Tari Tari – Singing, Horse Riding and a Big Yellow Dolphin

Tari Tari was an enjoyable series taking a different approach to most high school anime by focussing on a group of students who are about toe graduate, rather than those who have just started. It did immediately draw comparisons with Hanasaku Iroha largely due to P.A. Works being at the helm of both series, along with the similar character design. However, in many respects Tari Tari is the inferior show, lacking in character and story progression at times, and often jumping between sections with out any real flow. However, it is by no means a bad series, with fascinating characters and a setting that demonstrates the importance of following your dreams or wishes.

High school is a highly romanticised place within Japanese popular culture and in particular manga and anime, with innumerable series using this particular setting. It is a space that sits between childhood and the world of adults, with students (supposedly) entering as innocent children but leaving as adults ready to join society. High school is a timeless space in Japanese popular culture, and regardless of the time period, the activities and attitudes within high school remain the same. In many 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 this high school dream. Certain series 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 maintaining an almost child-like view of what goes on in society. There are 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 often, comic example.

The work that takes place within high schools is focussed on academic pursuits and school clubs, with tests, championships and other obstacles that the students must overcome – either as an individual or as a team. Japan is ‘largely) a meritocratic society, so test scores and sports results can and do have a significant impact upon your future choices in life. There are numerous 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 other students for their high school entrance exams as well). Furthermore, the career forms that are often evident in such series demonstrate 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 certain characters 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 can 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. In Amagami SS for example there are several endings where we are given a glimpse of the central couples once they have graduated. They are happily married, have children and steady, but often unspecified jobs – but there is nothing in between, we have seen the end without the journey. The fairy-tale hasn’t ended, but instead jumped ahead to see the main characters successful in what they chose to do, although we may never actually know what their goals were or are.

Tari Tari differs in this respect by presenting a group of students who 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 the expectations of what life will bring, while also adding in a hint of realism. Each character has their own distinct dreams and wishes, but as their high school lives dram to a close, the reality of the situation has to be recognised and acknowledged. Characters such as Konatsu have wide ranging dreams without any real goal or direction in life – her wish to sing, while a wonderful one, doesn’t necessarily have any practical purpose or use in its current state for example. Whereas other characters have very specific, but difficult to achieve dreams – with Taichi aiming to be a professional badminton player despite being the only member of the schools badminton club – in this respect he has to learn that achieving his goal will not be easy and requires hard work and dedication.

Tari Tari shows the immense pressures 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 make such decisions are immense and in some cases soul destroying. Also, Tari Tari provides another perspective on this stage of life with the inclusion of characters that once attended the school but are now adults with children. Shiho Okita, Naoko Takakura (The vice principle), and through flashbacks Mahiru Sakai all demonstrate different attitudes to life and how their circumstances can change them over time. Naoko and Mahiru are particularly interesting due to their close friendship while at school and the immense impact that Mahiru’s death had upon Naoko and Wakana.

Through her mothers music, along with the friendship that she develops as a member of the Choir Club Sawa, and eventually Naoko learn to focus on what they enjoy rather than relive the past. Their goals change as they both learn to love music once again and focus on what they truly enjoy rather than what they think they should be doing. Wakana is a particularly interesting character because her goals remain unclear even at the end of the series, and also how she continues to focus on music, while simultaneously helping out her father and possibly Naoko as well. Whereas Sawa focuses almost exclusively on becoming a Jockey, going as far as to travel to Europe in order to study. The only characters that appear to have no distinct goals or drive are Atsuhiro Maeda (known as Wien) and Konatsu, with both characters appearing to be fulfilled, while not necessarily doing very much with their lives.

This is where things get a bit tricky with Tari Tari; while the character progression with Wakana and Sawa is excellent the other characters are largely left alone. The story revolves around the dreams, wishes and problems that Wakana and Sawa face, with the majority of the drama and problems coming from these particular characters. This is fine, but at the same time, all of the other characters were often very one-dimensional, almost existing as foils for Wakana and Sawa. The story never really goes into any great depth in the case of most of these characters, despite all of them apparently being central to the continuation of the choir club. Furthermore, the reason for the clubs existence is either lost or never truly explained, in a sense it is more of a space where these characters without direction can find what they are looking for – it is a convenient plot device.

In many respects the problems that Tari Tari has are largely due to its length, at thirteen episodes it never had enough time to truly explore every one of the five central characters. Instead it contents itself with only two, and while Wakana and Sawa are fascinating, their character and plot development can feel out of place at times. The series also starts to focus on the planned redevelopment of their school – something that has happened all across Japan – but while it adds a little drama, it is also quite hollow. If we are to make a comparison between Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha the similarity between the planned redevelopment of the school and imminent closure of Kissuiso are quite clear. But, while the closure of the inn will clearly impact upon the livelihoods of the staff, the planned changes to the school seems to be entirely meaningless to the overall story. Its only major impact is to create a certain amount of drama during the finale as the choir club set up to give their one and only performance. However, its portrayal of high school life, along with imminent graduation and the choices that these characters have to make all help to produce an interesting and enjoyable series.

