Tamako Love Story Review

This is review number four hundred forty five and A HALF, because I don’t give full numbers to movies. They lost that right after they stopped being made by Satoshi Kon. But, no, seriously, I can finish my 1000 review goal with just movies and anime is more than just movies, so I’m not cheating on my goal. They must be full series moving forward, except for this one that was a patreon request. It’s a KyoAni movie called Tamako Love Story. Let’s read on.

Story

Yeah, some guy wants to confess to some girl and it took one and a half hour to accomplish that.

Taking the Pants Off

I’ve been putting off watching this movie for a long time now. It’s my first patreon request, but I wasn’t able to review it immediately because life got hectic. I must honor my backer’s request though, so here we go. I apologize for not doing this as soon as possible. I’m only one man, if you can believe that. I am not looking forward to this review though, because this is a KyoAni anime. First of all, I must address the horrible thing that happened to the studio. A wicked person set fire to the studio and a bunch of their old works is burned to ashes. Even worse, a bunch of KyoAni staff died in the incident. It’s a really awful thing that I don’t think anyone deserves. When you put lives in danger, it just means you’re a sick person that frankly doesn’t deserve to be treated as human. You’re trash, and I hope KyoAni can recover from this. I think they are slowly picking the pieces up and even promising to release their upcoming titles despite of the tragedy. Again, I feel sorry for the studio and I urge everyone to #PrayforKyoAni. Now, with that being said, I’ll tell you right now I will not pull any punches. As a reviewer, I am critiquing the piece and this is no slight jab at a fallen opponent. I don’t do those things. I might make fun of Mari Okada and her involvement in Mayoiga, but it’s often a reaction to what I watched and nothing based off any stored bias. Ok, that doesn’t sound legit. I don’t think I’ve liked a KyoAni title for a long time now, and it does stem from a personal bias. With that being said, this review is still solely on my experience of the show and nothing else. I’m laying it out right now, because I’m pretty sure I’ll be dumping hard on this movie. For the most part, it’s because of KyoAni but for majority of it will be because this movie did not need to exist.

Why not an OVA?

That’s my main gripe with this movie. It’s not really a movie. It’s an hour and a half hour long OVA that feels just as unsatisfying as most OVAs. Movies have structures. They have three acts and this movie only had one gear. I don’t consider it a movie and I don’t think it needed to run for so long. A run time of one hour and thirty minutes about a guy confessing to a girl just doesn’t feel fair. This is really my problem with KyoAni. They have the gall to pull this off, because they know they have a reliable crowd that’ll eat their sh*t up. Even if you make a movie length OVA with not much content, people will still flock to it. This isn’t any KyoAni magic trick or something too. Nah, this kind of loyalty to KyoAni is something they’ve built up over the years. KyoAni is not just a studio. No, it’s a money making company and it’s all because of one thing: the KyoAni brand. This is easy to explain, right? KyoAni has a recognizable thing that makes people want to watch their show. As long as you tell people it’s made by KyoAni, then they know what to expect. It’ll be cute, slice of life centric, coupled with gorgeous visuals and impressive animation with a very family friendly vibe. In a sense, KyoAni has built a brand just like Disney has done in the West. If you tell someone the movie is made by Disney, then they know what to expect and they’re open to watching it. KyoAni has achieved this level of brand reliability and people responds to it positively.

I, for one, am not a fan of the current KyoAni brand. To me, it’s lacking. It lacks effort and it lacks heart. There is this level of arrogance and cynicism in current KyoAni works that really turns me off. I know I’m alone in this, because everything I hate about the studio is everything other people love. I mean, it lacks effort? They make their animation in-house. How is that lacking effort? It lacks heart? How can a studio that can make consistently good shows lack heart? It’s insane. Yeah, I’m insane for hating this studio and the works they release. I dunno. I am just not a fan. In my last line up, I gave Amagi Brilliant Park a four and it sticks out like a sore thumb. From time to time, I even wonder why I gave the show a four out of ten. It deserves more than that, right? And yet, I just don’t think it deserves more than that. I mean going back to KyoAni’s arrogance. They turned what should’ve been a thirty minute OVA into a full length movie. They didn’t even try to improve the story. It’s still OVA level mediocre and yet, you know they don’t care. People will watch this. KyoAni is just that untouchable.

