Dreams and Expectations in Tari Tari
August 21, 2012 Leave a comment
High school is a highly romanticised place within Japanese popular culture and in particular manga and anime, with the number of series set in high school innumerable. It is a space that sits between childhood and the world of adults, with students entering as innocent children but leaving as adults ready to join society. Much like the western in America, high school is a timeless space in Japanese popular culture, and regardless of the time the activities and attitudes within high school remain the same. In many high school anime the characters are first or second years, those who are just starting their high school life and the narrative appears to suggest that they have an eternity to live out their high school dreams. Certain anime portray high school as an innocent time where teenagers of both sexes learn about sex, sexuality and other elements of the adult world, all the while maintain an almost child-like view of what goes on in society. There are of course exceptions, with series such as Great Teacher Onizuka demonstrating that schools differ depending on where they are, although in this case the school is an extreme and at times, comic example.
This is not to suggest that there is no hard work in high school anime, with numerous tests sat at particular intervals throughout any given anime, along with the dreaded career report. Japan is (largely) a meritocratic society, so these test scores can and do have a significant impact upon your future choices such as going to university. There are other cases in high school anime where specific characters are attending juku (cram-schools designed to help prepare students for university entrance exams, although they also exist to help prepare for high school and junior high exams now). Furthermore the career forms also demonstrates that having entered high school these students are now expected to think about their careers and what they want to do in life. However, in both cases there is a detached quality to these activities, suggesting that while they are an essential part of high school life they are not taken seriously or given any real weight.
In Amagami SS for example Junichi is attending a cram school so that he can attend a good university, but it is given little importance and portrayed as a side activity to the main romantic plot. Similarly in many anime many view these career forms with distain, and it is often the case that the main protagonists do not take them entirely seriously. School wide mock exams are also portrayed in a similar fashion, and while the top scorers are viewed either with disdain or awe, those who are in the middle brush it off suggesting that ‘there is always next time’. Regardless of the importance placed upon test scores or the career forms there is still a timeless innocence embedded within high school anime. Such series end without seeing the conclusion to these characters high school lives, and even in those rare cases when we do get to see the characters after their school lives have finished it is for a brief moment.
There are several endings for Amagami SS where there is a glimpse of the central couples once they have graduated, they are all in steady jobs and enjoy their lives, but there is nothing in-between. The fairy-tale hasn’t ended, but instead jumped ahead to see the characters successful in what they chose to do, but, it is often the case that the anime never tells the audience these characters goals in any clear fashion. Tari Tari differs in this respect by presenting a case that are coming to the end of their high school lives, and have to come to terms with the idea of moving on. As a series it continues to focus on dreams and expectations of what life will bring, however there is also a distinct hint of realism.
Each character has their own distinct dreams and wishes, however, as their high school lives draw to a close, the reality of the situation has to be recognised and acknowledged. Some dreams are not always possible and must stay as dreams, a part of high school that has to either be left behind or viewed as a goal to strive for. Tari Tari demonstrates the immense pressure placed upon some people who have to live up to expectations or have to come to terms with either abandoning their dreams or putting them on hold. However, it also suggests that people cannot and should not be expected to decide their futures during such a short period of time. It is unreasonable to expect teenagers or even adults to truly understand what they want to do with their lives, but the pressures placed upon Japanese high school students to decide are immense and in some cases almost soul destroying.
Each character has a distinct dream or expectation of life, one that has been shaped and changed by their childhood and how they live. Characters such as Taichi are utterly focussed on his dream of playing badminton, and while he has a sports scholarship he is also attending juku in order to make sure that he can attend university and continue playing the sport that he loves. His dream is realistic while also remaining hard to attain, but it is also one that can take on physical form. Taichi’s constant efforts to improve his play demonstrate his commitment to this goal regardless of the problems that he faces by being the only member of the schools badminton club. He is however unique in this respect and is the only character with a distinct and tangible goal that can be attained in a relatively simple way.
Wein arguably has the hardest time as a returnee student who has transferred in just before graduation and entrance exams. This is made more problematic by the attitude that many in Japan have towards returnees. While they may have Japanese nationality, they are not considered to be truly Japanese, having little understanding of the customs, mannerisms and social niceties that are considered essential within Japanese society. What makes Wein coming to this small school so interesting is that for the most part returnees go to special international or returnee schools where they can learn how to be Japanese while also mixing with others in similar situations. He has just returned only to be confronted with these difficult decisions while also attempting to learn about Japan as a society and culture. He is therefore confused and evidently doesn’t entirely know what he wants to do with his life.
