Publisher: Yen Press
Story and Art By: Satsuki Yoshino
Seishuu Handa is a young prodigy in the world of calligraphy, and has honed his skills to be able to take top prize in many different calligraphy contests. Seishuu is also very stubborn and does not know how to take criticism very well, which is evident after he assaults an old art dealer who criticized his work at a calligraphy contest. Needing some time to release his pent up stress and to find his own style as a calligrapher, Seishuu is sent to a rural island by his father to live for a while.
Life on the island is not as simple as Seishuu would like it to be however. Instead of being left alone to practice his calligraphy, Seishuu often finds himself in the company of a little girl named Naru. Not only is she as hyper as any first grader would be, Naru doesn’t really know what boundaries are it seems. Naru will sneak into Seishuu’s house whenever she feels like it in order to see what he is up to, and more often than not, to try and get him to do something with her.
Both Naru and Seishuu are excellent characters to center the manga around, as each brought a fun element to the story. They feel like they were meant to be together, even if Seishuu doesn’t care for Naru’s presence at all. They are supported by a small cast of secondary characters who are introduced throughout the first volume, but not much information is given on each character, other than some basic background information to give us an idea on who they are. I have a feeling that we will be seeing a lot more of these other characters throughout the story, but I doubt they will live up to the dynamic between Seishuu and Naru.
One thing that was bothering me while reading the first volume was the artwork. It often felt spotty with backgrounds being pretty bland. The backgrounds give off the feeling of ruralness and a sense of being by the coastline, which definitely play to the stories strong points. My problem with them is that they seem pretty basic at times, using very little shading or detail. The quality in detail for the backgrounds varies greatly from panel to panel, throwing off the consistency quite a bit. On one page I would be looking at a panel featuring boats and houses drawn using generic designs and no detail added at all and a few pages from that I could be looking at a nice picture of the sea with a lot of effort clearly put into it. I wish the background art could have stayed at a more consistently good level so I could enjoy each panel for what it adds, but instead found myself just briefly glossing over most panels as the art just wasn’t very nice to look at.
Character proportions seemed a bit out of wack as well, with people hands often appearing just as big, if not bigger, than their heads. In fact, there were many times where I thought a characters head was perhaps just a bit too small compared to the rest of their body, throwing off some panels. There are quite a few panels where the characters just don’t look very nice to look at, which is a shame because I actually liked the designs of them. Handa’s design makes him look modern and a bit edgy, fitting his personality quite well. Though whenever I would look at a panel and see his huge hands or feet, or some other weird issue with the panel, it would throw everything off for me.
I would have to say without a doubt that the biggest issue I had with the first volume was the artwork in some of the panels . There were some genuinely nice looking moments though, such as when Handa would get a flash of inspiration and start working on a big piece of calligraphy or when he first scaled the wall to see the sunset with Naru. Honestly, most of the panels that I found were the worst were in the earlier chapters (chapters 1 and 2) and it seemed to get better as I read on. Especially the work on the backgrounds, as they began to be more detailed and added in shading. It could have been a case of not having any assistants to help with the first few chapters or something, but either way Satsuki Yoshino is able to better the artwork as the volume progressed, much to my reading pleasure.
Aside from some problems with the artwork, I thought the first volume of Barakamon was a great read overall. The setting is fun and unique, showcasing the lifestyle of rural Japan. Barakamon is specifically set in the Gotou Archipelago in Nagasaki Prefecture where Satsuki Yoshino had grown up. You really get a sense of the landscape and scenery of the place through the backgrounds, especially in some of the later chapters of the volume. The characters themselves are all interesting and interact in wonderful ways. It’s truly a fun read through-and-through. Much like my feelings towards Handa, I hope Yoshino is able to keep improving her artwork and find her stride. She could become the next Kiyohiko Azuma, creating some timeless slice of life stories that are endlessly fun to read.
Recommendation: Read It