Saturday 6 April 2013

Anime REVIEW: Tamako Market

Tamako Market Anime Kyoto Animation

Rounding off my trio of winter 2013 anime reviews is another work from Kyoto Animation, particularly the creative team behind the rather fantastic K-On!. This 2013 entry goes by the name of Tamako Market, and its 12-episode run goes by Kyoto's usual resume of cute girls doing cute things. Only this time they throw a talking bird into the mix.

Tamako Market Cast Tamako Anko Usagiyama Shopping District
Tamako, her sister Anko (left) and the various shopkeepers of the district

The story follows a girl named Tamako Kitashirakawa, the eldest daugher of a mochi-shop owning family in the heart of the Usagiyama Shopping District. One day when going through her everyday errands she encounters a strange talking bird which goes by the name of Dera Mochimazza (which translates as "bad-tasting mochi, much to Tamako and her family's dismay). Dera explains that he has travelled from afar to search for a bride for his country's Prince, but after eating too much mochi he becomes too fat to fly and ends up as a freeloader at the Kitashirakawa residence.

Dera observes the day to day life of Tamako, her younger sister Anko, her four friends Midori, Choi and Kanna, and childhood friend/rival mochi shop worker Mochizō. But while living the life of luxury amongst the shopping district community, he is reminded of his original task by the arrival of his Prince's attendant Choi. But could the Prince's bride have been right in front of him all along?

Tamako Market Dera Mochimazzwi
Dera looking his most fabulous

So the main drive of Tamako Market is supposedly Dera's search for a bride for his Prince (whose name is Mecha by the way), but that's pretty easy to forget. Besides the first episode and then the final two or three, it actually takes a back seat to the various day to day lives of Tamako and her friends and family. A lot of it is fluff, but there are some genuinely heart-warming episodes - particularly the ones focussing on Tamako's sister Anko and episode nine (which deals with the cliché but emotional story of a deceased parent). If you take away the inclusion of a talking bird (which has unexplained robot-like powers), it's actually a pretty normal show. 

Tamako Market Midori Tokiwa Kanna Makino Shiori Asagiri
Tamako with her school friends

Perhaps the main problem with Tamako Market is that it doesn't really know what to do with it's overly large cast. Tamako is a good main character, but she never really grows outside of being a bubbly airhead with a heart of gold. Dera on the other hand provides some of the series' better comic moments, but even he can get annoying sometimes. Meanwhile the rest of the cast includes Tamako's four female friends, her love interest (although she's completely oblivous to it) Mochizō and then the entire community of the shopping district. So much could have been done with all these characters and added a lot of variety to the show (it is called Tamako Market after all) but most of them are resigned to single character traits or obvious stereotypes. It's a shame, because the various store owners show a great sense of community spirit to the show which adds to it's obvious family theme. As well as Mochizō's own feelings toward Tamako (which aren't resolved), it turns out that her friend Midori has potentially romantic feelings for her - something which really would have made the series stand out if given more expansion.

Tamako Market Mochizō Ōji
"I could really have done with a character trait outside of 'romantic interest'"

However if there's one thing Kyoto Animation never skimp on, it's the quality of the animation. The K-On! style of character design is very clear, with the characters so facially similar that it sometimes feels like you're watching the characters of K-On! wearing wigs. That being said, each character is visually distinctive from each other, even if some of them do hark back to older Kyoto works (Shiori bears a striking resemblance to Yuki from Haruhi, while K-On!'s Sawako is lurking amongst the shopping district inhabitants). A fantastic level of detail has gone into bringing the scenery and backgrounds to life, filled with beautiful colours and intricate detailing. Much like Kyoto's other works, it's likely that the scenery is based on real life places in Japan.

Tamako Market Choi Mochimazzwi Mecha Mochimazzwi
These guys aren't as important as they may seem.

Essentially, you're never going to get a rewarding experience out of Tamako Market as far as plot is concerned. Very little actually happens in the show, the character development is very shallow outside of Tamako herself and the main plot of the show doesn't go anywhere. Should this show be given a second season, there's plenty that can be built upon but as it stands most of Tamako Market's story can be written off as a missed opportunity. However what you WILL get out of it is a beautiful viewing experience as far as the art and character design is concerned, and episodic stories that make you feel warm inside even if they don't really alter the status quo. Tamako Market is a show where the phrase "it's not the destination that matters, it's the journey" couldn't be more applicable.

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