And gawd, again, I am sorry for being such an asshat. Truly, I love KyoAni. I just hate what they have become, but again, not even a studio I am critical of deserves to be burned down with some of its promising staff dead in the wake of it.

Expanded Episode

I don’t remember much about the original show, but I do know it’s a KyoAni original. I think it’s one of the few original screenplay made by the studio, and it sucks. It doesn’t have a story, the characters are one dimensional and it has a grating mascot. I do believe we can all agree the Valentines episode is objectively the best thing about the original show. The love story between Tamako’s parents is just cute and her little sister liking someone is also pretty darn cute. I think this was the jumping off point of the movie. Hey, they liked that episode so let’s make a movie entirely around that. The movie now focuses on Tamako herself experiencing love when her childhood friend plans on confessing his love to her. This is the entire premise of the damn movie. Boy plans to confess to girl, boy confesses, girl acts weird, girl realizes she likes him back and then she gives him an answer at the closing moments of the movie.  Paint, I’d like to introduce you to numbers. It is a very predictable story and I don’t really need to spoil it. I mean, it’s Tamako’s Love Story. It’s not a complicated thing, but the premise is really too bare bones to justify a movie. What else is there to this hour and a half long experience?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Gorgeous animation? Well yeah, that’s part of the brand. What else is there? Cute characters? Again, f*cking on brand. What else is in this movie that makes it unique? What makes it stand out? What makes it a movie?

Not. A. Damn. Thing.

It is straight up just Tamako’s love story.

A Mochi Slump

Now, admittedly, the story of the guy confessing to the girl is done well in this movie. If you’ve ever confessed to a girl and then experience what happens beyond that, then this anime nailed it. It is brutal slice of life stuff. No, the girl doesn’t answer right away. No, they don’t kiss. No, there’s nothing romantic about it. I do love this aspect of the show, because it is pretty cute seeing the entire relationship become awkward and unbearable for the characters. I’ve f*cking been there. Just glancing at their face is a task and seeing their behavior change is frustrating. The fact that she didn’t give an immediate answer is really the best part of the story. The guy is left hanging and wondering if he did the right thing. Oh my gawd, this is my awkward love life in a movie. Throughout the movie, we really just follow Tamako wrestle with her feelings and try to overcome the fact that her relationship with her childhood friend will never be the same again. I’m feeling a bit guilty, because I’m keeping this section of the review short. Really, there’s nothing to truly dissect in this movie. The relationship is shallow and the movie didn’t really build anything up. Tamako had a bit of soul searching, but it wasn’t really an effective way to flesh her character out. She was just someone you can relate too, but only on a shallow level and nothing more. With its slice of life pacing, life just moves on after the confession until she stops f*cking around and finally decide to give the dude a proper answer.

A Glaring Omission

The bird was missing in this movie.

Actually, he appeared in the opening and did nothing else. It’s kinda a big missed opportunity not to have the mascot of the anime appear in the movie in any meaningful way. He could’ve come back to the local area and try to create a B plot for the movie to follow. With the prince and the other girl tagging along, we could’ve gotten a nice enough subplot for the movie to focus on. I mean, it clearly needed a B plot, because the main plot was just too predictable and uninteresting. They’ll end up together in the end. It’s not really a big secret given the direction of the story, so why not give the bird more time to be stupid? I personally will not enjoy it, for sure. I remember hating the bird most of all in the original anime, but that’s the point though. He is part of the original anime, and he deserves to be in the movie as much as the two characters apparently dealing with a crush. The anime kinda had a soft B plot about a marching festival that the baton club is planning to join. If given just a bit more effort, I bet the bird could’ve gotten the members of the local market to perform as well. Gawd, the damn thing writes itself so the movie really just feels lazy in that regard. No effort was given beyond Tamako’s love story and even that was underwhelming.

But you know what, there was a character that was grossly more underused that the resident mascot.

