What They Say:
After an unfavorable critique drives uptight young calligrapher Sei Handa of Barakamon past his breaking point, his parents decide to ship him off to Japan’s Goto Islands to cool off. But instead of a peaceful paradise, Handa discovers a village full of quirky characters with little regard for personal space. On top of that, Handa’s temporary apartment has already been claimed as home base by the village elder’s granddaughter, Naru, who has a knack for getting into trouble. Will Handa ever be able to redeem his impulsive misdeed? Will he ever be able to write like the masters? Will the village kids ever learn to KNOCK first??
The audio presentation for this release is a bit of a surprise as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo and a 5.1 English mix, both of which are encoded with the lossless Dolby TrueHD codec. The series is one that works the 5.1 mix well enough to be sure as there are a few big moments along the way but it’s also not a series you’d associate with getting a 5.1 bump since they’re not as automatic as they used to be in being produced. Both tracks work the mixes that they have pretty well as there’s a lot of fun dialogue along the way and a good range of characters across the screen of different ages at times so that it has the right kind of flow and feeling about it. While in some ways this won’t be an audio presentation that blows your mind, what we do get here is pretty strong and has some creative elements to it at times to nudge it up a bit more. But, in the end, it achieves the right goal of giving us a clean and clear problem free encoding that services the material very well.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes for this season are spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Kinema Citrus, the show has a really strong visual design to it that works exceptionally well and you have to appreciate the quality of the calligraphy itself within the animation, something that’s captured in a very strong way here with solid blacks when used. The naturalistic setting that much of it takes place in has a good feel from the palette used and while there’s an almost hazy sense to it in a way, the actual encoding is strong with a clean and solid approach that allows the animation to stand out well. It’s a relaxed show in many ways but when it’s punctuated by the bigger sequences you realize just how much life there is to it. The transfer for this series is definitely very appealing and fans of the show that only saw it streaming will likely see new details and nuance here with many aspects of it.
The packaging for this release brings us a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case that has an o-card with it that replicates the case artwork. The material for this one isn’t the usual slick and glossy type but has more of a proper parchment paper feeling to it that works really with. With the main visual being an illustration, it stands out beautifully here and is really eye-catching as we get Handa and Naru along the landscape. Even the blue in the banner along the top looks better in this form. The back cover has the parchment style for the background and brings in another sunset visual for Handa and Naru that’s appealing while the right has a strip of shots from the show that highlights the more humorous side of it. The summary of the premise is simple but effective in conveying the basics and we get a clean breakdown of the extras included. The technical grid has a good feeling about it with the black and blue with the parchment design and everything is very easy to read and the breakdown is accurate and problem free. No show related inserts are included but the reverse side can be swapped around to good effect. The right panel has the artwork from the back cover expanded as a full piece, making it a good one to use underneath the o-card, while the left panel has more group artwork and a breakdown of episodes by number and title.
Unsurprisingly, the menu design works off of what the packaging is like and even thankfully avoids the whole clip montage standard that Funimation uses. The use of the artwork from the front cover with it focusing on the two with a larger logo above them may be a little overpowering, but combined with the parchment on the sides and a strip of it along the bottom where the navigation is means that it’s well boxed in but bringing out a very soft and engaging color palette to set the mood. The navigation itself works well enough and is generally easy to read, though depending on distance and size of screen it could be a bit more problematic since it uses a font that may not be as easy on the eyes for some. The strip works well as the pop-up menu and everything flows and works without problem.
The extras for this release are familiar but welcome as they provide the aspects of a release that a range of fans enjoy. For the dub fans we get a couple of commentary tracks to dig into the series from the production team. For the Japanese fans we get the TV spots created to promote the show in a small collection. And we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, which are definitely a treat to take in without all the additional stuff.
Based on the manga by Satsuki Yoshino, which is published in North America by Yen Press, Barakamon is a twelve episode series that aired in the summer of 2014. Animated by Kinema Citrus, the show has a strong look about it as it plays to the locale and keeps to a naturalistic setting without becoming so lush and full of vibrancy that it overwhelms. The show also works smartly in treating its audience properly, at least I have to believe that, as they bring in an expert with calligraphy in order to make sure everything is done right. The attention to detail is big in this show but it’s also the kind of series that’s introspective and relaxed, punctuated by youth in many areas that keeps it from becoming dull. It may be a slow burn series in a way but it’s the kind of series that wraps its arms around you in a very warm embrace.
