Tag Archives: art

Barakamon: The Artist In Recovery

Contains spoilers for the ending of Barakamon.

I have been working on a fantasy novel called A Pattern of Light in some form since 2007. The ideas for it date back much further, but I wanted to update them. I began the outline for it while I was visiting my father in the hospital. In between sessions of Final Fantasy 3 on the Nintendo DS, I wrote the novel’s outline in a now battered Moleskine notebook. Around that time, too, I was watching the ending of Mai Hime and I even wrote about it here, because the sense of loss and grief in that show spoke to me then. While the novel itself didn’t deal with that directly, that is the soil where it took root.

A lot has happened since December of 2007, when the ideas first came. Anime Diet was only a year old then, and now has become far larger than the lark it began as. Friends have come and gone. I graduated from seminary, and found my way back into computers. Multiple Nanowrimos have passed, some of them dedicated to finishing A Pattern of Light, but while sometimes the 50,000 word barrier was breached, the work itself was never finished. It stopped when a number of things began to break down in my and others’ lives and had been lying dormant since, waiting for a moment when my mind and heart could settle down and feel enough both drive and pain to continue the work.

Make good art,” Neil Gaiman charged a graduating art school class, and especially on bad days. It was advice that I didn’t heed.

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When life’s messy, all you can do is to start to clean it up.

* * *

So when I first started watching Barakamon, and saw how Handa-sensei had been exiled to an island in order to reflect not only on his aggression toward the critic but also on his calligraphic art, I felt a pang of recognition. In a brief moment, Handa has to face two stark realities: first, that he had hurt someone undeservedly, and second, that the critic was probably right—his art was workmanlike rather than inspired. Those of us who tend to be perfectionists, and writers tend to be both that and procrastinators, know the pain. To be told that something isn’t good enough is a devastating blow to someone who bases his self-esteem on accomplishment.  For a creative person, to be told that one’s work is uninspiring is perhaps worse than most other critiques. When I was young, I clung to my creative abilities to help me get through a difficult middle and high school existence. To have that sense called into question hurt Handa badly.

So he has to go away for a while, to a remote island. Here, the story of Barakamon takes a familiar shape, of the broken man being healed by the charming eccentricities of the rural yokels. It is to help him recover his talents, yes, but it is also a form of exile. Exile, in literature, is sometimes a painful but necessary step to growth. The Israelites had to wander in the desert for 40 years before they were ready to enter the Promised Land. After realizing the suffering of the world, the Buddha had to wander as an ascetic before he received the enlightenment of the middle way. For an artist whose inspiration has left him, Handa needed a change of place and context: overfamiliarity is bad for art, and bad for the soul too if it leads to complacency. So is arrogance, and Handa had plenty of it initially, rejecting the critique and rejecting the children who have come bounding into his life on the Goto Islands.

There’s something quietly monumental that Naru, the lead child, is played not by one of the usual seiyuu but by an actual child—Suzuko Hara. So are most of the other children, played by actors and actresses not much older than their characters. We are not dealing with the projection of children (or worse, “lolis”) that we usually see in anime. Instead, with the writing, we are getting something much closer to reality of childhood: the carefree, illogical leaps of subjects, the annoying pranks, the sheer aggravating delight in repetition, and most importantly, the unforced affection and love. With the authentic acting, we get its texture. Barakamon’s depiction of kids is sentimental (the natural selfishness of children is only depicted occasionally), but not unreal. I saw much the same when I was a summer camp counselor, many years ago. And those children are instrumental in Handa’s healing.

Handa’s healing process is surprisingly drawn out for an otherwise formulaic show. For much of the series, his exasperation gets the better of him; he regularly berates Naru and the other children to the point where, in real life, it would border abuse. Moments of ecstatic joy are often immediately undercut by the machinations of the boys, or the teasing middle school girls who, too, are realistically snotty as opposed to the near sex objects they have become in other anime. The calligraphic work he produces varies wildly in quality, and the people of the town are not especially interested in their artistic merits as opposed to their practical uses: paint us words on a boat! Or a sign for the temple! He would not have taught the girls how to write if they hadn’t essentially forced that decision on him. And the one masterpiece he does create, “Stars,” is a product of a literal fall into despair and frustration punctuated by one moment of wonder. Good art often seems to come from violent juxtapositions, and it was made possible in large part because he was in a place where he wouldn’t be insulated from extremes anymore. It was not to be emulated again, either, marred in a bout of insecurity that frustrated me deeply when he did it.

