Manga, Manga Reviews, Reviews

Barakamon Review


It’s time to look at a slice of life manga that I started a super long time ago. I wrapped it up around 2 months back and it was definitely a solid ride. It’s the kind of manga that is fun to go through even if it’s not filled with big fight scenes. I haven’t read a whole lot of slice of life adventures, but this one does beat the other two I’ve read. (Baby & me, Yotsuba) I think the premise is a little stronger and the idea of spending your life in a small community like this doesn’t even sound all that bad. It’s not really my thing, but I at least get the appeal.

The manga starts off by introducing us to professional calligrapher Handa. He has a lot of talent, but also a bit of a temper which gets him into trouble. He punched a big judge/critic which forces the issue of banishing him to a little island. This is a bit of a dramatic way to phrase that, but it’s really what happens here. He must now reconnect with his inner self to find out why he really enjoys calligraphy. Once he has learned his lesson he is free to return but by then he may find that the friendships he has made on the island are more important to him.

While Handa’s first appearance shows him being a bit of a hot head, I’d never say that he’s all that rebellious. Even from the start of the series he is pretty patient with the townsfolk and does his best not to be impolite. As the series goes on you can see how he learns to settle down and relax more though. He has less outbursts and panic moments as he realizes that everyone here is just trying to look out for him. Handa’s a solid main character even if I would have preferred he try for more calligraphy titles.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with deciding not to go pro, but it would have made for some fun arcs. His short lived rivalry with some of the other pros was pretty fun and it was some of the best parts of the series. Barakamon was typically at its peak when Hiroshi was on his adventures of when Handa was trying to compete with everyone else. The competition added a little spice to the daily routines of the village. Handa still did prove himself as a talented artist either way though. Judging calligraphy seems like it would be really difficult though since the process seems to be quite subjective. I like it when things are purely objective so you know right away whether you’re right or wrong. I wouldn’t be able to handle competing in a sport where that was not the case.

Naru is the main kid in the village. There are quite a few others like Hina and the gang, but Naru is really the focus. She is the one who really helps Handa get used to life in the village and also is the one who picks up on Handa’s subtler emotions. If he’s feeling down she’ll try to throw him a party or something to get his spirits back up. I’m still not a big fan of the kids in these adventures because they tend to slow down the pacing and hold the main cast back, but in a slice of life adventure like this that isn’t really a main concern. Naru’s not bad. The best scenes don’t typically involve her, but she’s not as annoying as she could be.

Miwa is one of the older kids. She’s a bit more aggressive than the other characters and likes having fun doing all kinds of sports and other activities. From all of the kids she is certainly the best one. Miwa doesn’t really care about calligraphy and such even compared to the rest of the kids, but does it to have some fun and keep the others company. In a small village like this there really isn’t anything to do so all of the kids head to Handa’s place every day to waste some time. Usually she is hanging out with Tomako who isn’t quite as interesting. Tomako is an aspiring manga artist, but her titles are always too dark and violent which has been holding her back. Her artwork is pretty good, she just needs to work on getting better plots to support this. Once she has a good story she should be able to go pretty far.

Hiroshi is one of the only guys who is Handa’s age on the island so he gets a big role as well. His character arc has him wanting to go out into the world to see what it’s like. He believes he is a little too ordinary and so he wants to experience things to help him grow up. A lot of the running gags involving him are how everything he does seems to be uninspiring. No matter what he is never good or bad at anything, he’s always average. Hiroshi is a fun character and he was definitely one of my favorites in the series. I was sad to see him go when the guy moved away, but he did get a few meanwhile stories from time to time so at least it wasn’t as if he had completely left. He still got to show up from time to time.

Then you have Handa’s parents. His father is known as one of the best calligraphy users in the entire world so that always put a lot of pressure on Handa. Handa isn’t very good at communicating with his parents so this pressure began to crush him quite a lot. Eventually they show up and Handa begins to realize that he doesn’t have to be on the same level or compete in the same way. The parents were quite reasonable here and they looked good whenever they would show up. It may be tough for them to get on the same page, but they are all very professional about it which is a nice change of pace.

There are quite a few other side characters like the various villagers. They’ve all got different roles in the series and help to round out the cast. The village is small enough where everyone knows each other, but still large enough where you’ve got at least 15 characters running around. One of the more enjoyable ones is Handa’s rival who is always doing some sabotaging on the side. Handa doesn’t even notice when the guy is throwing around insults half of the time, but ultimately they still come to a bit of an understanding. I doubt they’ll ever be great friends of anything like that, but they get along well enough.

Barakamon’s humor is also pretty well done. The style of humor usually revolves around Handa being oblivious or something crazy happening and everyone having a very calm reaction to it. Usually the jokes centered around Handa are the best ones. You just have to admire his confidence to the point where the insults don’t even seem to register with him. It’s like he can’t even comprehend the concept of someone trying to take a shot at him so he dismisses the possibility.

The art for the series is very clear and relaxed. It is really suitable for the series too. Part of the theme in the series is learning to relax so having chaotic art would have definitely defeated the purpose. It’s always very easy to see what’s happening at all times and it also makes it easy to read through each volume. The volumes are bigger than the average one but with the big pictures/clear text they still feel like normal volumes. The writing throughout the series is on point which is especially important for a series like this. Since there is less happening than in other series you have to be fully invested in the characters and what’s going on. I’d say that the series succeeds with this. At the very least I wouldn’t say that the series ever got me bored.

I do think the series slowed down a bit once Handa started the school though. It felt like the series pretty much ended its main story by this point so the last volume or two were just stalling for time. That’s not really a bad thing per say, but the series made the right call in ending shortly afterwards. I’m sure we could have been introduced to some new plotlines or something, but part of the point of the series was seeing if Handa would go pro or help out the village. He made his decision and so that was the end of that.

It’s a fairly long manga, but not one that you need to talk about for too long due to the slice of life nature of the series. There are various arcs and such but the character cast never gets a whole lot bigger than how it starts out. It’s also pretty easy to understand the general premise and to go from there. This may not be the kind of title you want to marathon the whole way through, but it’s a pretty good change of pace title when you’re reading a bunch of other more action packed titles.

Overall, Barakamon is definitely a very fun manga. The characters are cool and the laid back vibe will really remind you of how people made it without technology back in the day. I personally prefer to be surrounded by tech at all times, but the country route isn’t so bad as long as you have good neighbors. If you haven’t checked this manga out yet and want to take a nice look at what it’s like to live outside the city then this is definitely a good one to check out. I don’t believe you will be disappointed.

Overall 7/10

Manga, Manga Reviews, Reviews

Handa Kun Review


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.

Overall 7/10

Manga

Handa Kun


It’s time for another spinoff although this one is a direct prequel. It’s about Handa back in his school days and as always he is having a tough time fitting in. As someone who was never the biggest fan of the village setting I can definitely see this one passing the main series. Of course, it will be a little limited in what it can do without causing issues in the main title, but there’s still a lot of room to explore here. I’ll have a review for the series when I finish it.

Overall 7/10

Manga

Barakamon


Barakamon’s off to a decent start. It’s a fairly calm slice of life adventure that will remind you of Yotsuba. I do think that the main cast is already better than Yotsuba which is certainly a good thing. It has the potential to drag on or get repetitive if nothing happens to shake up the daily routine, but I’m assuming that something along those lines will happen at some point. I’ll have a review for this series when it finishes. So long as nothing drastic happens, this series should be pretty safe at its positive score.

Overall 6/10