Tamako Market is Kyoto Animation’s Next Step

In one of my earliest posts I ever wrote for Ogiue Maniax, I talked about my desire for Kyoto Animation to go beyond its own limits, to go from just adapting work to making their own original material. Though my opinion of Kyoto Animation isn’t quite as rosy as it was back in 2007, with their new original anime Tamako Market I actually feel like they’ve finally fulfilled those expectations to a fair degree.

Kyoani is known primarily for two things: really solid animation and cute girls. Together, the resulting product is a soft, delicate quality that is unmistakably Kyoto Animation (and which shows like Kokoro Connect and Sora no Woto have tried to mimic), and it affects different adaptations in different ways. For Haruhi and their Key game adaptations it lent weight and significance to characters’ movements, while in K-On! and Nichijou, two manga with sharp and abrupt humor, it caused the anime versions to slow down in terms of comic timing. In the end, it seems to all come down to the cute girls.

Tamako Market is the first Kyoto Animation show I’ve seen to really let the animators spread their wings. Tamako Market has allowed Kyoani to show personality through movement in a greater variety of character types of all shapes and sizes, from small children to geriatrics, to even a person of ambiguous gender and a silly talking bird. The show then places them in a deliberately slow-paced setting in the form of a small-town shopping area, which makes that Kyoani “slice of life” style feel appropriate. What’s more, even though there are indeed still cute girls in Tamako Market, all of the other characters are portrayed differently from them, giving the viewer not only Kyoani’s bread-and-butter but also something even more substantial.

Given the sheer amount of character variety in Tamako Market, I have to now wonder if it wasn’t just that their old shows didn’t allow them to “push their envelope,” but that having to adapt works limited them due to the contact of the original sources. Most of what Kyoto Animation has adapted has come from dating sims, light novels, which often times are all about cute girls, or manga which center around cute girls. While I think Kyoani isn’t ideal for making certain types of works, it’s clear to me from Tamako Market that their strengths, namely their ability to have characters move with almost a sense of tangible liveliness, go beyond what’s expected of them.

Conceptual Gattai: Mecha and Slice of Life

I’ve been talking a good deal about both giant robots and slice of life anime as of late, and in doing so it was perhaps inevitable that the notion of combining both would start to percolate in my head.

At first, mecha and slice of life would appear to contradict each other. Mecha is generally about some kind of story and conflict, be it good vs evil, big vs small, one team vs another, whereas slice of life has its focus in the non-events of life. Is it possible to reconcile the two? I say yes, and all you have to do is start with Patlabor.

Now for those unfamiliar with Patlabor, the basic premise is that in the near future giant robots are used in labor jobs such as construction and demolition, and have essentially become a part of everyday life. Some unscrupulous people get the bright idea to start using these mecha to commit crimes, and so a robot-based police force called “Patlabor” is formed.

So envision the Patlabor scenario in your mind. Now, get rid of the robot crime and by extension get rid of the robot police force. There’s your slice of life mecha show. Instead of focusing on capturing criminals, the story becomes about the daily hijinks of working a normal job as a robot pilot. If you want, have the characters younger and center the story around the training process, like Gunbuster‘s early episodes minus the competitiveness. On that note, make the characters all cute girls if you want, though honestly speaking I don’t think such a thing is necessary for slice of life.

So basically, giant robots without the fighting. I know, pretty exciting, right?

It Truly is a Smile for You: Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san

When listing the tropes of the magical girl genre, certain traits come to mind. Shows are generally targeted towards mainly a female audience. Romance is usually a focus. Magic is used in some manner of wish fulfillment, either by the characters or the viewers or even both. Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san, a 2001 anime about an extraterrestrial princess with the power of the stars, can easily fit these descriptions and more, but none of them quite do justice to young Princess Comet and her story. Comet-san defies its own categorizations without betraying any of them in the process.

All stars have their own radiance, their own personalities, their own lives. And in the vast sea of the universe there are those who understand and communicate with these stars. One of them is Comet, a young princess of Harmonica Star Country, who is set to marry the prince of the neighboring Tambourine Star Country and unite their lands for the sake of their peoples. When the prince runs away to Earth, Comet is tasked to follow him and ask for his hand in marriage personally. Comet is quick to accept her mission, though what no one other than her mother knows is that she doesn’t care one way or another about chasing princes or fostering peace between nations. Comet is a girl full of curiosity and enthusiasm, eager to see what life is like on a new planet far away from her home.

