If K-On can be interpreted as a love letter to the meaningless but fulfilling, mundane but beautiful days in high school and the relationships that we form during that time, then Tamako Market could also be interpreted as one to the strong bond that the members of a small community share, the warmness that it can offer and how that molds everyone’s personality… Kind of… It also goes off on a tangent about love –and different kinds and from different kind of people at that- and friendship in high school, plus it has a little plot point about finding the bride for some prince plot with some magic elements that, while it’s there to complement the main theme of the show, it’s still kind of there, sometimes it gets in the way and makes you wonder if they could have thought of another way to deliver the message they want convey that feels less out-of place… What was I trying to say again?
Let’s get this straight; Tamako Market is an unfocused show. As in, it has its mind set in sharing a nice message about community but it also wants to touch other points, some of them related to the main theme, others not so much. Honestly, if Tamako Love Story didn’t exist, I would have more problems with the –in my opinion- unsatisfying state that the show ends. But it exists, it utilizes elements that were brought up in the show in a nice way that doesn’t feel they have been forgotten –but still feel underdeveloped- and wraps up Tamako’s story with a cute tale of love between two childhood friends presented in an amazing and unique way.
So… What’s Tamako Market about? It’s about the mundane but colorful and somewhat-amusing-to-watch day-to-day life Tamako Kitashirakawa, a high schooler and the oldest daughter of a family that runs a mochi Shop called Tama-Ya, in the Usagiyama shopping district, home of a bunch of outlandish but extremely friendly business owners that form a community where everyone knows everyone and care for each other. This has mold Tamako’s personality into one that’s pure and that could do no wrong, a shining light of happiness, friendliness and optimism for everyone that knows her, even the viewer. In addition to that, there’s her life in high school, where she has two friends, Kanna and Midori, plus another one -Shiori- that joins later into the show, with whom she shares a nice friendship with. Also there’s Mochizou Ooji, Tamako’s childhood friend since birth and has had a crush on her since ever, and whose family also runs a mochi shop that has a long-lasting rivalry with Tama-Ya. And on top of all that we have the Mochimazzi people, Dera, the talking bird that came at the start of the show to Tama-Ya, fat himself up with mochi to the point that he can’t leave and now stays with the Kitashirakawas; Choi, the girl that comes from the same place as Dera and also stays at Tamako’s house; and Mecha, a prince of the island from where Choi and Dera came and we get glimpses of throughout the show during the times that Dera becomes –and I’m not kidding you- a projector and may or may not impact the “plot” of the show. Holy moly, that’s a lot of stuff for a 12-episodes-long show and I haven’t gotten into detail about anything yet… Oh my…
Okay, let’s start with Tamako. Her character can and will be summarized with one word, love. Love for her family, love for the Usagiyama community, love for her friends and, last but not least, love for mochi –traditional Japanese race cakes-, if fact, one could say that Tamako’s life is mochi-centric, she can associate almost everything with mochi, the principal topic of conversation that she brings up when talking with her friends is mochi, her aspirations in life is succeeding the mochi shop that her family has run since her grandfather’s grandfather generation, the show itself acknowledges that her being revolves around mochi and that’s very important for the resolution of a plot point, and surprisingly enough, it works, mochi has always been part of her life so it’s natural that she feels passionate about it and mochi connects her with the rest of the characters to some extent.
Mochi obviously connects her with her family, since they all help run the place. Both sisters, Tamako and Anko -the younger one and whose name is the same as the Japanese name of red bean past, used in mochi- help whenever they can with the shop, her father, Mamedai, and her grandfather, Fuku, are the ones that actually run the shop. And mochi, as lame as it’ll sound, kind of kickstarted the love between Mamedai and Tamako’s deceased mother, Hinako, for a weird misunderstanding. You see, Hinako went to Tama-Ya to, well, buy mochi, specifically, she was asking for Mame Daifuku -small round mochi stuffed with sweet-filling but with azuki beans or soybeans mixed in them- but that name can be abbreviated into Mame Dai, Tamako’s father name, so it sounded like she was asking for him, and with that misunderstanding, he confessed to her in the spot. Standard anime misunderstanding that the show explains –plus the joke that if you put Tamako’s father and granfather’s names together you form Mame Daifuku, ugh…- but this shows the family exists because and for mochi (but Tamako’s name doesn’t have anything to do with mochi, strangely enough). And taking the chance that we mentioned how Tamako’s fathers met, let’s talk about one of the most important –and, in my opinion, well-done- points of the show, the song that Mamedai wrote in his youth for Hinako, which Tamako hums throughout the show –although incorrectly- and is very important for some moments of the show and the movie.
