Better late than never, no?
For what I assume are complicated licensing reasons the likes of which we pathetic plebeians could never hope to understand, Funimation released this series late, which means that instead of getting each episode as they aired, we got the first cluster in one fell swoop. As such, I decided not to bother with a premiere review, and just watched the first three all at once.
So how’s the series holding up? Quite nicely, although I’m maybe not as in love with it as I’d originally hoped to be. Even so, there’s a lot to like here. The setting and characters are funny and charming, with an artist MC (Seishuu) who’s a great blend of ego and insecurity and a bevy of side characters both quirky and likable.
While the humor can be fairly broad at times, there’s still a sense of realism to the characters which makes them endearing instead of exhausting. Naru is probably the best example of this, as she really feels like an energetic little kid, rather than the over-the-top moeblobs we so often see in anime. (And it doesn’t hurt that she’s played by an actual child, either.)
For me, the series is at its best when it focuses on the characters discussing or making some form of art. Both calligrapher Seishuu and amateur manga-ka Arai perfectly portray the paradoxical anxiety and defensiveness felt by pretty much every artist towards their work (i.e., “What do you think?” followed by “Shut up, what do you know?!”), and scenes which focus on that inherent neuroticism are both very funny and sneakily insightful. Similarly, Hiro’s realization that “talent” is as much about hard work as it is about God-given ability was nicely played.
The small town slice-of-life scenes work a little less well, though. There’s some good humor and some genuine sweetness, but the “Seishuu learns a lesson” moments come across a little too on-the-nose at times. Don’t get me wrong – there are some genuinely heartwarming moments here, and plenty of laughs as well – but there’s a tiny part of me that feels like the show is trying too hard to make me love it, rather than just letting me fall for it naturally. It’s not quite saccharine but it’s rather close, and I do wish the series had a little more vinegar (like Arai’s fujoshi moments) to balance with the honey.
Minor gripes aside, though, Barakamon is still an enjoyable and entertaining series, and probably places somewhere in the mid-to-upper-mid-tier of my watchlist. I’ve been hearing from manga readers that there’s a great deal more subtlely and bite to the source material, so there’s a good chance I’ll give the manga a try once it comes out stateside. For now, though, I’ll just kick back and enjoy the anime for what it is: A fun, sweet, and funny way to spend 25 minutes of my week.