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 – 09

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Seishuu may have acclimated somewhat to his remote island village home, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s a city boy, and there’s still a lot he has yet to experience. Case in point, when his gas-fueled bath heater packs it in, he must resort to foraging for twigs and building a fire in the old wood heater. The village chief makes the point that if Seishuu had a wife, she’d tend the fire for him.

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Seishuu has never bothered with romance, pouring everything he has into his art, reasonably certain he’ll die alone, but not necessarily happy about it. He emerges from the bath and is surprised to find Hiro in the kitchen making his food (his mom was busy). Hiro often seems more mature than Seishuu despite the fact the latter is older, and that’s exhibited when Seishuu tries to “out-prepare” a bowl of miso cucumber rice. Suffice it to say, Seishuu can’t cook…but he’s too proud to admit it.

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Next, Seishuu finds himself in the middle of deep-seeded island politics when Hina tells him Naru is being bullied by kids from the neighboring village. Seishuu and Hiro try their best to reason with, and later intimidate the little punks, but they’re at a distinct disadvantage in that said punks know the adults can’t really hit them, or they’ll be arrested. Turns out the punks are friends with Akki, who resolves the situation simply by passing by. If anything, this segment reminds me of the best strategy for dealing with combative kids: Don’t. Just avoid them if you can.

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Finally, with just over two weeks left until the Naruka Exhibition, Seishuu’s sparks of drawing inspiration in response to his new living situation have grown more infrequent, to the point where he questions the efficacy of simply waiting for inspiration to show up, even though that’s really the only way. After a day of playing Tarzan with the kids, he gets one in the form of a truly awesome sunset. He makes a move back for home, but slips and falls off a ledge.

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Reverting to full City Boy mode, being isolated, alone, and lost in the dark terrifies him, until he sees a glint in the grass and finds the key to his house Miwa had lost. Then he gets his second flash of inspiration of the day: a majestic star field. His resulting drawing, with white writing on a black background, is another fun, striking, inventive piece he never would’ve attempted before coming to the island. Which begs the question: what is said to him on the phone that makes him so quickly and easily agree to leave?

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Barakamon – 08

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This week offers two slice-of-life stories that reinforce how nicely Seishuu has fit into the village, and how close his bond with Naru has gotten without him knowing it. In the first story, it’s Naru’s seventh birthday. After Miwa and Tama get ¥1000 out of Seishuu for a cake, he realizes he must also get her a suitable gift for Naru.

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Unsurprisingly, most gifts deemed “suitable” for a seven-year-old girl aren’t going to cut it for the precocious tomboy. His first thought is bugs, sending him on a bug-hunting adventure with the three village boys her age. This exercise backfires, since in addition to the fact the boys have already chosen to give her bugs, Seishuu is completely inept at catching them, and even when he manages to do so, falls off a ladder and kills it.

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The evening of the party arrives, and Seishuu’s last-minute half-assed gift—a hand-written, one-time “do whatever you say” ticket—ends up thrilling her immensely, to everyone else’s surprise. It just goes to show that Seishuu cares enough for Naru to want to give her a good gift, and knows her a lot better than he gives himself credit for.

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In the second story, it’s Obon, and Naru’s grandpa asks Seishuu to keep Naru company as she holds vigil over her grandma. It’s another new world for Seishuu, as he’s not used to a graveyard in the evening, lighting lanterns and setting off fireworks. He’s also mesmerized by the Onde dance performed for the recently deceased.

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Hanging out in the graveyard, and more to the point, being totally welcome there despite being an outsider, again drives home the fact that this village is becoming a home to Seishuu. Being there also makes him wonder where Naru’s parents are, and realizes that despite almost constantly being surrounded by people, Naru gets lonely too.

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In the beginning of the episode, he waters sunflowers despite not knowing who grew them and the fact they could well grow just fine without his care. Later they become a metaphor for Naru. She too could grow up just fine without him, but he wants to be there for her anyway. In an omake dream, the shopkeep’s dog joins him forfishing and asks him why he doesn’t simply settle down here. It’s a good question.

