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Tamako Market – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Tamako Kitashirakawa is the eldest daughter of a family which runs the Tama-ya mochi shop in the Usagiyama Shopping District. One day, Tamako encounters a strange talking bird named Dera Mochimazzwi who comes from a distant land searching for a bride for his country’s prince.

The notion of a well-written comedic anime series has often been a hit-or-miss experience, with many recent comedy series not exactly bringing forth much creativity let alone variety. Fortunately for Kyoto Animation’s latest title, Tamako Market establishes a small and unique world that elicits a genuine care for its characters and their lot in life, offering a truly compelling, humorous, and heartfelt viewing experience. It is also refreshing to see a comedy series that is so sharply written, offering glimpses of smart humor dispersed throughout that never appear as contrived situations within the series’ narrative.

With Kyoto Animation’s craftiness as a studio and their extensive track record at delivering rather beautifully animated series that are also heavily invested in their characters, Tamako Market is a series that continues that tradition. Working with a rather small cast of characters, the series appropriately focuses on a majority of those characters through its twelve episode run, often dedicating an entire episode towards each individual as the series deals with a multitude of subjects surrounding themes such as love, courage, and even loss. We slowly get to know these characters as they are situated within their somewhat isolated community, with all their perks and mannerisms defining who they are and their relationships to one another. Whether this is seen in the central character of Tamako as she generously attempts to uphold her family lineage through her work at her family’s mochi shop, to Mochizo’s reluctance to tell Tamako that he cares for her, the characters are all very distinct and much more realized than your standard anime comedy series.

What essentially reinforces these characters bonds, and remains the series’ most humorous addition, is that of the talking bird Dera Mochimazzwi. His pompous and chivalrous attitude is a sight to behold, with him proudly introducing himself by his full name with each new encounter, his profession as a noble attendant is certainly reflective upon his approach towards life and the individuals he meets within the Usagiyama Shopping District. With the aspect of a talking bird already as humorous as it is, to see one that truly perceives himself as a not a bird – he actually considers himself above such lowly creatures – establishes plenty of opportunities throughout the series for Dera to take center stage as the outlandishly comical character who simply can not accept who truly is. But for all the witty bantering and posturing that Dera offers throughout the series, he also is very instrumental in resolving many of the dilemmas the characters face. In a rather plausible approach, Dera’s haughtiness is often transformed into beneficial advice for other characters, with his sense of duty providing him the opportunity to assist them in working out their problems.

As the series progresses though, Dera oddly takes somewhat of a back seat to many of the other characters. While this approach may seem as an overall negative aspect of the series, it does work out primarily due to the likability of the remainder of the series’ cast. While Tamako Market focuses extensively on the daily situations of its characters, it also explores the normality of such situations through rather creative ways. For example, episode three is about a character named Shiori who is incredibly shy, with the episode structure working in a way that showcases her various attempts to overcome her shyness. When Shiroi has a random first encounter with Dera – who he instantly falls in love with – Dera unexpectedly becomes the catalyst needed for Shiori to overcome her shyness as he introduces her to his acquaintances back at the shopping district. This and many other instances are portrayed as natural occurrences in which the series builds its wacky humor around, providing both character development and hilarity as the episodes ensue.

But for those familiar with Kyoto Animation’s previous works, Tamako Market shares many similar qualities to other series of theirs, especially that of K-On! (2009), and in many instances may appear a little too similar to that aforementioned series. Considering that both Tamako Market and K-On! were created by the same animation studio, similarities are bound to be found between the two. While one can acknowledge that the several episodes leading up to the conclusion of Tamako Market does venture into focusing more on Tamako and her relationship to her three female classmates as a move that surprisingly reflects that of K-On!, it luckily refrains from being solely about them and continues to be more so about Dera, Tamako, and the difficult and hilarious choices they have to make.

As an overall experience, Tamako Market is a surprisingly refreshing series that nicely blends elements of comedy with that of slice of life drama. The self-referential humor – mainly through the likes of Dera’s overly presumptuous mannerisms – provides the series with an exceptional amount of energetic poise that makes it stand out from similar series. The witty dialogue coupled with fantastic character development for a comedy series makes for a well-rounded experience that is sure to please. These aspects culminate in a series that is so enjoyable to watch, with Kyoto Animation further establishing themselves as a studio willing to take chances amidst an animation industry that often chooses not to.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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