What They Say:
Growing up in a candy store is just a daydream for most kids, but for Tamako, it’s her real life. And, yes, most of the time it’s pretty sweet! Tamako gets to create new flavors, hang out with her friends and discover all kinds of ways to have fun. There are difficult parts, though, and one of them is figuring out her relationship with Mochizo, whose family runs a rival shop. Does she really like him or is she just experiencing a candy crush in Tamako Market?
Then, get ready for a double scoop of Tamako goodness as Tamako and her friends prepare to finish high school. It’s exciting, but sad too, as some of them will be moving away… including Mochizo. Sometimes life is sugary and other times it’s bittersweet in Tamako Love Story!
The audio presentation for this release comes with the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language mix, both of which are encoded in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. Both the TV series and the film are all about the dialogue and there’s not any real action to be had, the lossless nature of it definitely helps it out overall by coming across warmer and fuller – especially with the music. For the majority of it, though, it’s all about the dialogue and slice of life sounds that populate the show and the mix comes across well here. There’s some decent placement at times with the dialogue and even a little bit of depth within some of the market scenes, but overall it’s not a mix that has a lot of hard work to do. The show pretty much comes across cleanly and clearly without any problems and the end result is one that makes for a decent mix that fits the material well.
With the TV series broadcast in early 2013 and the film in the spring of 2014, the transfer for both is presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Animated by Kyoto Animation, the project in both forms have a great look and design that match while the film nudges things up just a bit more in some places. There’s a good bit of detail to be had, colors are very solid throughout and the palette used definitely has some great life to it as well as some subtler approaches at times. Kyoto Animation does a lot with the fluidity of its animation and you can see that here well enough in just the simple movements, notably with how Tamako moves (or flails) at times, and overall we get a good, clean transfer that definitely has a great look and clarity to it overall.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard-sized Blu-ray case that has a hinge to hold the two TV discs while the third is against the back wall. The front cover is a cute one that puts Tamako front and center and fills the rest of the cast around her, giving us just enough background to see that it takes place within the market itself. It’s a busy cover but I love seeing all the characters and the adorable logo style helps to sell it all the more. The lower left side mentions that it includes the TV series and movie across three discs so those who have bought the property before can tell quickly what’s included. The back cover goes for the light approach with lots of purple colors spread around the backgrounds with various flowers and desserts to make it clear what kind of show it is. The shots from the show are a bit too small for my taste but I like the little bit of promotional artwork we get. The premise is well-covered here and the extras are laid out clearly. The bottom breaks things out for the production credits and a smooth and accurate technical grid that makes it clear how the set is put together. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is pretty nice and again plays for the teenage girl vision that a lot of people have – and a lot of girls are like. The layout is split in half where the right side changes up the character artwork for each volume with the girls in different configurations and just being close and cute. The left side goes for the menu navigation as we get the episodes by number and title in pink and white on a blue background with pink embroidered lining along it. The navigation is simple and straightforward enough, language selection is a breeze and the extras are easy to access as well.
The extras for this release are a bit minimal but expected when you get down to it. We do get the clean version of the opening and closing sequences to the work as well as the web previews and the original promotional video. The big extra to delight fans is the six-minute bonus OVA that involves Dera on the southern islands where those characters ended up after the TV series. It’s welcome to reconnect with them a bit but it also reminded me why they should not have been in the film and it was right to keep it to just Tamako and Mochizo.
Kyoto Animation has certainly built a certain level of expectations with their works over the years and a lot of it is pretty warranted. While not everything works wonderfully, you can usually expect a show with some sort of quirk or interesting aspect to it that gets you hooked to see where it goes. With Tamako Market, we get a twelve-episode series that aired in the winter 2013 season that was followed up by a novel at the end and then a feature film a year later. It’s not a show that you would have expected to go that route, but it does it well enough. Some shows handle the small parts of existence well and it’s easy to get drawn into the everyday life of people, especially when you add a surreal aspect to it as they do here.
The series revolves around Tamako Kitashirakawa, a first-year high school student who has a pretty good life. She’s got friends, she does decent at school and gets along with adults there and she’s very well-liked in the shopping district that she lives in. Her family runs a mochi shop there that’s been around for a couple of generations as it’s run by her father with some assistance by her grandfather. Tamako has a good family support system there with her younger sister Anko included and all the people she’s close to in the market that have known her all her life, including her childhood friend Mochizo who lives across the street. Amusingly, his family also runs a mochi shop. The two do things differently, but there’s no real competition in a way because everyone does their own thing in order to make the marketplace work and draw customers. For Tamako, the only real hardship she has beyond doing a lot of work and school is that she lost her mother some time ago though it’s not delved into all that much.
Into every everyday life a little change must enter. For Tamako, that comes in the form of a rather mildly fancy bird that shows up in the market that she ends up sneezing on, which causes the bird to bond with her. The problem is more than just that though as said bird actually speaks fluent Japanese and is named Dera. It turns out Dera had arrived here from a small island nation as he’d been sent by the kingdom’s royal fortune teller, a young woman named Choi. She sent him out for the prince of the island, a young man named Mochimazzwi, in order to find for the prince a bride. These things have always been discovered by divination and the use of the birds like Dera though for Dera this is the first time he’s ever been off the island. Dera’s mission is important but you can see pretty easily that Choi has a certain level of feeling for Mochimazzwi. But outside of a couple of minor appearances from afar early on, he doesn’t show up until just about the end of the series so it’s not a huge role.
