Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 1

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ new series Barakamon!

Back cover blurb

For a certain reason, a handsome, young calligrapher by the name of Seishuu Handa uproots himself and moves to an island on the westernmost edge of Japan. “Sensei,” as he comes to be known, is a city boy through and through, and has never experienced rural life until now. And by the looks of it, he has much to learn! Luckily(?), he has a willing teacher in Naru, the energetic expert islander, to help show him the ropes. But can Sensei keep up with the plucky first-grader, or will he get schooled?! Here unfolds a heartfelt island comedy about a gruff on the outside, soft on the inside urbanite teacher and his new, unfailingly kind island neighbors!

The Review

The story definitely falls into the “fish out of water” category, and the fish of interest is 23-year-old Seishuu Handa. Thanks to an ill-timed outburst, he gets  abruptly shipped out of Tokyo to a remote island in westernmost Japan. There are several anime and manga that play on the theme of city transplants to rural Japan, but Handa is unique in a couple ways. First of all, he’s a master calligrapher (apparently that profession still exists in this digital era). Secondly, unlike many urbanites-plunked-into-the-country, he’s not forced to live (nor does he care to) like the locals. He was a calligrapher in Tokyo and continues to hone his calligraphy on the island. As such, the main sources of conflict and comedy spring from personality clashes with his new neighbors.

Handa’s new home is in the Gotou Archipelago, where the locals speak their own dialect. To communicate this, Yen Press has translated all the islanders’ dialogue into a kind of redneck speech (i.e., “Ah ain’t gonna tease livin’ things no more.”). While it does make obvious the difference between Handa and his new neighbors, having their dialogue in dialect does slow down the pace of reading. Like many far-flung communities with little economic opportunity, most people Handa’s age have moved out of the area. That means most of his interactions are with those much older or younger than him, and the islander who pesters interacts with him the most is first grader Naru Totoishi.

Children Naru’s age are often portrayed as adorable cherubs or sassy mischief makers, and Naru falls firmly in the latter camp. The house Handa rents was formally used by Naru and her friends as a hideout, and Handa immediately throws the kids out. His intention is to isolate himself to perfect his calligraphy. However, Naru takes a liking to him and won’t leave him alone. In addition to being noisy and headstrong, she’s picked up a variety of gutter terms from the older kids, and because she doesn’t know what the words actually mean, she spouts all sorts of inappropriate statements. While some of Volume 1′s humor stems from Handa dealing with his new rural surroundings, the majority is of the prickly-adult-contending-against-obnoxious-and-impossibly-persistent-small-child variety.

Thanks to Naru’s pushy nature, Handa interacts with the populace much more than he intends. He has no desire to settle down in the place, but the locals’ lifestyle and outlook do start to affect him, just as Handa’s drive for excellence rubs off on certain members of the populace. And in the midst of the physical humor and bawdy jokes, there are deeper moments of soul-searching as Handa reflects on the circumstances that drove him out of Tokyo and the trajectory he wants his life to take now.

Extras include a bonus four-page manga, translation notes, and information about the story’s island setting.

In Summary

The back cover blurb makes Handa sound like a needy soul that has wandered into the countryside and Naru his helpful guide into rural life. On the contrary, Naru’s more pest than guide, alternately getting in Handa’s way or blabbing things that get misconstrued in the village gossip network. While there is a bit of city-boy-struggling-to-adjust-in-the-country, the overwhelming dynamic in Volume 1 is that of an overly serious adult dealing with a noisy kid that just won’t go away.

First published at The Fandom Post.

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One response to “Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 1

  1. Pingback: Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 2 | Keeping It In Canon ...mostly

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