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. However, it does remain hollow in places with all the character progression saved for Wakana and Sawa, whereas the other three characters remain one-dimensional, or one track. It also feels clunky, and while there is an element of realism in the series, it still retains the ethereal quality that so many other high school anime have. Even as they graduate you get the feeling that the dream has yet to end and they are simply in another part of it. Tari Tari goes quite far to produce an interesting take on a high school anime, but ultimately falls into many of the same traps and problems that they all have. It does however, remain an excellent series that was thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

4 Responses to Tari Tari – Singing, Horse Riding and a Big Yellow Dolphin

  1. zensunni42 says:

    Very well thought out review, though I do get tired of people comparing Tari Tari to Hanasaku Iroha. I really don’t find them that similar, and, although the character designs are reminiscent of each other, they are actually quite different. The other day I watched part of an episode of HI and when I saw Nako, I couldn’t believe that I thought Sawa looked like her at the beginning of the series. They are very different, especially when you take body language into account. But, if we’re comparing, I liked Tari Tari more than HI, largely due to the wonderfully understated story telling style and the extremely well done emotional impact. The emotion is very honest and realistic in the show. (One nit-pick: You have Sawa where it should be Wakana in the first line of the paragraph after the picture of Sawa looking out the window.)

    I agree that Konatsu and Wien were a bit under developed, but would argue that their main purpose were as comic relief and, in Konatsu’s case more that Wien, as “plot-drivers”. To a large extent, Konatsu has the fewest issues of all of the club members, as her future is pretty well laid out for her: College, job, maybe get married. What drives her in her Senior year is her love of music and a desire to do the type of things that she won’t be able to do once she is moving into the “real world”. Wien has considerably more issues, and it would have been nice to explore his existential lack of direction more, but I felt that his arc was pretty well handled, none the less. The one I disagree with being under developed is Taichi. His development happens gradually, with a bit of it being at the badminton tournament, but his quirky behavior of always doing something involving training, regardless of the situation, his tendency to pick up on the other character’s emotional states or grasp the crux of their problems more quickly than others, and the wonderfully underplayed and gradual romantic pairing with Sawa and his efforts to help the club despite a complete lack of artistic ability, over the last few episodes really rounded out his character well. In particular, the scene with the sewing club girl where he talked about why he was in the choir club gave a great deal of insight into his character. The fantastic blossoming of his love for Sawa over that time, and his reaction to the events of the final episode were wonderful to watch.

    I expect I will be posting my full review of the series on my blog in the net day or two! Check it out when I get it up! 🙂

    • illogicalzen says:

      I think a comparison between Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha is fair partly because they are both produced by P.A. works and are both slice-of-life drama. Obviously the story and characters in both are different, but in terms of which series felt better developed with well-rounded characters and plot I would say Hanasaku Iroha would be the better of the two. This is partly because of its length, one of my main issues with Tari Tari is how short a series it is, and in places it felt awfully rushed, and also quite shallow. It may have an understated story, but in some areas that story seems to disappear into thin air, and although I liked the way the series explored the idea of finishing school and having to decide upon your future there was something a little too subtle in the way it approached it at times.

      I would also still argue that while as you suggest certain characters are more plot devices they should have been explored more – in fact that would be one of my main issues with the series. Characters such as Konatsu, Wein and Taichi should have had more screen time and more progression instead of leaving them as plot devices used for comic effect or otherwise. They are great to watch, but they are also immensely one-dimensional in places, and while Taichi may have been a more complicated character than Wein, there wasn’t enough time spent exploring his character in more depth or detail. He was interesting though, with a clear goal in mind and the ability to keep the group together, bu when compared to Sawa or Wakana he was incredibly flat or plain.

      It was an enjoyable series with some beautiful animation a nice soundtrack and interesting characters, but ultimately it never really went far enough for my taste. It certainly explored elements of high school life that rarely make it into such series, but there were also places where that approach disappeared and it fell back into the classic attitudes of many high school anime. Also large sections were either glossed over or ignored, such as the impending re-development and the whole ending, while wonderful to watch also felt a little empty to me. It is a shame since I did enjoy the series immensely, and I still think a comparison between Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha is fair, although it shouldn’t too direct a comparison due to the different nature of the two series.

      • zensunni42 says:

        I agree that it is perfectly fair, but it gets a little old, since so many people saw the character designs and dismissed Tari Tari as “just like Hanasaku Iroha”.

        We obviously differ in our feeling about the two, but they are both in my top 10 anime of all time. I just put Tari Tari higher, mostly because I enjoyed the characters more and felt that they were more realistic. The other prime factor is that Episode 6 of Tari Tari is, in my opinion, possibly the best single episode of anime that I have seen! The emotional impact of Wakana’s descent to rock bottom and the triumphant moment when she finally sang with her friends were transcended the level that I expect from any entertainment medium.

        I also was in choir all through high school and college, so I have a soft spot for choral music. 🙂

        • illogicalzen says:

          That is going to happen for most anime though when there is a handy comparison to be made – just lok at Kokoro Connect being linked to K-on despite their numerous differences. In terms of where I rank the series it is hard to tell, mostly because I dont really have a top 10, although I know Tari Tari, while a good anime, is not one of my favourites for a variety of reasons. It was however an enjoyable series to watch and P.A. Works always produce excellent animation and character designs. Cant say I see how episode 6 is so great, although it was an excellent episode – but differences of opinion and all that. Generally it was a good solid series that was let down largely by some of its pacing and length, if it had been a 24=26 episode series I think some of my criticisms may have disappeared because it would have had enough time to properly explore the characters in greater depth. A good series, but certainly not one of my favourites.

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