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Over the course of Tamako Market‘s run I noticed that it had a mixed reception, especially among Kyoto Animation fans. I may be mistaken as to how many people really disliked it, but I’ve seen enough to want to say something about it. As for myself, I had considered it an interesting and welcome step forward for the popular studio, and wondered what could be the source of this difference in opinion. After some conversations with friends, I think I’ve figured it out.

To put it simply, for the most part the girls of Tamako Market do not have, in their presentations, visual designs, or their personalities, the sort of near-tangible qualities that have made people in the past fall in love with Kyoani characters. The girls are comparatively less “moe,” and they certainly aren’t tragic, which leaves the show with a different sort of appeal that may seem alien to fans of Kyoto Animation’s existing body of work. The main character Tamako herself is simply a smart and capable but naive girl who loves mochi and who, to a small degree, reminds me of Madoka from Rinne no Lagrange. Dera the talking bird is as far from “cutesy girl” as one can possibly get, and seems to have been particularly unpopular. The main exception seems to be the carpentry girl Kanna (pictured above, left) whose eccentric personality, to be fair, does kind of steal the show.

(I’m fond of Shiori, the girl on the right, myself).

The best way I can describe Tamako Market‘s appeal is that it’s not so much about showing off an ensemble cast consisting of various characters with easily identifiable quirks like how K-On! is, but about showing the residents of the Usagiyama shopping district as a small community of people. While many of the side characters are never really developed, they don’t really need to be, as they add to the feeling of an oxymoronic slow-paced hustle. Seeing the small developments that occur in the residents’ lives feels not so much like “slice of life,” but like a low key-yet-silly comedy.

Someone asked me what anime out there was similar to Tamako Market. After some thought, I realized the answer: Sazae-san, a popular comedy anime about a Japanese housewife and her family, and which 1969 has continued to run on Japanese TV making it the longest-running anime ever. That’s probably the furthest answer from Haruhi possible, so I think that might say it all about how Tamako Market is different, and why I think it’s the sort of show that could’ve gone on forever.

In one of my earliest posts I ever wrote for Ogiue Maniax, I talked about my desire for Kyoto Animation to go beyond its own limits, to go from just adapting work to making their own original material. Though my opinion of Kyoto Animation isn’t quite as rosy as it was back in 2007, with their new original anime Tamako Market I actually feel like they’ve finally fulfilled those expectations to a fair degree.

Kyoani is known primarily for two things: really solid animation and cute girls. Together, the resulting product is a soft, delicate quality that is unmistakably Kyoto Animation (and which shows like Kokoro Connect and Sora no Woto have tried to mimic), and it affects different adaptations in different ways. For Haruhi and their Key game adaptations it lent weight and significance to characters’ movements, while in K-On! and Nichijou, two manga with sharp and abrupt humor, it caused the anime versions to slow down in terms of comic timing. In the end, it seems to all come down to the cute girls.

Tamako Market is the first Kyoto Animation show I’ve seen to really let the animators spread their wings. Tamako Market has allowed Kyoani to show personality through movement in a greater variety of character types of all shapes and sizes, from small children to geriatrics, to even a person of ambiguous gender and a silly talking bird. The show then places them in a deliberately slow-paced setting in the form of a small-town shopping area, which makes that Kyoani “slice of life” style feel appropriate. What’s more, even though there are indeed still cute girls in Tamako Market, all of the other characters are portrayed differently from them, giving the viewer not only Kyoani’s bread-and-butter but also something even more substantial.

Given the sheer amount of character variety in Tamako Market, I have to now wonder if it wasn’t just that their old shows didn’t allow them to “push their envelope,” but that having to adapt works limited them due to the contact of the original sources. Most of what Kyoto Animation has adapted has come from dating sims, light novels, which often times are all about cute girls, or manga which center around cute girls. While I think Kyoani isn’t ideal for making certain types of works, it’s clear to me from Tamako Market that their strengths, namely their ability to have characters move with almost a sense of tangible liveliness, go beyond what’s expected of them.

Fans would pay through the nose to own AUTHENTIC REPLICAS OF REAL ROCKS AND PEBBLES that the characters collect.

Don’t you want to feel a little closer to Wakana? I’m sure you do. I’ve got a couple of things in my pocket to help you out.

Mizuhashi Kaori is one of my favorite voice actors, and not just because she’s the voice of Ogiue. Her range is quite impressive, and it often makes it difficult to initially figure out that a character is indeed her. As for her role as everyone’s favorite fujoshi character, Mizuhashi has talked before about how she had to learn and practice Ogiue’s Tohoku dialect, not being from that area.

