Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 5

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 5. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back cover blurb

The class trip has begun, but now it’s not just his own classmates Handa needs to worry about. When a rival school ends up going along for the ride, isn’t it a given that Handa-kun’s going to run afoul of a whole new set of kids? The Handa Army have met their nemesee…nemenisee…neemessss–their rivals! There is no way they will allow their beloved Handa to be diminished by the white shirts! Meanwhile, poor Handa-kun is trying REALLY hard just to fit in…

The Review

Volume 5 covers the class trip that Handa’s been anticipating as an opportunity to make friends. Although it does include the usual misunderstandings and failed attempts at bonding with classmates, most of the plot is dominated by students from another school. Nicknamed the “White Shirts,” they get along with the students of Handa’s school like cats and dogs. And this rival school has its own charismatic leader and minions to match Handa and his army.

By “match,” I do mean match. Ichimiya’s bodyguards are comprised of a burly delinquent, a bespectacled nerd, a pretty fashionista, and a no-name ordinary guy. The most entertaining of them is Sousuke Kojika, who goes to interesting lengths for the sake of beauty and has a unique connection to the delinquent of the Handa Army.

As with Handa and his Army, Ichimiya’s Bodyguards operate largely independent of the leader they idolize. So while Handa and Ichimiya are touring Kyoto’s sights, the Army and Bodyguards are waging war, which alternates between group efforts and individuals facing off against his equivalent. Much of this fighting is just a hyped version of the usual Handa Army antics, but the big surprise is the clash between the average guys. Kondou has been a levelheaded observer for most of this series, but it turns out he’s not completely dispassionate when it comes to Handa either.

A major challenge Western readers will have with the arc is the Kyoto backdrop. In keeping with the tourist spots they visit, characters dress up as Japanese icons and make historical references in jokes and insults. If you’ve studied Japanese history or watched one of the many anime or Japanese dramas about the Shinsengumi/Ryouma Sakamoto/Bakumatsu, you have a decent chance of enjoying these chapters. If not, the translation notes in the back of the book provide a lot of information, but it will require much flipping back and forth.

Extras include the title illustration in color, bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

It’s delusion insanity squared when the Handa Army clashes with students from a rival school during their class trip. While the Kyoto setting allows for fun props and samurai cosplay, these chapters are heavy on historical references, which will go over the heads of most Western readers. And although most of the Handa Army’s hijinks are predictable, the trip brings out a surprising side of Kondou, who isn’t as immune to HND Syndrome as previously thought.

First published at The Fandom Post.

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