Mamedai, after she saw Hinako for the first time in school and met her in the way mentioned above in Tama-Ya, fell really hard in love with her. At that point, Mamedai was part of a band –along with Yaobi, the owner of the coffee show where the character spend a lot of time in the show, that loves his music and to give cryptic bits of knowledge-, so he decided to write a song for her. She really liked the song, since she sang it to Tamako when she was small and is where she gets to learn the song, with the small detail that, because Hinako was apparently tone-deaf, she sang to song incorrectlyto Tamako, making it harder for her in the future to find out what song was it. It wasn’t until Tamako catches her father singing the song she wrote for her in a moment of melancholy that she finds out everything above, with the help of Yaobi, that is. All of this becomes relevant later, in Tamako Love Story.
Continuing with the mochi-relations, we have the Oojis that run the Ouji-Ya, the mochi shop across from Tama-Ya, which seem to have a friendly “rivalry” with them. And when I say that they have a rivalry I actually mean the fathers of both families –Mamedai and Gohei, Mochizou’s father- have a “rivalry” (if you consider rivalry throwing insults to the other’s mochi in the middle of the street that separates the shops). Tamako’s and Mochizou’s mothers –Hinako and Michiko- were in good terms, or at least that what can be assumed from what was shown in the show. As for Tamako and Mochizou themselves, I’ll get into more detail later, but I’ll at least say that theirs is a relationship of friendship with romantic undertones throughout the show that later get first plane in the movie.
The Tama-Ya is located in the Usagiyama Shopping District, a beautifully depicted shopping arcade, full of shops, restaurants and boutiques that overflow with colors, a large variety of decorations and, more importantly, life. You can start feeling the life of the shopping arcade from the Opening of the show (now one of my favorites), and as you can feel the liveness of the place starting from that point, you can feel it from the businesses owners. Each one is different and while some of them stand out more than others, as a whole form a community that you’ll most likely want to visit and see for yourself, but the real question is if you would really want to be part of it… And the answer’ll most likely be yes, too. Everyone is a good person that cares for their neighbors, that always greets you with a smile and sometimes gives you a special discount for a product or even say “you know what? You can take it for free, we’re friends, after all”, so much of good people that they pretty much made the Tamako that we see throughout the show. Maybe they’re too good to be real, or maybe not, maybe there really are people and close-knit communities like that, but despite of what you believe, the show tries to sell you these guys as the best thing in the world and the viewers more often than not will buy it. And this is where the show starts to piss me off.
You get this wonderful community, full of interesting people that surely must have great stories each one of them –like, for example, Kaoru, the florist, that is heavily implied to be a transgender woman, or Sayuri, the daughter of the bathhouse’s owner, and her marriage-, that will surely welcome you with the open arms, this is shown through Dera’s, Choi’s and, to a lesser extent, Shiori’s character, so why can’t I enjoy it throughout all 12 episodes? Is it really necessary invest so much time in some of these weak romance subplots, these Midori-Tamako-Mochizou, Anko-Yuzuki, Mamedai-Hinako love stories? I mean, they’re good in their own right (Episode 9 is a good episode and Tamako Love Story is an amazing movie). Was it really necessary to add the “finding the prince’s bride” subplot and much of the magic elements? They didn’t add much to the show and even spoiled it a little. I needed more of the Usagiyama people, I want to know more about them and there wasn’t any reason why we couldn’t. I believe that they wanted to maintain the image of most friendly community that could ever exist while letting out the detail that usually in these really close communities everyone gets to know everything about the others in some way or another, or maybe they already do and we viewers, that we see things either through the perspective of guests like Dera or Choi, or the perspective of a pure-minded person like Tamako, don’t really get to dig deeper into their lifes, into their characters. Whatever was the case, the fact that what is the main selling point of the show, the Usagiyama community, was so underdeveloped, is one of the major downsides of the show.
Next we have the Tamako’s high school friends: Kanna, Shiori and Midori. There’s not too much to say about Kanna, she’s a really relaxed and laidback girl that comes from a family of carpenters so she’s really good at craftsmanship (in fact, so good she was able to measure the dimensions of a room that the girls will use for a haunted house and the amount of materials needed for that with only measuring its length, apparently. She’s that good), and that’s it. She was already Tamako’s friend by the start of the series and we never get to see how they became friends and she doesn’t have any relation to the Usagiyama community, not even that her parents’ shop is in that shopping district, nothing, she’s a fun character that says witty, and sometimes meaningful, lines… Okay, moving on.
