Entry #1: Tamako Market (SoA 2016)

tamako market 1

This was a nice start to the Summer of Anime. And I mean that literally, too, as this series had a nice start to it, one that made me feel relaxed and at ease, while also tickling my fancy with an enigmatic and prideful bird full of whimsical gusto. This series had me stunned for a few episodes, as I didn’t think Tamako Market would be anything aside from cute girls doing cute things, but it has something as intricate as a plot! A bird suddenly appears in Tamako’s life, and exclaims that he’s searching for a bride for the prince that he serves under. This doesn’t last long as he eats a shit-ton on mochi, a central concept in this series, and becomes too fat to fly long distances. Oh, what humor comes abound within Tamako Market.

If I could describe this series in one word, I would use the word “unique.” That’s not to say that the series is original in many senses, but I feel it trying to be, along with many other things. The series has talking animals, darker-skinned characters, an implied transgender character, and the stench of a slice-of-life, romance, comedy, and Studio Ghibli all wrapped up in a one-cour series. It incorporates (or tries to) many different settings and moods and plot devices that one could argue the primary genre to be many different things. Tamako Market would be an interesting anime to sit down and interpret, but part of me believes that underneath it all, the pretty moving picture is but a corporate machine trying to take advantage of running trends.

tamako market 3

Just as fast as the series captured my interest, it lost it with its meandering direction and commitment to nothing. I grew tired of the series by episode six, but that’s not to say it didn’t improve from there. Much like a series dubbed SaeKanoTamako Market‘s quality shifts dramatically up and down with each passing episode. The focus could turn to the romantic intentions of a side character and go through his ambitions to convey those feelings with disastrous results, but then switch over to mindless dribble of a coffee shop owner who mumbles on about how music harbors meaning to the soul. Far out, bro. The series has a way of wanting to try to put meaning and intrigue in just about every single character and event that it becomes superficial. It becomes so tedious to try and keep up with everything that when it isn’t focusing on such things, as with showcasing the trivial lives of a few high school girls, it becomes uninteresting and hard to care for. Not to mention, a lot of the characters don’t have the amount of development to care for beyond their significance to the plot.

It wants to convey a sense of family and camaraderie among the denizens of the small, close-knit shopping district that Tamako resides in, and by series’ end, it does this well enough. The only issue is that this series revolves around Tamako, the central character and the girl the series is named after. She is, putting it bluntly, dull. She doesn’t seem to have any sort of deeper thought than that she loves her family, friends, and mochi. It’s really all she has going for her; she’s cheerful, she’s altruistic, and she’s as dense as a male character in a Harem series. Hell, she could be a male character in a Harem series if her attitude went from cheerful to pessimistic. Putting the show essentially on her back makes the series uninteresting. The characters I look forward to seeing on-screen are all directly correlated to her and her needs and desires, whether I like it or not. When a conflict arises with various characters, it’s typically because of or directly related to Tamako, which destroys any sense of individuality among these side characters. God help the character who wants to become something of their own right instead of having to have Tamako cheer them on in order for them to take flight. I’m reminded of Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi.

tamako market 4

With all that the series tries to do, it doesn’t miss on all factors. I mentioned a talking bird character above, whose name is Dera, that plays well into the comedy of the show. In a sense, Dera can be classified as my favorite character, as he’s the only character I consistently enjoyed seeing on-screen, despite not believing he’s a fully-developed character. He is, in most regards, the comic relief. His arrogant and quick-to-alter temperament is one I enjoyed from the beginning. I also think he’s designed well enough to suit the “moe” factor of this show (and believe me, this series goes for moe). Spending this much time on one character alone shows that I found this series to be at least amusing. Comedy is fairly strong and Dera has a lot to do with that, but characters’ reactions and quick wits also provide some short chuckles. I also thought the emphasis on love was subtle enough to be effective, yet prolonged enough to be irritating. I like how it shows love to be an emotion of dramatic weight and intensity, but for each character experiencing it, even middle-age males, to dance around with red faces, screaming for people to leave them alone, it becomes stupid. I’m sick of characters being shy. I really am.

Upon finishing the series, I read a comment stating that this series was essentially a set-up for Tamako Love Story, a ninety-minute long movie focusing on Tamako and the childhood friend who loves her. I have yet to see the movie, but if it plays out like I expect it to, that comment really rings true… and that isn’t exactly a compliment to the series. It only confirms that Tamako is the star and anyone who tries to jump from outside the realm of her viewpoint must do so with her hand held in theirs. All others be damned. Tamako, Tamako, Tamako.

