Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Tamako has always lived in the shopping arcade, and always helped out at her family's mochi shop. The vendors here are like her extended family, from the awkward boy across the street to the kind owners of the music shop and bath house. Her feelings for the arcade are a kind of love, and everybody needs love. But when a strange talking bird named Dera flaps its way into her life, things will begin to change for Tamako. Dera is on the hunt for a special bride, and being tempted by the arcade's delights will only distract him for so long.
Tamako Market is a less-storied entry in the Kyoto Animation canon, but certainly not for lack of talent. The show represents the reunion of director Naoko Yamada and series composer Reiko Yoshida, the team responsible for the blockbuster hit K-ON!, its sequel, and its indulgent but undeniably beautiful feature film. Yamada is undoubtedly one of Kyoto Animation's best directors, and likely one of the best directors currently active in the industry; her ability to draw great emotional resonance from small personal moments is unparalleled, and her series (including the recent Sound! Euphonium, on which she shared directorial duties with Tatsuya Ishihara) tend to feel genuinely filmic in a way few other television anime can match. Working together with a writer she's clearly comfortable with on an entirely anime-original project, Tamako Market has the potential to be just about anything.
Of course, creators tend to make the sorts of things they enjoy making, and Yamada clearly enjoys the kind of slice of life personal stories K-ON! represents. Tamako Market follows fairly closely in that vein, detailing the everyday life of Tamako Kitashirakawa, the daughter of a mochi shop owner situated in a small shopping arcade. One day, Tamako's life is very slightly shifted by the unexpected appearance of a talking bird named Dera, and from there on, Dera essentially becomes our viewpoint character as the show explores Tamako's life and times, making friends and being oblivious to crushes and generally enjoying her days in the show's titular market.
If the theme of K-ON! was “adolescence,” Tamako Market's theme is undoubtedly “love.” Not all of the show's episodes are focused on a love story, but most of them find some way to include reflections on fondness and intimacy and feelings you can or can't express. “Everybody loves somebody” declares one character in the second episode, and later, Tamako's friend Kanna offers the gentle “people can like whoever they want.” Tamako Market's low-key love stories are one of its strongest elements, and take a satisfying number of different forms. Most of the love in Tamako Market is unrequited, or at least unable to be declared aloud - but in this show's view, that's perfectly fine. Friends will harbor secret affections for their long-time companions, kids will love awkwardly and then let those feelings smolder, and adults will accept their love might eventually have to take the form of emotional support, not overt romance. Love is beautiful and valuable for its own existence, and even something like Tamako's love for her home is a feeling worth celebrating.
Tamako Market's structure works in service of its many tiny love stories; the show is constructed as a series of vignettes, with the vague general story concerning Dera's search for a bride barely coming into focus until the show's final act. These vignettes are uneven, but their largely self-contained nature means some of the single episodes here are among the strongest in Kyoto Animation's catalog. There's one particular episode that digs into the love story between Tamako's father and her absent mother that ends in a wonderful musical performance, and both of the episodes by upcoming director Taichi Ogawa impress particularly through their shot framing and emotional sensitivity. Additionally, the show's consistent ability to evoke the specific hustle-bustle atmosphere and daily life experience of its shopping arcade shouldn't be understated. There's a vivid sense of place and many individual treasures to be found in Tamako Market.
Unfortunately, the show overall isn't as strong as some of its component parts. A lot of Tamako Market's issues can be put at Dera's feet, along with the awkward main plot he brings with him. The show's humor is overall a bit more broad and less strong than K-ON!'s, and Dera himself is full of blustery jokes that cut against the generally sensitive, intimate tone of the rest of the production. Tamako Market's best stories create tension out of understated but vividly realized personal drama, and a fat talking bird looking for a princess bride isn't generally synonymous with any of that. These issues linger throughout, but become most prominent in the show's final act, when the show actually tries to hang its dramatic tension on the issue of who will marry Dera's prince. Though there's an obvious thematic weight to the questions Tamako has to consider in these episodes, the overt nature of the conflict is so unbelievable that it saps the show of any emotional tension. Dera drags Tamako Market down as consistently as he drags down the banners and wires of its shopping arcade.
Fortunately, even if Tamako Market's narrative can sometimes fumble, its aesthetic execution is strong from start to finish. Even the very first scenes of the show demonstrate most of the strengths of Yamada's work - as Tamako and her friends run home from school, we see a handful of snapshots of incidental moments in their lives, brought to life through clever framing and richly human character animation. Grounded dialogue about nothing in particular makes Tamako's circle come across as real people enjoying their lives, and careful application of focus creates a specific tone of timelessness and warmth. Shots are often framed with objects littering the foreground in order to create a better sense of space and intimacy, and lovely painted backgrounds give the shopping arcade a faded, endearing character of its own. Consistently great character animation form steady bulwarks of humor and personal insight even when the overt narrative is somewhat flagging, and small tricks of animation present regular gifts throughout, like the use of deliberately limited key frames to imply a given character's exhaustion.
Tamako Market's bevy of in-house episode directors mean many of the individual vignettes here have their own distinctive personality. The art design and animation aren't quite as strong as Kyoto Animation's absolute best works, but they nevertheless run circles around most television anime. From its humorous character animation to its strong backgrounds and shot framing, Tamako Market is definitely a very visually impressive show.
The show's music is also strong, and more diverse than you might expect. There are orchestral strings and guitar strings, big band songs and classical interludes, and even a great garage-rock song for Tamako's father's episode. There are gentle piano ballads for sad moments, and those inescapable wacky horns for the slapstick ones. The music is more a strong role-player than an independently captivating soundtrack, but it certainly does its job well.
Tamako Market's dub is very solid, offering a unique but generally compelling take on the show's tone. Margaret McDonald's Tamako seems a bit more laid-back than the original performance, and starts a little stiff, but ultimately still feels natural as the centerpiece of the series. And Jay Hickman's Dera hits just the right note of camp royalty without hamming up the role too much. Consistent performances rounding out the cast mean Tamako Market is equally enjoyable for those who prefer subs or dubs.
Outside of the dub, there aren't really any extras included with this collection; the show comes in a simple bluray case with no physical items, and the discs only contain some trailers and the clean opening and ending. Overall, Tamako Market is a solid slice of life drama that's dragged down somewhat by narrative issues but buoyed back up by aesthetic strengths. It's probably not strong enough to entertain those who aren't fans of either the genre or the director, but it's still an enjoyable and polished watch.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Offers another clear demonstration of Naoko Yamada's directorial talents; some of the individual vignettes are legitimately touching.
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