Shiori gets to become Tamako’s friend a few episodes into the series after she helps Dera –the talking bird- a second time and he (ugh…) falls in love with her and invites her Tamako’s house, going through the shopping arcade first. There she’s greeted by the friendly people of the Usagiyama, which mistake her for one of Tamako’s friends and, as good people as they are, they treat her various things. Then, at Tama-Ya, she’s welcomed by Tamako and, with her usual friendliness, invites her for dinner, which Shiori ends up making, goes to the bathhouse together with her and Tamako’s sister and, overall, spends the rest of the day there. The next day, at school, we learn that Shiori is shy, extremely shy, so shy it that makes her avoid Tamako –leading to Tamako misunderstanding and believing that she was being too pushy before-, so shy that she started practicing in the bathroom and in front of a mirror how to thank Tamako for the other day –and Midori catches her doing that-. Shenanigans happen, Shiori gets a chance to talk with Tamako again, she gets to thank her and clears the misunderstanding that the latter had and so, a new Social Link was established. After all that, Shiori’s presence in the show is pretty dim; she’s part of the Badminton club while the others –Kanna, Midori and Tamako- are in the Baton club so interactions between them are few and far between, usually the other girls are doing something, she sees them and joins them in whatever activity they’re in. Even in Tamako Love Story her participation is minimum with few meaningful lines.
Then we have Midori… I like Midori. She is one of Tamako’s oldest friends –behind Mochizou; she only has known Tamako since fourth year of elementary school while he and Tamako have pretty much been together since birth-, her grandfather runs a toy store in the shopping arcade and he’s part of the Usagiyama community so that explains why Midori and Tamako have been friends for so long, and she’s part of the Baton club along with Kanna and Tamako. Midori has some of the most interesting interactions of the show, in my opinion, because she’s affected by everything. She’s affected by the Usagiyama community, because of her grandfather and we get to know that she sometimes helps him, and while she may not be as close to them as Tamako is, it’s still a nice layer for her character.
She’s obviously affected by her friends at school; she interacts often with the other girls since she’s known to be a pretty popular and sociable person and, during 2nd year in high school, she becomes president of the Baton club, and this leads to an interesting scenario. When the Baton club decides that they’ll do a presentation for the School Festival, Midori takes the role of making the choreography, the problem is that she can’t think of anything and this leads to her struggling about that throughout most of episode 10, and I liked every second of it. Apart from the obvious humorous implications that this situation ensures, there are some really good moments; we have Midori in her room, thinking about the choreography and how she slowly but surely falls into the madness that comes with creative block, the whole scene was shot nicely and you really get to feel what Midori feels at that moment (or at least make for a good laugh), then we have the scene with Midori in the bathroom where she’s talking to herself in the mirror and trying to psych herself up into thinking a choreography but then she’s found out by none other than Shiori –making for a nice mirroring of a previous event- that asks her what’s wrong, which leads to another great scene where the four friends are reunited in Midori’s room and when the topic of the choreography is bring out, Midori breaks into tears because she doesn’t have anything, and after letting feelings flow a bit, Tamako apologizes to her for not noticing her and she and the others assure her that everything’ll be fine and that they’ll help her out (plus a funny dance from the part of Dera). This whole scene was presented beautifully, starting from how Midori tried to hide the fact that her room was a mess for her thinking about the choreography by stuffing everything up under her bed’s blanket and the trashcan, how that same trashcan was the focus for a brief moment, how the BGM stops and we hear a siren when Kanna shows the scrapped paper and Midori tries to rapidly take it from her a hide, hitting the table and it responding with a blunt thump, and the shot of Midori being hugged by Tamako, with the latter lightly blurred out so that the focus of that moment is the former, Midori, and how she feels. That scene and others throughout the show were amazingly executed.
But the most important aspect of Midori’s character is how she’s affected by Tamako, Mochizou and the relationship of these two. Throughout the show we’re shown hints that how Midori feels about Tamako is more than the usual friendship between two girls, even more so than one of childhood friends; putting it bluntly, Midori has romantic feelings for Tamako. This is shown in various instance, like how she’s sometimes flustered when close to Tamako or how Midori feels that she must protect her from Mochizou’s advances, whose also in love with Tamako, not because Midori herself is in love with Mochizou, she never gives hints of that, but because for her –and Mochizou as well- Tamako is the most important person in her life. While this may also be interpreted as just a really close friendship, I want to believe that what Midori feels about Tamako is genuine love, that she interferes with Mochizou’s attempts of becoming something more than just friends with Tamako because Midori also wants to be that with her, something closer than close friends, but she just can’t bring herself to do it, to take the next step into their relationship because she treasures the state that it is right now, she doesn’t want to destroy what they have built throughout all those years of being together. That’s what I want to believe because this makes the resolution of her character arc in Tamako Love Story even stronger, because this makes her my favorite character in Tamako Market/Love Story.
