing the pride and maturity a youngin’ feels when she’s learned something new, the Kana on a chocolate bar and milk carton, in this case. Of course, when she’s corrected, the swagger vanishes and she’s back to being a little kid.

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That’s the first of a series of vignettes the episode starts out with, enticing my palette and leaving me wanting more, then getting something a little different that produces the same effect. It’s a tactic similar to that used by chef Thomas Keller to relieve well-off people of hundreds of dollars and many hours of their evenings…and it works.

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When Seishuu goes to the town general store, he learns a clever way to pick up fallen needles (YEAH BITCH! MAGNETS! OH!), and also gets a taste of the older villagers’ thick and all but indecipherable dialect, one that sometimes even leads to misunderstandings between each other. It’s also funny that one old lady thinks another is hard of hearing, when she really isn’t.

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The most sustained bit comes when Seishuu and Tamako end up going for the same bottle of ink; Seishuu lets the younger Tama have it (foreshadowing the episode’s eventual moral) for her manga manuscript, which Tama humbly asks him to take a look at. When he dare question the highly questionable content, Tama lets him have it in Full Mangaka Passion Mode.

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She’s extreme, but Seishuu can relate; they’re both artists, after all. That encounter segues to Tama lending him her favorite manga, then getting worried she accidentally lent him one of her incriminating BL mangas she secretly treasures (her whole story of how that came about is marvelous). She arrives at Seishuu’s house to clear up the misunderstandings he may be harboring, only to see him apparently locked in a passionate BL embrace with Hiroshi, which is another misunderstanding (Hiroshi merely caught him from falling).

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In the midst of all this island craziness, Seishuu had shipped off his latest and most expressive calligraphy for an exhibition, but is outraged and crestfallen to learn he only managed second place, losing to an eighteen year old whelp. When other whelps show up with their cheerful demeanor, he snaps at them, but again, Tama understands his passion, and she takes Miwa and leaves, leaving the cheering up to Haru, who keeps it simple: “Are you having fun right now?…If you’re not, let’s go have some!”

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She urges him to take a plastic bag and come with her and everyone else to the mochi-tossing ceremony to commemorate the building of a new boat. Seishuu is warned to stay away from the professionals (Yasuba and Panchi) but be aggressive. But again and again, he bounces off the crush of people, and is unable to snatch up a single mochi, despite being young above average in height, and keen.

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The ceremony is a simplified analog to his current situation with calligraphy: striving to be the best is futile: there will always be someone better. Pressing against those waves of reality is a waste of effort. It’s better to, as Yasuba says, say “Go on ahead” to the one who barges past. Yield to what must be yielded to and wait for the next opportunities, which will come with patience. Never stop fighting, but avoid unwinnable struggles.

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This was probably the best Barakamon to date, besting out the first episode (Don’t despair, first episode! Second Place is good too!). But I wouldn’t be surprised if a future episode comes along to best it. But for now, this is it, and it was glorious and hilarious from start to finish. From Samurai Haru and Psycho Poodle to Tama’s fujoshi ravings, it looked like the artists had as much fun drawing and voicing this one as I had watching it.

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Stay Observations:

  • “Kids grow up so fast.” LOL. Loved Giant Haru stomping off to the horizon.
  • The screaming noise Tama’s manga made when he slipped it out of the envelope was a nice touch.
  • “Society demands story elements it has never seen before,” proclaims Tama. Could she be talking about the show she’s in?
  • The BL manga that changed Tama’s life? Overtime Work Lovers: “Huh? You’re still here?!” That title is GOLD.
  • Tama uses Hideo Nomo’s “Tornado” delivery to throw the manga against a wall.
  • Seishuu and Hiroshi’s “embrace” literally blows Tama away…Akira style.
  • More village etiquette: Panchi knows she’s a heel during mochi-pickings, so she leaves home-cooked apology meals at the homes of those she wronged.
  • In the omake, Haru is appropriately mortified by how the schoolmaster (who looks and sounds like a gangster) uses crayfish as bait.

Barakamon – 02

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Averting mediocrity has been a recurring theme of Barakamon, and this week it applies not only to Seishuu’s efforts to re-capture the spur-of-the-moment lightning in a bottle style he awakened in a fit of passion, but also to the village chief’s son Hiroshi, who received all “3’s” in his school marks and has a tendency to half-ass things.

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First, Seishuu. Those efforts of his are running him ragged; causing him stress and insomnia, and not helped by the summer heat and the fact he can’t cook. Then, when trying to focus, his tranquil environment is invaded not just by Naru (who is less the focus this week and more of an enabler/go-between to the schoolgirls we saw sneaking out of his place last week, Miwa and Tamako.

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The girls only compound the disruption to Seishuu’s concentration Naru is usually responsible for, moving back in to their “base” and bothering him at every turn. They do inspire/drive him into rendering another bold, passionate piece in a moment of frustration. I particularly enjoyed their reaction to his creative lashing-out: they all think it’s amazing…but have no idea why.

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Seishuu’s poor living habits do eventually catch up to him. When Hiroshi is delivering him food his mom made (and guilt-tripped hi into delivering with an extremely dramatic monologue for a minor character), Seishuu literally collapses into his arms upon opening the front door. Yet despite his belief Seishuu’s a burden on his mom, Hiroshi is himself inspired by Seishuu’s intense, almost life-threatening effort.

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Hiroshi doesn’t believe he has any talents that will net him anything higher than a three, but through Seishuu he realizes that the will to work hard can be a talent in and of itself, and he pledges to work harder. Unfortunately, Seishuu takes a turn for the worse and must be admitted to hospital, which proves to be a fresh and versatile new setting for comedy.

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Even weak, in bed, and hooked up to an I.V., Naru, Miwa and Tamako don’t let up, continuing on their respective lines of interaction bordering on cruel antagonism. But intent is important, and the fact is, these people are visiting Seishuu with the best of intentions. Thanks to the hospital’s resident ghost, Seishuu grasps the truth: the girls are there because they like him and are worried about him.

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He can’t put everything he has into writing: he has to save some energy for figuring out how to endure the many forceful personalities in his life…and for sustaining that life with food, water, and sleep on occasion. Not that any of this will be easy, mind you, but at least he can count on Hiroshi’s mom continuing to feed him, saving him from cutting his hands to shreds in failed attempts at cooking!

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