By Andrew Osmond.
Anime Limited’s release of Kyoto Animation’s Tamako Market carries both the original 12-part TV series and its cinema continuation, the film Tamako Love Story. It’s a tale of the title girl Tamako, her neighbours and neighbourhood, her family and friends. Like many soaps, sitcoms and slice-of-life anime, it offers the viewer a friendly, happy place to go, hanging with people you like with (usually) no great concerns. It’s Kyoto Animation at its sunniest.
High-schooler Tamako lives at her family’s mochi (rice cake) shop in her town’s shopping district. Her acquaintances include her equally perky girl classmates and Mochizo, a boy her age who’s the son of the mall’s rival mochi maker, though that doesn’t stop the kids being friends. Tamako and her single dad take pride in the quality of their own mochi, though they differ on the right presentation (the dad isn’t big on cute marketing). And that’s a lot of the show’s set-up, except for a random element that crashes into part one, in the portly shape of an annoying, overweight bird. A bird who’s magic and talks. A lot.
The bird’s proper name is Dela Mochimazzi – a bit unfortunate, as “mocha mazui” is Japanese for “bad-tasting mochi.” He’s an oversized, arrogant chap, with a beak-curling expression that’d make any aristocrat jealous. He turns up mysteriously in the mall’s flower-shop, and immediately attaches himself to poor Tamako. And that’s literally – he lunges at the girl like an Alien facehugger, then uses her head as a footstool. He also demands that Tamako not fall in love with him.
Tamako Market is an anime where people are amazed by an articulate avian for, oh, five seconds, and then get over it. One of the show’s jokes is that the bird regards itself as wondrous and universally loveable – like a cartoon talking animal, in fact – while the humans see him as a mild irritation, with unfortunate tendencies to stalk pretty girls and peek over walls in the public baths. But Dela’s on a serious mission, seeking a wife for his country’s prince (he can turn eyes into a projector to play his flashbacks).
The birdie is voiced by Takumi Yamazaki, who brings baggage to the show. Old-school anime fans will know him as the hero of the 1990s SF classic Macross Plus. However, when Tamako was broadcast in Japan, Yamazaki was better known as the voice of Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald (what a mouthful!), a combatant in the dark fantasy Fate/Zero. Archibald was a somewhat arrogant nobleman, and it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to see Yamazaki’s regal, bumbling bird as a bit of a send-up of the earlier character. More recently, Yamazaki’s been voicing a character with another mouthful name – Kasugaigarasu in Demon Slayer.
Despite its feathered interloper, Tamako Market is most obviously a companion to Kyoto Animation’s previous hit, K-ON!, about a group of perky amateur girl musicians. Although the stories are completely separate, the opening minutes feel like a cunning bid to get K-ON!, fans on board, with Tamako and her cute schoolgirl friends skipping through the scenery. However, Tamako’s cast is much larger than K-ON!’s. Tamko’s father and younger sister both play substantial roles, and Tamako’s friendship with the boy Mochizo is an important thread.
The anime’s core team is straight from K-ON!, including two who would graduate to A Silent Voice several years later. Naoko Yamada, the future director of Voice, had been animating on Kyoto productions since Kanon and Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid. K-ON! and Market were her debut director credits. Tamako’s lead writer Reiko Yoshida had had the same role on K-ON!; her career spans three decades, with credits ranging from The Cat Returns and Silent Voice (the film version) to Masaaki Yuasa’s Ride Your Wave. Another K-ON! alumnus is Yukiko Horiguchi, who handles Tamako’s familiar character designs, very close to K-ON!
Tamako’s scenery is a key character itself. Japanese fans know their anime friends often visit real places, both in Japan and abroad. After the first Tamako Market episode aired, a Japanese website matched backgrounds to real places in the Kyoto area; scroll down here. Critics have suggested one of the show’s implicit purposes is contained in its name, to show how a market, a shopping district, needn’t just be somewhere to buy things; it can also a close-knit, generous community of people who know and look out for each other. And that may be why Tamako Market’s citizens are surprisingly blasé about Dela’s arrival. In the true scheme of things, a “slice of life” of a kind society has more magic than any pompous talking bird.