For a laid-back slice of life anime, Barakamon has a rather violent start, with its protagonist Seishu Handa punching an art curator square in the face for criticising his work after he calls his work akin to something you would find in a textbook, rubbing salt on the wound by further telling that it currently faces the wall of mediocrity and he must, at the very least, attempt to climb.
While Handa’s anger is understandable, considering he has dedicated his life to his art, his outburst and subsequent action of punching an aged art curator is harder to justify. So, he is sent by his father to a small rural island to cool off a little and find some new inspiration. Through his monologues, we find that he understands where the criticism came from, yet he cannot bring himself to accept it as to him, art is meant to be meticulous and precise and the only way to achieve it is by following the fundamentals of calligraphy. He is stubborn, unwavering in his beliefs of what art should truly be and this is where the importance of his time at the island truly shines.
On his first day at the island, Handa had a tough time as felt completely lost and was struggling to adapt to this new setting. But the people of the island don’t share that problem, they accepted him instantly and helped him move in. Under such circumstances, he met a little girl of seven years named Naru. Of all the people through which he changes and grows as a person, she is certainly the biggest influence. A scene in the first episode beautifully delineates what he needs to learn the most when she wants to take him to watch the sunset but he resists, saying that it is too cloudy, and it would be simply a waste of time. At this, Naru, completely unaware of what he has been through, says that there is no harm in trying cause if they don’t try, they won’t know. This hits home for Handa such that, a question arises to him about whether it is his unwavering belief in his principles or a fear of trying something new, especially a fear of failure that has been holding him back.
Handa climbs up to the viewing spot with Naru and realises that in front of him, shines the most beautiful sunset he has ever seen. Like the waves that rise and fall in the tiny rural island, a wave of newfound inspiration rose within him as he rushed back home to work on a new piece. While he enjoyed painting in a new style, he is soon back to a slump. He feels as though it is a betrayal of his old style, something his art isn’t supposed to be. But he understood naturally, change is hard to bring about and he can only try.
Between bouts of creative inspiration, Handa spends his time with the children and the people of the island. In these exchanges, he often realises something about himself or his art. In one episode, during a mochi-catching competition in the village, he suffers a setback after setback, failing to secure even a single bag of mochi. Defeated he sits back and watched others play. Even though this is meant to be a comedic moment, he has a touching exchange with an old woman. He asks her what he should do when no matter how hard he tries he still loses. The woman tells him “gracefully accept it and let it go. Nobody has to win every single time, who knows what tomorrow will bring, you win some, and you lose some.” This made him feel, unintentionally, the villagers always end up saying what he needs to hear the most. Especially at this point where he had just lost a calligraphy competition.
In the moments shared between the children of the island and Handa, one can’t help but feel sorry for him. As growing up, he was essentially treated like a child prodigy. Being the child of a renowned artist, he had to carry the great burden of living up to his name. Calligraphy has taken so much from him. Before coming to the island, he barely had one friend, He never got to enjoy festivals with other children, never got to play with others his age. In many ways, his time in the village feels like a revival of his childhood. The island gave back what calligraphy took from him, like freshwater to a withering plant. It is also quite beautiful that despite knowing what calligraphy has taken from him, he holds no resentment towards it. He still loves it the same, and time on the island only makes him love it more.
Eventually, he learns many things there. From learning how to catch fish to cook, to try out new things, to take risks, and finding joy in the simplest of things. His art now feels inspired, as it has heart, a piece of himself and a piece of the island that inspired it. The anime doesn’t end with a triumphant win for him at a calligraphy competition. It instead ends with him apologising to the art curator he had punched, gracefully accepting 5th place in a calligraphy competition and him returning to the new place he now calls home.
Barakamon is an endearing anime, it is sure to make you laugh with all its comedic gags and will also leave you with a heart and a smile of contentment. It is a short 12 episode anime, perfect for a quiet weekend that can be enjoyed by just about anyone.