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 – 04

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When I decided to paint beige-colored racing stripes on 1991 Honda Accord, the most difficult step in the process wasn’t the measuring, the marking of guide points with non-permanent marker, or making sure the masking was tight. No, the toughest part was making that very first mark with the paint upon the (sorta) pristine blank surface. There was no going back from that moment, so I figured I’d best not screw up.

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Once that first mark was made, I felt a lot more confident, and sure enough the stripes were turned out true and crisp. Seishuu faces similar apprehension, only it’s quite a bit more pronounced, because the boat he’s painting belongs to an ill-tempered gangster (and Miwa’s pops), and for the entire process he is distracted by a gaggle of little kids darting around like gnats, upsetting the calm such a job normally requires.

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Then there’s the fact that he shouldn’t be doing odd calligraphy jobs now that he’s been entered in the upcoming Naruka Institute Calligraphy Exhibition. Exhibiting the humility he’s gained since moving to the island, he doesn’t promise to claim to Grand Prize, as he’s still “in the darkness,” but he’s certain he’ll someday “find the light,” lines that are both cool and corny. I don’t buy, however, that someone his age has never operated a rotary phone!

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If you can successfully paint a five-kanji name on the boat of a prickly gangster-geezer under the constant distraction urchins constantly up in your business, well…you’re not completely worthless as a human. Intimidated by the vast stretch of pure, empty white, Seishuu ceases up, until Naru plants a tiny black hand on that white. Then another, then the others join in.

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It’s as if whatever spell was keeping Seishu from touching brush to boat was lifted. From there, Seishuu dives in going with a wild, splattery style to cover up the prints, and ending up with something both he and Yamamura can be satisfied with. But the true challenge lies ahead with his exhibition work, where he won’t have the benefit of Naru making the first mark for him.

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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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Barakamon – 01

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When an esteemed curator tears into Handa Seishuu’s conformist calligraphy, calling it “a copybook clone”, “award bait”, and “completely lethargic”, Seishuu thinks the old man is full of shit and slugs him in the face. His dad exiles him to a remote island village, where a nosy little girl, knowing nothing about the incident, says almost the exact same things about his writing. The world seems to be telling him something.

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Some people just can’t take harsh criticism. I know I can’t sometimes, particularly where art is concerned. Seishuu is the same. He’s sticking stubbornly to the fundamentals, and the rest of the world is wrong, not him. The weight of that fabricated world of his is slowly crushing him. He needs to get out from under it and gain some fresh perspective. That’s what Barakamon (“Cheerful Child”) is all about: getting over yourself, lightening the hell up, and having fun.

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Seishuu’s bad attitude and stubborn ways are no match for the fundamental kindness, decency, and joviality of adorable lil’ Naru and the rest of the townsfolk. They’re not there to judge him on why he’s there or what he’s done; he’s a new neighbor, a rarity in the town, so they help him move in. That outpouring of hospitality doesn’t just soften Seishuu’s hard edges, but snaps him out of a creative funk he’d been denying he was in up until now.

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Repeating the cold open, but this time with context, we watch Seishuu take to the paper like a lion to a gazelle; and his giant, wild character “” (“FUN”) is far more passionate and expressive than anything he’d written up to that point. More to the point, he had a lot of fun writing it (almost too much fun, as he creeps out the mayor). After scaling a literal wall with Naru to get a better look at the island’s spectacular sunset, he’s started to scale what the curator called the “wall of mediocrity.”

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I’ll end with one the many great lines in this episode, delivered by Seishuu’s friend Takao:

“You don’t get any sympathy after punching an old man with a cane.”