Konatsu, an avid singer in her final year of high school, is anxious because she realizes that she won't get to continue singing after she graduates, and there's another problem: she's been thrown out of her choir club after botching a previous performance. Determined to sing nonetheless, she tries to start another club and finds herself scrambling for members, enlisting an Austrian exchange student she calls "Wein" (and who can barely speak Japanese) and convincing the sole member of the badminton club, Taichi, to merge his club with hers. Making up the necessary five members are two other reluctant singers: Konatsu's friend Sawa, who's far more interested in horseback riding than singing, and a quiet and reserved girl named Wakana who once studied music but who, due to some past tragedy, seems incredibly hesitant to compose, play, or sing again. There's also the issue of the main choir club, as well as it's stern advisor, being none-too-happy with the competition. Will this motley crew be able to pull themselves into a presentable ensemble and perform?
I'll admit that I don't think that music-centered anime are easy to pull off. Primarily, this is because they inherently need music of above-average quality to work, and this requires both money and people with the vision and finesse necessary to make music that suits and supports the show's purpose. Not every studio that tries to make a music-centered anime series has this, but every single anime about a band or singer that I've seen had music that had clearly been composed and chosen with some care; even if neither the raw punk of NANA nor the garage rock of BECK was entirely to my taste, for example, in each case the music felt as if it could've been composed by the characters who were playing it, adding a great deal to its respective series' atmosphere. I mention this because Tari Tari, a 2012 P.A. Works series supposedly about a choir club, has the distinct problem of having very little actual music, and of what music there is being uninspired. There is, unfortunately, far more overwrought melodrama in this show than actual singing, and while it's possible that Tari Tari was attempting to shore up its credentials by adapting musical theater's excess of the former (I kid, I kid), it ultimately makes for an unsatisfying watch.
P.A. Works isn't a studio whose output I'm very fond of, for of the shows of theirs that I've seen, The Eccentric Family is the only one that's stuck out to me. But having seen how good the art direction was in some of their more recent series, such as that one and Glasslip (as Stig will tell you), it's obvious that they've improved massively over the past few years. Tari Tari, released two years prior to Glasslip, looks and sounds lackluster in comparison. For starters, the color scheme consists of pale and faded tones, which don't suit a show aiming for picturesque, nostalgia-inducing vistas of a fictionalized Fujisawa (which it often does). The character design felt equally suspect to me, with the faces having a very limited range of expression, and many of the characters' facial features are almost identical in appearance, with hairstyle being the only way to differentiate them.
Frankly, for a show that's supposedly about music, it's also a shame that the music in Tari Tari should be so unmemorable on all fronts. The soundtrack hovers in the background, bouncing and humming along like something made for a commercial, while neither the overly peppy opener nor the main cast karaoke of the closer suits the series well at all. The real issue, though, is that when there's actual in-show music, it sounds autotuned and artificial, with the song lyrics themselves being the platitudes one hears during so-called "inspirational" speeches about friendship and looking forward to the future and such and such. It doesn't help that the plot is centered around the buildup to one single event, the club's performance at the upcoming cultural festival, as well as Wakana's struggling to write the music intended for that event. Because of this, we don't really hear a real song until the very, very end, and the agony and drama over the composition of that song is built up so much that when it turns out to be unremarkable, the letdown just hurts the show all the more.
And Tari Tari is, basically, a lot of artificial drama being thrown in to make the journey to that performance seem significant. Really, you'd think that the kids in this show had screwed up colossally in another life, given that so many different forces seem to be conspiring to stop their little club from singing one little song. I just can't explain it via anything besides their having bad karma. There's the stuck-up members of the main choir club, for example, who actively screw with our leads' efforts to gain approval, and for no reason besides being stuck-up. Then, we have the oh-so-archetypically bureaucratic and frowney vice principal, who also happens to be the choir club's advisor and who looks down upon the kids because she's The Grinch and hates music and joy. Or something.
Unsurprisingly, meanwhile, there's the issue of the main characters' needing to get past their personal differences and their reservations about singing and come together, and in this series, it just isn't handled well. For example, we find out that the reason Wakana doesn't particularly want to sing is that her late mother was also a singer, and she's still conflicted over her relationship with her. Once that problem is solved on account of her mother's former bandmates, some caricatured Brazilian musicians, making an appearance and setting everything right, we move on to Sawa's being conflicted because her parents disapprove of her dream to be a jockey and because she'd rather do that than sing, which in my opinion isn't particularly relevant (if she wants to ride, is she suddenly not allowed to sing?). There's also some nonsense about the school's bumbling principal, who for some reason wears what appears to be an 18th century goathair wig, being unable to stop a crooked condo developer from buying up the school, which leads to some hilariously stupid showdowns straight out of a parody yakuza film at the very end of the show.
This isn't to say that Tari Tari is a complete loss, but spending 80% of the running time on melodrama and 20% on actual music does a lot of damage to it. In spite of my complaints, the characters aren't a bad bunch, particularly Konatsu, whose overly enthusiastic attitude is actually pretty adorable, and whose anxiety about not being able to pursue her hobbies felt like something I could identify with. When Sawa and Wakana weren't yelling at each other, their parents, or the vice principal, meanwhile, I liked them and felt that they could have made decent players in a less overwrought show; while I complain about the way Wakana's relationship with her mother was handled, her rediscovering music could have made a decent story if treated with more finesse.
A weak point in the series, however, is the role of the two main male characters, not through any fault of their own, but, rather, because the show seems caught between deciding whether it wants them to be important or if it instead wants the three female leads to be having a K-On!-esque fest of cute girls doing cute things. Wein mostly provides comic relief (of varying effectiveness) via his too-literal note-taking of Japanese customs and words, as well as an episode in which he, obsessed with sentai anime, ropes the five into portraying a squadron of superheroes at a mall in order to raise funds for the culture fest; Taichi doesn't even really get a centric episode, and mostly broods about nobody else liking badminton. The two of them feel as if they're along for the girls' antics, and this is basically confirmed in a scene in which the girls, while writing a fairy tale-esque skit for the cultural festival, give the boys the role of two frogs who are literally "tagging along for the ride", much to their chagrin (much of the promo art omits them, also). It's indeed odd that they basically get relegated to comic relief, but I suppose that's how it goes, and at the very least, Tari Tari does pull some amusing moments out of it.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed by Tari Tari, which is full of platitudes and melodrama but lacking in most other respects. There are music anime out there in which the actual music is much, much better, and dramas in which the trials and tribulations the characters face are far less contrived-seeming than this, and that makes it very hard for me to recommend it.
It has a good main cast and some funny moments, but as a music drama it comes up short. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: It's a really tame show, but it does deal with one character's mother being terminally ill.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Tari Tari © 2012 Bandai Visual/P.A. Works/Tari Tari Project
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