I realize that the term “healing” gets thrown around pretty liberally these days to describe slice-of-life shows, even where it doesn’t necessarily apply, and it should be pretty clear that I’m going to do that a lot myself as I add to this blog. But speaking very broadly, I think of it as referring to a feeling that you experience when you vicariously occupy the position of a character who has some psychological malady that is being remedied. This doesn’t even have to be a single character in a show, it can be any number of characters whose feelings you can relate to strongly enough to want them to come around.
Barakamon is the story of Handa Seishuu, a famous but temperamental calligrapher. After viciously assaulting an art critic who has something bad to say about his calligraphy, Handa’s father decides to send him to a remote island so that he can cool his head. At the outset, Handa doesn’t seem to understand why his father thought the island would be a good solution to his problem, nor does he even really seem to agree on what his problem actually is. Instead of thinking about what his father told him, all he can think of is the criticism that enraged him in the first place, so he sees his purpose on the island as improving his calligraphy rather than growing as a person.
For this reason, his first dose of healing kind of sneaks up on him. Early in the episode he’s having a conversation with a man who we find out later is Naru’s grandfather, and Handa remarks on how the ocean doesn’t look very pretty to him. The old man says that it’s probably not beautiful because the sky is too cloudy, but then again, he didn’t say whether or not he thought the ocean was pretty or not himself, just that his granddaughter really enjoys it. This conversation is reincorporated later during what’s probably the most memorable scene in the episode: Naru is climbing a bulwark and asks Handa to come with her because the sunset is really beautiful from up there, and Handa is reluctant to do so because of what her grandfather had said. Her response: “You won’t know unless you try for yourself.”
By the time Handa does climb up and look off at the sunset with Naru, of course, a lot has already happened throughout the episode to soften his outlook on the village and its people. He initially demanded solitude, and spent all his energy trying to keep people out of his home so that he could concentrate on his work. After upsetting Naru and subsequently making amends with her, and spending the afternoon playing with her, he’s obviously managed to let his guard down enough that he can finally see things the way Naru sees them. From Naru, Handa is learning a healthy disrespect for the conventional wisdom of his elders, which ties directly into his worry that his style of calligraphy is too formulaic and traditional.
That’s really the beautiful thing about the first episode of Barakamon, and of the series in general. A famous, serious artist, crushed by the weight of his popularity, finding liberation in the company of people who are not only completely unfamiliar with who he is, but don’t even really understand or appreciate what it is that he does. And since he fails to get them to take him seriously, all he can do is learn to stop taking himself so seriously. At the end of the episode, the whole village comes to his house uninvited and helps him move in, and instead of trying to chase them off, he welcomes them. Of course, Handa’s journey isn’t complete, and subsequent episodes will continue to challenge him as aspects of his past come back to haunt him and he grapples with his identity.
Something that distinguishes Barakamon is the fact that, in spite of its setting and its “healing” focus, the show doesn’t really pause to take its breath very often. Without having read the manga I can’t tell whether or not this an issue with the adaptation that isn’t present in the original. The scenery itself is more likely to take a backseat to the characters, and we don’t get any of the beautiful zoomed-out nature shots that you see in shows like Aria or Non Non Biyori. Huge chunks of every episode are spent indoors. You don’t really get the sense that Handa is being “healed” by the natural beauty of the island, so much as the relationships he forms there and the activities that the locals involve him in. When the show does take some time to pause, it’s more likely to show a panorama of the characters enjoying each other’s company than a big nature shot.
Anyhow, I’m really enjoying this show, the comedy is consistently funny and the character growth of Handa, and even of the people around him, is a constant joy. So far there hasn’t been a single disappointing episode, either, though there also hasn’t been one as strong as the first, in my opinion.