Andrew Osmond on the new anime from the people who brought you K-on
From the creators of K-ON! comes… well, something looking a great deal like K-ON!, at least at first glance. Tamako Market debuted on Japanese TV in January, and is presently streaming on Anime on Demand. You can’t fault Kyoto Animation for visual branding; its style’s as recognisable as a Ghibli fantasy. Once again we have cute schoolgirls skipping through the scenery, though the main setting this time is a Japanese shopping mall. Here the title girl Tamako lives at her family’s mochi (rice cake) shop. Her friends include – no surprise! – her equally perky girl classmates; her kindly neighbours at the mall; and Mochikura, a boy her age who’s the son of the mall’s rival mochi maker.
The anime’s core female team is straight from K-ON! There’s director Naoko Yamada, who visited Glasgow for last October’s Scotland Loves Anime; Reiko Yoshida, overseeing the series scripts; and Yukiko Horiguchi, handling the very familiar character designs. The scenery itself is a series character. 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 quickly matched backgrounds to real places in the Kyoto area; scroll down. Japanese fans call such places ‘holy lands.’
We’ve gone two paragraphs without mentioning Tamako Market’s most… well, overbearing character. We mean, of course, the bird. 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, immediately attaching himself to poor Tamako. (And we mean that literally – he lunges at her 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 world 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.
The birdie is voiced by Takumi Yamazaki, who brings a whole other set of baggage to the show. Oldschool anime fans will know him as the hero of the ‘90s SF classic Macross Plus, but for viewers today he’s the voice of Kayneth El-Melloi Archibald, 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…
The bird’s own proper name is Dela Mochimazzi – a bit unfortunate, as “mocha mazui” is Japanese for “bad-tasting mochi.” Tamako and her single dad take huge pride in the quality of their mochi, though they differ on the right presentation (the dad isn’t big on cute marketing). Coincidentally, Tamako Market’s broadcast coincides with the UK cinema release of a live-action Japanese film; I Wish, another genial slice of life, which has a subplot about a family’s desperate efforts to sell sponge cake. If you like slice of life anime, check I Wish out too: it's on limited cinema release now and is directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, who’s famed for heavier movies such as Nobody Knows.
After the first few episodes of Tamako Market, it’s impossible to say where it’ll go, or indeed if it’ll “go” anywhere. There’s the suggestion of an arc plot involving the bird, who claims to be seeking a wife for his country’s prince, and can turn his eyes into a projector to play his own flashbacks. But Tamako Market’s main purpose seems the same as countless other soaps, sitcoms and slice of life anime; to offer the viewer a friendly, happy place to go one night a week, hanging with friends with no great cares or concerns beyond one annoying, overweight bird.