Tamako Kitashirakawa is a cheerful girl, and the darling of the Usagiyama Shopping Arcade, in which her father runs a mochi shop called Tama-Ya. She's very comfortable with her surroundings, and with her longtime friends Midori and Kanna, but might need to make some adjustments with some new circumstances- with the arrival of a talking (and narcissistic) bird named Dera; with a new classmate named Shiori; and even with her childhood friend Mochizo Ooji, who's started looking at her in a way she was completely unaware of.
Back when I reviewed A Silent Voice, I said in the Forums that I might review Tamako Love Story, an earlier KyoAni production with the same director, Naoko Yamada. I was a little disappointed with the Tamako Love Story OVA (I'll get to that later), but I then discovered that the OVA was really the closing chapter to a 12-episode series called Tamako Market. I wondered if I'd have a different reaction to the OVA if I'd seen it more "in-context"- in other words, in conjunction with the series- so I decided to look at the series itself. Ms. Yamada worked on this project after she'd finished K-On!, but long before she (and KyoAni) struck gold with A Silent Voice (which is STILL my favorite of the KyoAni shows I've seen). The loss of so many talented people in the recent arson of Kyoto Animation is absolutely horrifying, but I'm told that Ms. Yamada was not a victim, so her considerable talent is still with us at least.
As to Tamako Market, I've a pretty mixed reaction. The show is basically pleasant, but VERY low-key... except for a talking bird. I suspect its introduction of fantasy elements (that talking bird, Dera, and his entourage from the "Southern Island") was mainly to "juice up" the show- oh, and to get some occasionally funny physical comedy; that bird gets dribbled like a basketball, tossed like a football, caught several times on a badminton racket, not to mention the "birdhouse" bit, which is a genuine classic of absurdist humor. (Not surprisingly, the latter involves Kanna too; most of the best gags here involve Kanna in some way.) Some readers aren't exactly thrilled with Dera- who's pompous, overbearing, and way too loquacious - as a character in the show says of him, he's "full of himself" (and soon full of mochi too, once he takes up with Tamako, to the point where he becomes nearly flightless)- but my take is a little different: The low-comedy physical abuse Dera receives in the show is maybe a little easier to laugh at when it's a character you DON'T like.
But as for human drama, again it's awfully understated. One character's secret desire for another- and a subsequent broken heart- occupies only a couple of minutes of screen time, with nary a tear nor word of anguish; blink and you'll miss it. Everyone goes out of their way to avoid "pressuring" Tamako, sometimes to the point of achieving the exact opposite result. There's a complicated three-way relationship between Tamako, Midori, and Mochizo, but it's certainly NOT the conventional cliché of male-centered anime; again, it's very understated, but it's apparent in the "beach" episode of the series, and especially in the OVA. There's more low-key drama in the introduction of Shiori, who's one of those folks who's so shy and timid with others that those others misinterpret her as being aloof and unfriendly; Tamako's gregariousness can work wonders here, though Shiori, throughout the show, retains a certain elegance that the other principals don't have. (Oh, and she's in the Badminton Club, while Tamako, Midori, and Kanna are in the Baton Club. Tamako sometimes has a lot of trouble with her baton, but she always gives it her all- except when she's too distracted to.) A reader lavished praise on the Market folks (who are pretty charming), but I found Tamako's relationship with the three girls- Midori, Kanna, and Shiori- interesting too, particularly in the OVA, which is set near the time of their graduation, and has them discussing their future plans with each other.
Tamako lives with her dad, grandfather, and little sis, and works in the mochi shop herself of course. Tamako wants to get innovative with mochi, but her dad's a traditionalist, and seems a stick-in-the-mud type, but we'll see that he wasn't always so. (The show's OBSESSED with mochi by the way, even in characters' NAMES; we are provided helpful footnotes to explain the jokes here.) Tamako normally wears contacts, but I wish she didn't; I think she looks much cuter in the rare scenes where she's wearing glasses.
I genuinely loved Kanna- I wish the show had used her even more. She's the child of a carpenter, and aspires to be an architect. Her manner is best described as deadpan combined with an off-kilter sensibility; her mind never QUITE seems where everyone else's is at the moment. When she first shows up in Tamako Love Story, she's quite effortlessly (and seemingly obliviously, as usual) performing a bit of physical comedy worthy of the silent greats like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
There were a couple of other things I really liked. One was Kunio Yaobi, the owner of a coffee shop called Records and Coffee, which is exactly that: he plays records to suit the customers' moods as they sip their coffee. He's a bit of a philosopher (soft-spoken, of course), and seems to always make just the right choice for each patron. (And speaking of music, the closing song, "Neguse", I found to be a delightful combination of sweetness with an infectious melody.)
Now for what I didn't like so much: my notes say "mochi jokes become annoying after a while." This is particularly true in Tamako Love Story, which also unfortunately featured a lot of...dithering. Look, people changing their relationship from Childhood Friend to Significant Other is not exactly a rare topic of anime, and two people having to switch gears from pal to lover should indeed make for interesting drama, and yet I've not really been satisfied with the treatment of the topic in the anime I'm familiar with: Boys Be's principal couple, after the initial confession, were estranged for the bulk of the show, and were only POSSIBLY ready to resume their relationship at the very end. Sweet Blue Flowers, too, had an pre-existing relationship that, as a ROMANCE, was really not even at the starting gate until just before the closing credits. Neither of these shows gave me exactly what I was looking for.
Nor did Tamako Love Story, due to, frankly, nearly endless procrastination. Here we've a long wait for a confession, and an even longer one for a reply. The Deus ex Machina character in this one has to act not just once, and is, alas, also the show's martyr (and I can understand their frustration quite well.)
Well, maybe I'm just sore because I've never been able to get those cup-and-string telephones to work like they do in the show.
I'm judging these as a unit even though I thought the OVA was not quite as good as the series- and I'm saying that even though the OVA is NEARLY (not QUITE) Dera-free; I didn't feel it provided as much insight about the decision-making process of one of its protagonists as I would have liked, for one thing. The drama in the show as a whole was a little TOO low-key for my tastes, and the show is, maybe, like Tamako herself, a bit too comfortable in its own little world. It's NOT a masterpiece; I also said back in the Forums on the A Silent Voice review that Ms. Yamada was working with weaker material in this earlier effort of hers. But it's not without its charms, either. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: The discs are rated TV14. I guess it's because of some bathhouse scenes (though those are not at all graphic), and maybe the violence against Dera (most of which he brings on himself.)
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Tamako Market © 2013 Kyoto Animation
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