Lately, the word “comfy” has become a popular way to describe feel-good, low-tempo slice-of-life shows, and I think that word fits Tamako Market to a tee. Watching it is like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket of positivity and happy feelings towards the world–I marathoned the show on a warm sunny day and felt myself melt into the chair as the good vibes rolled on.
Tamako Market comes from the same creative staff as K-On, and while it’s not the greatest anime ever like K-On was, a lot of what made K-On great is also great in Tamako Market. Between the two shows, Yamada Naoko has established herself as one of my favorite anime directors, as it became apparent which hallmarks of her style differentiate her shows from others by Kyoto Animation.
In many ways, I think Tamako Market is somewhat of a spiritual successor to K-On, or at least a riff on some similar ideas. More than anything, I would say that K-On is a show about how a group of friends can affect and change one-another, to the point of achieving a symbiosis and culture in which you can’t imagine having one without all of the others. Tamako Market then takes this theme and applies it to an entire community, namely the Rabbit Mountain Shopping Center. This connection is even represented in the show’s opening theme, as it relates to the second K-On ending theme. See how almost the exact same shot exists in both shows, but in one, the next shot brings the entire community into the picture instead of returning to focus on just the main girls?
We can best see how much this community effects people through the foreign entities which get swept up in it. One after another, Dera, Shiori, Choi, and to a lesser extent, Meccha, all get caught in the so-called trap of unbound kindness and good-natured love that this community shares, and find themselves changing to fit the tempo of that community. No one represents this tempo better than Tamako, whose every thought and sense of being completely revolves around her being a mochi makers daughter and the product of the place she was raised in.
This community is sold to us through the same extreme attention to detail in character and setting that this production team brought to K-On. Even characters who barely get any screen time feel like living entities in this show, as it presents them all with their own unique quirks and subtle differences. Most shows would try to achieve this by making all of the characters wacky one-note jokes, but Tamako Market seems to effortlessly differentiate between all of these people while keeping them believable and real. Even if we don’t know the town and its residents that well, the show itself does, and can present us with tidbits of their lives sure-handedly.
That brings me to the only problem I had with the series though, which is that it’s shorter than it could have been and doesn’t get enough time to explore the setting in-depth. While I enjoyed the silly and supernatural edge that the southern island characters brought to the story, I felt they took up too much time trying to inject a plot into a show that really didn’t need one to be enjoyable. Most of the best scenes came from learning the history of the town and its residents, and getting little clues into why each character thinks and acts the way that they do. The sequel film, Tamako Love Story, shows that there were good stories to be told in this town without the islanders around, but even then I kept thinking how much I’d like to get to know the other residents of the town and see more of their lives.
But maybe that’s a testament to just how good the little bits of characterization were. I wanted to see a day in the life of the flower girl Kaoru, whom I’m fairly certain was meant to be transgendered, even though it’s never mentioned by anyone and only hinted at in the fact that she’s voiced by a man and has a somewhat masculine jawline. I wanted to know more about the introverted old coffee shop owner Yaobi, who seems vaguely depressed all the time and plays foreign music on vinyl while forcing bitter coffee on his patrons and imparting life wisdom. Maybe some of the island stuff could’ve been cut to fit more of these characters in, but I’d just as easily settle for a whole second season of the show if it explored the town in more depth.
All in all, I enjoyed Tamako Market a lot, as I’m always a fan of a show that can sell me on its setting and characters through details and subtlety. I’m also a fan of shows that portray people as good-natured and communal creatures, because as a hardcore optimist, I’d really like to believe that that’s how we are, even if my own house is so out of the way that I don’t really get any sense of community myself. Maybe I’m experiencing it vicariously through shows like this. I certainly know that after a few episodes, I wanted nothing more than the chance to stroll through Tamako’s Market and meet all these people in person, for a taste of those croquettes, and, of course, a bite of that mochi.