Handa-kun Vol. 1 - Manga Review

Everyone’s favorite calligraphy sensei from the famed Barakamon series already has quite an interesting personality, but what was he like when he was in high school?

The Lowdown

Sei Handa is the son of famous calligrapher Seimei Handa. His ability both in academics and in his calligraphy has no match, and his aloof, mysterious personality attracts most of the girls in his class. However, there’s just one problem: he thinks that everyone hates him.

Who Is It For?

Fans of Barakamon will obviously be interested in this spin-off series, but even if you haven’t read Barakamon the comedy and story of the prequel Handa-kun could appeal to you.

How Was It?

Handa-kun operates on a very simple premise, as explained on the first page; Sei Handa is the son of a very famous calligrapher and is talented himself. His aloof behavior and fame make him seem mysterious and thus cause him to be talked about in awe by all of his classmates. Unfortunately, he isn’t aware of this and thinks that the hushed conversations people have about him are because they hate him. This is how the series opens, and the introductory sequence works excellently to draw readers in. That being said, it’s the varying forms of disconnect between Handa and his classmates, which serve as constant running gags throughout the volume, that kept me reading.

Simply put, it’s absolutely hysterical.

While this premise would seemingly make for an amusing story, the real talent is the way that it is utilized, both in the variety of contexts and the execution of each one. The general comedy is done in two intertwining ways: short jokes and overarching chapter stories. The most common short gag, to put it most simply, works like this: students think that Handa is super cool and thus want to be friends/date him. Handa thinks they all hate him and thus perceives their various attempted advances as malicious and tries to get out of the situation. His reaction is then viewed by everyone else’s confirmational bias as him being incredibly cool, and their admiration of him grows. The variations on this formula, along with other running gags, are incredibly amusing and make for excellent reading.

Each of the five chapters in the volume has an overarching story that focuses on one or two individuals and their moment with Handa. This varies from the class representative to the class tough guy, and each of them start out as jealous of Handa for some reason. However, over the course of the chapter they find themselves outwitted by Handa (oftentimes by accident on his part), and then they think he is as cool as everyone says and feel like they’ve learned some great lesson from him without Handa ever knowing. The way these stories are handled, including the short individual moments of amusement, is absurdly hilarious due in part to the comedic variance in what each side believes happened and what actually happened.

Handa-kun is a 4-koma (4 standard-sized panels per page) manga, a common layout for comedy series such as Yen Press’s recently released Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, and thus it has a bit more of an approachability for readers outside of regular manga fans. Additionally, although Handa-kun is a spin-off of author Satsuki Yoshino’s other series BarakamonHanda-kun is a remarkably approachable for both fans of the original series and those that have never read it. The comedic goal of Handa-kun is a bit different from Barakamon as it prioritizes straight up comedy over some of the more emotional moments of its parent series, and as a prequel it doesn’t really require any knowledge of the story for the uninitiated. That being said, if you are a fan of Barakamon like myself, you will likely find high school age Handa and his friend Kawafuji to be a very appealing backstory to the original series.

Final Thoughts

Handa-kun’s first volume is one of the best starts to a comedy manga that I’ve read. I found the disconnect between Handa and his classmates to be an absolute riot. The concept and execution are very well done, and the appeal of the series reaches far outside fans of the Barakamon franchise alone. If you want to check out the series before the newly-announced anime airs, or even if you just are looking for something to read, I highly recommend giving Handa-kun’s first volume a try.

Handa-kun, Vol. 1
By Satsuki Yoshino

Handa-kun Vol. 1 was translated by Krista Shipley and Karie Shipley and will be released physically in English by Yen Press on February 23rd. Handa-kun was recently announced to be receiving an upcoming anime adaptation. It is a spin-off of the manga series Barakamon and began serializing in Japanese in October, 2013 in Square Enix’s Monthly Shounen Gangan imprint. The second volume is scheduled for release on April 26th.



Date of Publication: February 23rd, 2016

Translator: Krista and Karie Shipley

Author: Satsuki Yoshino

Publisher: Yen Press