Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Sep 9th 2012
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Konatsu loves to sing, but she can't. She messed up the choir club's last competition and the club's draconian advisor won't let her take the stage. Ever. Wakana is in the school's music program, but for deeply personal reasons can't bring herself to make music. Sawa, Konatsu's sensible best friend, has no real interest in music. Sure she'd probably be good at it—she's good at everything—but she'd rather ride her horse. Tanaka only has eyes for badminton. He's hell-bent on getting to the championships, despite being the sole member of the badminton club. Wein…well, Wein is an odd duck. He's a transfer student from Vienna and more or less just wants to make friends and fit in. Only he's terrible at it. When Konatsu decides that the only way she'll be able to sing is to form her own choir club, they all get mixed up in her scheme—whether they want to be or not.
Expectations are important, so here's a short list of what not to expect from Tari Tari: Action. Excitement. Intrigue. Anything that you can't see coming from several episodes off. What you can expect is a subdued, sweet-natured school drama; a character-driven story that is no less touching for being predictable or pleasantly underplayed.
To be sure, the show never provokes or makes you think or even really surprises. It never goes anywhere that isn't either dictated by convention or telegraphed from miles away, following its characters as they present their predictable personal problems and grow with leisurely inevitability into the close-knit unit we always knew they'd become. But that's beside the point. The series isn't trying to be brilliant or profound or cutting. It isn't playing mind-games or hiding any big secrets. It's just telling the story of five kids making their way through high-school. It's a mom-and-apple-pie kind of show: modest, straightforward, its pleasures simple and wholesome and all the more pleasurable for it. The kind of show you watch, not for its plot or its stimulation, but simply for the company.
And it's good company. Konatsu is a short, blonde hurricane of a girl whose indefatigable energy is as likely to lead to disaster as success; she's bright and cheerful and more than a little self-centered, without being so extreme that she's grating or unlikeable. Wakana is frosty and unpleasant, but through new friends and a piecemeal back-story builds to a beautifully played and embarrassingly uplifting change of heart. Sawa is a classic anime perfect-girl—smart and busty, cute and kind, self-deprecating and yet good at everything—but has a force of personality and periodic intensity that nicely offsets her cuddly exterior. Even the boys are great. Wein is a walking fish-out-of-water joke, and Tanaka a becoming mixture of idiotic single-mindedness and genuine consideration. And then there's Takahashi-sensei, the kids' tart-tongued, hugely pregnant homeroom teacher, who spends her limited screen time totally hijacking the whole show.
Together they're that rare anime beast: the genuine ensemble. There is no main character, no one upstages anyone else (Takahashi-sensei excepted), and when an episode switches focus from, say, Wakana to Konatsu, we don't mind. Konatsu can carry an episode as easily as Wakana, Sawa as easily as Konatsu and so on right on down to Wein and Tanaka, who haven't really had a chance to carry their own episodes.
None of this is to say that Tari Tari is some brainless slice-of-life trifle. For one it's too conventionally dramatic to qualify as slice-of-life. But more importantly it isn't brainless. (Though it is admittedly something of a trifle). The places it goes may be familiar, but it has a charmingly indirect way of getting to them, taking its sweet time as it meanders through an ill-fated early version of the club, or getting at Wakana's mother issues through the old farts in a mariachi pop band. And when the time comes to take a stab at feeling, it does so with restraint and forethought. It pieces together the death of Wakana's mother from fragments sprinkled throughout these episodes, bringing them and their effects on Wakana together for two episodes of delicately revealed sadness and regret. The redemption Wakana finds—and you knew that was coming so don't go yelling spoiler—is as sweet as her personality is sour, but also perfectly logical, perfectly believable and subtly delivered. That is not the work of a brainless show.
Masakazu Hashimoto directs the show with a loose but controlled ease that belies his relative inexperience. His episodes are perfectly balanced cocktails of light humor and even lighter feeling that unfold with an off-the-cuff carelessness that is winning and pleasant, if not necessarily compelling. He handles conflicts and high emotion with a light touch that never trivializes events or feelings but doesn't overplay them either. He never fires off an emotional blunderbuss when a feather of music, a quick glimpse of tears, or a slight darkening of shadow will do. He's not above shamelessly exploiting tanu and Kanami Sakiguchi's conventional yet potently cute character designs, and throws enough of Studio Easter's typically gorgeous background art at us to make the town look like a living postcard, but rarely does he lose that essential reserve. Even P.A. Works' oft-flashy animation is confined mostly to clean character movement and the periodic burst of bicycling or running.
He's produced a show that can feel curiously mature for what is essentially a teen drama, but that's easy to slip into and passes with a breezy quickness that belies its lazy-Sunday pacing. It'll never achieve greatness, and in fact will probably disappear without a trace into the back alleys of anime history, but there are far worse ways to spend a lazy Sunday than in the company of the Shirahamazaka High School Chorus Club.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ An attractive, sweetly underplayed school drama that is both fun and effectively emotional; charming ensemble cast.
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