Saturday, August 18, 2012

[Anime Survivor 2] 7th Place: Tari Tari

I will be one of the few that will admit the luster wore off Hanasaku Iroha after the first season.

P.A. Works did a wondrous job animating the series, and it felt great to see an anime focus on something closer to the heart of Japanese culture and the whims of society. I think a lot of people take the small tourist-based businesses of Japan for granted when they watch them in an animated form, so it felt good to get a sense of realism surrounding the onsen inns of Japan.

However, that sense of realism seemed to eat at my core like a grater to my inner daikon. As time went on, I found myself disliking the false disconnect between the "realism" of an animated show and my own. I couldn't find myself accepting the characters as real people, and some of their personalities got under my skin. If anything, I found myself appreciating the stern leadership from Sui, the inn's matriarch, more than the bubbly effervescence of the shiny-skinned youths working at the inn.

When I learned that P.A. Works was going to release a show that had that same sort of feel and animation, I wondered if I'd be able to stand the characters, now that a connection was made to Hanasaku Iroha. I suppose that's a reason why 7th Place for this season's Anime Survivor goes to Tari Tari.

Rising and Shining: It seems that Haruhi Suzumiya is the Helen of Troy of our times, the face that launched a thousand miscellaneous high-school clubs. Instead of sports and the arts, teens in anime are more interested in clubs about the paranormal (Dusk Maiden of Amnesia), candy-testing (Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate), "making friends" (Haganai), and "cultural research" (Kokoro Connect). The last two are in quotation marks, mainly since there doesn't seem to be much of either being done.

In other words, it feels like we're being subjected to more and more shows about clubs that do little to nothing or have an unjustifiable purpose. Everyone's joining the "Seinfeld Kurabu".

Tari Tari has that same vibe, although there does seem to be something of a saving grace in the sense that the club in question doesn't have too broad a subject. It's basically five kids trying to find their own place in those lazy salad days known as "school". See, there's this one kid, Konatsu, who basically feels left out from her chorus club, so she quits to form her own singing club. Good idea on paper, but to get it done, she has to pull strings and cater to acquaintances instead of friends. In the end, the club becomes some sort of fusion between a badminton club and a choir (hence, the "tari tari" in the title, which denotes a list of various activities).

Because of this narrow focus on only five members of a vague club, we can get a glimpse of the inner workings of each character, as Konatsu's verve for singing feeds into the club and outputs into the other four. We get touching insight into Wakana, a quiet and studious girl, whose shelves her love of music even more after her mother passes away. We're bound to get other readings into the other three members; Sawa wants to become a horse jockey, Taichi is aiming to be the best badminton player in Japan, and Wien...well, he's just a little weird, having lived in Europe for most of his life.

There is a lot of holdover from the Hanasaku Iroha staff, as character designs and music direction are helmed by Kanami Sekiguchi and ShirĂ´ Hamaguchi, respectively. This does give a good sense of balance, as the designs are once again rooted in a bit of realism and do not struggle to be overly creative. The backgrounds take a bit more of the attention than the animation itself, while the characters are forced to let their personalities lead the story.

Slipping and Falling: Simply put, this is a drama much like Hanasaku Iroha was, the comedy very low-key from the show's understanding that it's not meant to be funny. While this provides good bedrock to build a story, there is an unfortunate weakness in the foundation—Konatsu herself.

If we're to talk about overlap with Hanasaku Iroha, Konatsu is the show's "Ohana", a sprite of a character that is meant to shake up a system rooted in a "don't-fix-it" scenario. While Ohana's personality was well written from the beginning in Hanasaku Iroha, her life on display before Day 1, Konatsu's background is left vague, and it's this blank slate that ends up hurting the show.

In short, I really really have trouble liking Konatsu. It's one thing to be bitter about not being allowed to display one's talent, but it's another thing to be so stubborn about it. Yes, she has infectious positivity, but she exhibits a pushiness and combativeness towards authority that destroys her spunk, especially when she finds she needs help for her own goals to be met. I mean, if Konatsu really thinks she has talent that's being held back, then she needs to demonstrate it within the chorus instead of letting it bruise her ego.

It's probably unfair to harp on Konatsu, since she's likely not the main character, but she is the central character, meaning that this show is going to be heavy on songs and music. While I do have an appreciation towards both, I find it hard to enjoy it as the glue that ties all five people together. There's just so little overlapping plot involved that the show will likely become an assembly of five high-school stories that we've seen versions of before.

Passing and Moving On: I do appreciate that P.A. Works feel like they can catch lightning in another jar by releasing a show similar to Hanasaku Iroha, but it tends to show me that there are few within the staff that are looking to venture outside of the box, especially with the concept of club creation. From K-On! to Hyouka, we're presented with shows that restrict their cast to five members, the bar set as the minimum for a club in school. While this is good for demonstrating uniqueness within an unbending school structure, it creates an ennui when there is a struggle to make the club unique enough for a story to blossom.

With all this attention towards club growth through separate entities, perhaps it's time to start thinking inside the box again. The solution isn't always to go solo when there's turbulence in the band; perhaps it's time to start including the bigger clubs again when it comes to dramas and storytelling in anime. I wonder if perhaps an Aozora Yell could make it to an animated form.

I know that my "nay" vote for Tari Tari will probably make me as popular as the stuck-up vice principal in the show who will eventually relive her childhood to rediscover her fondness for singing. (I rather like the adults in this show, especially the playing-card of a principal. - Ed.) However, there really isn't anything ground-breaking from what I've seen that will keep my interest sparked enough to see what happens by the final episode. I'm not going to dismiss the show as bad, but it needs more than human drama to distinguish it from other dramas.

On the bright side, at least the club does something. Unlike other clubs.

Know what I mean?

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