It’s time to look at the prequel to Barakamon. It’s about Handa before he became Handa-San and was instead known as Handa-Kun. It’s definitely an interesting take on the franchise and with a whole different cast and setting you really could think of it as a whole different part of the franchise which could have lasted a while. The series didn’t get too many volumes but it was a fun ride.
The story follows around Handa back when he was in school. These were the days before he became a calligrapher and right now he is lacking in self confidence. His only friend Kawafuji mistakenly told Handa that nobody liked him and thanks to a bunch of tricky circumstances Handa has convinced himself that this is the case. Well, Handa has decided that this year he will make friends but things never seem to work out the way he had hoped. Perhaps this goal is impossible. Meanwhile, the rest of the school idolizes Handa and misinterprets his actions in a good way each time. The problem is that Handa never seems to notice then. A few select schoolmates band together as the Handa army to try and protect him at all costs. Can they succeed?
This series is a full comedy as opposed to Barakamon which mixes in some drama at times. Of course the school setting may have tipped you off to that. Comedy titles have to be careful how they use the jokes as some will just end up shouting themselves in the back like Assassination Classroom. Fortunately the jokes here are pretty solid. Mainly the humor comes from everyone taking every action in a way that was not intended. Handa may glare at someone and his army will take it as a cue to beat that person up while Handa dashes out of there since he doesn’t want to mess with the ruffians. While outlandish at times, the misinterpretations can usually make some kind of sense and the series is usually self aware about the ones that don’t. There is one character who acts as the straight man until he gets corrupted and while that person is never needed if you ask me, he wasn’t as bad as he could have been.
Handa can definitely hold his own series as he has proved before. He’s a nice guy who means well even if it doesn’t always end up working out for him. He is certainly naive to the extreme and definitely isn’t a people person, but Handa always tries hard which is what counts. His friend Kawafuji tries to get him to make the wrong move by not accepting the helmet at the end, but Handa sees through this. While the story can be tragic beneath the humor, Handa does ultimately get a happy ending.
The first member of Handa’s clique is a kid with glasses, Aizawa. Aizawa is a genius who scores really well in tests but realizes that it isn’t actually something to look at too deeply and memorized the names of everyone in the top 100. He never lets his guard down and is a natural fit as the leader of Handa’s group. He eggs everyone on and may be the most zealous member of the group. At the very least he never doubts Handa or his lifelong calling of being in the army either. He’s a pretty fun character.
The next member of the team is the ex thug Akane. He left school for a while and felt like he would always be doomed to be a delinquent until Handa showed up. Handa showed him the error of his ways and in return this guy became a solid bodyguard that Handa could count on. It is nice to have someone on the team who can actually fight so he is definitely a valuable member to have. He isn’t quite as fun as some of the other characters, but he is amusing all the same.
Then we have the fashion model Reo. Everyone always insults his looks but he aims to be the best someday. He definitely gets to become one of the main characters after he joins and does help the overall dynamic. Reo is probably be the weakest member of the group and doesn’t have as many running gags as the others though. His rivalry with White School was also the least interesting.
Fake Handa is probably the supporting character who was really unneeded. I’d go as far as to say that he may have been my least favorite. It is a nice idea to have a character who looks just like Handa, but the fake teeth may have been a bit much. I get tha the problem with having an exact duplicate would be telling them apart at times, but I feel like the teeth ruins the gag. The gag is a huge part of this character so after all of that he really isn’t left with anything. Dash doesn’t get to do much either but he was never supposed to be a big character here. He just shows up occasionally for a race but that’s about it. He never joined Handa’s club either and really just sees himself as a quality rival. He’s a fun character to have and I just wish he could have gotten one last race.
Towards the end of the series we got introduced to two rival schools that compete with Handa’s group. First is the White school who has their own king like Handa. Unlike Handa, Asahi acknowledges his subjects and strives to be a perfect person that they can admire. Unfortunately, this also means that he has to endure a lot of pressure as he tries to keep up this act. It’s an act to the extent that it requires effort but for the most part he seems like a nice guy either way. Asahi’s entourage is also like a twisted version of the Handa army as they each have a similarity. The leader is easily the best member of the group as he gets some solid dialogue and a lot of good character moments but the other characters aren’t bad either. He made for a good rival in the series even if he was so late. The rival to the glasses kid was also pretty good although he was shown to certainly not be quite as smart as he just repeated what other characters would say.
Then we also had the Black School which was filled with a lot of hardened fighters who also liked to have a good time. They show up to stop Handa, but run into the white school in a confrontation that would certainly be worthy of a Shōnen title. They didn’t actually get much in the way of character compared to the others since they only got to appear for a chapter or 3 but they were solid in that brief amount of screen time.
Kawafuji is Handa’s main friend from Barakamon but he doesn’t look particularly good here. He is the main reason why things are so chaotic for Handa since the lead took his joking a little too seriously. He also tries to grab the crown at the end of the series even though he definitely didn’t deserve it. You can interpret the scene in a lot of ways like maybe he was just trying to get Handa to finally see what was going on, but to me it felt like he was seriously trying to make a play for the crown there. Not a great move and throughout the series it was hard to root for him. Maybe if he had gotten to appear more that would have helped his case.
Eraser is probably the most intense member of the group as she will actually go ahead and tie up anyone who even gets close to Handa. She definitely isn’t playing around and doesn’t even get involved with the comedy hijinx like the others. She is here to guard Handa, not to be his friend. There’s a big difference here compared to the others.
The Librarian Club President is one of the last characters to show up and her role is fairly small. It’s a happy yet tragic role which is always tough to balance. To get Handa’s attention she is convinced to start ordering a bunch of books instead of just the ones that Handa likes. Unfortunately this ended up backfiring because now everybody was using her library and Handa had to avoid it since he still believed that the whole school was out to get him at the time. That’s the tragic element but because of that the library became an overnight success so that helped her future which is a positive. This was also a great way to help her get over Handa.
The art is pretty solid as you would expect. All of the character designs are on point and it’s easy to read through the pages since they are never cluttered. It’s definitely top level stuff for sure. None of the characters look too similar until the final chapter’s time skip which is good since that’s probably the most annoying thing that a series can do. In theory it should always be easy not to make two characters appear to be twins unless it is plot related.
Overall Handa-Kun is a fun title. You can really think of it as a mini series that supports the main one. It’s a prequel that actually makes sense to read before the main title and will make you appreciate the title even more as opposed to prequels like AoT Before The Fall which has nothing to do with anything. It shows us more of Handa’s past and why he generally had a tough time making friends. It goes to show just how much character development he has gotten over the years as now he can hold a conversation without a problem. It is too bad that he couldn’t see the school gang one last time though. While he did get a cameo on the island at the end, it just would have been fun to have seen how modern Handa would interact with them. With his newfound confidence and their maturity I’m sure it would have worked out well. I’d definitely recommend checking this series out. It’ll give you a good insight as to how school dynamics play out when you have gangs and celebrities in the same class. It’s also a good example of a comedy series that was actually really good.