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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.