Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Barakamon: The Many Faces of Naru

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 poster

This is my first time talking about an anime series, so I'm not particularly comfortable with the whole critique thing here. There's a lot of cultural motifs and references that I simply don't get because this isn't exactly my field; so instead of talking about Barakamon critically I'm just going to bombard you with pictures of Naru, the single most wonderful and adorable character ever to come out of anything ever and you should watch this show just to marvel at her and omg she's so amazing. *inhale*

Readers, I present to you Naru from Barakamon:

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru seishu

Look at that thing! If you could personify the "squeee" noise people make at adorable puppies, this is the creature you would inevitably create. The guy holding her up is Seishu "Sensei" Handa, the main character of this adaptation of the 2009 manga series. A master calligrapher gone stale, Handa gets sent off to Goto Island by his father to cool off after blowing up at a museum curator at an exhibition. His trip exposes him to the myriad beauties of the island along with it's colourfully mental inhabitants; but no-one quite has an effect on him like Naru does.

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru car seishu hospital

Annoying as hell and filled to the brim with wild abandon, Naru is the complete antithesis to Handa's stony, defeatist demeanour; but the two are inadvertently brought together by their mutual loneliness and a desire for someone to look to in times of need. Yes, that sounds exactly as tear-jerkingly heart warming as it is, and no, you will not be spared. What I especially love though is that although this is a prime setup for lots of feelsy music and monologues about how their lives have been changed forever by each other (we'll call this technique "Disneying"), they never do that. It's almost agonising how little the two acknowledge how much they mean to each other and that just makes it all the more lovely.

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 beach ocean naru hina
"We're just bobbing along, bobbing along..."

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 graves naru miwa seishu fireworks

I think it's safe to say that the rest of the supporting cast is pretty much perfect as well. The island's inhabitants have a spot on mix of quirkiness and genuine humanity that is very difficult to balance, particularly in a cartoon.

Yes, there's a few absolute caricatures (one stand-out being Miwa's terrifying dad), but on a whole you'll love everybody. From Naru's best friend Hina [top, in the rubber ring] who cries at everything especially when she's happy, and the two middle schoolers Tama and Miwa [bottom, holding the sparklers] who use Handa's house as their den and mercilessly torment him for fun, to the shopkeeper's adorable dog and the chain smoking headmaster of the school who spends all of his time fishing; there's not one person you won't find yourself gushing over eventually.

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru vine seishu

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru hina kimono gif

The episodes are, at a merciful 20 minutes (I couldn't handle much more cute in one go), very snappy and full of energy; usually starting with Handa struggling to find inspiration before being whisked off by the kids to go do something stupid or distracting himself with a mundane task that ends up taking all day. I'll put it this way: it's no explosive robot battles or 20-story tall flesh giants, and that makes it a wonderful breath of fresh air after you've hit a bit of a sensory overload with other anime.

By forgoing battles and unnecessary flashy effects, Barakamon spends its time lazing around on the beach getting to know the islanders and, with the help of some great writing, its interest comes from simply getting a glimpse into the normal lives of normal people who incidentally all happen to be utterly crazy.

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru chopped onions blood seishu

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru serious face

The more relaxed overall pace of the show also gives it the time to mess around with a lot of genre tropes (ie. the aforementioned over-the-top effects and such) to create some really funny and original moments. The animation helps, stretching itself around a joke with remarkable fluidity; be it by turning the characters into adorable chibi versions of themselves or giving Naru the most disturbing serious face I've ever seen (see above).

They even managed to play with censorship laws to make two relatively innocent moments seem much more adult than they meant to, with hilarious effect. The bowl Naru's holding up there is meant to be a bowl of onions Handa cut himself preparing and bled all over, but the addition of the fuzzy blocks makes the potential contents of the bowl appear a whole lot more sinister. Then there's the incident with the sea slug:

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru hina sea slug ejaculate
You shouldn't laugh but...
All in all, I've not laughed, giggled, wept or cheered along with a show this much in a long time. And what's more it gave me yet another wonderful insight into a culture that has me thoroughly captivated. I'd watch Japanese people pee if- wait, that's already a thing and no thank you. Ahem.

I canny wait for series 2!

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru hina crying seishu
Neither can they, the wee scones.
And if you're ever worried that you don't have enough of a heart, do yourself a favour and let Barakamon grow you a new one. Till next time, Ben out.
Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru festival smile

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