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Because so many of us do that too, don’t we? We put ourselves down even when part of us says we did good work. That nagging perfectionist voice—Anne Lamott calls it Radio KFKD—refuses to shut up about its flaws, or about its reception. We stop working when we think the piece has reached a dead end, or that life is too hard to think about such frivolous things and that there are more important things to be done in life. Handa has to be pushed, by circumstance and by the annoyingly loving support of his island community. He only begins to miss them just before he is supposed to leave for Tokyo again. Whatever it is, that is what recovery looks like: halting, sometimes unsure, but definite.

Even more: the work he does submit, the canvas full of the names of everyone who has touched his life on the island (Naru’s name is largest), does not win. In fact, it loses in spectacular fashion, in 5th place. A work of positivity like that, it seems, is not necessarily appreciated in a contest. In a way, though, it was the work Handa needed to produce before he could move on. It is as important to him, perhaps more, that his student Miwa earned first place in her contest than that he win first place in his. That realization was what helped Handa’s mother let him go, because it is a great sign of maturity, that he cares more for others than himself. He is not a perfect artist yet, but he is a better human being.

Maybe that is actually more important than the work. Or, perhaps, the work and the person are inseparable. You improve one, you improve the other.

* * *

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The only part left in the first draft of A Pattern of Light was the final part. As originally conceived in 2007, it was going to be a part full of battles, desperate maneuvers, and self-sacrifice before reaching a happy ending. It was always going to be long and serious and epic, and the synopsis for that part was longer than any of the others.

For many reasons, that is where I stopped. Life happened, betrayals happened, and the fanciful imaginings of that ending to the story seemed hollow and unrealistic, the product of someone who had read and watched a lot of stories but lived little. Attempts to go beyond it sputtered, such as in last year’s Nanowrimo. It was as if the characters would not respond to my entreaties to go with a particular plot.

The other day, I started outlining the final part again. It has now been nearly two years since I last picked it up, and this time, the ideas slowly dribbled out. The premise is actually the same, but the path is different. It is more somber and reflective: the conflict comes from something the protagonist feels rather than externally imposed on him by outside forces. The betrayal, not there in the original plan, comes from a place of genuine but misguided concern. The battles are no longer outside, but also inside too. No one escapes unscathed, but everyone knows what must be done.

These days, I live near a beach, and I live with a good friend. It’s been a year now since that happened.

I’m not done yet.

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Mangaka Art Work for Japan to Hold On!

Arale and Goku - Message from Toriyama Akira

Finding this link [EDIT] and more in this link, filled with wonderful Japanese artwork calling for the Japanese to hold on, is quite inspirational, and reminder of the popular industry that has roots in Japan. Being a sincere anime and manga fan. Please hold on Japan!

Haruhi prays for Japan

Despite the fact that there are delays and cancellations, have you consider your worth as an Anime/Manga fan?

Arina Tanemura's message that You're Not Alone!

There are more images from Gurren Laggen, Galaxy Express 999, Phoenix Wright. Are these images you find to be reassured by?

Chi mentions Gambatte Kudasai!

In Japan there will be a further doujinshi fund raising efforts, ANN lists the mangaka in English.

Minna Gambare! Message from Chopper and Luffy!

There are more work to be done, please consider donating for relief efforts.

Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan Link
Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan is just one of these relief efforts. This was an effort that was started by Daniella over at All About Manga, and further along by our own Mike. More work is going to be updating in the coming days about this newly formed site via blogging and tweeting. So Anime Diet Readers, did you think about supporting us?

Great Artists Steal

Good artists copy; great artists steal.

– Attributed to Pablo Picasso

What is the difference between copying something and stealing it?  To copy is to mimic, to ape, at all steps being cognizant of the fact that the thing you are copying is not your own.  To steal is to take something and make it your own.  Therein lies the fundamental difference in attitude between the technically competent and the great: an artist who merely copies without making a work his own has not imparted his own style and has not truly produced something worthy of being called art.  He is a failure as an artist.  A great artist, no matter how much he may superficially use the styles of others, leaves his own mark on things.

Continue reading Great Artists Steal

UVA prof finds yuri, takes pic

A University of Virginia professor was teaching to a class of 200 when he accidentally unveiled a massive drawing of two girls in an amorous embrace. A student present reported the outcome:

The teacher finally picks up the eraser. “I don’t want to erase the SOS club’s work, but I have to move on with class.”

