It’s strange to think three whole years have passed since Kyoto Animation first introduced us to the bubbly, welcoming community of the Usagiyama Shopping District in Tamako Market. In that time, the series’ original simulcast partner has ceased to be and the successor’s contract expired with no word of a local release, leaving me reluctantly pessimistic about my chances of ever seeing the theatrical sequel Tamako Love Story. Thanks to the Japan Foundation’s Summer Explorers however, I finally got my wish.
While the heart of London’s entertainment district was beating with excitement for the première of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, I was a mere stone’s throw away in the prestigious BAFTA building, sat amongst a crowded audience experiencing the rare opportunity of watching a work by the prestigious Kyoto Animation (The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-ON! The Movie) on the big screen.
While the original television anime was a light-hearted comedy more concerned with the day-to-day life of Tamako and her unusual guest, the talking bird Dera Mochimazzi, this theatrical follow-up features a considerable tonal change, with the focus shifting to place a former sub-plot into the spotlight: the blossoming romance of two childhood friends.
Being the children of two opposing mochi stores, Tamako and Mochizo have known each other all their lives. Despite having always harboured feelings for her however, the decision to study in Tokyo finally gives Mochizo the push he needed to pluck up his courage and confess. With the winds of change sweeping through Usagiyama, how will Tamako respond?
With the shift from comedy to romantic drama, it felt at times like the cast had been retooled to fit the new roles expected of them. A notable example of this would be Tamako herself, who based on what we knew of her from the series, would have been ill-equipped as a romantic lead. This is perhaps why the movie wasted no time in making me feel as though the character had underwent something akin to a sexual awakening between Market and Love Story, with the playful quips about breast-shaped mochi and comparisons of her friends’ bottoms to the tender rice cakes likely acting not only as humorous fanservice, but also a sign that the once innocent and naive girl is now ready to explore the labyrinth of her love story. She hasn’t become an expert overnight however; her inexperience and shock over Mochizo’s confession shapes the main conflict of the movie and reminds us that despite the changes, this is still the same clumsy Tamako of Usagiyama.
This plan doesn’t entirely pan out however. Due to Tamako’s previous portrayal, Tamako Love Story struggles to create a real sense of chemistry between the two leads, which is exacerbated by the two sharing very few romantic scenes together (fantasy or otherwise). The story attempts to create reasons to encourage reciprocation, but due to how one-sided Mochizo’s affections were in Tamako Market, despite coming across as a sweet, likeable guy, these efforts unfortunately come across as forced.
The character hit hardest by the tonal shift however, is sadly Midori. The recognition of her own romantic feelings towards Tamako was a beautiful and defining moment of Tamako Market, but with Mochizo acting as the catalyst for this follow-up, almost all traces of this have been left to one side. She maintains a significant interest in Tamako’s love life, but this sadly manifests mostly as what could be interpreted as undeserved spite towards Mochizo. A more focused conclusion to her character arc, especially in light of Mochizo’s confession, could have been a wonderful addition and a much-needed break to the movie’s bizarre pace.
Despite its short run-time of 84 minutes, Tamako Love Story suffers from extremely uneven pacing. The middle segment of Tamako’s agonising over the confession feels needlessly drawn out and repetitive, as opposed to the climax and conclusion that end abruptly and could have benefited from a proper epilogue to wrap a neat ribbon around the whole affair. Kyoto Animation’s attention to detail shines in the movie’s animation, helping give the shopping district a warm, homely atmosphere and the brilliant use of exaggerated facial expressions really compliment the more comedic moments. While not the fault of Kyoto Animation, it’s worth mentioning that a slight bug meant the screening I attended lost visual for a split second during the most important scene of the movie! Fortunately, it quickly corrected itself and no one seemed to mind, but it did affect my immersion during a key emotional scene.
Fortunately, the comedy is still alive and well in Tamako Love Story, with my favourite character from the television series – Kanna Makino – returning once again as an absolute scene stealer. The eccentric humour and off-hand comments of the amateur carpenter regularly had the packed audiences in stitches. For years, I’ve joked that a Kanna Market spin-off needs to happen and frankly, this movie has only solidified my views – get on it Kyoto Animation!
Despite only appearing briefly in an opening short and a single cutaway during the main picture, Dera Mochimazzi effortlessly captured the audience’s attention with his off-collar humour and charming, flamboyant personality. I know some people found his presence in Tamako Market annoying, but it was sorely missed here.
Although Tamako Love Story has enough humour and charming character moments to keep viewers from smiling, the rocky transition from slice-of-life comedy to an underdeveloped romantic drama unfortunately doesn’t reach the proven heights Kyoto Animation are capable of, instead offering this stellar series a conclusion that sadly, catches its potential just as well as Tamako and her string telephone.