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Barakamon UK Anime DVD Review

8 min read

Barakamon UKCalligraphy anime? Well, heard worse ideas for a charming slice-of-life show…

What They Say:
An aspiring artist’s world is about to be turned upside down.

Seishu exiles himself to a small island to rediscover his passion as a calligrapher after violently attacking one of his most vocal critics. While the Goto Islands appear to be a tranquil paradise on the surface, this young mapmaker soon learns that wacky neighbours and hyperactive children just might provide him the sense of humour he needs on his journey towards self-discovery.

The Review:
This is a dual release so for this review as a change of pace will be reviewing the DVD variation. The sound quality has options of 5.1 English Dolby Surround and the Japanese a 2.0 Stereo option. There were no complications of the audio throughout the release and the 5.1 option definitely comes through well with no need to adjust default settings on the audio system I was using. There were no problems with the video synching in with subtitles so definitely acceptable as a DVD release.

Similar with the audio, the video is set in 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio via NTSC transfer to PAL format – with DVD releases nowadays the effect definitely seems more grainier compared to HD and with me doing a ton of Blu-Ray reviews recently this is a good way to remind you how the times have changed. That said, the animation was great especially as the animation feels very old-school Ghibli like throughout the entire series and with a lot of bright colours and transitions into what the episode of the day is about (from bugs to beaches), it still transfers well onto the screen, just little things here and there.

There was no packaging for this test release.

The menu is very standard, done in the interesting art style we have Naru and Sanda in a casual walking outside pose in a very rough art style calligraphy drawing – right hand side has the menu in ink style font, selections are Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Extras, No problems with selection and can return to main menu from the show easily, and nearly instant with selecting your choices without delay, but not Blu-Ray pop-up menu standard obviously. With a charming background tune, it is a very pleasant if standard menu.

Extras we have a couple of dub episode commentaries – first for the first episode, we have Mike McFarland (ADR Director), Alison Viktorin (Naru) and Rob McCollum (Handa), we learn despite still being quite young Alison has been working with Mike for over 13 years (we learn back in the day she had an open call with agencies with new people on Case Closed – first role), they talk because of the show and their own experience about growing up themselves, adults to do child voices, the style of colour and animation, how now some of them are parents how some of the stuff in the show resonates, it is quite fun and still informative.

The second commentary is on the last episode so opening and closing, here we have Felicia Angel (assistant director), Lyndsey Hale (Miwa), Appiha Yu (Tama) and Duncan Brannan (Kawafuji), we learn of the connection to the lead for Appiha and drawing/art so how the show resonates with her, returning to the series after some time as got a broadcast dub and now gets a DVD/Blu-Ray release, their favourite scenes, how the show plays about their emotions, both commentaries are definitely more on talking about the show but also having fun with it.

We also have the clean opening and ending as well as some promotional videos and the US trailer for it.

Barakamon is one of those series that I never saw initially and barely knew much about, but along with the previously series Erased, along with mystery the other genre I tend to enjoy the most nowadays in anime is slice-of-life. So the concept was very interested and unique – a talented calligrapher is sent to a remote island to change his attitude and potentially improve his work, and his interactions with a different set of people make him do that, but does it work for him? And more importantly, does it work as a series? Based on the ongoing manga by Satsuki Yoshino from 2009, this 2014 anime has a very unique and pleasant animation style which gave it my attention immediately so the buttons are definitely being pressed.

Our lead, Seishu Handa, is a calligraphy master who isn’t exactly known for taking constructive criticism. As in…punching a curator when he gets insulted criticism. To calm down, he is sent to an island near Kyushu where he definitely gets a clash in culture whilst trying to improve himself. Tokyo vs. rotary phones = confused Handa. With the locals seemingly in hicks ville, he wonders if he can get through it, especially with the one child, Naru, constantly in awe of this city-slicker. But he learns that these folks are kinder than expected and maybe to give them a chance….

He becomes friends with the village chief’s son Hiroshi, as well as two of young Naru’s friends in middle school students Miwa and Tamako, whilst his effort clearly impresses the folks as well as starting to appreciate life more and more. Episodes are mostly episodic as Handa goes through a new way of lifestyle that his new friends come across, with intermixing of plot whether he can return to the city. He learns about said friends (Tamako wanting to write manga and being quite a closet yaoi fans, hence the interactions between Hiroshi and Handa made her mind go blank…) but also it seems his work isn’t doing as well in competition (he loses to a younger artist in a contest, but he gets cheered up in a traditional mochi competition, which makes him learn to wait for a chance rather than competition…)…so the main story is what he prefers, to compete…or to do it for fun?