An Extended Valentine’s Day Episode

The mom was given a weird role in this movie. She had screen time, but she didn’t really do anything. When the guy confessed to Tamako, she had this intense rush of feelings involving the guy, her family and her mother in general. The anime almost nailed it. We see flashback of the two when they were childhood friends and we even saw a glimpse of Tamako being comforted during her mother’s funeral, but the mother was never properly given any character. We had one scene where the dad was telling a story about the mom, and we seriously needed more things like this. If this movie is basically an expanded version of the Valentine’s Day episode, then we need to know more about the love story born from a mix tape. When Tamako was feeling out of it, wouldn’t it have been cool if we got flashbacks to the mom going through the same thing? We saw Tamako fumble with her feelings for an hour or so, and I bet it would’ve been a lot more digestible if we had parallel flashbacks to the mom going through the same thing.  We already know how it ends though, since she married the dude that gave her the mix tape. Tamako is kinda going down the same path, so why not add in a little more effort and make this a generational love story between the same people? I mean really, so many missed opportunity for the story to actually be good. I hate the fact that KyoAni solely relied on the KyoAni brand to carry this movie, and I hate the fact that people seemingly didn’t care. It still made money despite being such a lazily put together movie.

The Other Grossly Underused Character

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The best girl in the series is hands down Midori. I distinctly remember that she has a thing with the guy in the series. They also have good chemistry. With the guy confessing to Tamako, you’d expect Midori to something about it, right? Nope, not really. A love triangle conflicts with the KyoAni brand. The brand mostly caters to innocent love that involves blushing children and cute moments of clumsiness. A love story is too f*cking real to be part of the brand, so the entire thing about Midori liking the guy is just thrown to the way side. Again, another missed opportunity since we could’ve gotten a B plot about Midori fighting back her feelings knowing full well she doesn’t stand a chance. Midori even had a factor in helping the guy confess to Tamako, so it must’ve really hurt to do that. Well, we don’t see any of that. She is just a happy girl willing to help her friends get together, because the only feelings KyoAni characters register are happiness and food. It is extremely frustrating watching this movie and realizing it had a lot of chances to be good and compelling, but it decided to be below mediocre instead. But, to be honest, I’ve come to expect that with KyoAni shows as of late.

Yamada, Yoshida and Kyoto Animation

The staff from the original anime basically all came back to make the movie. This proves especially frustrating that the same people that did the original half assed the movie. Naoko Yamada is mostly known for K-On and I think she hit it big with A Silent Voice. She certainly has an eye and a directorial style that I personally like. Of course, I have complaints about that as well. I’ll explain that later on, but Yamada seems to be an important director in the industry. There aren’t a lot of prominent female directors, and I honestly only know one. Chiaki Kon, who does good stuff with Studio Deen, is the only female director I know of. I heard Mari Okada directed a movie or something, and yeah, not excited for that. Yamada shows a lot of promise and I hope she creates more works for KyoAni moving forward. Reiko Yoshida is known for making the screenplay for Violet Evergarden. I remember a lot of people going crazy for that show and I hope it’s not just the KyoAni hype. She is also known for doing the screenplay for The Cat Returns, a Studio Ghibli sequel for Whisper of the Heart. Yoshida seems to be a heavyweight, and I seriously can’t believe she helmed this movie. If nothing else, the script is by far the most half assed thing about this movie and Yoshida seemingly didn’t care. I guess they just know, in their hearts of hearts, that this movie doesn’t need that much love and effort. They plan to save all their talents on more meaningful projects. That idea permeates in this anime, and I honestly don’t blame them for that.

I’m supposed to talk about KyoAni in length for this next paragraph, but I feel like I’ve been so negative enough. Again, I pray KyoAni can rebuild and I know the rest of the world feels the same way. #PrayforKyoAni.

Sight and Sound

Character design is done by Yukiko Hiraguchi, so this movie is kinda run by an all-female production team. I find that fascinating. There’s not much to say about the design, since a lot of KyoAni characters look the same. Again, this is part of the KyoAni brand and I think they’re trying to go for the same brand Studio Ghibli has established. All of Ghibli’s characters are identical too. For KyoAni characters, they always look cute with an emphasis on their frail bodies. Faces are also the same with big bright eyes and they really only differ by hair design. I mostly like Midori because she stands out in terms of the KyoAni brand. She sports a short hair in a sea of identical long hair characters. Male characters are also based on templates, since I can honestly tell you I can’t tell the main guy in this movie from the main character of Kyoukai no Kanata. Put them side to side and I can’t tell who is who. This is really the major drawback of having a brand. Even for Studio Ghibli, making your studio recognizable makes your characters one dimensional by default. The fact that the story doesn’t really do the leg work in making the characters stand out, then we just have a long list of forgettable characters behind that established brand. Now, you might argue that KyoAni have iconic characters like Haruhi, Konata, and the K-On crew but those chicks really existed before the KyoAni brand. Characters after them are all blobs with little personality. Design wise, it’s decent but it doesn’t really stand out that much. They do look cool animated though, so I guess it balances out.