This makes her recent role in Nichijou (aka My Ordinary Life) all the more interesting. Playing the angel character in the bizarre “Helvetica Standard” skits, in episode 9 she tries to teach a demon how to pronounce “chirashizushi,” a dish which is comprised of sushi rice (i.e. vinegared rice) with sashimi on top. Think of it as a pile of deconstructed sushi. Try as she might though, the demon slurs all of the syllables in a distince Tohoku-ben fashion, turning “chirashizushi” into “tsurasuzusu.” “Sushi” when spoken in Tohoku-ben sounds like “Susu.”

I have no idea if this influenced her hiring as the Helvetica Standard Angel, but I think it makes for an interesting circle, going from having to learn Tohoku-ben to successfully play a character with that accent to playing a character who is trying to teach another character not to speak in that fashion.



K-On!! episode 8 kind of disappointed me.

Before anyone knew that there would be  second season, I was reading K-On! manga. In one chapter, Yui is having trouble deciding her possible career path, and everyone else gives some idea of where they’re headed after high school. This includes Mugi, whose response clearly contains an underlying meaning.

If it wasn’t obvious before (and it was pretty obvious), Kotobuki Tsumugi plays for the other team. Not only that, but the sharper girls picked up on it long ago. She’s a lesbian, and others know she’s a lesbian. I laughed pretty hard when I first saw this, and it’s still one of my favorite moments from the manga.

So of course I was looking forward to this very scene in full color and animation once K-On!! was announced. And right when I realized episode 8 would be the episode, I sat there, waiting for the gag to hit.  I waited, and waited, and then… they removed it entirely?!

The only reference to it is that Mugi mentions going to an all-women university, but then it completely bypasses the setup and goes into some thing about the difficulty of the school she’s applying to.

Adapting a 4-koma manga into a full half-hour TV show requires adding extra material, but what gives? Did the K-On! manga cross some line that was unacceptable for Kyoto Animation? Are they worried that it damages Mugi’s image in some way? They animated a scene hinting at Mugi’s preferences in season 1, but in a situation where it’s made almost explicit, they shrink back in fear? Could it be that they think having her so clearly in the other camp might alienate some of her more devoted fans? Or perhaps their vision of Mugi doesn’t line up with the original author’s. It’s almost as is Kyoto Animation saw this and went, “Whoa! Too far! Are you trying to break the illusion?”

Maybe it’s the fact that it pretty much reveals Mugi as a lesbian lesbian, who likes girls, as opposed to just the one girl as you so often see in yuri material (especially yuri material written for guys). There, like in yaoi, the love seems to go “beyond” gender, but with Mugi that’s just how she is. So then I have to wonder if the problem is that it’s just too much to just outright state her sexual orientation in that manner.

Hopefully I’m wrong and they’re just saving the gag for another time. In that case I apologize for ruining the joke for people.

Oh and if you’re wondering, no, Mugi is not my favorite member of the band. I’m on Team Ritsu. But actually my favorite character is probably Nodoka.

In college, a teacher gave me some good advice on animation. He was a 3-D animation teacher, and he knew full well how time-consuming it could be, and how rewarding it was to make something really impressive. His advice, however, was a message of artistic prudence. I don’t remember the exact words, but the message was basically, “Don’t get so attached to a bit of strong animation that you reuse it to excess.” I was reminded of his words while watching K-On!! (the second season of K-On!).

In the new opening, there’s a very distinct part where the camera pans around the five girls of Houkago Tea Time, and it’s really some impressive animation, especially because while the background of the clubroom is 2-D, the girls themselves are still animated in 2-D, and overall it looks pretty natural.

So it looks really nice. But then they use the effect again. And then a third time. At that point, I think it’s just excess.

The opening for the first season also had something similar, a shot where all the girls are playing together that gets reused about three times total. However, in my opinion the recycling isn’t as jarring for a number of reasons. First, it doesn’t have that three-dimensional rotation effect going on like the new opening, where that piece is so different from the rest of the opening that you notice it immediately. The shot in K-On!! sticks out like a really nice-looking sore thumb, and it becomes all the more obvious when they use it another two times. Second, the first opening changes the background between usages of the stock animation, and while this can be seen as simply being lazy, the change in scenery makes the reuse more comfortable to the viewer.

