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Anime Reviews: "Tamako Love Story"

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I am an anime fan, obviously. I dabble in D&D4e, listen to heavy metal, and am hopelessly addicted to Final Fantasy Brave Exvius!

Tamako and her friends begin to seriously consider the paths their lives will take.

Tamako and her friends begin to seriously consider the paths their lives will take.

Tamako Love Story: Basic Information

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Production: Kyoto Animation
Film Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: 4/26/2014
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language, including references to boobs and butts and all that wonderful stuff)

Summary: With Dera, Choi, Prince Mecha, and the southern island delegation returning home at last, the Usagiyama Shopping Arcade is back to its old, peaceful, mundane self. Entering the last year of high school, Tamako presses on as she always has—without a care in the world or a thought in her head—but Mochizo is a different story.

Not only has his crush on Tamako intensified in recent years, but, now more than ever, the time must come for him to confess his love to her. After all, he plans to go to Tokyo for university to consummate his desire to be a filmmaker, and the time he has left to tell Tamako his true feelings is quickly running out. Will Mochizo be able to man up and profess what lies within his heart? What would the consequences even be, if he did? Spring has arrived in the shopping arcade, and with it, the pangs and turmoil of young love are in bloom.

The Good: Rustic, nostalgic visuals; a heartwarming coming-of-age romance filled with heart and nuance that amplifies everything that made the TV series work
The Bad: Pacing takes a dip at the two-thirds mark; may be too jarring a shift in tone from the TV series for some; maybe not the most original love story ever told
The Ugly: Butt mochi

Why Does This Tie-in Film Merit Its Own Review?

Tamako Market was a pleasant and homey little series, but even before diving into this franchise, I knew that Tamako Love Story was a different beast altogether. While the TV show is bright and bouncy, the film takes a more contemplative and serious turn. And if I'm being perfectly honest, the prospect of Tamako Love Story and its wistful portrayal of young love, handled by Kyoto Animation, was a bigger draw than just the whimsical fluffy time of Tamako Market. So now that I've completed both entries, it's time to evaluate my life choices—I mean, my viewing choices. Did my decision pay off? Let's find out~

Mochizo accidentally confides his feelings for Tamako with Midori, to his dismay.

Mochizo accidentally confides his feelings for Tamako with Midori, to his dismay.

So, What About the Film Works Well?

I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but KyoAni has rightfully earned a reputation as a producer of high-quality animation, and Tamako Love Story does nothing to break the tradition. However, compared to the TV series, two things are very different: First, we're now operating on a movie budget rather than a TV budget, so you will observe a drastic increase in the fluidity and variety of motion in both the characters and their surroundings. Always nice, even if it's totally expected.

The second big change is that Tamako Love Story also undertook a pretty big shift in its art direction—while the character designs haven't changed at all, the atmosphere and the mood most certainly have, and a large part of that can be attributed to the new color palette.

The TV series ran full-throttle with bright and eye-popping pastels, which blended well with its cheery and bouncy tone, but now we're cruising through a more serious and grounded story, so the color scheme now consists of dazzling golds and rustic browns, earthy tones and more subdued versions of the colorful street we've become so familiar with.

This actually works brilliantly, as Tamako Market's relentless vibrancy feels a lot like your childhood home as you experienced it back then, while Tamako Love Story's calmer, subtler warmth feels like your childhood home as remembered by your adult self. I don't know if this metaphor makes as much sense as my brain thinks it does, but that's how the visuals' shift makes me feel, and it's appropriate because that's the feel the film as a whole is going for.

For those who may have grumbled at the fact that the TV series was almost entirely bereft of any substance—rejoice, if you've made it this far! Your patience has finally been rewarded! From the word "go," the film is chock-full of show-don't-tell goodness and long-awaited character development. We got an occasional taste of the former before, but character growth was almost a dirty concept to Tamako Market until now. It's a refreshing reminder of just how seriously the concept of love is taken in Japan amongst its young people, to see how Mochizo and Tamako cope with handling their feelings when push comes to shove (that is to say, poorly). The pangs and awkward agony of facing these romantic feelings at an age where you can barely comprehend them is portrayed flawlessly, if you ask me.

