Tari Tari Episodes 9 and 10

Rating: 5 of 5

Impressions:

In episodes 9 and 10 of Tari Tari, the character of Wien gets his turn in the spotlight of sadness. Over several previous episodes, we have been introduced to Wien’s situation mostly through his letters to Jan, a young boy that he met in Austria. He writes to Jan about the antics of his friends, frequently passing on Konatsu’s trollish teasing in a completely clueless manner. He also shares his deep personal doubts about his direction in life and the fact that he really has none. While his friends all seem to be striving for future, Wien is just sort of going along for the ride, unsure of what comes next. The two were tied together by their love of a “Power Rangers” type show that Wien’s grandfather sent videos of to Wien. The boy seemed to be rather frail and perhaps was living in a hospital or children’s home of some sort, but the details of his situation are never fully explained. As Wien’s arc begins in earnest, he receives news about Jan that disturbs him greatly.

The club has problems of its own. They have decided to do a musical for the White Festival, their school’s cultural fair, but they have practically no budget from the school and can’t afford costumes, props, and backgrounds. Konatsu suggests that they brainstorm about ways to raise money for the festival. As the episode goes on, Taichi notices that Wien is not acting like his normal self, he isn’t taking notes about what the others are saying and seems to be out of it in general. It seems that, without his desire to tell Jan about his life, his lack of direction manifests itself with a powerful level of apathy. With the whole group heading out after school, Wakana, still having trouble with her mother’s song, asks if she can talk to Sawa’s mother about how her mother composed music. Sawa’s mother surprisingly asks Sawa to bring the whole gang over for some cake. She has a favor to ask of them. The shopping district is planning a promotional campaign to try to increase business. The campaign needs five people to cosplay in Power Ranger type suits, act out mock battles against villains, and hand out flyers for discounts in the local shops. This is a perfect fund raising opportunity, and the super hero aspect seems to reinvigorate Wien, who takes a leadership role in designing their skits and personas as the “WestShopRangers”, protecting the valued patrons of the Western Shopping District from spoiled produce and inferior products!

The Choir and Sometimes Badminton Club performs as the “WestShopRangers!”

Several other monkey wrenches get thrown into the mix, including some build up for the final three episodes and some much needed character development for the hard to love Vice Principle of their school. As with the majority of the other characters, Wien is back to acting like himself by the end of his arc, with the help of his friends.

The ending of the arc has some of the cheesiest moments of the show, rivaling Wien and Konatsu’s cheers and songs at Taichi’s badminton tournament and the cell phone serenade by the other four members to Sawa, followed by Sawa’s wild ride, in the previous arc. However, these cheesy moments are far from a distraction or a detriment to Tari Tari. In fact, those are some of the shining moments of this wonderfully uplifting and emotional series.

For the most part, Tari Tari plays it straight, when it comes to the characters and their personalities. They are all very believable and easy to relate to, with some minor eccentricities to make them more salient than your average high school senior. (For instance, Wien’s wonderful fish-out-of-water gullibility, Konatsu’s energetic nature and tendency to prey on said gullibility, Wakana’s initial brooding nature and sharp tongue, and Sawa’s wickedly sarcastic sense of humor and quick temper, and Taichi’s ever present calisthenics, single-minded fixation on his sport, and a very endearing compassion for his friends that frequently paints him in a different light.) These little moments of cheesy goodness lift the characters out of their ordinary, slice-of-life character personae and push them into a more emotionally satisfying mold. These moments of “I don’t believe they just did that!” are a large part of what make the characters memorable, even more so for how real they feel when they are going about their daily routines.

The other major strength of the writing for Tari Tari, is the way the character’s problems are “resolved”. I put the word in quotes because they are not, in reality, resolved the majority of the time. For each character’s issues, from Konatsu’s desire to sing, Taichi’s and Sawa’s badminton and horse riding dreams, Wakana’s sorrow and regret, or Wien’s fish-out-of-water aimlessness, the end of their personal arc finds them back to functioning as they usually do, if not better, as in Wakana’s case. Their problems, one the other hand, are still there. In each case, the problems or repercussions of them, linger. Just like in real life, your problems are not solved by a song from your friends and a hug. They are still there, just easier to manage because you realize you are not alone and that, with the help of people who truly care for you. This “life-goes-on” style of problem resolution adds tremendously to the realism of the story.

While not an earthshaking series by any stretch of the imagination, Tari Tari is still a wonderful show to watch. Consistently entertaining, with very good balance between humor and emotion, the show is sweet without cloying, emotional without being manipulative, funny without disrespecting its characters, and able to inject just the right amount of cheesy, feel good charm to keep the mood light, without becoming silly. Add to that some wonderful music and amazing artwork and you have  a show that could very well stand the test of time.

Next, the school cultural fair is in full preparation mode, with the choir, and sometimes badminton, club preparing to do a musical play that they are writing themselves. Can they pull it off, or will the strange issues between the vice principle, principle, and the chairman of the school’s board that have been hinted at for the past few episodes cause problems for our plucky group of young singers? I can’t wait to find out!

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Tari Tari Episodes 7 – 8

This review is mostly of episodes 7 – 8, but I do include some discussion of the overall style of storytelling which refers to the previous episodes that I explicitly reviewed earlier.

Rating: 5 of 5

Impressions:

Tari Tari continues to impress! The basic pattern of the show does everything in two episode mini-arcs, with the first two dealing primarily with Konatsu and her issues, followed by Taichi (though his arc is kind of episodes 3 and 5, and much less each episode is dedicated to his issues) then Wakana gets her turn in episodes 4 through 6, which is a bit longer, but also a weightier topic. The pacing of the show is very good, with none of the sense of dragging that frequently plague slice of life stories, but also avoiding the disjointed feel that many in the genre suffer from. One reviewer commented that Tari Tari only marginally qualifies as slice of life, due to its use of rather conventional dramatic story structure and I concur. I also have felt that the narrative structure makes far greater use of time jumps than your average slice of life show. However, the nature of the story telling style still conforms to the general slice of life pattern.

