Nakama is our guest column featuring articles written by key voices in the Indian anime and manga community.
Anime Talkies are, as they describe themselves, two guys discussing nuances of anime, and meanwhile promoting anime culture in India, too. They have plenty of thoughts on a variety of anime and manga topics. Be sure to check their content out on their Instagram!
In particular, they are very vocal fans of Barakamon — Satsuki Yoshino's manga about a calligrapher in exile on the Goto Islands in the south of Japan (also adapted into an anime by Kinema Citrus in 2014). Since slice-of-life doesn't get the attention it deserves in the Indian otaku community, they have decided to write about its special qualities here.
Barakamon: The Silence within Chaos
The most prominent quality of a slice of life show is that it imbibes you into their world and makes you forget about the real one. You laugh alongside the characters as they do stupid things, you cry with them when they hit a low point, and feel relieved when everything falls into place after falling apart.
Barakamon does a remarkable job of highlighting this very particular aspect of the slice of life genre. Backed by a cast of unique, silly and eccentric characters along with an unorthodox and impactful storyline, Barakamon illustrates the life of a man who is on the path of self-discovery alongside the rumbling hills of chaos.
Handa Seishu, a young calligraphy professional, finds himself hastened away from Tokyo to a remote island as punishment for punching a judge who criticised his work. The show depicts the time period of Handa's stay on the island with the unconventional villagers and the search for a calligraphy style that he can deem as his own.
Is it possible to live in a realm where chaos and order are the best of friends ? The real hopeless victims are those who appear to be the most normal, living an orthodox and satisfying life. Handa is one of them. Living in his own delusions of grandeur, he tries to run behind the idea of 'admiration based on a dream'. There is no doubt that he is one of the best calligraphers but...
What does it take to be a better calligrapher ?
After arriving at the remote island, he finds himself in a desolate place. A place screaming of hopelessness. He tries to adjust himself to the stark reality. Enter Naru Kotoishi, a six-year-old girl who will alter our calligrapher's life forever. You see, it is not about how Handa wasn't able to leave the textbook style he was so used to, it was always about why he wasn't able to do so. And the answer lies in Naru herself. The kid, with her ever-jovial nature brimming with hope, was able to provide an unsought answer for our visitor to the island.
It is often the simplest of the things which spark an inspiration in a person, like watching the night sky while lying on the meadows of an unknown land (with a broken leg) or, say, roaming around with people who are almost two decades younger than you and actively participating in all of their childish quests. It's the littlest of stuff which matters the most. And our protagonist is there to comprehend that part of life on his own among the amicable villagers and over-enthusiastic children.
But to proclaim an art of his own, does one need to have an inspiration or does it just pop out of nowhere from cloud nine?
Talking about the animation, it's pleasant. Nothing is off the chart or below it. The animation is as it should be: an incomplete delight. Don't get me wrong here, the phrase suits it. The extent of colour palette used is apparently not much, but everything just amounts to be fair enough to make a complete circle.
Moving on to its soundtrack, I don't think that it could have been better. The soft music is still ringing in my ears; it's a feel-good kind of music and I love it. The OP and ED are a bang too, especially the OP Rashisa by Super Beaver; oh boy, I am not going to forget the melody any time soon. Every lyric and tune synchronises perfectly and is easily able to make my heart swoon.
Plus it pretty much stands out in the comedy, at least for me. It's subtle and genuine. The show never tries to make you laugh; it just comes out naturally. It scores a perfect ten in the comedy aspect. The comedy oozes from the obscurities of the characters themselves.
So is it difficult to understand what life has for us in its Pandora's Box ? As the preconceived notion goes, the show is about a struggling calligrapher who is having a hard time dealing with the idea that he is not nearly as good as he thinks he is. But is it about that at all ?
I think otherwise.
'Barakamon' is about an earnest guy who is lost in the void of desperation and guilt, encapsulated by nihilism. He tries to run away from the truth instead of facing it head-on. But that's what makes him more realistic and grounded at the same time. More relatable. And thus he comes off as more human. Because the way we are built as human beings is only in contradictions and paradoxes.
A quirk which can be found in all of us, perhaps.
Still, is this the way we desired to live? 'Barakamon' is not a typical tale of a couple finding true love or of good triumphing over evil, but rather is an example of how our monotonous daily lives have a story to them too, a story which is enough for people like us, a story which just seems perfect, a story which is curated for us, even if it involves being tormented by children.
It's the greatest sin is that there just isn't any more of it to watch. An incomplete delight yet complete in itself. A true definition of what a slice of life anime is or, simply put, how it should be. It was only days after I'd finished Barakamon did I realise that a part of me was still there with Handa and the villagers. The sun was shining, we had gone on a forest walk, helped kids find some beetles, caught fishes for dinner, broke my leg again and under the starry night, I was there with them. It felt good. I was happy.
And so, I will ask once more.
What does it take to be a better calligrapher?