This series came to my attention at that manga publisher roundtable I attended at Comic-Con. A series about a practitioner of Japanese calligraphy who moves out to a rural island is selling better than the publisher expected? I have to see how such odd subject matter is connecting with fans! As these things go, the answer turned out to be far more simple than I was expecting. The practitioner in question, one Seishuu Honda, has hit a wall in his profession after he’s called out by his former instructor for having a style that’s “just plain dull.” Not knowing what to do next, Honda takes his dad’s advice to go to a remote island in the Gotou Archipelago to cool off and find himself. The village he winds up in is as rural as you can get for Japan, filled with avuncular old farmers who drive their tractors down the road, run-down houses in desperate need of kid-proofing, lots of friendly neighbors, and local festivals as well. It’s also home to one incredibly energetic kid named Naru whose boundless energy can’t help but bring Honda out of his shell a little.
That’s right, “Barakamon” is the Japanese equivalent of the “straight-laced city slicker goes to live out in a rural town and is charmed by their unique ways” story/trope that we have in America. All the stories here are as formulaic as you’d expect, though the localization does a good job of preserving the Japanese-ness of the setting to help it stand out. This is the kind of manga you read in order to experience a part of Japan that you don’t often see featured in most series, and a lot of its appeal derives from that aspect of it. Of course, most of the stories play at Honda’s uptight nature in a way that makes him seem kind of dumb. At least mangaka Satsuki Yoshino develops a good rapport between the calligrapher and Naru as the latter slowly endears/wears down the former with her act first and think later mindset. Naru is adorable and exasperating in equal measure, just like you’d expect from an actual eight-year-old. I’m not sure if she’ll grow more or less entertaining in future volumes, but I’d much rather see Yoshino shake things up a bit and give us some stories that aren’t quite as predictable and formulaic as what we get here.