First Impression: Barakamon (Manga – Volume 1)

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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.

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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
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Anime of Summer 2016 First Impressions – Part 3

My first impressions blogs have now turned into mid-season impressions because of my inability to manage my time effectively and stay on task. The good news is that I have a pretty long blog series in the works (which is where most of my time has gone) and a video series to accompany it (I’m going to start making videos, wooo!). I’m not going to say “it should be out soon” because when I do it’s always like three weeks or more before I get it out, so instead I’ll just say it will be done when it’s done.

Anyways, time to talk about some anime!

Sweetness and Lightning

This is one of the cutest shows I have seen since Barakamon, which was one of my favorite shows from summer 2014. It goes without saying then that I absolutely love this show.

The story is simple yet interesting, as we follow the life of a single father (Kouhei Inuzuka) and his daughter (Tsumugi Inuzuka) as they cook meals and enjoy their time together. Kouhei’s wife had recently passed away a few months before the show begins, so we don’t really have a sense of what she might have been like outside of a typical loving mother and wife. She took care of most house chores it seemed, including cooking meals since Kouhei has no idea how to cook anything besides the basics. With his wife no longer with them though, Kouhei decides to try and learn how to cook so he can give Tsumugi good meals instead of the store bought lunches they had been eating since his wife had passed. They go to one of his students family restaurants once a week to cook a new meal they haven’t tried to make before, and this is where a bulk of the story takes place.

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The show mainly consists of Kouhei and Tsumugi going to his student’s (Kotori Iida) family restaurant, where they learn to cook new meals based off of recipes her mother leaves them. The reason why they go to Kotori’s place to cook food is pretty simple, her mother is always busy leaving her alone a lot of the time, so Kotori likes the idea of spending time with Kouhei and Tsumugi once a week (and it is sort of implied through Kotori’s actions and emotions towards Kouhei that she has a bit of a crush on him, or at least looks up to him in some extent). The show doesn’t get weird though so no need to worry about some cringy relationship forming between recently widowed teacher and student. Kouhei doesn’t seem to be looking for any new partners and instead is focusing all of his energy on making Tsumugi’s life a bit easier and enjoyable. He also is keeping these visits as professional as he can, by staying out of Kotori’s business for the most part and ensuring that her mother is ok with them staying over and cooking meals once a week.  It doesn’t seem like this hint of romance Kotori has for Kouhei is going to evolve into something that makes you want to shake you head at the page as you read it, so expect nothing more than a heartwarming story.

The main reason why I like this show so much is because of Tsumugi’s ability to just put a smile on my face. Its right up there with Barakamon and Non Non Biyori Repeat, both of which are currently on my top favorite slice of life shows of all time. Sweetness and Lightning is such a refreshing and delightful show to brighten up the season, and I recommend anyone looking for a lighthearted show to pick this one up.

Orange

Prepare yourself for the impending feel trip, because Orange is going to try and pull on those heart strings as hard as it can. In vein of other melodramatic shows such as The Flower We Saw That Day (AnoHana), the show tries to engross you in its story and to empathize with the characters by having something tragic happen to somewhat normal and relateable people. The group of characters the show follows are all pretty normal highschool students, so it is easy to get to like the characters for who they are. Once you find out that one of them commits suicide in a few years, and 10 years in the future all of his friends feel nothing but regret for not noticing what he was going through you begin to feel kinda bad for the events that had unfolded.

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Orange isn’t just about trying to make you feel sad though, since it gives hope to the fact that perhaps the past could be changed. Through some unknown means, the main character of Orange (Naho Takamiya) is able to write letters detailing the events that surround Kakeru (the character who ends up committing suicide) and send them to her past self. These letters usually just detail what she wished she could have changed in the past, and some important events in their lives that influenced Kakeru’s overall psyche.

The main crux of the story in Orange revolves around these letters Naho receives from her future self. As she starts to follow the directions (or not follow them) she starts to realize that they are able to predict the future to a certain extent, and that Kakeru’s mind had been in a very dark place ever since they first met. I personally am enjoying the story greatly, as it focuses on Naho’s experience as she tries to save the life of her new friend and overcome her only shortcomings. Instead of just passively sitting on the side lines letting things just play out she now has to actively try and shape the future to avoid tragedy.

All in all, it is a great story so far. I have heard some complaints on how the story never explains how the letters are getting sent back, and why don’t they say tell Naho about larger tragedies so she could stop them. Personally I don’t find a problem with the story not diving into this aspect, as it leave an air of mystery and supernatural elements to the story. For all we know, these letters were just written by Naho’s future self as a way of coping with grief. For instance, she just writes down a diary of everything that happened in her past that is causing her regret, without any intention of anyone ever really reading it. We don’t know, and I am not sure if it will ever try to explain it at this point, which is fine with me. Its not a show about time travel or anything, so explanations on time traveling letters not what you are really watching it for. This is a show for those who want a heartfelt story that is going to try and bring on the waterworks as you root for the characters to move forward.

New Game

The last show I have to talk about this season is New Game, a show about a group of girls who all work at a video game company. The story follows Aoba Suzukaze, a recent highschool graduate and new hire at Eagle Jump. At Eagle Jump, Aoba is a part of the character design team in the art department, where her and various other girls all work on getting their new game looking as pretty as possible. Plot wise, this show is about as deep as a kiddie pool. This isn’t really something that is going to hold the show back a whole lot though, since New Game is a simple slice of life that is largely character driven.

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These types of shows are no stranger to most anime fans by now, and because of that it should be easy to tell if you are going to like it or not from a first glance. The story is almost non-existent, as there is very little plot progression at all. There isn’t really a sense of how long they have to complete their game other than “it will soon be crunch time”. Each characters tasks are not really explained in much detail outside of Aoba’s in the first few episodes (where she is given some small tasks to start her out as she learns a new program). Instead, the show focuses on the day-to-day interactions and activities of the girls that work at Eagle Jump and lets their personalities take over. Like 99% of all other cute-girls-doing-cute-things types of shows, New Game’s characters all have unique personalities and designs that help differentiate each character from one another.

I actually really like these simple slice-of-life shows that are full of cute girls doing fun things. They can really brighten your mood and make you smile when they are done well, and New Game is fortunately done pretty well. The characters are cute and likeable. The setting is fun and unique, and it relates to something that most people that watch anime probably enjoy. It is also a very good looking show, with nice bright and colorful visuals to compliment the girls cute appearances. All in all, a fun moe show that will be sure to keep you entertained. Don’t go into it expecting it to dive deep into video game design or anything though, as it rarely touches the subject. It is merely the backdrop to the show, with almost all focus being on the characters themselves rather than what tasks they are doing.