If they really, really wanted to use the revolving camera effect that much, I think a good solution would have been to put more camera movement in the scenes right before that animation to ease the transition into it.

Not that Kyoto Animation is reading this blog, of course.

Historians have recently discovered that animation fandom has existed in Japan for much longer than originally expected, and that Kyoto Animation, the studio behind Haruhi, Lucky Star, and K-On! was originally founded shortly after the capital of Japan moved from Kyoto to Edo, currently known as Tokyo.

At the time, children and adults alike were entertained by Kyoto Animation and their inventive animation system known as the “moetrope.”

No I am not pitting each cast of girls against each other to see who would win in a fight, but rather I want to talk about the ways in which these three shows differ beyond a superficial level. You’ll sometimes hear people say that Kyoto Animation’s about is all the same, and I will agree with them as far as saying that they know their audience, i.e. otaku, but when you actually watch these shows you will most likely get a different vibe from each one.

I won’t be discussing the Key adaptations because that’s another beast entirely.

With Haruhi, you’ll notice an air of mystery that permeates the show due to the supernatural aspects of it. Sometimes it’s more obvious, but other times simple actions can imply greater things, and it gives a certain sense of intrigue to the series. It’s still all about a bunch of high school kids hanging out and doing dumb things, but even the dumb things are given a sort of significance as a result of the setting. You can always feel that Haruhi is moving somewhere (right to what the light novels have already spoken about!).

Lucky Star is not just otaku pandering, it is active otaku pandering, and that’s also what makes the show enjoyable. More than either of the other two shows, Lucky Star asks if you’re an otaku, then asks one more time just to make sure, and then high fives you because you watch a lot of anime. In fact, Lucky Star probably does this more than any other show, but don’t think that all the humor is in-jokes with no setup; all I’m saying is that the show rewards otaku.

K-On! meanwhile does away with the pretenses of the other two and is simply about what it advertises: cute girls playing instruments and not being too obsessive about it. There are no undercurrents, no subtle themes at work here. At the same time, I wouldn’t call K-On a shallow anime, as the humor derives from the characters’ personalities very heavily, possibly more than Haruhi or Lucky Star.

All three shows feature groups of girls having fun, but the effects they have on the viewers will vary tremendously due to the inherent differences in each show. If you hate one show you might not necessarily hate the others, and if you do like all theree, there’s a good chance you’ll be liking them for different reasons.

So they tried to sneak an ALL-NEW episode of the Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu into the season 1 re-airing, but tripped up in the end and left people anticipating its arrival. No more tricks, no more magazine covers to mock the fans. The episode’s come and gone, and fun was had by all. Of course, there’s nothing to stop them from doing this over and over with anything Suzumiya Haruhi-related, and the fans will gladly punch themselves in the stomach for it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as the makers and distributors of Haruhi have a unique relationship with their fans.

We saw it with Lucky Star and its meta-self-referential humor which knocks down not just the 4th wall but keeps charging and makes a gigantic hole in the wall behind you as well. Kadokawa even licensed and created a mini-series out of the hit doujinshi series Nyoro~n Churuya-san. They are so aware of their fanbase that they might as well be standing on a pedestal dangling Haruhi merchandise and offering goods in exchange for your undying love and devotion and fan-generated content. It’s kind of like Gainax, but only a step further as Gainax has at the very least presented an air of distance, unlike Kyoto Animation which is right there in the thick of things high-fiving the audience and taking photos with them. And yes, I know my two metaphors just contradicted each other. Let’s just say that they decide to occasionally jump down from that pedestal.

And this newfangled Haruhi has something else to say:

“Enough with the DANCE openings and endings. We are laying to rest the beast we created. Move on, anime! Move on, fans! Well not too much, we still want you to do our Haruhi and Lucky Star dances.”

Will anyone heed their advice? Only time will tell.

Give it let’s say… about 16 years.

Now this is an interesting shot from episode 6 of K-On!

All four characters are in the same place, and just from this one still you can get a basic idea of their personalities. On the flipside, if you already know the characters then you can definitely see that this is instantly accurate.

In general, K-On! pays a good amount of attention to these sort of things, and I think it’s characteristic of Kyoto Animation in general. Some wonder why others are so fond of Kyoto Animation’s various works, from Haruhi to Lucky Star to various Key adaptations, and the answer is care. These are not just moe blob shows with no real content, they’re visually rich with a good sense of timing and comedy (or tragedy as the case may be). K-On! is no exception.

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