Konatsu on the other hand is Tari Tari’s resident dreamer, a character who only wants to sing and appears to have no distinct or tangible goals for the future. It is clear that Konatsu loves to sing and all her energy goes into getting the choir club to succeed for their last school festival, however there is nothing after that. Even when looking at the career form Konatsu is portrayed as indecisive while also shown to really have put very little thought into what may happen after graduation. Such an attitude is hardly unique in anime and real life, with many people not really knowing what they want to do and finding out as the go through their education or jobs. Konatsu is therefore entirely normal, however her portrayal as an indecisive character suggests that being indecisive is a negative quality. Konatsu is perhaps still stuck in the fairytale world of the Japanese high school, and while her graduation is imminent wishes to enjoy what she perceives as her final days of innocence.
While Konatsu may be the dreamer it is Sawa who is arguably the most childish character in the series. She is someone with a distinct dream, but whereas Konatsu simply dreams, Sawa pushes forward without thinking about the consequences of her actions on her family and her own life. It is evident that she is passionate about her horse Sabure and about riding, dreaming to become either a show jumper or a horse archer. Her dream goes against the wishes of her mother and father, who want her to go to university and get a ‘proper’ job with riding as a hobby. Sawa insists that she wants riding to be her livelihood, but on simple questioning it becomes clear that she has no knowledge of how to do this and does not have the funds to support herself let alone Sabure. To Shiho and Seiichi (Sawa’s parents) such a dream while attainable is flawed, and while they appear harsh it is clear that they care about Sawa’s future.
Sawa demonstrates her lack of maturity by storming out when Shiho suggests that life is not always easy, showing that while she may be nearing the time to decide on her future she has yet to fully mature from being a child. Furthermore, her attempts to loose weight for her riding interviews and practical’s demonstrates a stubborn and dangerous attitude, which further demonstrates her childish attitude towards parental advice. While she is as serious about her goals as Taichi, Sawa has not given them as much thought and instead continues to dream rather than put in the hard work. By lashing out at her parents concern for her future Sawa shows us something similar to Wakana during the flashbacks of her mother, perhaps suggesting that she knows that her dream may not be attainable but is too stubborn to admit it. The inability to listen to her parents’ advice and understand that they do not mind her riding or even jumping so long as she is able to support herself shows that despite her mature appearance she is still a child at heart.
In comparison Wakana has matured as the series has progressed, and has learnt to overcome and accept her anger at her mothers death. Wakana has acknowledged and understood that her mother only wished for her happiness and that hiding her illness was not because she wanted to lie, but because she knew how much it would affect her daughter. By accepting music and coming to terms with her own childish behaviour and acknowledging that this was a part of growing up Wakana demonstrates a maturity that the other characters currently lack. Her dreams are smaller, focussing on finishing off the song that her mother Mika had composed for her just before she died. There are no grand dreams, and instead Wakana is shown as a realist by continuing to focus on her studies in order to give her the opportunity to go to university and therefore get a stable job. She is the complete opposite of Sawa, and by acknowledging the importance of such hard work, while also maintaining her dreams and goals demonstrates the ability to do both.
Whereas other high school anime present a timeless place where the same activities take place in a blissful, and above all innocent surrounding, Tari Tari adds an element of realism. There may still be an element of innocence and almost fairy-tale like setting, there is an urgency to the characters actions that is often missing from other anime. Rather than being set at the beginning of their high school lives the series is set at the end, with the central cast having to come to terms with what it means to graduate from high school and officially become adults. It becomes clear that these characters have their own distinct dreams and ideals, many of which may not be fully realised. Furthermore Tari Tari presents a cast that is far from being mature adults, and regardless of the expectations of society, still maintains a playfulness that is perhaps supposed to have disappeared by this point in time. The series demonstrates then that choosing ones career is not a simple thing and no matter how much it is forced upon these students they may still be uncertain as to what they want to do in life. However that does not mean that you should stop dreaming, but instead focus on the things that are manageable while maintaining your dream as something to attain or inspire.