Another key positive with Tamako Market is the animation. I don’t mean the overall look of the show, which is nice on its own, but the way the characters move and express their facial features. Kyoto Animation is already well-renowned for a number of successful anime series, and it’s easy to see why with how much effort looks to have been put into character models. I haven’t seen an anime with this level of fluidity in quite some time, which only makes me expect the same type of quality from KyoAni’s other works. Free!, anyone? The level of “moe” is also fairly present, effective with cute, teenage girls dancing around in marching band uniforms and having fun with baton practice and whatever else. Pigtails and a hundred different eye, hair, and skin colors, shades, and styles. It almost feels like this series was KyoAni’s playground of uninhibited creativity and cuteness. Even Dera looks cuter when he’s round and plump. Though, if I were to offer any nitpicks, the female characters all do look fairly similar. Their facial features all seem to have the same sort of template, copy-pasted onto other characters.

tamako market 2

Moe and empty cheerfulness can only reach so far. For someone who enjoys critical thinking and thought-provoking themes, Tamako Market only served as an enjoyable scraping along solid pavement covered in colorful portraits made of chalk. Perhaps I’ll find more enjoyment in a tight-knit focused movie sequel that is Tamako Love Story, but that has little impact on how I view its predecessor. Tamako isn’t enough to pull the show forward with a multitude of other characters hovering around her, and Dera isn’t enough to make the show one of unending whimsy. It struggles aimlessly in-between, never quite reaching the emotional powerhouse it wants to be or achieving the passion that its characters so strongly put forth.

Personal Score: C-

Critical Score: C

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

11 thoughts on “Entry #1: Tamako Market (SoA 2016)

  1. I also gave up on this series after being initially intrigued. It just gets messy without going a ywhere and I came to the conclusion that I just didin’t care enough about the characters to bother finding out how it would end. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I thoroughly disagree with this post, though I’d be lying if I said I don’t know how you came up with your conclusion: understanding the underlining intentions of Naoko Yamada’s work in K-on! and Tamako Market are paramount in understanding how and why, the slice of life genre can find some solid advocates for its own brand of artistry. As someone who dwells on understanding the stories that are told to me, and reaching for maximum empathy by telling my own stories, the requirement of complex ‘themes’ and thought-provoking subject matters, in order for a series to be considered ‘good’ is frankly rather narrow-minded. But that is not to say, that Tamako Market does not delve into the complex being that IS real life.

    Tamako Market and its sequel film, Love Story, works in conjunction as one puzzle board that showcases segments of a community’s daily lives, NOT as a plot-driven journey with a beginning, climax and end. Ultimately, the show’s largely episodic nature exists to explore and visualise the human condition and the slow but definite shifts in human character, when an individual is surrounded by the collective energy of a community: ultimately, Tamako Market and Love Story encompasses the idea and the exploration of all possible forms of ‘love’, an universal theme introduced in subtle split-second segments, that only those who pay attention to the dialogue, shot composition and selective camera focus and lighting techniques can pick out: communal love, the unsure same-sex love for your best friend, communicating love through music, the choice of love, the right to love and the freedom of love. Tamako Love Story takes this a step further, exploring how Tamako’s emotional bond with Mochizo has reached such a point, that love has become transparent and ever present between them: it’s a form of love that only becomes apparent to both parties, when it came close to disappearing.

    The slice of life genre is not here for grand adventure tales, but as an anchor for the mundane and the every day: whether you WANT to enjoy or explore your everyday surroundings ultimately determines whether you will enjoy this genre; one whose hierarchy of quality is rather underexplored by the fandom: engrossing tales that glorify the mundanity of every day life, such as Non Non Biyori, Hyouka, K-on!, Tamako Market, Tamayura and Barakamon, verses the more conventional Hidamari Sketch and A-Channel.

    Achieving a sense of charming mundanity is not an easy art form, so I think it is probably safe to consider Tamako Market as a deliberately crafted slice of life that knows how to sell character interactions and little snippets of life events that make up a community.

    • I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more thorough objection to my piece. I appreciate it.

      At the same time though, I’m not sure if you’re under the assumption that I’m harping on the anime completely for its story or not, or the Slice-of-life genre in general, because I’m not. I’ve enjoyed many other Slice-of-Life titles to date, like the aforementioned Hyouka, K-On!, and A-Channel. I only feel that Tamako Market doesn’t offer a large quantity of things to make me care for it as much. Judging from your post, you seem to be one who likes to critique a series based relatively to others of the genre (Yes? No?). I don’t do that. I have my own set of expectations that shift slightly depending on the genre, but ultimately derive to a few key points. I look for realism in the shows that I watch, but also a flavor of creativity, flair, or strengthening development. My major complaint with Tamako Market was with Tamako herself, who was neither an altogether realistic or likable character from my point. And to have all the events typically wrapped around her and her ambitions makes the show feel worse because it focuses on a character whose development is halted due to her density or ignorance of her emotions. I wasn’t really expecting Tamako Market to be a “grand adventure tale,” but I expected something that could showcase the characters in a light that could hold my attention and greater curiosity for the entirety of the show, which Tamako Market could not.

