On the surface, Barakamon and Poco’s Udon World are the same anime- A troubled man travels to the countryside where he finds an adorable child. As he looks after this child, funny antics ensue and he goes on a journey of self discovery. Handa and Souta even look the same, making comparisons simply inevitable. However, when looking at the themes of the two shows, each stands out in different ways. I enjoy both of these shows for entirely different reasons, and here’s why.
Barakamon is about the one thing that keeps every artist up at night- finding a balance between technical skill and emotional artistry. Here, Naru represents the wild and chaotic aspects of creativity. Making art is fun and inspiring, and this is something Handa learns as he spends more time on the island. Handa’s self discovery comes as he opens up and stops stifling his creativity by rigidly sticking to the technical aspects of his art.
Poco’s Udon World on the other hand is about dealing with unresolved feelings of regret and uncertainty. As Souta returns to the past that he had distanced himself from, Poco reconnects him to the places and people he had left behind. This helps him find closure and reconcile with his past at a time when he was starting to feel conflicted and doubts his decisions.
This means that the tones of the shows stand in contrast to one another. Barakamon is absolutely hilarious, and heartwarming on the side. There isn’t a single episode where there isn’t at least one outrageous gag that made me laugh out loud.
Poco’s Udon world focuses on being heartwarming, with laughter sprinkled in between. This focus climaxes at the end of the show, where the loose threads are tied together to bring an emotionally satisfying ending. Both shows’ strengths lie in mixing the two to create a wholesome experience.
The two anime also diverge in their approach towards their themes of family. Barakamon shows how communities can form familial bonds in small towns. The town’s elders ensure Handa takes care of himself through his journey, and the children immediately adopt him as a big brother. Poco’s Udon world concerns itself more with the inseparable bond families have as Souta reflects on his strained relationship with his now deceased father through adopting a parental role himself. It also takes on the importance of communication between family, showing how words that are not properly conveyed can lead to unnecessary conflict.
Interestingly, both shows feature their protagonists moving to countryside homes, but the locations actually serve very different functions. Poco’s Udon world is very much a love letter to Kagawa prefecture, known as the Udon prefecture of Japan. As Souta returns to his childhood home, he fondly remembers the time he spent there and realises his love for the little town he left behind for the big city. He comes to appreciate the home he had always taken for granted.
In Barakamon, Handa is a bona fide city boy who has to adapt to eccentric little town he is thrust into. He is thrown into a completely new environment that challenges him and gives him the push he needs for inspiration. He slowly falls in love with the place he initially detests, choosing to return when he no longer needs to. While both shows relish in the simplicity of country life, our protagonists come to appreciate it from different perspectives.
Our two protagonists are also quite different when you go beyond their exterior. Handa is an easily irritable genius who turns out to be more childish than expected. Souta on the other hand is a caring and nurturing person who immediately assumes responsibility of Poco.
However, Handa and Souta aren’t the only protagonists of their respective shows. Barakamon is as much about Naru as it is about Handa. Her innocent and childish view of the world holds much of the show’s heart. Naru and her friends are some of the most accurately depicted children I have ever seen in anime, and somehow not one of them comes off as annoying. Poco’s Udon world has the titular Poco, who is much younger than Naru and is consequently much less mischievous. There’s also the fact that Poco isn’t actually human, but a tanuki, or a raccoon dog that is known in Japanese folklore as being shapeshifters. Poco is thus able to help Souta in his struggle in a more direct, supernatural way as he shows him visions of his departed father. Naru guides Handa through his new life in a more indirect way, by just being herself, thus providing Handa with new perspectives on life.
Both Barakamon and Poco’s Udon World do one thing very well, that is, showing us that there is a lot we can learn from children. Much like the countrysides shown, children are simple in nature – and that isn’t a bad thing. When life gets complicated, children remind us of what is most important, be it having fun with what we do or treasuring our loved ones. So make sure you give both a go, as you never know what you may learn along the way.
All images are taken from the anime. I do not own any of them.