There’s also this minor character, Yuzuki, Anko’s classmate and her crush. She’s in love with him but Anko is really young so she’s pretty shy about it so this love doesn’t go anywhere but there are some nice scenes that come out of this. When Tamako and friends learn that Yuzuki is moving out and that Anko can’t bring herself to say goodbye to him, Tamako gives her a good excuse to go and do it by saying that Anko should give Yuzuki some freshly pound mochi since it’s pretty good and he should taste it. Anko runs to Yuzuki’s house, which is preparing to move, and is able to say goodbye to him properly, but Yuzuki reassures her that they’ll see again since his family buys their New Year’s mochi at Tama-Ya. Mochi brings together a future pair of lovers yet again.
Last in the character list we have the Mochimazzi fellows; the bird, the girl and the prince; Dera, Choi and Mecha. Dera, the talking bird, is one of the first characters introduced in the show but, at the same time, must be one of the last characters that we need to talk about since it’s his interactions with the other character that give him weight. Dera comes from a tropical island and is in the quest to find a bride worth for the prince of the island, Mecha. During his journey he ends up in a flower bouquet and sent to the flower shop in the Usagiyama shopping district –and the reason for that is that, in the middle of his journey, he rested in a bed of flowers that had the same scent as the prince of the island (important detail for later on), and when they picked up the flowers to send them to the flower shop they didn’t noticed he was there-, Tamako finds him, shenanigans happens and Dera decides to stay “for a while” at Tama-Ya but he fats himself up with mochi and now he can’t leave. Dera acts often as this sort of narrator where he throws sometimes one or two poetical phrases relevant to the episode at the start and/or end of each one, he’s also acts as comic relief and, along with Choi and like I said much earlier, his main purpose is to showcase how the Usagiyama community would treat a foreign person for them. It’s obviously turns out that they would welcome them; the shop owners quickly warm themselves to Dera, they’re shown early into the show that they already treat him fairly well, some give him some free samples and most of them address him like if they have known each other since ever.
Choi is the oracle of the island that she and Dera come from and, although she has the Mochimazzi surname, she’s related to neither Dera nor Mecha (turns out that those closely related to the royal family get to bear that name). She’s also in the quest to find a worthy bride for Mecha and Dera is his adivination tool. Choi arrives at Usagiyama mid-show and is warmly received by the shopping district fellows, which find her and her adivination powers really amazing. She’s a bit different to Dera at first when she arrived at Usagiyama; she doesn’t really gets along with Tamako and the rest too well –because of a lie that Dera told her to excuse himself for why he hadn’t left Tama-Ya- but that doesn’t last long and quickly adapts to the new environment. She also furthers the “finding the prince’s bride” plot point with her saying that Tamako is the chosen one since she has a mole on her neck that apparently is a common trait of all royal brides and she has the same scent as the prince; plus she’s in love with the prince but that doesn’t go anywhere.
Lastly we have Mecha, the prince of the tropical island. He seems like a nice guy, a little innocent maybe; we really don’t get to much time to know him well. When the “finding the prince’s bride” plot point reaches its climax and he arrives to Usagiyama, he gets along with the community pretty darn well, being a prince and all that. And this leads to another mayor annoyance of mine, the way the show resolve thing. Starting with that the whole plot point felt kind of there, like it was only a reason to get Dera, Choi and Mecha in Usagiyama, I’m sure they could have come up with a less intrusive and meaningless reason for why they arrive to the shopping district; and I consider this meaningless because as it came it went, in a snap, although it kind of did something useful since thanks to that we get to know why Tamako values the community so much, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the reason why Tamako had the same scent as the prince is that she buys frequently the flowers that Dera said smelled the same as Mecha. And even if it that wasn’t important, we also have that everyone in the shopping arcade closed their stores to be able to meet the prince, the only other occasion when that happened was when Tamako’s mother died, what a way to take the meaning out of something important. And after that, when Tamako talks about why she wouldn’t go with the prince, that the Usagiyama community just means to much for her to do it, that Dera went frenetically to the prince to convince him that Tamako’s life revolves around mochi, her family and the shopping arcade and its residents, and that taking her away from that would be too cruel, Mecha responds that it’s fine, that she really isn’t a bride candidate and everything was a misunderstanding. Wow, all that now feels so meaningless that I can’t even. What a way to end that, guys! Well… It doesn’t really end there, Choi and Mecha return to their island while Dera decides to stay a bit longer until after New Year to then return to his home island.
By the end of the show, I’m left with that feeling that I want more, that I want to see more of the Usagiyama fellows and their lives, to see what happens with Midori and Mochizou’s unrequited love for Tamako, and Anko’s for Yuzuki or Choi’s for Mecha…
Let’s just move on to Tamako Love Story, shall we?
Continue in Part 3b.