Hey hey hey fellow ani-lovers and ani-friends!! It’s Archi-Anime’s turn to contribute to the OWLS January blog tour. OWLS: Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect, is a group that hopes to spread the important message of respect and kindness to every human being. Our monthly blog tours reflect this message of tolerance and self-acceptance, through various analysis of the anime medium; although it is not limited to anime.
January’s theme is “Revival”:
A new year implies “new beginnings.” Yet, rather than discussing the “new,” we will be discussing the “revival.” “Revival” has multiple definitions, but the meaning we will be focusing on is the improvement, development, or refinement of something. Our posts will be about characters that undergo a positive or negative transformation and what we can learn from them.
The life of an artist is a precarious path, and the same could go for us content creators. We all start from zero. We start with the basics and once we’re comfortable with that we start to add our own view, our own flourishes to make our content our own. Some people are born with natural talent while others have to work really hard. We’re inspired by others and strive to be like them so in a sense we also start to mimic those as well. We’ve all at some point hit a wall, a plateau, that hinders us from creating, this is usually the time we have to start changing things up and find new inspiration.
In the case of Barakamon, Handa Sei is a naturally talented calligraphy artist bound for glory in the same steps as his father, another renowned Calligrapher. Handa is quite proud of his work, it’s perfection in it’s subtlety, and its grounded in the foundation it was built on, the influence of his father and the basics he’s known all his life. He’s comfortable in thinking he’s the best, until one fateful competition that breaks him. What happens afterwards revitalizes him via his own renaissance and a better understanding of himself.
Crash & Burn
“For one still so young, your calligraphy is highly conformist. I don’t know if it’s better described as copybook-style, or made simply to win calligraphy awards. Did you even attempt to scale the walls of mediocrity?” – Director
At the beginning of the series, we see a manically laughing Handa practicing calligraphy, or more like splashing black ink around on an canvas before he flops onto the ground satisfied with what he sees. Until we enter a flashback scene from the latest competition in which his work was displayed. We see his art being criticized by a big wig, a director of the gallery. The above quote is what he says about Handa’s work on display, basically saying that his work is basic and is missing something. So, as a response, instead of talking, he uses his fists and knocks out the Director.
After having punched the lights out of the Director, Handa is sent to the island of Fukue to cool his head and take a break from his work. What Handa has failed to realize what the director is saying is that while Handa’s work is beautiful in it’s foundations of basics, where is Handa in his work? Where is his style of calligraphy? What does he want to convey outside of pretty calligraphy?
On the island, Handa is adverse to socializing with the community at first; hell-bent on solely focusing on trying to better his calligraphy by thoroughly practicing everyday all day with the thoughts of the director swirling through his head. But throughout the duration of his stay, the community worms their way into his life and eventually his heart thereby causing a noticeable change in his work ethic.
Enter Naru Kotinishi, the biggest thorn in his side due to her pestering nature. However, her pestering nature cuts through to the very center of who he is without her knowing, reiterating what the director has also noticed about the very truth of his work ethic, and who Handa is as a person. At first he despises the child, but he can’t fault her for speaking so frankly – she’s a kid. She only knows how to speak the truth and speak on her mind. Handa is too stubborn, too caught up in his ways and his ideals of perfect calligraphy, that he doesn’t know how to have fun or to let loose. Naru interjects spontaneity into his life with daily events, and unplanned life anecdotes and becomes an unlikely friend that sparks the catalyst to his renaissance.
After his first day on the island he’s inspired to write, which is a call-back to the beginning of the first episode. He’s laughing like a crazy person as he “writes”. But as he looks as it the next day, he says he can’t claim it as his style, because as wild and spontaneous as it is, is that what represents him?