Comet-san has a certain magnetism to it. While many magical girl anime are very episodic, or have a focus on the daily lives of normal girls (albeit with magical powers), very few of them can match the (ironically) down-to-earth nature of Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. Rather than Cardcaptor Sakura or Shugo Chara, the pacing of Comet-san is closer to that of shows such as Kino’s Journey or Aria. The show pulls you into its own deliberately slow pace, and you may find yourself being dragged along willingly. Each episode finds Comet-san learning more and more about life on Earth. People, plants, animals, customs, weather, art, love, anything and everything is a joy for Comet to experience, and every day is a new opportunity for discovery.

Comet-san is a show that is blessed with strong characters all around. The primary rival, a short-tempered princess from Castanet Star Country named Meteo who is far more interested in finding the prince, provides a nice foil for Comet, though it is Comet’s even-handedness that frustrates Meteo more than the other way around. A young life guard reminiscent of Li Shaoran named Keisuke provides one of many potential romances for Comet. Comet has her requisite animal mascot in a bear-like creature named Rababou (a take on “rubber ball” due to his elastic body), who is there to remind Comet of her true goal, but is also a valuable friend and at first her only companion from home. Comet’s host family’s children are fraternal twins named Tsuyoshi and Nene. Their nickname for Comet is “Komatta-san,” with komatta meaning “troubled.” They are two of the most endearing and non-irritating child characters in anime all the while while having the maturity one expects of children.

Comet herself is an inspiring main character whose personality could probably be best described as “subdued enthusiasm.” Comet shows a wide range of emotions, some of them completely new and unfamiliar to her, and expresses them in a way that can be very cathartic to watch, especially because of her pleasant voice, courtesy of Maeda Aki. In the end, nothing contributes to the slow pacing of the series more than Comet.

This is not to say, however, that the show is without progress or continuity. The feeling of the show is such that often times I found myself thinking that all it would take is one big twist to turn it all upside down, and most likely this twist somehow involves the fact that no one knows what the Tambourine Star Country’s prince actually looks like.

Sadly, that is all speculation from me, as less than half Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san is available subtitled, and the fansubbing group that has been slowly plugging has been doing so since 2002. If there is an end, it is way off in the distance. I hear that this show was actually dubbed into English as “Princess Comet” though, and broadcast around the world, so it may be possible to obtain it in that form more easily. That said, even with completion nowhere in sight, I urge anyone and everyone to watch a few episodes and see if life doesn’t start looking a little brighter.

Manly Slice of Life

Why should slice of life be purely the realm of cute girls? Why can’t middle-aged men have pleasant day-to-day experiences?

Imagine, if you will, an automobile shop, run by a rough yet kind man and his friends. They’re all getting a bit old, but they would not trade their shop for anything in the world. Every day, between fixing engines and repairing brakes, they take the time to sit around at a small, rickety table discussing anything that comes to their mind. Though they may posture and ridicule each other, at the end of the day they know their friendship is stronger than anything.

It’s slow, it’s pleasant, and it’s manly.

The Legend of the Running Yuno

As some readers might notice, I finished the original Hidamari Sketch anime only a few days ago in order to prepare myself sufficiently for the new season, Hidamari Sketch x365. It turns out that nothing would have prepared me for x365.

It is Hidamari Sketch to the extreme, but in the most soft and pleasant way possible. Because it’s Hidamari Sketch after all.

Supposedly Shinbo received huge sums of money because of the DVD sales of Hidamari Sketch (thanks Japanese otaku consumers), and with that giant pile of cash, which I assume was given to him in either some sort of non-descript briefcase or a giant sack with a prominent dollar sign, he made a money bath and rubbed it all over his body.

After those 10 hours, he went and created eye-exploding animation.

I am not kidding, if you haven’t seen the new season and you’ve watched ANY of Hidamari Sketch, I recommend checking it out.

Every time I go to watch another show I find myself gravitating towards Hidamari Sketch x365 episode 1 just to watch the animation again.

In fact, I think I’m going to do that right now.

A new legend is born, and she is…Running Yuno.

Also Sleeping Yuno and Jumping Yuno.

(Guest starring Upside-down Miyako).

Wahaha: Hidamari Sketch

With Hidamari Sketch x365 currently airing, I finally decided to watch through all of the original series.

Stupid me, I should have done this sooner.

