Nov 14, 2012

Anime Review: Tari Tari

The three main girls on a cobbled path with the Tari Tari logo in the bottom leftIt’s Glee meets Japanese animation, or perhaps who put K-On! in my Hanasaku Iroha? Three girls and two guys, for various reasons, come together to form a choir club and along the way learn a lot about life, dreams, aspirations, but most of all music and friendship. Yes, it is that kind of show.

While music plays a big part, the series primarily concerns itself with the characters. Sure, they go to a music-focused school, they form their choir club, there is a lot of singing and discussions about music, concerts, events, and so on. But even being front and center the music aspects manage to remain secondary to the personal lives and growth of the main cast. It’s slice-of-life and some mild drama with music as part of the setting more than the theme. With a nod to realism, you’ll find no rainbow-palette of hair colors or over-the-top slapstick. Light on humor, almost devoid (unfortunately!) of romance, it steers clear of angst, and it never exploits eroticism.

The main five in a chance meeting early on

So, then what is it about? Well, I’ve already pretty much told you. Some students form a club and things sort of happen. It’s subdued and subtle drama, not slow, for in thirteen episodes they cover a lot of time and ground with practically zero filler. Even so, it’s less about the events themselves as it is the personal epiphanies that take place. Most of the main cast get their mini-arc to deal with and overcome some personal problem, but there is a lot of overlap and it manages to juggle things around fairly well, even foreshadowing in many cases. Wakana must come to terms with her recently deceased mother; Sawa faces opposition to her dream of becoming a jockey from both her father and genetics (she is too tall/heavy, most jockeys being practically midgets as you know); Konatsu must overcome her nervousness when performing, the guilt of a past embarrassing screw-up hanging over her; Taichi and Wien well… they are the guys so their stories are a bit less emphasized. Taichi is trying to become a professional badminton player despite being in a school where he is the sole member of the badminton club, and Wien is trying to catch up on Japanese culture having moved away at a young age to Austria for twelve years.

For those curious about the name, I can summarize with my limited understanding of Japanese. The name Tari Tari sounds a little silly to us but that is only because it is playing with a very well-known Japanese language construct, in this case a specific verb conjugation form, –tari. Much like in English we conjugate verbs with –ed to mean past tense, Japanese has these too only their suffixes go much further. At least in modern Japanese, –tari is used when listing activities in an incomplete list. By incomplete I mean kind of how we understand e.g. versus i.e., where e.g. is more like “for example” and implies just some examples not all, where as i.e. usually means “in other words” and seeks to rephrase or clarify and thus implies a complete list. So each episode’s title is usually in this form, listing some activities, all verbs with the –tari ending (they even colorfully highlight tari), so episode one is “Running and Inviting” or “Tobidashittari Sasottari”. With the exception of the final episode they always list two, thus Tari Tari.

The comparison to HanaIro (which I reviewed previously) is especially apt since they are both original works (that is, not adaptations of existing manga) by P.A. Works, and you can readily tell. Following HanaIro, Tari Tari is even more astoundingly gorgeous, with impeccably presented environments with flawless detail. Characters are similarly animated extremely well. Despite being such a low-key slice-of-life show it still manages to impress with lots of little details everywhere. Seriously, you will not see a better looking serialized show.

A shot of all five characters, mid-discussion

And yet, there was something that always felt lacking about the animation. In fact, it was at the root of the whole thing, something that felt lacking all throughout the show. And this is despite having so many strengths: a stunning animation budget, visually-appealing (read: cute) characters, a strong classical soundtrack with some decent insert songs, a very talented voice cast, and a tightly written and subtle-yet-dramatic script dealing with some very touching issues. “Heartwarming” is the best single-word description I can think of. So why, in the end, did I feel so underwhelmed?

I think it is because Tari Tari is too good. The environments are so flawless they can often feel a bit sterile and synthetic. The characters are so impeccable and cute they can feel like dolls without enough variations, which is the real bedrock and strength of anime in its ability to exaggerate emotions and information concisely and visually. Because they strive for realism, it is absent so many of the anime shorthands (think of the many sound effects, visual cues like piku anger marks or squiggly depressed lines, sweat drops, and so on). The stories are human and dramatic while still low-key but they get wrapped up and resolved almost too neatly in the end. With only a half-season to try to show five characters plus some secondaries (the Vice Principal and Wakana’s mother), the show feels a bit detached since it can never focus on one character and truly get into their head.

Am I really complaining that there weren’t enough bad things, be they technical or plot conflict? I think I am. But that’s the spice of a good story. With all of the polish and pizazz they forgot to add enough spice, leading to a really good looking dish with a somewhat bland flavor. If you head into this expecting just a simple semi-sweet story then you’ll not be disappointed. After all, there’s still so much it gets right and does really well.

As of this writing, you can watch Tari Tari for free on Crunchyroll. (Premium users get it in 1080p, too!)

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