One of the biggest strengths of the show is the understated and realistic way it presents and resolves the character’s problems. Instead of having things spelled out clearly, we learn of each character’s issues over a series of episodes, with most of the details coming through behavioral cues as opposed to direct exposition. When the character’s problems finally come to a head, the audience is well aware of what is going on and hearing the character talk with their friends or family about their problems feels cathartic, as we have been allowed to feel their pain grow over the course of several episodes. It is partially due to this story telling structure that there is a general feeling that the character of Taichi was “short changed” on his “arc”. Since it happened early in the season, there was less build up to his story, but also his was an easier fix than most of the other characters. I would also argue that Konatsu’s arc was treated in a similar manner, with the caveat that, in a sense, her arc is the entire series, since the choir and sometimes badminton club exists because of her issues of wanting to overcome her stage fright that caused her trouble in the past and that the entire season involves her continuing quest to be able prove to the vice principle that music does “love her”*, even if it is only when she is making music with her friends, and to answer the question that Wakana asked her early in the series: “What do you sing for?”

In addition to the gradual presentation of the issues a character faces, the show also has a very “life goes on” style of resolving each character’s problems. Every character still has some lingering issues after the set of episodes dedicated to the details of their problems have past. There is no magic trick that makes the problem that was causing the character to be depressed, cranky, or close to the edge simply go away, never to bother them again. Instead, with the support of their friends, they can deal with their problems with much more ease. However, each character still must continue to deal with aspects of their personal crisis in the remaining episodes. This incomplete problem resolution style lends an air of authenticity to the issues the characters face.

This well executed story telling style most likely comes straight from the top: director Masakazu Hashimoto. This relatively untested director, who’s CV contains many more references to positions such as Storyboard, Episode Director, Assistant Director, and Production Coordinator than it does Director, is creating an extremely well thought out and deftly executed story that has captured the hearts of people on both sides of the pacific, with Tari Tari consistently showing up near the top of “best shows of the Summer 2012 season” in Japan and the US. Hashimoto deserves even more credit than your average director, since his name also appears behind several other jobs when the credits roll, such as Series Composition and Screenplay for episodes 1-8 and 11. That much involvement in story development and actual writing of the series in addition to direction makes Tari Tari practically his personal project, in many ways. That level of involvement in a show is rather rare these days.

On to the episodes at hand!

Sawa’s horse racing academy admissions guideline packet

In episodes 7 and 8, Sawa gets her turn at the “wheel of pathos” as her 2 episode mini-arc comes around. Her problems revolve around an envelope she received in the mail and the issues she has with her father not supporting her desire to make a career out of riding horses. In order to avoid spoilers, I will use only discuss the issues briefly, but suffice it to say that there are certain factors that limit Sawa’s ability to achieve her dreams that are literally beyond her control. The lack of support from her father doesn’t help much and her already fiery temper flares at her friends in the process of discussing the issues. The way that Sawa’s character had been built up to this point, with several instances of her quick temper and tendency toward sarcastic humor, along with her playful teasing of her friends meshed seamlessly into a sharp tongued, short fused, and rather brutally abrupt person when Sawa’s stress level increased due to the events of these two episodes. If she hadn’t had that wicked sense of humor or had never snapped at Konatsu earlier in the story, it would have seemed out of character and forced. As it was, it seemed like the logical progression of how a Sawa that was failing to deal with the pressure in her life would behave. When you consider that the general niche that people placed Sawa in at the beginning of the series was the “anime perfect girl”, complete with looks, brains, talent, and an impressive bust line, it is rather impressive to see her in a decidedly imperfect light. Of course, the way she was written, it was clear that that initial classification was very far from correct. “Perfect girls” don’t generally slap their friends on the backside to get them to snap out of a funk or tease their friend who just had a major personal failure by asking “are you crying?” Sawa, on the other hand, does those things, with a smile, and sometimes a shy glance and a blush, when Taichi happens to be the target of her teasing. (The “shipping” of Taichi and Sawa was not strongly hinted at in these episodes, but there was some indication of a certain amount of attraction between them. It still remains to be seen if romance is in the offing for any of the Tari Tari characters, but if it is, these two seem the best candidates.)

Konatsu sings a song of encouragement to Sawa’s voice-mail.

In the end, Sawa comes to grips with the inevitable and learns to deal with things that cannot be changed, in addition to learning a bit about her father’s dedication to her. (We also find out that Sawa’s fiery temper isn’t entirely inherited from her mother!) The fact that a moment of crisis for the choir (and sometimes badminton) club arises at the same time as Sawa’s personal crisis doesn’t help things, but it is the support of her friends, in a unique, enormously cute, totally appropriate (considering the type of club they are), and slightly cheesy fashion that pushes her to her feet in order to make sure she doesn’t let her friends down.

The next character to have his life put through the wringer will be the fish-out-of-water transfer student from Austria, Wien. Several interesting hints were laid out in these episodes, as well as those that came before, to give us hints at what Wien’s crisis might entail. It is a certainty that the power-ranger like heroes he seems to idolize will figure strongly in his story. The previews do not diminish that impression.

* This concept of not being able to please an audience unless music “loves you” is one I have seen used in more than one anime series about musicians, which leads me to believe that it is a common way that Japanese musicians think about that intangible quality that separates the great musicians from people who are merely competent, but have no flair or, as US musicians might call it, no soul or heart in their music. I have no proof of this, but it seems to be the way the concept is used.