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Barakamon – 07

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On Kawafuji and Kousuke’s last day on the island, everyone Goes Fishin’ (well, almost everybody; Tama isn’t around…perhaps she’s still recovering from seeing all those men together?). Miwa teaches the city boys how to catch horse mackerel. Kousuke turns it into another competition in which he’s the best, but he only catches the shoal.

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When Kawafuji hears that Kousuke bashed Seishuu’s new work, that’s when the truth comes out: Kousuke is the one in a slump. Having virtually copied Seishuu’s old, “fundamentals-first” style, when Seishuu changed style, it was as if his fish had dropped the hook and sploshed back into the sea, leaving him with an empty line.

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Kawafuji brought Kousuke to the island not to light a fire under Seishuu’s ass, but to try to get him to look at things from a perspective other than his own. Like the Seishuu of old, he think’s he’s the best and if anyone disagrees, they’re wrong. That attitude stifles artistic growth, and Kousuke is too young to be settling into anything.

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The message coming out of this episode is that it’s up to youth not just to carry on their elders’ traditions, but to come up with some of their own, sometimes out of the most unlikely places. But one can only come up with stuff if you’re out there living and experiencing new things, meeting new people.

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Naru gets things started by creating an avant-garde line made up of dozens of hooks, which looks comical but does end up snagging a rock snapper, which is what Hiro was after all along. It breaks up in mid-air and the big catch escapes, but that’s just another symbol of how innovation doesn’t always net concrete results, but the attempt, and the momentary flash of success, still has value. “Lose the battle, win the war,” and all that.

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After five days of clashing with Kousuke, now that he knows what’s really up with him, Seishuu is no longer threatened or annoyed. When the day of fishing is over, he reports to Kousuke the periodic flashes of inspiration he’s gotten ever since coming to the island. This culminates in writing calligraphy using a mackerel as a brush, his most “unconventional” piece yet.

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Not surprisingly, Miwa and Naru think its also his best. It’s probably not exhibition-worthy, but for someone once so firmly stuck in convention, it’s another huge leap forward in his artistic growth. When Kawafuji and Kousuke leave, merely being on that plane gets Hiro and Miwa thinking about how one day that could be them; the older inspiring the younger to go forth and find their own way in the world.

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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 – 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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Tamayura: More Aggressive – 08

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Chihiro visits Takehara for the upcoming fireworks festival, which she and Potte promised to watch in yukatas from their secret base years ago. Chihiro meets Kanae and sees the photography club in action. Riho invites Potte and Kanae to participate in a museum exhibition with her. Potte tentatively agrees, wanting to take pictures specifically for the show. Sayomi takes everyone to a hilltop with a fine view of the fireworks, but everyone leaves Potte and Chihiro alone in the isolated spot, which they liken to a secret base. From there Potte snaps photos of the fireworks using a tripod.

It’s a rare and precious thing to be able to fulfill a deferred but not forgotten dream, even if it was a silly little idea cooked up between you and your childhood friend when you were just little pipsqueaks. But Potte (AKA Fuunyan) and Chihiro share a deep bond of friendship, and both wanted to see that shared dream come true. As it happens, the dream was fulfilled by happenstance: Kaoru’s adventurous sister happened to run into them and lure them into another deathmarch, which led them to the “base” they dreamed of. And it’s a lovely spot.

