OP: 「恋の歌」 (Koi no Uta) by Fujiwara Keiji
「たまこラブストーリー」 (Tamako Rabusutourii)
“Tamako Love Story”
I once said that what Tamako Market lacked was romance, and that it didn’t make good on its potential by bringing real change to its characters’ lives. Now, with Tamako Love Story, they’ve done that. So the question becomes—did they succeed?
It turns out my final impressions for Tamako Market were prescient. The original series had maybe four good episodes—the first one (introducing Dera), finding out Midori is gay, Anko’s crush on the nerdy boy, and the love story of Mamedai (Tamako’s Papa). And with the exception of Dera’s introduction (which was good mainly because it was so unexpected), every one had to do with romance. As I anticipated, I can hardly remember the rest.
Tamako Market smacked of unused potential, and a show so enamored with the status quo that it didn’t do anything. Built like a light romance and told like a slice-of-life, it ended up being unsatisfying because nothing changed. They never dared to shake up Tamako’s comfy life in the shopping district after the first episode.
And true to expectations, this movie fixed that problem. The characters did change by the end. For that, I’m happy at least.
One Romance, with a Side of Midori
The entire movie focused on Tamako (Suzaki Aya) and Mochizou (Tamaru Atsushi), which I think was a missed opportunity. What of Choi (Yamaoka Yuri) and her prince (Shimono Hiro)? I would have liked more than a token glance at them, or of Dera (Yamazaki Takumi), or everyone else for that matter. Kanna (Nagatsuma Juri) got a little development when she climbed the tree, but what of Shiori (Yamashita Yurie) and her plans to study abroad? (I thought she would end up studying on Dera’s island.) It kept the story tight, but if you were more interested in Choi than Tamako, you’re out of luck.
But it was all about Tamako and Mochizou, with a little extra time from their ill-fated third wheel, Midori (Kaneko Yuuki). Midori’s story was predictably bitter, with her being wise enough to know that this Tamako would never fall for her, so she pulled away. That hurt, to see someone do all the right things, and not be rewarded for it. We hate seeing that. It sucks. It’s also how the world works. I feel bad for her, even though there was little chance for her to win. But that was a small part of the movie. Mostly it was Tamako and Mochizou.
Too Much Time, Not Enough Story
The question I keep coming back to—why wasn’t this included in the original series? For all the episodes I have zero recollection of, the plot of Tamako Love Story could have been folded into the original TV run without problem. It probably wouldn’t even have taken a full three episodes, what with how much padding this movie had. Some of it was to good effect—I prefer to take a romance slow rather than rush. And KyoAni remains excellent at visual storytelling, and those simple moments that are cliché and predictable, yes, but still work. But much of the movie was just slow. For its hour and twenty runtime, it had maybe an hour of solid content, maybe an hour ten. And yes, the extra hurts.
Change, But Not Very Much
The story was sweet, don’t get me wrong. And Tamako’s realization that she does indeed love Mochizou was very sweet indeed. For all it hurt to watch Midori’s love go unfulfilled, despite her doing all the right things, for a good guy like Mochizou, who steps forward when it counts, to win the girl was gratifying to see.
Yet—they’re together now. That’s it? The payoff was surprisingly small for the amount of time it took to get there. Which in a way, is good … this is a small story, not a grand one, and something sweeping would have been out of place. But shooting forward in time to show them together and happy would have been the best thing of all. We want that. We desire those clean, happy endings, for how rare they are in real life. And what we got was the beginning of a relationship. Which is great! But it’s also, in many ways, the least interesting part of a relationship. Seeing them have not just the chance at happiness together, but seeing that realized would have made my day.
I think of Ano Natsu de Matteru, where (spoiler alert) the payoff was much greater. It was still coy, but the resolution paid off everything we went through a hundredfold, once we were able to process what had happened. This, though, just … ended. And though I’m happy for our main couple, I can already feel their story fading from my memory the way so many of the original episodes did.
Which brings me to an old opinion of mine—KyoAni needs better writers. They are technical masters of the craft of anime, but they lack the auteurs who can tell a vibrant story with the tools they have at hand. Amaburi proves this in spades, because the underlying story is good—it’s the first truly well written KyoAni series since Hyouka. Everything since—and Tamako Love Story included—was second tier. serviceable, and occasionally good, but it never glowed, even though it had the potential to.
My final verdict for Tamako Love Story remains largely unchanged from the original series. It has a great deal of potential, but it remains unrealized, and for ways that are hard to grasp. I think Tamako Love Story is better than the original overall, though select episodes of the TV series outshined it—Tamako’s father will forever remain the best character in the series to me.