A lot of the fun is seeing Handa react to decade old technology and how he adjusts – rotary phones? Have Tamako’s brother do it for him, but then treat the kids to gum. Messing up some work on a friend’s boat? Ask the kids how to help and then they help in their own way…which works. Panic about kids jumping off a shore into the sea? Go overprotective dad on them…before realising they can survive fine and he’s not exactly a floatable guy on the sea.

In between the fun, we do get a story as well, as his agent (and only friend in Tokyo) Takao visits along with a fan named Kosuke…who was also the younger calligrapher who beat Handa in the initial competition. Kosuke clearly idolizes him and feels that this new environment isn’t helping in improve his calligraphy, returning to the calligraphy for reward vs. calligraphy for himself angle. He stays on the island initially thanks to Naru and her adorable friend Hina, and begins more self-discovery via fishing, beetle catching, the bon festival (which cements Handa as being Naru’s surrogate father as the two have slowly bonded throughout the show), childish playing with some of the kids, and nearly falling off a cliff before being saved by his new found friends. However, he does decide to return for a competition without informing his new friends, and here you can see how much it has changed him. His new work seems impressive, but Handa is embarrassed by it and wants to do something else. His time at the island inspires him but his parents believe it has weakened him. Yet his young friends have won awards due to his help in their calligraphy, and he realises how much he wanted to be with them. It is funny because the ending suggests that he came 5th in the competition, yet is still proud of the work, suggesting the time on the island is what he wanted…and it is who he is now.

This is a fun series, which is a bit strange with both the theme and the characters, because aside from Handa and Naru, it is a lot of one-shot characters who get involved with the theme of the day, sometimes intermixed with the dreaded ‘real life’ issues of Tokyo when the clashes with his work come to be. Handa is a classic character developing as he goes from annoyed with people thinking his work is less than perfect, to the last episode where his final work doesn’t do as well as he hoped but he is proud of it, as it is a perfect representation of the people he has met on the island and how it has changed him. Naru herself is your classic spunky young girl, who because of the not huge amount of people on the island is well known, has same age and older friends, and is inspired by Handa, yet because of her family situation is also lonely despite her energy, and Handa quickly understands that, and grows into an adult child himself, arguing with kids over petty things but still being the surrogate adult that is almost like family to young Naru.

The series itself is an episodic slice-of-life, and maybe suffers a little over some of my favourite series whether slice of life (Aria) or episodic (Kino No Tabi) mainly due to the fact it is only focusing on one character. Whilst Kino no Tabi does that, the journey is more in-depth and realistic, whilst this is played more for charm and comedy. That doesn’t make the show any less good, just not as memorable when it comes to any character that isn’t Handa. There is nothing wrong with the show at all – the ideology is smart, the motif is unique, the animation is great, there’s a lot of fun moments, and whilst not plot heavy, the idea of competition vs. self is a good one and sticks throughout it. There are some fun moments with some of the side characters (Hiroshi probably being the one that sticks out the most) and whilst the plot of the day is standard, it is still fun.

It is one of those series that isn’t groundbreaking in storytelling and a lot of it you may forget after watching it, but you definitely won’t hate it. It is one of those shows you can slap on after a marathon of dark shows or gory shows, but yet isn’t over the top like a comedy fan service style show, it is pleasant, enjoyable and above all, fun.

In Summary:
Barakamon is not a Mortal Kombat/Digimon crossover sadly, however it is a very charming slice-of-life series with a theme of the day with a slight hint of story and characterization. Development wise, Handa definitely has it whilst the other characters aren’t as memorable but are fun with the situations they are in. Handa’s maturity and adventures are pleasant to watch, and his conflict over glory vs. comfort are throughout and there to see, and the final episode is great to see how it comes to be. There is nothing bad in it at all, just not the most groundbreaking of shows. That said, still recommended.

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Anime Limited via Funimation
Release Date: July 31st, 2017
MSRP: £42.99 (DVD/Blu-Ray hybrid)
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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