Potte may only be president of herself and Kanae, a painfully shy upperclassman, but Chihiro is still impressed by her presiding skills, and when she musters up the aggressive enough to accept Riho’s offer. We wouldn’t be surprised if the entire season runs by without another person joining the photography club, but that exhibition could be a very big deal for both Potte and Kanae. The show is a goal that could inspire them to create their best work yet, will give them exposure in that world, and boost their confidence. With old dreams fulfilled, it’s time to fulfill new ones.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Tamayura: More Aggressive – 01

Sakurada Maon, Okazaki Norie, Hanawa Kaoru, Sawatari Fuu (Seated)

It’s been a year since Sawatari Fuu (AKA Potte) moved back to Takehara. Her friends Hanawa Kaoru, Okazaki Norie, and Sakurada Maon notice her spacing out more than usual. Fuu tells them she’s reminiscing about the last year, and repeats her goal to be “more aggressive.” She later admits that she’s been thinking a lot about starting a photography club at school. after the success of the “We” exhibition. Her friends, including Miyoshi Chihiro from afar – and her family all support her in this, and she decides she’s going to give it her all.

The Tamayura slice-of-life saga picks up pretty much where it left off, with Potte and her friends hanging around town, being very open with their feelings to the point of making each other tear up with emotion. The show remains just as lovely, warm, calm, breezy, and welcoming as before, and plenty of flashbacks are provided to refresh our memories. As for the rather surprising sub-title “More Aggressive”, no, Fuu is not starting MMA club! Back in the very first episode of ~hitotose~, when Potte and Chihiro parted ways, they both vowed to become more “aggressive”, finding their passions and applying maximum effort and energy to them.

“Aggressive” is a far more nuanced adjective than its typical use to denote anger or hostility. The “target” Potte aims to “attack” is her passivity, indecision, longing, and melancholy from loss. She chooses to stay positive while carrying her father’s camera about, the object, even totem by which she’s made friends and found her passion. To that end, she’s starting a photography club, which will be tough, like the exhibition, but ultimately will allow her to explore and share her love of photography while meeting more people.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • It was nice to hear about Potte’s return to Takehara from the perspective of Kaoru, who was worried that Potte might hate the town and still be depressed about her father. To her relief and joy, Potte is just fine, thanks in part to her camera, which is almost a character in and of itself at this point.
  • A random classmate who happens to be passing by catches word of the photography club. We checked the cast list ahead and found out this is probably Mitane Kanae (voiced by Kayano Ai), one of this season’s new characters.
  • Chihiro seems to have gained her own “Norie” of sorts in the energetic Tomo-chan, but we don’t know who voices her yet.
  • That white cat is so damned abstract and weird-looking, but we still love him/her.
  • The dialogue between Potte, Kaoru, Norie and Maon continues to pop and bubble with a nice rhythm and energy. We know all of these seiyus by now and they have good chemistry.
  • Along with the impending Swim Club in Free!, this is the second straight episode in which a “normal” (read, not silly, random, or useless) club is started by one of the characters.

Car Cameos:

Tamayura ~hitotose~ – 12 (Fin)

New Year’s Eve, the day of the exhibition, finally arrives. When the doors open, no one comes, but gradualy people trickle in, and before long, the venue is packed with people soaking in the photography, baked goods, potporri, and storytelling. It’s a rousing success, as they recieve lots of glowing surveys from attendees: both friends, family, and the general public. Afterwards they celebrate a new year, and with her father’s camera, Potte continues to capture treasures that would otherwise get lost to time.

And so ends a very good, laid back slice of life series, ending in top form, just like it begun. This exhibition was not only the culmination of the group of friends’ artistic efforts, but also an excellent way to involve pretty much the whole town in the show’s finale. It ended with everyone doing what they love (at the moment), and actually being praised and acknowledged for it, which goes a long way towards shooing away those feelings of uneasiness and self-doubt.

There’s a point while Shihori is looking at Fu’s pictures when she tells her she may have figured something out about photography without even knowing it. Fu always admired Shihori for taking pictures that everyone can love, while Fu believed she was being selfish in her choice of subjects. But the goal of a photographer need not simply be to appeal to one’s audience, but to take capturing images that matter to you and having the feelings shine through in your work for all to see. After all, that’s what happened when Fu first saw her father’s images, and got her interested in following in his filmsteps.


Rating: 4