Manchild in Animeland: Barakamon

Seishuu and the kids, Barakamon
Seishuu and the kids, Barakamon

A few weeks ago, I extolled the virtues of adults in anime. While adults (when they live) contribute to the wellbeing of children, sometimes you have adults who ACT like children. Such is the case with Handa Seishuu (aka “Sensei), who is grown man with a child’s disposition, who is forced to spend extended time with actual children in Barakamon.

You know that Seishuu is not right in the head from the get-go. In episode one, not five minutes into the anime, we see him punch an elder (with a cane!) in the face for being critical about his work. Such is our introduction to this calligraphy master who seems to have hit a wall. As a result of his bad behavior, Seishuu is sent to the country to recapture his calligraphy skills and meditate on his mistakes. The irony is that the kids he meets there teach him vital lessons he needs to advance in his art and become a human that others can deal with. In other words, Seishuu learns to be an adult from kids.

When he arrives at the airport, it’s empty: no people, no taxis. He hitches a ride to his temporary dwelling, where he  has the (mis)fortune to encounter Naru on the remote island. She a precocious little girl who has absolutely no respect for Seishuu’s personal boundaries. Loud and curious, she becomes Seishuu’s guide. She and two older young islanders, Tamako and Miwa, routinely crash Seishuu’s crib, which used to function as their hangout spot. Having made multiple copies of his house keys, they get into his ink, question his lack of a girlfriend, harass him into being a chaperone and generally drag him into their adventures.

At the same time, they can tell when he’s depressed over his art and help him to get over some of his insecurities. In one episode, they show up and Seishuu is crouched in the corner with a black cloud emanating from him. He mumbles something to Naru, who translates that he’s upset because his work came in second in an exhibition. They then make it their mission to try to cheer him up.  On some level, they realize he’s an artist and he’s having some problems, so they do what they can to help. Even though they come uninvited to his rental, they usually bring food or an opportunity for a good time.

Seishuu lacks the carefree nature of the kids, which would actually help him be a better artist. At the same time, being put in a position of authority over the kids draws out his sense of responsibility, getting him away from his narcissistic tendencies. Nothing is better than seeing Seishuu worry that someone’s child is going to drown when he is roped into supervising the kids when they go swimming.   The kids are used to swimming in the ocean, so they pay Seishuu absolutely no mind. When Naru follows Miwa and jumps off of the concrete pier, Seishuu nearly has a heart attack. As they walk back home, Seishuu is upset and on the verge of tears, not only because of the potential danger, but also because he realizes that he’s worrying about some else for a change. The kids are truly sorry and rally around Seishuu, lifting his spirits.  In another episode, Seishuu shoves a kid to the side to try to capture a beetle for Naru (he fails miserably). He spends the whole day with three kids and bonding over their insecurities. His interaction with the kids actually make him a little more mature. He comes to truly care about them.

The feeling is mutual. After he leaves to go back for his exhibit, Seishuu tries to resume his normal life, but feels that something is missing. His mother has a full conniption when she realizes that he misses the island.   He’s depressed and won’t leave his room, and only perks up when he receives a phone call from the kids. From his time on the island, he knows that there is only one place where all of them could make the call: the local store. They are all there, and hilarity ensues when they fight over the phone. Seishuu continues his role as not-so-friendly adult figure by yelling at them to take turns, and assuring them that he’ll return.

This slice of life anime is delightful, if for no other reason than seeing Seishuu try to work out his issues and act like a responsible adult around kids who can see right through him.

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