Tamako Market 01 – Royal Birds, Mochi and Top Hats
January 12, 2013 Leave a comment
Kyoto Animation have a wonderful habit of infusing their tales of apparently everyday life in Japan with a real sense of wonder and fantasy, with the main characters often wandering off into their own worlds or encountering strange and wonderful creatures or ideas. Tamako Market continues that tradition with the introduction of a relatively normal school girl and the mochi shop that her family runs, but instead of sticking with the ‘cute girls do cute things’ formula, we are also introduced to one of the greatest characters of the season. Dera Mochimazzi is a fascinating character, especially because he is a bird, and a talking bird at that, the humour that his presence and sharp remarks bring is wonderful to watch, especially when without his character Tamako Market would simply be a relatively everyday slice of life series. Although this doesn’t mean that slice of life anime are boring, but it is nice to see another take on it without having magical monsters and demons or aliens appearing from everywhere.
Slice of life series can be a fascinating look at normal life in Japan, or at least normal life through the lens of anime, which can subtly change things to suit the way it tells stories. Throughout Tamako Market we are introduced to a variety of characters, places, shops and ideas, it is a normal shopping mall in every sense of the word, with numerous different stalls and shops selling everything that might expect a mall to sell. As Tamako works her way through this veritable cornucopia of sights, sounds and smells we are shown how closely knit this community really is, with the storeowners recognising her and happily chatting to her as she goes about her everyday life. What is particularly interesting about Tamako Market is how it positions the Market in Tamako’s life, while other slice of life series firmly place the school at its centre, here it is the market and everyone who lives there that becomes central to the narrative. We know Tamako goes to school, and are even introduced to her and her friends as the presumably make their way home from baton club, but that isn’t what is important to this series, rather it is in the background as a place that exists, but isn’t the centre of her life. Tama-ya on the other hand is of utmost importance to Tamako, and is the centre of the series ‘action’ as it were, with every character gathering around and in a sense feeding through her families’ mochi shop.
Even Tamako’s relationships and friendships are based around her love for mochi, as if Tama-ya and everyone that is associated with it are at the centre of her life. We are also introduced to a fascinating clash between the old and new in the form of her father Mamedai Kitashirakawa and the father of her best friend Mochizou, Gohei Oji as they argue about what makes a mochi shop and who they should be appealing to. Now, Mochi are a traditional Japanese sweet, although you can also find similar snacks in Hawaii, South Korea, Taiwan and China – but in terms of ‘mochi’ it remains Japanese in origin. However, as Gohei argues, mochi should be marketed towards a more modern population, and particularly to those in the west, and that sticking to traditional presentation and ways of making it will only get you so far. On the other hand Mamedai is absolutely focussed on the tradition of mochi and continues to make them in a traditional way and with classic ingredients. The difference in their attitudes can clearly be seen in the way they dress and their shops, with Oji-ya having a more modern shop front and Gohei almost dressing as a pastry chef, whereas everything about Tama-ya says ‘Japanese’, from its shop front to the way Mamedai and Fuku (Tamako’s grandfather) dress. This is one of the fascinating aspects of slice of life, showing this genres ability to explore even the most apparently inconsequential aspects of daily life through its animation and setting.
It is however the interaction between Tamako, the rest of her family and Dera Mochimazzi that makes this an entertaining episode to watch. The idea that Dera Mochimazzi can speak fluent Japanese appears to be quickly accepted, even if Anko continues to get a bit worried about the notion of a bird speaking to her. One particular joke in this first episode that may be lost on some people, although the fansub groups appear to have tried is to do with the name ‘Mochimazzi’, which in Japanese sounds a lot like ‘mochimazui’ (literally, bad tasting mochi). The way Mochimazzi conducts himself and how he reacts to being apparently stuck in Japan is both fascinating and hilarious, especially considering he takes up residence in Tama-ya. It remains the little things such as his interactions with Tamako and Mochizou, coupled with his clear narcissistic tendencies and habit of riding on top of Tamako’s head that make him such a fascinating character to watch. What is particularly surprising is the way KyoAni have managed to provide Mochimazzi with such a wide range of facial expressions, creating a very ‘human’ character.
It is small wonder that many people have made links between Tamako Market and K-On largely due to character designs, but in all other aspects this is a different series that focuses more on the surreal nature of everyday life rather than simply being about ‘cute girls doing cute things’. Tamako is a cute character, but she is also a proactive one, someone who really does her best by helping out at Tama-ya, and interacting with everyone else at the local market. Her character is not air-headed or empty, and she has a clear purpose in life, with Tama-ya taking centre stage as the place where her memories reside and where everyone else circles around. Her ‘cuteness’ comes from this personality and the way she interacts with others and approaches everyday life. In this respect it would be wrong to dismiss her as an empty character or ‘moe-blob’ like some people are sure to do, because in reality, despite her ‘cuteness’ she is also a forward thinking individual who loves her families shop and loves mochi.
The central relationship between Tamako, Mochimazzi and Mochizou is also entertaining to watch, especially considering Mochizou appears to have a draw full of birthday presents that he has consistently forgotten to give to her since her birthday is on new years eve, the busiest day of the year for mochi shops. There is an endearing quality about Mochizou and his romantic feelings for Tamako that make the sudden appearance of Mochimazzi and the curious ‘magic’ at the end of the episode even more interesting. But, despite the cute characters, for me it is the world, and in particular Tama-ya that remains firmly at the centre of this story. Without this shop and everything that it means to the characters we wouldn’t be able to have such brilliant comedy and curious interactions, it is therefore at the very centre of the series. Still, another wonderful series from KyoAni, with beautiful animation, that isn’t quite as realistic as Hyouka, but throws the colours of the rainbow at the screen, coupled with a story that looks to be both wonderful and weird.