Hidamari Sketch is the sort of show that is the most supremely difficult to convince others to watch if they aren’t already well-versed in shows of its kind. I’m referring to that dastardly “slice of life” genre of anime, the genre that can make or break someone’s opinion of anime.

It’s the story of four girls attending an art high school who live in the nearby Hidamari Apartments. Though they all live alone, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the way they support and love each other. The main cast consists of Yuno (shy and eager to learn), Miyako (energetic and unpredictable), Sae (mature yet easily flustered), and Hiro (soft-spoken but surprisingly willfull). Personally, it is very difficult to decide on a favorite character. All of them are just so wonderfully endearing that when I try to choose one I recall another very memorable scene from another character and then I’m back to square one.

One thing that constantly bothers me about Yuno is that she sounds a lot like Kinomoto Sakura despite not being voiced by Tange Sakura. I definitely know she isn’t, and I can also recognize the fact that she plays Ran in Shugo Chara, but it can be startling to hear such similarities in inflection and expression. I think if Sakura and Yuno met, they would have a wonderful friendship as Sakura would look to Yuno as a beautiful older sister of sorts.

…Back on topic.

Hidamari Sketch was directed by Shinbo Akiyuki, director of Pani Poni Dash and Zetsbou-Sensei among others. The show has the same sort of self-awareness by viewer and creator as Shinbo’s other shows. However, combined with the mellowness of the daily life of Yuno and friends, Hidamari Sketch becomes more like lucid dreaming, and it’s the kind of dream that while at first you’d prefer not to get up from, you are thankful that you did awaken as it lets you greet another day.

Slice of life is Hidamari Sketch.  It’s funny, witty, pleasant, and emotional, but not once do any of those adjectives overpower the other. It’s a show that, no matter your circumstance, you can use it to unwind. Watch as little or as much as you want, by the end you have no choice but to smile.

“Slice of Life” they say

This post is inspired by my recently having watched more of Kino’s Journey after a long delay of not-watching Kino’s Journey. Warning: Rambling ahead

I’ve realized how unusual it is that when I think of the term “Slice of Life,” my mind goes immediately to anime. It’s a genre I enjoy immensely, from Azuma Kiyohiko’s works to Haibane Renmei and beyond. You could even consider Genshiken to be “slice of life,” and much of Ogiue’s appeal comes from the small moments in her life. But then, why is it that “slice of life” is so associated with anime, instead of, for example, shows with live actors?

I’ve spoken to friends before about what it is that makes an anime feel like an anime, what differentiates it from other mediums, what makes us come back for more. I think in certain cases, it has to do with this sort of slice of life pacing that’s just not seen as often elsewhere. Of course, I’m not saying that all anime is slice of life, or that there are no slice of life shows outside of anime, but merely that there is a recurring trend that a good amount of people who like anime like it because of shows such as Haibane Renmei. Even if this genre of anime and manga doesn’t occur as often as I think it does, I don’t think anyone would fault me when I say that when it occurs, it leaves a big impression on its fans, perhaps more than even the most soulful of epic tales.

Slice of Life, what does it mean? It means, basically, a story where “normal” life occurs, with less focus on dramatic events and more on the day to day occurrences to which we can relate. I’ve spoken a bit about moe before, and I don’t want to turn this into a moe essay, but I can’t help but feel that there is a corollation between the two. When watching a slice of life show, one desires to live the life of the characters, what tends to be a slow-paced life where the characters involve simply enjoy each passing day. In moe, the appeal is in the “weakness” of characters, the raw, emotional side which is different from stopping and smelling the roses, but also invokes a feeling of realism. If slice of life is “I want to live how they live,” then I think moe is “I feel how she feels.” And of course, the two can co-exist and are often together.

I wonder, then, if animation, as shown through the aesthetics we associate with anime, lends itself to the slice of life genre, much like how moe is associated with anime and manga. Characters tend to be pure and beautiful (though not necessarily attractive). They exist as (seemingly) simple characters leading (relatively) simple lives, no matter what the circumstances. They generally consist of flat colors with minimal shading and black outlines. Due to budget constraints, animation tends to not be very fluid, so still images and animation shortcuts are used, which may lead to slower-paced shows (though that is sometimes called “filler”).  All this may lead to why “Slice of Life” as a genre has attracted so many people to anime.

Or maybe I should just talk to Scrubs fans more often.