Starring the young lady Tamako and a flamboyant talking bird, Tamako Market is yet another anime that attempts to cash in on the slice of life phenomenon. It is not an anime that prospers through the strength of its plot, setting, or themes, but instead subsists through the cuteness of its characters. Should we criticize an anime for not going beyond that? Maybe not. But there is certainly a problem when such a simple anime still falls short of its potential.
Tamako Market’s biggest weakness is regrettably its characterization. Each character has about the same depth as wrapping paper, as none of them even once prove to be more than their established archetype. Tamako is merely your ordinary, dense heroine who is no more memorable than any other generic slice-of-life lead. There is little to make her stand out aside from the fact that she is cute and naive. Even when the story shows small signs of her developing as a character, it will simply fall back on her denseness in order to prevent any growth. The result is not pleasant. You cannot have a character-driven slice-of-life anime told through the perspective of a weak character. It does not work.
For nearly all of the side characters are a superfluous addition to an already large cast. The biggest offenders are Tamako’s school friends: Midori, Kanna, and Shiori. They do not serve any purpose but to quickly provide a sense of friendship in Tamako’s daily life. While there are a couple of episodes that focus on these characters and attempt to give them personality, once the next episode starts, the show will treat it as if nothing ever happened. This is especially an issue in the case of Shiori, where an entire episode is spent introducing her to Tamako’s group of friends— yet afterwards, she is not seen for almost the entire story.
Tamako’s childhood friend, Mochizou, is yet another victim to the weak characterization. His character design at least carries some degree of promise, but the lack of screen time compounded with his unfortunate role as a plot device do not do him any favours. There are a few heartwarming scenes between him and Tamako, such as when they talk at night through a string telephone, but the overall execution of this romance is invariably poor. It is entirely composed of Mochizou woefully attempting to convey his feelings to no avail, with Tamako conveniently being blind to Mochizou’s evident feelings. In many ways, their relationship is reminiscent of the cliches from harem anime.
The show’s mascot, Dera, will either amuse or infuriate you. Considering that he has more screentime than any other character in the story, this can potentially destroy any entertainment value that the show might otherwise hold for the viewer. There are a few witty moments here and there, but most often he is simply detracting from time that could have been better spent developing the human characters. While you may hate him, the one thing that can be said in his favour is that he creates personality within the show: he is anything but a bland character.
On a more positive note is Tamako’s younger sister, Anko. She does not receive much screentime in comparison to Tamako or Dera, but what little she receives is written considerably well. Her two episodes focus on the innocent crush that she has towards a classmate and the way in which the anime conveys this is surprisingly subtle. Anko does not outright state her feelings, but through her body language, they are made very clear to the viewer. As well as being sickeningly adorable, Anko is surprisingly the most believable character in the show. Too bad she is treated as irrelevant in all but two episodes.
Aside from the characters and romance, there are small problems within the story itself. Most notably is during the last few episodes. After an abrupt twist at the end of the 10th episode, the show immediately tries to rush in some semblance of a story at which it fails quite miserably. Not only does this undermine the slice-of-life aspect of the previous episodes, but the writing is marred by contrivances such as when the Prince somehow travels from a distant country to appear at the most convenient time possible. The ending is scarcely better either as it completely disregards these events in order to revert back to the mundane slice of life.
While the content of the show feels uninspired, at least there is some charm in the presentation. There’s an interesting contrast between the mundane activities of the shopping district and the unique carnival aesthetic they are presented in. The soundtrack compliments the style of the show especially well, while even the shopkeepers and background characters are given distinct personalities in order to breathe life into the world. Not that you will remember them, though.
The anime shines artistically, but those looking for something of the same level as previous KyoAni works will likely find themselves disappointed. The animation is fluid, the facial expressions and scenery are fairly detailed, and the colour scheme is vibrant— though little is actually done to enhance the experience. It is an anime that looks and sounds pleasant, but the lavish budget often feels more excessive than beneficial.
In the end, Tamako Market is another disposable slice-of-life anime to be consumed and forgotten. The fundamentals are intact, and while there are still signs of potential waiting to be realized, this is an anime that will probably leave you with a bitter feeling of emptiness once it is over. One would think that after KyoAni’s success with K-ON, they would understand what is needed to create a quality slice-of-life anime. Apparently not. Perhaps KyoAni should stick to animating existing material from this point on.