      I will also disagree about bringing Love Story into the mix, too, as I believe if a series is going to start with a one-cour series, then release a movie to wrap up the collective giftset, that each piece should be put under judgment separately. Assuming the order is series -> movie, the movie gets the benefit of having people who have already seen the series understand a lot of the situations that set-up the film, which gives a better feeling of understanding. Call me a cynic, but I find this somewhat slanted. As I said above, I think things should be judged on their own right, without having to rely on another outside piece to understand it. Say if I were to watch Captain America: Civil War and it throws terminology and characters at me that I don’t understand or don’t know, and the series does little to develop them or introduce them because they were already introduced in previous films. I can understand the argument that one should watch the previous movies to understand better, but I feel a movie/show should try to individualize itself to some degree so that it doesn’t turn into something dedicated to only those “in the know.” Tamako Market is no different, and I don’t think the series or the movie should become better just because of their outer-layer parts.

      Sorry if I seem a little disjointed here. I’m kinda trying to think this all out while typing. But I appreciate the input, as you’re one of the only people to outright disagree with one of my posts.

  3. Judging from your post, you seem to be one who likes to critique a series based relatively to others of the genre (Yes? No?)

    Yes, and no. I select a few titles which I consider to be genre advocates, and use them as LOOSE indicators of what a show should at least to match, the rest of the equation are derived from the usual artistic standpoints and analysis I apply to different genres, the mood that the show manages to get me into (if I’m pissed at a show, I will try to find out why, if I’m constantly enjoying myself, I will do the same), and consider the anime staff that produced it, or look at the overall tone of the show, and try to map out the possible creative intentions they were trying to accomplish (a step I only take, if I’m familiar with a staff member’s work: I will judge music more deliberately, if i’m familiar with a composer’s work), and see whether they succeeded.

    I will also disagree about bringing Love Story into the mix, too, as I believe if a series is going to start with a one-cour series, then release a movie to wrap up the collective giftset, that each piece should be put under judgment separately

    My line of argument is still functional without mentioning Love Story, but I decided to add it in to supplement my initial point. In addition, I am unsure of whether the movie was planned after the series of initially conceived. For all I know, it is entirely possible that this release method is deliberately planned from the start as one overarching story meant to be experienced as a whole: Love Story’s plot might’ve been decided by Yamada to work better in a feature-length film’ style presentation, which makes it rather…sloppy, to judge one complete work as two separate entities. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was adapted into a film, since the staff considered it a storyline suitable for a 3 hour film, yet it is still a direct sequel to the TV series, acting as part of the whole Haruhi saga, and considered as such. So, in this case, since Tamako Market and Tamako Love Story are directly linked, I see fit to consider it one giant work, though secondary ratings for the two are reasonable, like slightly differing opinions about the three films that made up the LOTR trilogy (which I consider to be one giant 12 hour epic, either way), the seven short AND feature-length films of the Garden of Sinners, etc, but one overall rating for their entirety, since their stories encompasses such a length.

    In the world of film series sagas, pre-conceived or assumed plot-specific knowledge is practically a given, so my method of critiquing needs to somewhat adapt: I don’t have the complete knowledge to judge Civil War, if I haven’t watched Winter Soldier or both Avengers films, so I probably won’t, but that doesn’t mean films aren’t allowed to utilize the already established dynamics to further the story: Civil War thrives on the established story beats and built upon them, and that’s a plus on its own right, since it is also a skill to create new scenarios based on what’s been given to you: a classic actor’s improv exercise, one that I believe also applies to animation and film.

    I can understand the argument that one should watch the previous movies to understand better, but I feel a movie/show should try to individualize itself to some degree so that it doesn’t turn into something dedicated to only those “in the know.” Tamako Market is no different, and I don’t think the series or the movie should become better just because of their outer-layer parts.

    Here’s the fun part: Tamako Market’s presentation succeeds even without the film (like I mentioned above), since its thematic development is already complete. You can even watch Tamako Love Story without watching the series, since the film was capable enough to re-establish itself. Tonally, the two products are vastly different, as one achieves a sense of light-hearted fervour through its energy and diverse cast characterisation, while the almost exclusive focus on Tamako and Mochizo in Love Story took on a more melancholy tone: both works well alone, but they complement each other perfectly together. Thus, from my viewpoint, there really isn’t much I can complain about: I found the characters charming, the short stories engaging, occasionally endearing, so I end with the usual conclusion, that this is a clash of ideologies and taste, though I certainly hope that your opinions of the show may shift in the future.

  4. I hasn’t know about this anime. Mostly my own fault, I don’t follow ongoing series, and tend to forget to check on the previous seasons anime 😅
    While you raised many faults, when you said it invoked some of Ghibli and had diversity, transgender/etc, it really raised my attention and I’ll keep in mind not to expect it to be a genre it isn’t. I’ll definitely have to check it out, and I do thank you for blogging about it! Hopefully I’ll like it (⌒▽⌒)

    • The point about transgender/diversity was more of a visual palette. It doesn’t draw into the themes of any of it, it just has characters of those types. Thanks for the comment!

  5. I love this show, it’s one of my favorite shows just to relax too. I think that in itself has it’s own value, (even if it loses points from a critical standpoint). You should watch Love Story if you liked it, and I’d be curious what your thoughts were.

  6. This definitely looks like a show that I will not be pursuing. I have been questioning if Tamako Market had something special that would draw me towards it, but sadly it doesn’t appear to be the case.

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