Rising from the Ashes
Due to his encounters with the locals and having spent loads of time with Naru, Handa learns to let loose a little, learns to have fun. This hits a switch inside him, he goes home and practices his calligraphy, but instead of doing it in his usual measured and perfect way, he has fun. He tries to capture the feeling of that word based on something he experiences that day on the island. He ends up producing large pieces of work. Wild broad strokes fill up the canvas before him, random splatters here and there, there’s nothing clean and nothing perfect about it but it’s painted with feeling.
There’s a particular scene that stands out as the turning point of Handa rising from the ashes. His reputation as a calligrapher is known to all the villagers on the island. One day, he’s asked to paint a name on the side of the boat. The boat is brand new, pristine and sparkling white. He’s hesitant to write on it and mess up the perfection in front of him, so he takes to practicing on wooden planks. When he think’s he’s ready to paint on the boat, he hesitates because that first stroke will determine perfection. He starts to create excuses as to why he can’t paint just yet and that he needs more practice. Naru sees his hesitation of the blank canvas, so she takes the initiative and dips her hand in the ink and sets a handprint on the boat which caused all the other children to follow suit. Handa starts to panic and freak out as he realizes he has to abandon all his planning and use splotches of bold black strokes to hide the small handprints.
“It’s strange. I was so scared a moment ago. But the pressure’s completely gone and the brush is moving easily, just because of those little handprints.” – Handa
At the end of the job, it’s messy, but it works. The client actually loves it and thinks it fits the boat perfectly. Naru is there pushing Handa’s boundaries and making him break the mold that he’s so accustomed to, and because of this refreshing outlook, he can’t help but adapt to the idea of having fun in doing calligraphy.
Handa abandons perfection. He abandons the basics. He never realized how happy calligraphy actually makes him until he does it more free-form.
Another scene comes to mind when this realization comes to fruition. Handa enters a competition from the island, but comes in second place. This throws him into a short depression, but soon he gets over it. His best friends/manager comes to visit him on the island, bringing along a new face. Turns out that this character is the person that won first in that one competition. He’s come to save Handa from himself, as he saw the entry and didn’t find it beautiful and representative of who Handa was, and wanted to bring Handa back to Tokyo as his art was being tarnished by living on the island. Claiming his new wild style is forced and not like him at all, and that being on the island is not helping him gain anything.
Handa has a mini-breakdown with his rival badgering him to return. He’s confused as what’s expected from him. If he wins an award he gets told its boring, but if he writes something he likes and is actually good it doesn’t win a prize. Naru interrupts by flying paper airplanes made of magazine cutouts of Handa and she tells him that he’s flying. I think Handa takes this as a hint; that he’s free to do what he wants. He has a moment of clarity that settles his inner demons and realizes what it is he really wants:
“My calligraphy that you call pretty is well-behaved calligraphy, written the way my dad told me. I don’t mind if you get mad. I want to write calligraphy only Handa Seishuu can write. I don’t know what the right answer is, but letting your words goad me into returning to Tokyo is wrong. I want to change myself, here.” – Handa Seishuu
When I watched that particular episode of Barakamon, I was reminded of my own struggle with the blank page. I’ve always been obsessed with that the first stroke of the pen, pencil, marker, brush had to be immaculate. It’s really a hard habit to break, so I understood Handa’s struggle. Nothing is perfect, and that perfection could lie in the imperfections.
On the other hand, he reminds us that in throwing caution to the wind with our pre-meditated thoughts and breaking the molds of tradition are also the catalysts for our own personal renaissance. Or maybe there’s one person out there that can make you realize the change that needs to be made, whether that be a friend, a significant other, or even a lover.
Through trial and error, we find ourselves and our passions. Through trial and error we find what works and what doesn’t work. But, without trial and error, the catalyst for a renaissance will never arise. I take this to heart, because this blog has gone through it’s own Renaissance, and has finally flourised in the content that is what I can only write.
That just about wraps up this month’s tour here at Archi-Anime. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Feel free to leave any in the comments!
And look out for Naja’s post on her site: Nice Job Breaking it, Hero.. where she looks at Samurai Flamenco.
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