Where the original was confused—built like a love story, told like slice-of-life—this is at least consistent. It’s a love story, and a serviceable one. If you enjoyed it, you’re not wrong to do so! Not in the least. I enjoyed parts very much, seeing Mochizou finally confess was long overdue, and Tamako coming to terms with her feelings was both adorable and sweet. (And Mochizou, you smooth kid.) Yet … it could have been so much more, had KyoAni focused less on the beautiful animation, and more on the hard, tricky work of telling a great story. I wouldn’t have been so hard on the original series if the plot of Tamako Love Story had been included there. At least this gives us some measure of resolution for the star duo, and that’s not nothing.
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – It’s a tighter story built around Tamako & Mochizou’s love, & it worked. But the payoff wasn’t what I would have liked #tamakolovestory
Samu helped out with this post, so for his (quite different) take on the film, see his impressions below. If you’re raging about what I’ve said, you might find his thoughts more to your liking.
I’d consider myself one of the few out there who really enjoyed Tamako Market. For me, it was an overwhelmingly positive watch, bursting with cuteness and heartfelt moments throughout, and above all, it had a sense of community that made me feel like I was part of Tamako’s little market every time we explored the various shops and characters it held. Though I suppose that was where most people didn’t quite like the series so much; having a shifting point of view every episode made it seem much less focused than it could have if it was actually about the title character. Nonetheless, I loved it for what it was, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. As for Tamako Love Story? Well, I think this might have been what everyone hoped Tamako Market was going to be in the first place.
I must say, it’s nice for a change to have a short-length feature that doesn’t stretch itself with unnecessary padding. This movie had focus, an incredibly tight script, plenty of giggles to go around, and it perfectly captured the essence of ‘first love’ between our two leads. While it is funny to think how little we saw of our main character before, this time around it is her and Mochizou that get all the attention, and I wouldn’t change a thing about that. It was without a doubt the best decision to have the film focus entirely on the romantic feelings between them, whilst managing to juggle the many side characters and effectively use them to always drive the main plot forward, never tripping over itself in the process.
When characters are nearing the end of their high school lives, it’s only natural that narratives focuses on themes such as moving on, dreams, hopes, and career aspirations. KyoAni did it recently with Free! Eternal Summer, and with Tamako Market we got a glimpse of what the future holds for a bunch of our characters. That was one of the elements that made this work so well; it’s a tough act balancing such an extensive cast, as is evident by the approach of Tamako Market, but what we have here is great, simple storytelling.
As far as aesthetics go, this is certainly up there as one of KyoAni’s best works, though I wouldn’t expect any less. For whatever complaints some may have for the studio, it’s animation is never one of them, because it’s just so damn stunning. Throughout watching Love Story, I kept thinking how many shots were so well done, how the composition and cinematography was used to its absolute best, and how the pale-yet-colourful palette went perfectly with the various tones, from happy to heartbroken and everything in between.
I could list so many things that I loved about the movie, like the little details or the character animation quirks, but one thing that stood out for me was how brilliant Midori was. Her own personal story was what I was most worried about going into this. Very rarely are same-sex feelings done well, so I was honestly prepared to see Midori get completely trampled to make way for the destined coupling of Tamako and Mochizou. But I couldn’t have been happier with how it was done, and how subtle her bowing down was. I’m sure there are some out there who (somehow) didn’t quite catch that Midori held feelings for Tamako, but KyoAni certainly knew what they were doing by working the magic of Show, Don’t Tell. Her feelings were never made vocal here, but there were so many moments where her careful words and her slight expressions said it all: her sadness when she came to realise she couldn’t beat Mochizou, her disappointment in herself for not being able to confess like him, and her admiration in him for doing so, resulting in her telling a little lie that sealed the deal between Tamako and Mochizou in the end.
And what an end it was. I was half-expecting a scene where Mochizou would poke his head out the window and Tamako would scream her confession there and then before the train went off into the distance, much like has been done many a time before. But thankfully it didn’t work out like that. The returned confession through their string-and-cups in the very last seconds was perfect, as was Mochizou’s reaction; watching him put his hand over his mouth in pure bliss just about made my heart burst. It’s those little details that made Tamako Love Story so easy to love for me. That, tied with concise writing, laugh-out-loud slapstick comedy, absolutely stunning visuals, and the perfect amount of well-captured love to tie it all together. To say I enjoyed this movie would be an understatement. I absolutely loved it.
ED: 「プリンシプル」 (Principle) by Suzaki Aya
ED2: 「恋の歌」 (Koi no Uta) by Suzaki Aya