KyoAni is proud of its in-house production team. Their animation always has a touch of arrogance mainly because it’s done by talented and proud people. They should feel boastful as well, since they’re the only studio that really pours so much love into their animation. I personally feel the love and the effort in the way the characters move. I respect that, and I don’t have a problem with KyoAni being arrogant about it. During the confession scene, the animation is incredibly on point. We get close up shots of the characters, beautiful wide shots of the setting and lingering shots of the two together before the guy uttered the three big words. Tamako’s reaction is also amazingly animated, and this is truly the best part of the movie. Lazy story and one dimensional characters be damned. The confession scene is a triumph in animation. Now, it could’ve been done better, but I also think it was just perfectly handled. The shot of Tamako running through a haze of bright colors is also a nice touch. This anime has a lot of inspired moments in it, and I do think it’s the staff being cheeky themselves. The baton club dancing to Sukiyaki is really inspired, because the song is a sad love story. I personally always envision a baton girl dancing through the instrumentals though, and KyoAni just plop that in there seemingly as a nod to people that are paying attention. I also can’t help but love how the staff animates Midori. You can tell they love her, and she always has a lot of unnecessary movements to her to show off the animation. With her short hair, she would always do hair flips at every moment and you just can’t help but feel mad respect for it. As an animation fan, seeing Midori move is just a triumph of the KyoAni brand. I should hate it, but I really like it.

Now that I said all the good stuff about the animation, let me trample on it. Actually, let me complain about the director’s style. Yamada never lets a scene breathe. She would show five different shots of one room, and the transition is a bit dizzying. For example, the confession scene had wide shots, a close up, off shots of the characters feet, sudden 180 back and forth shots and they are all clumsily transitioned one after the other. It felt experimental like the director herself is trying out new stuff to improve her style. I have no problem with that, since I love that wipe transition she randomly made during the toilet scene. In fact, she does wipe transitions pretty well. The problem is the rest of the stuff she does. Her close up shots often feels out of place, since these shots are supposed to convey feelings developed by the story. It had one good use when Midori bit her teeth after urging the guy to confess, but it was used awkwardly afterwards. There was no good close up shot in the movie that truly felt special. The gazing scenes are a different thing though. I like those, since it told the story in an effective manner. Other close ups are just used to drag the movie to its one and half hour completion. The transitions would be the final death nail for this anime. When you thought the animation is its last saving grace, you’ll soon realize even the director realize this movie lack content so it stuffed a bunch of random animation in it. It’s basically throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks. Some does, but the entire experience is not just underwhelming but also really below mediocre.

The movie’s OP song is “Koi no Uta” by Mamedai Kitashirakawa (Keiji Fujiwara). It’s the song Tamako’s dad sung on the mix tape, and it’s a decent enough attempt to lay out the intentions of the movie. It’s outright telling us that it will focus more on the best episode in the series. It’s also a nice callback to the series as the movie re-welcomes you to the world of Tamako Market. The movie ED song is “Principle” by Aya Suzaki. This played during the credits, I believe. Before that though, Aya sang the OP song in its entirety in the best version of the song. It’s accompanied by that weird montage basically confirming the two ended up as a couple. It also had some cute stuff with the characters.

Overall Score

6/10 “It’s a mediocre movie at best, but it had some bright spots if you’re willing to watch an overblown OVA.”

The movie is harmless, but you should expect very little in it. The animation is good and the KyoAni brand is strong, but it really ends there. If you ever wanted to see Tamako and the guy end up together then you should see the movie. Again, don’t expect anything grand. This movie feels like an afterthought, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find the confession and the whole awkwardness after it is cute. It’s good Slice of Life and there’s really nothing beyond that.

I’ll be reviewing FLCL next as another request. It’ll be number four hundred forty five and A HALF.

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Justin Yeung
Suicide_Chef
Vixey
Yomu

2 thoughts on “Tamako Love Story Review

  1. Thanks for reviewing this. A lot of people actually liked this movie more than the TV series so I was wondering if you liked it as well. I might suggest another KyoAni anime that is very different from their other works.

  2. This was a cute movie experience though on my end I only glued my attention to the main protagonists. Those two were just effing adorable to watch together and highlight what a high school romance anime should be.

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