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Barakamon (Essentials Collection) Blu-ray Anime Review

7 min read
It takes an island to raise a man.

It takes an island to raise a man.

What They Say:
After an unfavorable critique drives uptight, young calligrapher Sei Handa 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 the village kids ever learn to KNOCK first?!

The Review:
With Funimation’s latest “Best of” line of releases (now called “Essentials”), there are some clear corners being cut, though to little difference from the buyer’s perspective. This particular release of Barakamon does not include an O-card sleeve (ultimately negligible considering most O-cards copy the inner cover’s art), and replaces what is usually a DVD copy of the series with a digital code to be redeemed and watched on Funimation’s website/app.

The front and back cover complement each other well, using the calligraphy motif to good effect. And while the back cover’s synopsis is a bit iffy (only Handa’s father insists on sending him to the island; the term “village elder” seems to carry a lot more weight in the context of the synopsis than it does in-series), the packaging as a whole is pleasant. The packaging also comes with reversible cover art with episode listings, though I do wish the listings themselves specify which disc each episode has. Though the disc art, lovingly labeled with more calligraphy, does specify their contents, so I guess that feeling is moot.

Blu-ray menus for both discs are straightforward, with options aligned along the bottom of the screen. The only oddball portion of the menu is the language option, which has a very light “X” mark over the English and “subtitles on” options. The “X” marks are different from your remote control’s cursor, making for some confusing signage.

Outside of clean OP and ED animations, there are options for commentary tracks in episodes 1 and 12. The commentary for episode 1 includes ADR Director Mike McFarland as well as dub voices for Handa (Robert McCollum) and Naru (Alison Viktorin). And while the three have their own unique opinions being so directly involved with the series, the commentary track is forgettable, with the three clearly having been separated enough from the project to already forget most of the experience, as is explicitly mentioned halfway through the recording. Commentary for episode 12 fares a bit better, consisting of Assistant ADR Director Felecia Angelle and dub voices for Tama, Miwa, and Kawafuji (Apphia Yu, Lynsey Hale, and Duncan Brennan respectively), though its enjoyment is admittedly due to Apphia Yu’s very vocal opinions on anime and the series specifically. It’s very clear that Yu is the type of creative that was a fan before she joined “the business” and it shows through how passionately she speaks throughout the episode, to the point that she gives little time for the others to chime in. She speaks as a fan first, and considering how sterile the first commentary was, it was a welcome addition.

The digital copy of the series was easily redeemable enough, though there were some oddities when viewing them. On the desktop version of Funimation’s website, the episodes are listed out from 1-12, but also repeat certain episodes, making for odd navigation (regardless, clicking any episode listing does play the one you want, thankfully).

Subtitles for the digital episodes have the option to play the Japanese translation, or closed captions to match the dub script (which aren’t even available on the Blu-rays themselves). The desktop website has the subtitles in a bold white font outlined in black, while the Funimation app displays them in bold white, with a solid black rectangular background. The only other notable difference in video between desktop and mobile is the Funimation watermark that is kept throughout the entire run of the episode when viewing on desktop.

Sadly, none of the Blu-ray extras with exception to the series trailer are available when redeeming the digital copy. It should also be noted that the trailer itself is for Funimation’s older release of the series, the promo image showing a DVD copy alongside the Blu-ray, when this latest release is a Blu-ray/Digital combo.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The overly cocky young talent that slowly learns the hospitality of small-town life is an oddly specific tale that’s old as time, but one worth repeating if done right. In the case of Barakamon, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining tale of a young calligrapher sent to the rural part of Japan to learn a thing or two about empathy.

What separates Barakamon from any other dime a dozen story with a similar premise is it never goes as far as to make the story specifically about the big city versus small town. While there are definitely moments that compare and contrast the two to comedic effect (seeing Handa struggle with a rotary phone was one of the many well-timed gags throughout the series), the series never puts either on a pedestal as the absolute way to live. Handa is clearly an outsider coming into a small town, but the locals are equally unaware of certain modern customs as well. One is never seen as “better” than the other, and it’s in the two co-existing that the series finds its heart.

Handa, having essentially been banished from his life in the city after literally beating on a harsh critic is introduced as this cocky no-nonsense ace calligrapher. Once he’s sent to live in the Goto Islands, though, he learns to see this less as a punishment and more as a means to clear his head and find new inspiration in the rut that’s become his latest works. And yet he never comes off as this obnoxious transplant, there only to take and leaving once he’s had his fill. The series never hesitates to make a buffoon out of him, and it’s in this way that Handa becomes a more nuanced character.

Of course, the series’ large supporting cast also benefits the series as well. What really makes Barakamon’s cast memorable is not just the sheer size of its cast, but its spread in terms of age as well. While the series does end up having a core cast that leans towards the younger side, it doesn’t hesitate to bring in some elderly characters, middle-aged ones, or even grade-school kids into the mix. In a time when most anime have tunnel vision, focusing solely on high-schoolers, Barakamon embraces the diversity of small-town life by incorporating such a mishmash of characters and throwing them into a single space. From seeing 7-year old Naru go headfirst into adventure, to the existential dread of Hiro as he’s about to graduate high school, to even the village elders moseying about trying to communicate to each other with their differing dialects, there’s a lot to like from the cast alone who exist as their own person and not just another thing to prop up the main character.

But what’s especially interesting about the series is the fact that the manga itself is still ongoing, with 17 volumes released as of this writing. The Barakamon anime consists solely of 12 episodes, but is able to tell a compelling, complete story that makes full use of every episode. Helmed by the animation studio Kinema Citrus, the anime beautifully captures the spirit of the Goto Islands as well as the sheer character of the cast through its fluid animations, being able to shift in tone on a dime to great effect. Even its voice cast is able to nail the exchanges between more standard to rural Japanese dialects in a way that can’t be captured via manga alone (especially for foreigners reading an English translation). Suzuka Hara, who was 9 at the time she voiced Naru, carries so much spunk in her take on the character and is pulled off in such a way that the spirit of the show is reflected in her own performance.

And while the English dub comes off as yet another inoffensive entry to the Funimation catalog, the spirit of the series is still able to shine through.

In Summary:
Barakamon is a worthwhile series that tells the story of man finding himself again through nature to great effect. Between an excellent cast, beautiful animation, and scenery that’s absolutely breathtaking, it’s the kind of series that you don’t see much from most mainstream anime. And as such, I’m glad Funimation’s went as far as re-releasing the series in a more affordable and accessible set.

Episode 1 Commentary, Episode 12 Commentary, Textless Songs, U.S. Trailer, and Trailers

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 30, 2019
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 305 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1920x1080p High Definition (HD Native)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 HD Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung UHD 6700 64” Curved Smart TV, Sony Blu-ray player BDP-S6500 via HDMI set to 1080p

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