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Anime Reviews: "Tamako Market"

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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!

Dera's flamboyant nature and bloated self-importance exasperates even Tamako.

Dera's flamboyant nature and bloated self-importance exasperates even Tamako.

Tamako Market: Info About This Breezy Little Series

Genre: Comedy/Slice-of-Life
Production: Kyoto Animation
Series Length: 12 episodes
Air Dates: 1/10/2013 to 3/28/2013
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language)

Summary: Tamako Kitashirakawa is a slightly airheaded teenage girl whose family runs a mochi shop in the Usagiyama Shopping District. She loves mochi more than anything, and her bright and personable nature makes her a well-liked figure in the shopping arcade. One day, on an errand at the florist's shop, she encounters a strange, boastful talking bird who calls itself Dera Mochimazzi and claims he's in search of a bride for his island's prince.

An overnight stay at Tamako's house causes Dera to stuff himself on mochi and he becomes too fat to fly, and so he decides he's going to stick around until he's lost all the weight he's gained (and continues to gain). And so, we follow the lackadaisical adventures of Tamako and all of her friends as they invite us to share in the community and the warmth of the Usagiyama Shopping District.

The Good: Every aspect is as warm and inviting as your favorite blanket
The Bad: May be too light and fluffy for anyone seeking substance
The Ugly: If some smart-mouthed bird like Dera waltzed into my house...

What in the World Am I Doing Here?!

Tamako Market is not that popular of a show. It is never one of the greats that fans of Kyoto Animation will tout as the studio's highlights. Nobody remembers that it exists except for people like me who keep up with the studio's output. So, why am I bothering to cover it?

Well, there are two reasons: Firstly, and frankly, I was just curious. Secondly, after having seen it, I have determined that its charms—similar to those of K-On!'s—make it a series that certain viewers might find appealing, and to not cover it would be neglectful. After all, if I only covered a small range of titles, it would get boring eventually—broadening horizons, whether my own or my (scant few) readers', is a lot of fun. And naturally, my decision to cover Tamako Market means that there's something unique or rewarding or maybe even lamentable about it. So, let's dive in and see where this series' fortune lies!

Fear and paranoia grip the neighborhood vendors as rumors of a deadly curse spread.

Fear and paranoia grip the neighborhood vendors as rumors of a deadly curse spread.

So, What Kinds of Treats Does Tamako Market Have to Offer?

Those familiar with my reviews will tire of constantly seeing me say so, but Kyoto Animation is rightfully renowned among the anime community for its mastery of television animation, and Tamako Market does not break that tradition. Each KyoAni series might look similar at first glance, but they have their own individual styles; with Tamako Market, the studio decided on a bright, pastel color scheme for both the character and environmental designs that give the Usagiyama Shopping Arcade an innocent and inviting feel right from the get-go.

Combine that with the warm lighting and soft, happy-go-lucky feel of the soundtrack and you've got a series that aims to pull you in and make you feel like an honored guest purely by the power of its aesthetics. The animation itself works well with the bright and bouncy designs, with endearingly exaggerated movements and the occasional comedic stretching, giving the visual proceedings a lively feel to them. That's not even mentioning the clever cinematography and Naoko Yamada's expert direction! All in all, another excellent technical offering from Kyoto Animation.

In a slice-of-life series like Tamako Market, however, aesthetics and directing can only get you so far—these kinds of anime live and die by the strength (or weakness) of their characters, and luckily, this cast is pretty much universally lovable. Tamako is a sweet girl who loves helping her folks out at her mochi shop, is incredibly oblivious and easily distracted, and will bend over backward to make people happy, and as the series' main character, she's a joy to follow. In one of the rare examples of hidden depth the series offers, you can see just below the surface of Tamako's character that her mother's death affected her greatly and she's never truly let it go (this isn't a spoiler, by the way).

Playing off Tamako's humble personality is talking birdo Dera, who is bombastic and egotistical to the extreme, and also extremely friendly to everyone he comes across because altruism is a virtue he is most proud to possess. These two affable mains could carry the show themselves, but they also happen to come packaged with a multitude of likable side characters.

The vast variety of neighborhood characters included in Tamako Market may not have tremendous amounts of depth or screentime, but the writers did a great job of giving them identifiable traits and a lot of individuality in their designs and personalities, lending credence to the feeling of community the series works to provide. And really, as I've mentioned, that's what Tamako Market delivers that precious few titles can compete with: that warm and fuzzy feeling of belonging to a friendly community in a quaint and pleasant neighborhood. It's a pretty unique atmosphere that the series evokes, and if nothing else, it's worth a recommendation for that alone.

Tamako, at the school gates on Valentine's Day with her friends, Midori and Kanna.

Tamako, at the school gates on Valentine's Day with her friends, Midori and Kanna.

And Where Does the Warm and Fluffy Facade Fail to Stay Afloat?

If you, like me, crave character growth in complex narratives with wide, dynamic arcs, then this is not the series for you. It's very much a laid-back slice-of-life kind of affair. In fact, Tamako Market may be more lackadaisical and committed to being as light and breezy as possible than most anime of its kind. Despite being fun and comfy and delightful basically all the time, I couldn't help but feel my attention span waning as I kept craving for something of substance to manifest itself.

Aside from a few character traits here and there (e.g. the aforementioned unresolved grief Tamako is carrying with her), there is basically no depth to be found. Most everything is exactly what it appears to be, and character growth outside of the small amount Tamako, Dera, Mochizo, and Choi get is basically nonexistent. Which, while not out of the ordinary for a series like this, is nonetheless disappointing. With such excellent visuals and ambiance, I would've hoped Tamako Market would have aimed higher, but so it goes.

Carpentry-fanatic Kanna makes a birdhouse for Dera with...less than optimal results.

Carpentry-fanatic Kanna makes a birdhouse for Dera with...less than optimal results.

With That Said, What's the Verdict?

Tamako Market may lack substance, but that does not make it a bad show—it just means that its function in your anime diet is a very specific one. If you only want anime with gripping plots and mesmerizing character arcs, then no, abandon all hope ye who enter here. This is strictly a series for those who just want to watch something calming, relaxing, bright, affable, and comforting.

And for the love of all that's good and holy, don't marathon it. This was clearly meant to be consumed in small doses on an occasional basis, to soothe its viewer after a hard and stressful day, and if that sounds like something you need in your life, then Tamako Market is a good choice for you!

Final Score: 7 out of 10. Those seeking depth and substance in their anime will want to steer clear of Tamako Market, but its bright, homey visuals and infectious communal atmosphere make it a clear winner for the anime fan who just wants to chill and unwind.