The first half of the series immerses us into Tamako’s life as we see her going through work, home and school and the various interactions, which includes making a friend with another student named Shiori that has her own shyness issues to contend with. There’s a lot of simplicity to things, almost to the point of it being mundane, but it works well because the focus helps to let us the family dynamic that exists. We get good interactive time with Anko and Tamako’s father with some nice familiarity with their grandfather, but we also get some good time with the extended family that exists as the marketplace is made up of that. It’s a real family-community and watching it come together really works well to show why Tamako has as good a foundation as she has. It’s all done in a good, honest, and realistic way. Which is why you really, really have to suspend your disbelief in a big way when it comes to Dera as not only do we see Tamako accepting that he’s a pretty smart and conversant bird but pretty much everyone else does. And nobody calls him out on it really as they go on about their days just thinking it’s a little surprising at first and never another thought about it.
Dera is… interesting. He’s a bit full of himself as he considers himself a part of the royal family and he’s on an important mission, which puffs him up all the more since it’s about finding a princess for his prince. But he’s also a creature with an addiction as when he tries the mochi from Tamako’s shop, he falls in love with it and opts to figure out what’s drawing him to this location that reminds him of the prince. That has him living with Tamako and the others and eating a whole lot of mochi, which slowly but sure changes his shape in a cute and fun way. He takes to the market well and inserts himself into the family with ease and it’s fun seeing the way he plumps up, others put him on a diet at times and we see the involvement he has in making sure the family really is a family. I like Dera a lot, but there’s a kind of glossing over of the character and his existence – and some of his quirks – that makes it really had to suspend disbelief quickly or easily.
The second half of the series largely plays the same as the first, but what it changes up is that it brings Choi into the picture as she comes to Japan to find out what Dera is up to. The show spreads its episodes over a good bit of time as nearly a year passes from the first episode to the last and bringing Choi in during the fall works nicely as we see how she integrates with the close-knit family that exists in the marketplace while trying to find out what it is that Dera is doing. Her being there eventually leads to the subplot that you expect of Tamako being called the princess bride to be and that has its own issues, but Choi is a nice character to add to it. Often new characters that come in that late can be problematic or dominate the storyline, but they manage a decent blend here that takes us to the kind of quiet slice of life-ending that you’d expect.
The focus of the film gives us our two leads in Tamako and Mochizo as they’re continuing on with their lives since the others left. There’s some fun with friends from time to time but with both kids hitting the eighteen mark or so and the end of the high school period coming up, there’s an undercurrent of tension that’s injected into it. Tamako is trying to do her best to make things work at her family mochi shop with creative ideas but they’re running afoul of her father who is keeping her pretty under control in this area. For Mochizo, he’s getting things together for his future that’s going to take him to Tokyo, something that he hasn’t told Tamako about yet. You know it’s going to be a problem but that’s because there’s so much unspoken between the two that’s obviously but hasn’t come together in a clean way yet.
The film dances around this for a good half or so of it, allowing us time to enjoy some of the flashbacks and nostalgia-like elements of the childhood relationship that has grown as they’ve grown into teenagers. There’s no referencing to things that happened in the TV series in a lot of ways as they’re just going through their days now and what’s to come. But the further along we go the more we see the tension that Mochizo is dealing with and how it’s really getting to him. He knows he has to tell Tamako and his mother makes that clear as well, but it’s not an easy thing. Particularly since when he does do it he ties it to the reveal/confirmation/obviousness that he’s in love with her and has been for a long time. That sends her into a tailspin for the remainder of the film where she’s trying to suss out her feelings a bit and taking in all that their mutual friends bring to their view of it as well.
The problem for me is that where the film gets interesting is pretty much the last minute or two of it, but this is a common problem in anime when it comes to relationships. Particularly of the teenage segment, top to bottom. There’s so much focus on the will they or won’t they that the really interesting material in how they handle what happens afterward is ignored. And this is a critical area, particularly for people that watch these shows but nothing else outside of anime or manga related properties, and miss out on what’s there. Tamako Love Story reveals the love that exists here, which we knew from the TV series, and ends just as we finally get both characters on the same page. It rips the viewer away from where the real heart and meaning of it will be and instead essentially plays at greeting card level feelings that are nice in the moment but rarely make any impact beyond that moment.
Tamako Market is one of those series that gives us some welcome characters that are lightly fleshed out but are focused on telling the story of an extended family with small reveals that also has a bit of surreal material about it that’s never truly explained. The end result is a little odd, but I like the path it takes, the way the characters act, and the overall feelings it generates. But it’s not a series that goes for the hard stuff because there isn’t anything hard here. It’s all light material that accomplishes its goals well but doesn’t quite leave you feeling hugely satisfied.
Tamako Love Story is a welcome epilogue to the TV series as it gives us a look at where the two leads end up and some of their struggles along the way. Kyoto Animation continues to delight me with what they put together in their shows in terms of visual design and quality of animation and this project is no exception. It’s appealing from start to finish and delivers in all the right ways there. The story is one that feels largely interchangeable with too many other anime films that deal with this kind of story and characters. I wanted something with more weight and meaning to it but was once again denied that kind of story satisfaction. There are fun bits to be had throughout and I definitely enjoyed the bonus short with Dera and that will overall make it a welcome addition to any fan that enjoyed Tamako Market, making it a welcome collection in having both together.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Promos, Web Previews, Dera-chan of the Southern Island, Clean Opening Animation, and Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 2nd, 2020
Running Time: 385 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.