Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Tamayura: Hitotose Episodes 1 and 2 – Still Life

Tamayura: Hitotose Episodes 1 and 2 – Still Life

Slice of life shows can sell themselves in one of two ways. The first way is through humor, trying to create funny situations out of normal events. Usually this happens either from making the cast a bit crazy, or appealing the common absurdities of everyday life. The other way is something which I think only exists in anime: through a wistful celebration of youthful innocence. This is the sort of show where nothing really happens, but it doesn’t happen in a soothing way.

The thing about the second method is that it never really appealed to me as anything worth spending my time on, at least on its own merits. That’s not to say I’ve never liked a series that fell into the second camp, but when I did, it was for another reason. Natsume Yuujinchou, for example, has actual drama and character development (not to mention a real plot every episode) to keep the show engaging. You and Me has a low level but constant sense of humor. Even Ikoku Meiro no Croisée played around with dramatic themes involving class divisions in a modernizing France.

I went in to Tamayura: Hitotose not expecting any of those things, and was almost pleasantly surprised during the first episode. Not enough to put up with the return to soothing nothingness in the second episode, but it was a surprise.

Tamayura are what Sawatari calls the little white spots at occasionally pop up on the developed photos. She considers their appearance a good thing, which is in keeping with the tone of the show, where nothing bad ever happens

I didn’t go into Tamayura unbiased. I had already seen the OVA that preceded the TV airing, which established some basics: Fuu Sawatari recently moved back to her hometown with her mother and younger brother, starting her high school career where she grew up. Along with childhood friend Kaoru Hanawa and two new companions, Sawatari (nickname: Potte) does various high school things and photography things in a clumsy, yet cute fashion.

If you think that sounds like every slice of life protagonist since K-ON! took the otaku world by storm, you’d be basically right. The remaining cast is just as colorless. Hanawa is breathtakingly normal—such that’s she’d be the obvious straightman if the show bothered to provide any real comedy. Of the newbies, Norie Okazaki is the loud and (to me) obnoxious one, while Maon Sakurada is the quiet one (who normally whistles rather than speaking aloud).

Clumsy girl? Check. Now you know it can qualify as a slice of life series

The gimmick to Tamayura revolves around photography. Sawatari lost her father at a fairly young age, but he was an avid photographer, and the rediscovery of his photographs inspired her to return to the place where they were taken, and take up the camera herself. Most of the OVAs revolved around photography in some fashion: Sawatari talking to an older photographer she idolizes, trying to find a location from an old photograph, or generally trying to capture happy moments with her camera.

Maybe that does sound interesting to you. After dealing with over an hour of it in the OVAs, I was already bored stiff of it. The characters weren’t that funny, and normally weren’t even trying to be; any drama between the characters was completely lacking; and my enthusiasm for the general plot was tepid at best. This is a show where everything is nice and nothing happens from opening to ending credits.

The camera itself (a Rollei 35S) gets plenty of love from the animators. I've never seen one, but I have no doubt that's how to open one

The premiere of the TV series tried to tweak that formula at least somewhat. Although the bulk of the series clearly happens after the OVA, the first episode is an extended flashback, covering the death of Sawatari’s father, how she blocked out memories of him in grief, and how her brother unearthing an old photo album reminded her of her father’s work (and love for her), inspiring her to take up his old camera and replicate his work.

There are moments of that story which are, I admit, genuinely effective drama. But it seems the show just had to do it to explain the “This is how we got to now” part. Once Sawatari decides on her course, everything else falls into place like that, with her mother quitting her job so the family can move back and old friendships falling into place with not the slightest friction at all.

The closest thing to a bittersweet moment is Sawatari saying goodbye to her best friend from middle school. In case the stuffed animals didn't give it away, just about all of the girls have some extraordinarily childish aspect to them. Cuteness is the only draw of the series

Episode two returns full bore to the “path of no resistance” style of dramatic plotting. The four girls gripe a little about one of their teachers, have a sleepover, and are told by a third party why the teacher is actually sort of nice. That’s it. It’s almost after-school special in it’s heartwarming message, but without any of the melodrama that might at least make it interesting.

And that, I think, will basically encapsulate every episode we’ll have for the rest of the series run. Each of the characters will continue to hit the one note of their personality over and over again, there will be several heartwarming scenes without any real effort required by the girls to achieve them, and life will continue in a sort of sentimental perfection.

Hanawa's sister completes the stereotypical cast as the immature quasi-authority figure. Like everyone other example of that this season, she's more annoying than anything else, which sadly makes her the most interesting character Tamayura can offer

That’s not to say this stuff doesn’t sell. There are plenty of otaku in Japan that eat this stuff up, as one of the many varieties of moe. But in case you couldn’t figure it out by now, I am not one of those people. I’ll watch comedies and dramas and action shows and romances in equal measure; I’ll even put up with fanservice if I think the rest of the production is good enough to outweigh my annoyance. Tamayura doesn’t have fanservice … because it doesn’t have anything. It’s just sort of there: fluffy, weightless—and easily forgettable.

  1. November 19, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Sorry for posting a comment when the blog is no longer being updated, but I didn’t have a good reply to this post until today; I hope you are still reading the comment feed.

    As suggested some time ago by SDShamshel of Ogiue Maniax, what would you think of this show if, instead of quirky high school girls that ensure the show’s marketability towards the usual anime audience, it stars a bunch of wise and quirky old men?

    To clarify, SDShamshel was talking about Aria, the series that marked Sato Junichi’s successful transformation (and adaption to the changing market climate) from shoujo anime master to creator of iyashi-kei anime with girl characters. His idea was that an iyashi-kei anime featuring geezers rather than girls is entirely imaginable.

    When I think of it, I realized that unlike K-On!! (the 2nd season; I find the 1st season not very good), whose best and most true-to-life antics are based on the fact that its characters are high school girls, Tamayura isn’t really about high school life, and not much will be lost if the characters are switched out.

    For example, I’d describe Ep 2 of Hitotose as about “the chill on the back of your neck in a cool summer night”.

    FYI, I have a rather high opinion of Tamayura: Hitotose (the OVA didn’t impress me much; I may need to rewatch them), and don’t think very high of Aria.

    • threeheadedmonkeys
      November 20, 2011 at 10:54 am

      I haven’t seen Aria yet, so I can’t make any comparisons there. As far as switching the cast to older men, I suppose that would kill the cuteness issue, but really I can’t see much reason to watch a show like Tamayura without the cuteness. The cuteness is not a draw for me, but I don’t think the thoughts are profound enough in Tamayura to invoke any sort of dramatic reaction, regardless of whether its protagonists are 15 or 55. It’s an exercise in nostalgia, and as my thoughts on Showa Monogatari indicated, I’m not one for such stories.

      Of course, I think my opinions on the subject might be rather different from yours, at least as far as what we like in these sorts of shows. You did like Showa Monogatari, after all, and I thought the first season of K-On! was far superior to the second, as it wasn’t horribly drawn out (two school years in 13 episodes is a more tolerable ratio of nothing to something than one school year in 26 episodes) and because there were occasional hints of character progression. Take, for example, the opening and finale of the first series, and contrast a clueless, klutzy Yui with one that, while still a bit slow on things, still manages to keep her footing and accomplish something. I didn’t get that same sense of growth in the second season. (That, and the first had more music scenes.) I think we’re watching these shows for very different reasons.

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