I spent so long in my Tamako Market review going on about how the shopping arcade was basically its own character and now its inhabitants created a unique sense of homeyness, and that aspect takes on a whole new life in Tamako Love Story. Now that the characters are older and, in an excellent early scene, they are forced to come to terms with the fact that they'll need to examine their own lives to find out where they're heading, and the Usagiyama Shopping Arcade is almost a bittersweet setting.

Like your own childhood home, more than likely, Tamako and her friends have to weigh the possibility that they, too, might have to leave someday, and that's a large part of what makes this film the perfect sendoff for the franchise. Add in some masterful touches like fleshing out Midori in clever and subtle ways, revealing her own complete and bittersweet character arc without shoving a bunch of exposition down your throat, and you've got a story with plenty of substance and nuance in stark contrast to the original TV series' more straightforward nature.

The tides of change sweep over Tamako, leaving her overwhelmed and unable to cope.

The tides of change sweep over Tamako, leaving her overwhelmed and unable to cope.

And Where Does the Heartbreak Come in?

It comes in the form of several nagging nitpicks that, while not large issues in and of themselves, can take some of the satisfaction away from the viewing experience. For example, around the two-thirds mark in the film, we enter the characters' low point--a common occurrence, it's always darkest before dawn and whatnot--but at this point, the pace of the film slows to a crawl and enters a doldrums that feels like an eternity. Which is a shame, since the rest of the movie moves along so smoothly and expertly, these few minutes stick out like a sore thumb, even if there are some excellent shots that help to spice it up. Another visit to the editing room (or, more likely, another pass through the editors' desks) would've sorted this out, but it is what it is: a temporary bummer.

A more subjective issue that Tamako Love Story might end up alienating some viewers over is, as I mentioned before, the film's dramatic and unmissable change in aesthetic and tone. In both visuals and mood, the TV series was light, bouncy, and carefree--almost manically so--whereas the movie is much more grounded and contemplative. I appreciate this shift quite a bit, as I detailed above, in saying that this shift represents a poignant observation on growing up and nostalgia, but many fans of the TV show who liked the more upbeat feel it provided will likely be bummed out by the more meditative atmosphere present here.

Another potential subjective pitfall is the fact that Tamako Love Story is a wonderful and heartwarming story, but those who has experienced any respectable amount of romance fiction will not, by any means, find any of the events that transpire to be unique, inventive, or original. This is very much an iterative film, built on pre-existing tropes and ideas--in my opinion, it uses those tropes and ideas very skillfully and is worth seeing based purely on the merit of its masterful execution, but for those seeking novelty and originality, I'm afraid there's very little here to scratch that itch for you.

Mochizo and Tamako meet at the stepping stones, where they played as children.

Mochizo and Tamako meet at the stepping stones, where they played as children.

So, What's the Verdict?

Given the frivolous nature of my complaints with the film, and the veritable cascade of praise I've offered before that, it's pretty safe to say I was satisfied with Tamako Love Story. It lived up to my expectation as the superior follow-up to the already very charming Tamako Market, and it did not let me down in terms of the small-but-determined fanbase's hype that precedes it. I'm a little disappointed that this franchise isn't more widely-respected, but I guess not everything can have a spotlight on it at all times. And admittedly, I won't be adding either of these titles to my favorites list any time soon, but I will also admit that I am glad to have given Tamako and her friends my time and attention, as the experiences this series has to offer aren't as common as something so charming should be.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. Tamako Love Story takes a more subtle and introspective approach to the lives of Tamako, her friends, and her neighbors, resulting in a sweet and nostalgic romance that, while not the most novel in the genre, hits it out of the park in pure talent and execution.