Barakamon, Vol. 1

By Satsuki Yoshino. Released in Japan by Square Enix, serialization ongoing in the magazine Gangan Online. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The genre of ‘Fish out of water city boy moves to the country and is slowly won over by the laid-back, charming ways of the locals’ is so well known in Japan that it’s become a bit of a cliche, but we don’t see it too often over here in North America, likely as it’s almost always filled with hard-to-translate dialect humor, lacks a big, eventful plot, and relies essentially on being heartwarming. The series Yotsuba&! has a similar feel, but whereas that’s all about the child, Barakamon is definitely about the young man, Seishuu Handa, and his reactions to his new neighbors and attempts to deal with the mess he’s made of his life.


The thing I like best about Handa is that he’s got a lot of decent guy underneath him, he just tends to stress out a lot and overreact to things. I have issues with this myself, so can identify. His constant admission of hating children does not really mean that he’s bad at dealing with them – at times he proves to be even better than their local teacher, and certainly bonds straight away with young Naru, the first-grade girl who practically moves in with him from day one. But he’s at a crossroads in life after one very ill-advised tantrum (he had to move from the city as everyone thought of him as ‘the guy who punched an old man with a cane’), and worse, he’s starting to see the old man’s point about his calligraphy.

Calligraphy is Handa’s profession, but trust me, you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy this – god knows I’m not. I did smile when I saw Handa’s efforts to have fun while writing characters, and later on seeing the calligraphy filling a room that he called his failures. He understands his problem but is unsure how to fix it – somewhere we’ve all been. The basic cure is likely “stop being so serious”, something I expect the rest of the cast will take care of before too long.

Other than young Naru, the rest of the cast get introduced fast and furious, but haven’t stuck around as long. She has a shy friend, Hina, and a young boy who has a crush on her and doesn’t know what to do. There’s also Hiroshi, a young high schooler whose idea of effort, and what everyone else expects of him, is frustrating to both him and the reader. This was probably my favorite chapter in the volume, as Hiroshi gradually comes to realize that he may THINK he’s giving effort, but compared to others he really does deserve all the average grades he gets. It also shows off our hero’s tenacity.

The presentation is good – there’s a final page explaining the title and some of the dialect jokes. The dialect itself is translated as ‘vaguely Southern’, but not enough to really jar the way some other publications have done (I’m thinking Osaka from Azumanga here). The plot reminds me of Yotsuba&! combined with Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, and how can you go wrong with that? Anyone who enjoys slice-of-life mangas should enjoy this one, and given it’s 10+ volumes in Japan, Yen has fast-tracked it, so expect another volume in 2 months.

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