Tinkering with Tamayura

by eternal on January 11, 2011

Tamayura turned a few heads when it was released toward the end of 2010, though most of those heads belonged to viewers who already adored director Junichi Sato’s work on the Aria franchise. The two anime are similar in the ways that count for the genre–Sato manages to build an aura of magic and childlike wonder around his settings, and he explores them at a laid-back pace. Tamayura’s presentation isn’t spectacular or particularly memorable but something about it reached me more effectively than Aria did.

I should preface this post by telling (reminding?) you that, against all odds, I am not a fan of the iyashi-kei subgenre. While I adore some plotless atmospheric shows from time to time, straight-up “healing anime” has always put me to sleep. Admittedly, I couldn’t make it through an hour of Tamayura without nodding off, but the experience was more touching than your average hour of aimless stress relief (note than I’m referring to literal stress relief and not the ubiquitous J-List innuendo).

This, of course, says more about me than the show itself–the genre certainly didn’t bend its rules to meet my expectations. I suspect the plot had something to do with it. I find the device of photography and old photos to be strangely romantic, perhaps figuratively, perhaps literally. There’s an air of mystery surrounding Fu’s father; he no longer exists in the world, and yet he’s immortalized by a single photograph. It’s such a powerful symbol, and it’s used in all forms of fiction for good reason. The same dynamic applies to Fu’s search for the location of the picture her brother drew–by finding the “truth” to every photo, every record of the real world, it’s as if she can relive the past.

Perhaps it’s more notable that Fu’s picture-taking habit in itself is the perfect metaphor for the whole aim of the iyashi-kei genre and Sato’s work on this title and Aria. It’s about exploring the world around you, finding beauty in the most everyday things. Whether it’s the fantastic Neo-Venezia or a more down-to-earth town in Japan, the importance of atmosphere and setting shines through. It’s almost the opposite of the world building of high fantasy and sci-fi–instead of developing the internal mechanics of a universe, Sato fleshes out the aesthetics of his worlds in order to create a living, breathing atmosphere. Not to downplay the important element of character interaction, but it’s no wonder that viewers are enthralled by watching a cast of Undines or middle schoolers explore their vibrant world like curious children.

It’s vague, it’s abstract, but I don’t believe it’s possible to concretely pin down the appeal of shows like Tamayura. It’s not about the thinly veiled symbolism of Fu’s photos representing her appreciation of the world, one shot at a time; it’s not really about her relationship with her friends and family. It’s something less tangible than that.

It’s about forging a narrative which gives you characters to relate to but doesn’t pull you down with threads of rehashed plot. It’s about breathing life into a fictional setting with countless hours spent on visual production to choose soft colours for the background and to animate the girls’ reactions in all their bubbly glory. It’s about taking the time to draw the long shots, to repeat the photography motif by showing us the world through Fu’s lens.

It’s about doing a lot of little things that add up to something beautiful. Tamayura still belongs to a genre that I’ll never be fond of and it was an ultimately forgettable experience for me, but it’s a solid endeavour on Hal Film Maker’s part that showed me how Junichi Sato works his magic and reminded me of what makes his magic magical in the first place.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Smithy January 11, 2011 at 6:17 pm

Am usually quite fond of this genre and adore series like “Aria” or “Sketchbook ~full colorS~”. Watched “Tamayura” not too long ago and adored it. It wasn’t as involving as “Aria” as we didn’t ave enough time to get to know and love all its characters as much and it does use a more emotionally laden plot to pull you in but it nonetheless delivered with but a few episodes and I really loved it.

Being into photogaphy (very amateur level) I also appreciated that entire aspect of the story.


ETERNAL January 19, 2011 at 12:30 am

I’m still a little depressed that Fu is a better photographer than me ;_;


Hiwa January 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm

and I’m still don’t get the glowing things when she capturing pictures. First time I saw it I thought those are flares instead of some miracle thingy orz imo though


Yi January 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Tamayura does an incredibly lovely job of setting up a beautiful, relaxing atmosphere, much as Aria does. Compared to Aria, Tamayura has even less character interactions or developments. Yet I still loved it. Perhaps because I’m such a fan of iyashi-kei. Or perhaps it’s the visuals. Or perhaps, as you said, we’ll never be able to concretely pin down its appeal.

p.s. I find it really interesting that this reached you more than Aria did.


eternal January 31, 2011 at 6:24 am

It’s very odd that I’d enjoy a show like this more than Aria, but sadly, I think it’s a result of something boring and subjective rather than some profound difference between the works. Tamayura is short so it’s easy to digest and it gives you no opportunities to get bored, and I also thought the photography motif was a nice touch since I’ve toyed with photography myself. The way the narrative is contained within a couple hours makes it easier for me to appreciate its subtleties; Aria is vast enough that you have to really fall for its universe and characters in order to appreciate it.


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