The series focuses on a young man named Seishu Handa, a pro-calligrapher at a young age full of great potential. With a father famous within this world itself, Handa is the type that really believes in his work and is outspoken about it, but a lot of that is mired in his fear about how good he actually is as he’s really uncertain about it. His life takes a difficult turn right at the start here as we see him at a gallery showing where the curator approves of it in a general sense, noting that it’s like it’s right out of a textbook, lacking of any personality and character. Handa shows his personality right then and there by stomping up to him and slugging him in the face. Is it any surprise that his father sends him off to Kyushu to live on the Goto island for a bit in order to figure himself out? An exile gives everyone time to cool down but it also forces Handa to figure himself out and find inspiration. Handa at least recognizes this for what it is to some degree and is frustrated by the idea that living in a remote and little village will give him inspiration that he can’t find in Tokyo.
The bulk of the series takes place in the village, which is essentially just a small town, and that means we get the cast of unusual characters. Thankfully, Barakamon doesn’t go for eccentric but rather sticks to the normal kind of colorful that you get. Handa himself is kind of the eccentric one here as he’s from the big city, doesn’t quite get all their ways, and it takes him the usual expected time to settle in and realize that this is where he wants to be. The arc of the story is familiar to be sure but it’s the pacing and style of it, combined with Handa himself, that makes it work. Watching as Handa explores and understands this area and himself is a lot of fun because he doesn’t hold back in how he views the cast of characters that he comes across. And since a lot of his frustration with things is all on himself it’s no surprise that he kind of takes it out on others, though he never really cross a line or anything. He may lash out but it’s never mean or cruel, which is important as most of the people that interact with him regularly are younger than him.
The most regular of which is that of Naru, a seven year old girl who is pretty much a big bundle of energy. She’s interested in him, not so much his calligraphy, almost to the same extent that she is in collecting live and dead bugs. Her collections are impressive and she’s a whirlwind that works through the small place that Handa’s father has set up for him. With absolutely no romantic interests set up here within this season, what we see develop are friendships and mentorships, and the removal of the forced romantic element that would get him to stay is very welcome. We’ve seen shows push that even with this kind of age difference as a wait for the right time kind of thing so not going there at all is pretty big. And because it revolves around friendships, you end up becoming more invested because it’s not a singular focus.
While Naru is a big focus we do get several other characters that move throughout the stories that adds to the fun as they get involved in his life. Miwa and Tamako are a fun pair of girls that are frustrated that he took over the space they were using for fun but they end up learning a lot from him about calligraphy and work hard in order to show him that they’ve learned well. There are a few other kids that pop in of Naru’s age, such as her friend Hina and a few boys that make some appearances, and all if works to enhance the overall experience so it’s not just people with no friends that hang out with Handa all the time. The other main companion is Hiroshi, the son of the village head, who doesn’t exactly like that Handa is there but ends up hanging out a lot and befriending him well. Part of his frustration is just in how his mother treats Handa like the son she never had in a comical way, but mostly he’s just frustrated at himself for what he feels is his being so average at everything. A gifted person like Handa, even in a small field like calligraphy, makes it very frustrating for him all around.
The nature of this series really is all about the small moments and interactions as opposed to key events. Handa works himself to figure out his personality in his calligraphy along the way and the challenges he has there, but mostly that’s just part of the larger narrative and not much in the way of big episode focuses. What I really like with this show is that we get some time with those that knew him in Tokyo as his art dealer, Kawafuji, comes to visit for a while. The two have been friends since middle school and that adds a nice touch – especially knowing there’s a spin-off manga about the school years and the anime adaptation for it. That the creator has a solid enough backstory to Handa beyond what we meet of him here, and doesn’t try to force in flashback sequences along the way to explore it all, just gives it some additional weight. It feels lived in and thought through all while keeping to the simplicity of what the show is all about with Handa.
Barakamon is one of those series that is simply charming from start to finish. It’s a rare series where it features kids that aren’t annoying as too many of them make me just want to turn the show off. Here, they’re fun, fairly realistic, and help to balance things. The premise for it is familiar enough and we know the journey that Handa will go through, but the execution by the production here is just near flawless with what it does. It’s fun, lighthearted, knows when to be serious, and has the right amount of “character” for its cast so that they’re believable and not outlandish. With great looking animation that this release brings through beautifully and a solid presentation with the dub and extras, Barakamon is the kind of show that just clicks and works perfectly in a way that you’d never expect.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, Textless Opening Song – Hi no Ito Rinne no GEMINI, Textless Closing Song – Magna Idea, TV Spot Collection, U.S. Trailer, Trailers
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: August 9th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.