Set up as a prequel to Barakamon, this anime follows Handa Sei as he goes through his highschool life. He is immensely popular but due to a misunderstanding believes he the target of persistent bullying and a is deeply paranoid. Apparently this is funny.
I really do need to just give up on comedy at this point. Pretty much anytime someone tells me something will make me laugh I end up watching in a bemused silence until the final episode ends and then I walk away. I do so calmly and without comment. Because a comedy that doesn’t make you laugh or smile is just empty. It’s characters dancing across a screen throwing themselves into their jokes in desperation and each and everyone has failed to hit the mark. While anime characters may not know that their jokes are falling to the floor by the end of the series I end up feeling profoundly sorry for them. All that effort and did I even crack a smile?
Though that is clearly an issue on my end and isn’t really a review of Handa-Kun so let’s focus on that for now. However, going in it has three strikes against it in terms of the odds of my enjoying this series. First, it’s a prequel. Rather than the fact that it is a comedy, the fact that it is a prequel would really be the thing I’m going to zero in on and discuss in more depth later. Secondly, it’s a comedy. And I’ve clearly established already that my sense of humour is broken so while others may find the humour in this pretty laugh out loud, with the exception of episodes 11 and 12 I pretty much managed to tolerate it. Episodes 11 and 12 actually were kind of amusing and I’m sure I smiled at some point during them. Lastly, there’s no actual plot because it is more just a series of set ups and punch lines (similar to Sakamoto Desu Ga which I never finished because I just didn’t care anymore).
So with all of that stacked against it you are probably asking why I even bothered to watch it? That has a simple answer. Curiosity. I really enjoyed Barakamon (even though it is a slice of life heavily dependent on stereotypes and obvious jokes and the central plot is wafer thin). Who says lightning can’t strike twice?
Well, Handa-Kun clearly.
Let’s start with episode 1. Actually let’s not. Let us drop at least the first ten minutes of episode 1 into the bin and never, ever speak of them again. This is the laziest kind of self-aware, ‘look-how-cool-and-hip-we-are’, comedy that I have as yet been subjected to (possibly because I avoid these kinds of shows). Honestly, if I’d watched this when it aired and I had to wait a week for episode 2 this show would have been dropped then and there.
However, after that travesty of an introduction to the series, what we get is actually not bad. I didn’t find it all that funny and most of the set-ups are the usual stereotypical high school anime set-ups but Handa manages to find a way to turn the expected situation on its head (again feeling similar to Sakamoto). I’m going to continue that comparison even though I usually avoid directly playing two shows against each other. Sakamoto played with our expectations. You knew Sakamoto would come out on top and waited with eager anticipation as to how he would achieve it. His super-human feats were exhilarating and jaw-droppingly audacious. Handa-Kun plays with our expectations. By the third episode is it clear that no matter what happens the rest of the class will still think Handa is amazing and Handa will still believe he is being bullied. But… Instead of anticipation what I got was a sense of impending dread before each reveal. That kind of leaden feeling in your stomach when you know that it’s going to be bad and you can’t stop it. And then the reveal would occur and most of the time Handa’s final expression kind of just summed up exactly how I felt in that moment.
Why such vastly different emotions from shows that are essentially formulaically similar? Because social anxiety isn’t all that funny. Sakamoto managed to make me smile because Sakamoto himself was totally unaffected by the others. He came through each scene shining and then then moved on without so much as a backward glance. Handa, on the other hand, is crippled by his own anxieties to the point where at times he can’t even speak. Each event in the show compounds his suspicion of others and makes it harder for the cycle to be broken. Laughing at that would be like laughing at the kid who gets their head flushed down the toilet every single day. And yep, reading way too much into what should be a light hearted show but I just couldn’t disconnect from that feeling.
But as I said before, it wasn’t all that bad. The characters are interesting enough and there is certainly a diverse cast. Each episode is broken into a series of set-ups so it doesn’t feel like it is dragging at any point because we move from one scene to the next (though one might argue that having a new character start a self-introduction is possibly one of the laziest ways to scene transition ever). The music is entertaining and some of the visual effects are quite striking (I actually quite liked the physical depiction of Handa’s aura).
Still, there is no looking away from the fact that Handa-Kun is a prequel.Which makes you wonder why it is needed. Did we not understand why Handa was the way he was in the original series? Were there burning questions about his childhood raised? Not really. He was a bit socially awkward (as expected from someone who chooses a career such as professional calligrapher) but was hardly socially anxious to the emotionally crippled degree we see here. And as far as I can remember, none of the other characters from this prequel even exist in the original (I could be wrong about that but even if they do it is hardly a significant point) so we aren’t learning more about how a particular relationship was forged.
Essentially, other than the character names, and the fact that both Handa’s do calligraphy, there is no connection between the original series and this prequel. So why not just make a totally original show?
Either Handa-Kun is actually a brilliant satire that is outlining how self-involved we as humans are and how warped our perception of reality can become as we twist events to fit our own view of the world (and I just missed it’s shining amazingness) or it is a lame to average comedy depending on your view. Regardless, it really wasn’t my kind of anime and while I don’t hate it I wouldn’t be lining up for a second viewing.
I’d love to know what you thought of Handa-Kun.
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