“No!!” many voices (guys) in the crowd shout out.

“Oh come on. I’ve got a picture. I’ll put it on your tests.”

Art by Honya
Art by Honya

Reaction from the students was almost uniformly positive.

In a bizarre art-influences-life turn of events, anime blogger and artist Honya has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the drawing, which she claims is part of an ongoing series.

Anime Diet staff reacted to the event:

Moritheil: If this is the future of vandalism, the future is in good hands.

Mike : JUST AS PLANNED

Ray: Yuri: conquering the world since 2007.

Arthur Kirkland hates lolis

Images that depict underage girls and boys are about to be banned in the UK.

Pic related

First, some context (quotes from experiencefestival.com:)

“The United States Supreme Court decided in 2002, and affirmed in 2004, that previous American prohibition of simulated child pornography under the Child Pornography Prevention Act was unconstitutional.”  The main issue was that there was no harm to any actual children, and the court found that viewing of this material had no causative link to harming children.  True, someone sexually attracted to children would enjoy this kind of pornography, but the converse was not true: someone who enjoyed it would not necessarily harm, or have any feelings for, real children.

“UK law has dealt with simulated images quite differently since 1994, when the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act introduced the legal definition of an ‘indecent pseudo-photograph of a child,’ which is prohibited as if it were a true photograph.”  This act was originally interpreted to apply only to photorealistic images; drawings that were clearly not based on any real children were permitted.

Now, however, things may be changing.
Continue reading Arthur Kirkland hates lolis

ef-a tale of memories 8: Mostly a Breather

Shadows and light

After the concentrated intensity of episode 7, the writers smartly decided to largely lay off the emotional intensity (save for one final scene near the end, though it hardly comes as a shock). Too much drama can be bad for the viewer as well as for the soul.

Continue reading ef-a tale of memories 8: Mostly a Breather

ef~a tale of memories 6–The Irreplaceable Moment

 Truth is beauty, and beauty truth

This, one of the best episodes in what is already a fine show, takes both the relationship and the artistic conflicts up a few notches and sets up the characters for a high-stakes climax. There were so many memorable images and memorable scenes that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Continue reading ef~a tale of memories 6–The Irreplaceable Moment

ef~a tale of memories 5–The Outlines of Our Lives

Sometimes I wonder about that when I post blog entries

ef~a tale of memories continues its march toward artistic and romantic harmony with this episode, which in many ways is about the beginning of the stages of writing–no wonder it’s called “Outline.” I should know, because like Chihiro, I myself have written far more outlines and half-finished stories than completed ones, and it is the outlining process which gives the most joy and pleasure. Even though, in the case of Chihiro’s story, it is a reflection of terrible pain and sadness; it is her cry of life nonetheless.

Continue reading ef~a tale of memories 5–The Outlines of Our Lives

ef~a tale of memories 4–The Praise of Others

We all need a place to begin…

Why do we create? Why do we begin anything worthwhile? For many of us, myself included, the prod to begin was when someone we cared about–a teacher, a friend–saw what we were doing and said: “this is good.” Or, for the characters in this show: “you’re a genius.” Which is another way of saying, “you’re worthwhile.” So this episode, which had a few shaky moments, explores.

Continue reading ef~a tale of memories 4–The Praise of Others

ef~a tale of memories 3–A Moment, A Memento

 Time……and sight.

This is quickly shaping up to be not only the most original, but also the most ambitious show of the season. Shinbo is definitely going to be heavily represented in the Originality Awards at the end of this year…and, if the emotional promise that this show makes is delivered, it just might be one of the more meaningful and affecting ones too.

Continue reading ef~a tale of memories 3–A Moment, A Memento

Mike on ef-a tale of memories 2: I Have Got to Stop Being So Hasty

This just might describe a few of my recent reviews.

I think Owen’s right: the beginning of a new season seems to make anime bloggers like me dumber. Already I’ve begun building up a track record of unfair initial reviews, like my Kimikiss one, and trumpeted shows that later disappointed me. ef-a tale of memories is a show that I pretty much dissed just yesterday (though I’d seen episode 1 several days back), and I’m already having to backtrack on my opinion after seeing episode 2…I’m warming to it in a somewhat similar manner in the way I warmed to Clannad by episode 2.

Continue reading Mike on ef-a tale of memories 2: I Have Got to Stop Being So Hasty