Barakamon shows that you don't need aliens, magical powers and love triangles in order to create an exciting anime. Barakamon is not a tale of good triumphing over evil or a couple finding true love within one another, but rather an example of why our uneventful daily lives is story enough, even if said life involves being assaulted by small children.
There isn't a great deal that occurs in Barakamon's regrettably short 12-episode run. There is no overarching, deep story to keep you on the edge of your seat, and by the end of the final episode, not a whole lot has changed from the beginning. If you were to explain the story of Barakamon to one of your friends, they would likely respond by saying "That's it? Sounds boring." And they would be horribly wrong, as Barakamon is easily one of the best anime of the entire year.
The characters in Barakamon are the story. It is about Handa Seishuu, a 23-year-old calligrapher prone to anger and misfortune, and his friendship with the villagers who continually screw him over through a myriad of hilarious accidents. He does not undergo a great transformation by the end of the anime, but simply experiences the joy of human companionship, and no-- this theme is not told through preaching morals. Barakamon is very subtle with its themes, choosing instead to develop characters gradually and believably rather than through melodrama. As immature as Handa and the characters often are, Barakamon is actually a surprisingly mature anime.
When Handa finds himself staring in awe at the starry night, the writers do not feel the need to explain what Handa is feeling at that moment. At that point in the story, Handa has been characterised so believably that empathising with his thoughts and feelings becomes natural. He's not a walking gag, an archetype made to appeal to the audience's most basic instincts. He is his own person, highly flawed and vulnerable to mistakes. Whereas most anime protagonists are so dull, so devoid of personality or history that you could throw them into just about any other show, Handa feels at home in his own series.
And the same can be said for all the other characters. The kids, especially Naru in particular, are unique in the way that they actually behave like kids. Naru is mouthy, aggressive and intellectually inferior to the adults. She collects bugs, finds poop funny, eats live snails (ugh!) and annoys Handa in just about every way possible. Naru is not cute in the same way that loli characters are. She is an actual child, not a pretend-child created to please the nether regions of lolicons. Just like real, living kids, Naru and her companions are often frustrating and bring ruin to just about everything they encounter, but that energy is precisely what makes them so endearing.
The humour of Barakamon is also surprisingly thoughtful, and it hits the mark more than perhaps could ever be expected from an anime. There were no moments where the joke fell completely flat (as was sometimes the case with similar anime like Silver Spoon and Gekkan Shoujo). There are few, if any puns and stereotypical Japanese humour, even if it does still follow the typical manzai format of stupid-thing-happens-and-people-react-to-stupid-thing. The stupid things in Barakamon work because they are actually rooted in reality. It doesn't create its comedy through the characters reacting in some ridiculous, unbelievable way, but through the kinds of accidents that typically follow from playing with children. And from Handa suffering.
Unlike most slice-of-life comedies, Barakamon knows how to strike a perfect balance between its humour and the more heart-warming moments. These moments are well-placed and purposely kept rare so that they may carry meaning. What most anime are incapable of grasping is that in the real world, we find beauty in between mountains of hardship; it is not something that can be created artificially and sold and traded at the dollar store. Barakamon understands this, which is precisely why its events feel so natural, even if they do not carry any huge wave of emotion along with them.
Barakamon also deserves some praise for its willingness to tell a story with characters of all ages. There are the kids, a few teenagers in the local high school, the adult protagonist and his friends from the city, and the middle-aged and elderly villagers. It does not focus solely on 15-year-olds, and for that Barakamon is all the more special.
The calligraphy aspect of the show does have its share of issues, though. Because the focus is almost entirely on the comedy and the slice-of-life, there isn't much detail given to the calligraphy world that Handa is a part of. What makes a good piece of writing? What makes a bad one? Why is Handa's new style so much more meaningful, and what is it even like to be a calligrapher? None of these questions are fully answered. If you don't have any knowledge of calligraphy (and I expect you won't-- I certainly did not), then it's likely these scenes will not do much for you. I found myself much more invested in all the immature shenanigans that occurred between Handa and the villagers. At the very least, I suppose it did show that there's a bit more to calligraphy than simply slapping cool-looking kanji on a piece of paper.
Barakamon looks and sounds great. While there's no gorgeous setpieces and scenery to bring heaven to your eyeballs, the artwork is still very attractive and consistent. The opening track is also pure bliss. I would recommend giving it a listen any time you're feeling awful; it's like magic.
Will Barakamon shock and bring you to tears? Probably not. But it will almost assuredly change the opinions of anyone who previously found the slice-of-life genre boring, and what it lacks in emotional value it makes up for by being executed nearly to perfection. It is one of the most enjoyable, pleasant experiences I've had with an anime in a very long time, and anyone who simply wants to have a good time and relax would be doing themselves a huge favour by giving Barakamon a try. Its greatest sin is that there just isn't any more of it to watch.
As for the best anime of 2014, Barakamon is the winner in my eyes.