As the refreshing breezes rustle through the trees, everything in the distance comes into clear view.
–Sakai Mahiru “Kokoro no Senritsu”
We’re back to PA Works for number sixteen on this list and it’s something of a forgotten show within PA Works’ library, at least in the west. Using MAL as a rough guide, it ranks above only the more recent Uchouten Kazoku and Red Data Girl in terms of viewers and only above RDG and Canaan in terms of average score. (Side note: who knew people liked Another so much? 200k viewers and an average score over 8.0) It’s somewhat understandable I guess. It didn’t have the ambition of Hanasaku Iroha or the mass appeal of Angel Beats. It also suffered from sharing significant visual similarities with HanaIro as well as the earlier True Tears. That was fine by me but for people who didn’t want to watch “just another PA Works anime” it resulted in them having very little patience with it if they even watched it at all. It’s a shame really, because Tari Tari deserves some love. It’s a fine anime that should be looked at for what makes it unique rather than its surface level similarities to other shows.
Tari Tari is ostensibly about Miyamoto Konatsu’s quest to sing on stage. She screwed up during her second year concert and that mistake earned her an unofficial banishment from the choral club thanks to the strict vice principal, Takakura Naoko. In response to being disallowed from singing with the choral club, Konatsu decides to form her own club with blackjack and hookers in order to get an opportunity to perform. However, looks can be deceiving as Tari Tari is about much more than simply getting your fair chance to let your voice ring free. Each new member of the club has their own goals and inner demons and the show deftly weaves all of these stories together into a satisfying and thematically consistent whole.
Each member of the main cast of Tari Tari has their own character arc but rather than feeling like independent, self-contained stories that were pieced together after the fact, each of them is effectively foreshadowed so nothing feels like it came in as an afterthought. Sawa’s horseback riding troubles, Taichi’s badminton, Wakana’s family issues and Wein’s passion for being a hero are all hinted at early on, even before any of them took center stage. The show does a great job of laying the ground work for each arc in the episodes leading up to it so that it doesn’t feel like you’re starting on something completely new every two or three episodes. This is important for Tari Tari’s success because the interconnections between each arc help emphasize and strengthen the thematic points each of them shares.
While Konatsu’s energy and passion tends to drive the plot forward, the show really revolves around Wakana and her issues stemming from the untimely death of her mother, Mahiru. Wakana’s story is the most powerful and emotionally potent part of Tari Tari and it’s what really makes Tari Tari stand out to me. We’re first introduced to Wakana as a stubborn but fairly well-adjusted girl who Konatsu bribes into helping with the promise of cake(s). It’s subtly indicated that there’s more going on here because Wakana’s involvement elicits surprise and interest from the adults in school who are aware of her circumstances. On the surface Wakana may seem like she’s fine but it is slowly revealed to us how much trauma Mahiru’s death put Wakana through and how far she still has to go in order to cope with it.
From there, Tari Tari does a great job of breaking Wakana down before building her back up again. As her story progresses it’s clear she hasn’t really had a chance to deal with the left over regret after her mother’s passing. Without her mother around, Wakana has thrown herself into being the woman of the house as a distraction from actually addressing her inner turmoil. She attempts to shove every bad memory and memento of her mother to the side rather than actually dealing with her sadness and anger. The moment when everything finally comes to a head and Wakana can have that emotional release was handled superbly. Things come together piece by piece until finally things reach a breaking point. Tari Tari earns this emotional reaction by taking us through Wakana’s entire journey via well-paced plot progression and skillful use of flashbacks. The tragedy takes on a very human element because you can understand the characters and how they were affected by it. At the same time the show does not get bogged down in the gloomy nature of Mahiru’s death. Just like Mahiru didn’t want to write a song with Wakana about saying goodbye, Tari Tari’s message is never one of regret but rather one of looking forward and enjoying what’s in front of you now.
This arc was also an example of how well the parents in the show handle the job of raising their children. Parents are typically absent in anime and even when they do show up they usually aren’t particularly active in raising the main characters. This isn’t the case in Tari Tari as we see Wakana’s father doing a commendable job of handling his daughter’s impulsive desire to distance herself from her mother. He knew exactly how to handle the situation and allowed Wakana to work her way through her emotional mess while at the same time protecting her from her own bad instincts and preventing her from doing anything she’d regret. This also carries over into the next arc as we see how Sawa’s father outwardly works to keep her ambitions realistic while at the same time does his best to ensure she has every opportunity to realize her dreams. We also see from this that there’s no single right way to help your child through tough times. Wakana’s father outwardly goes along with her desires but secretly plans for the inevitable whereas Sawa’s father outwardly calls on Sawa to plan for the inevitable while secretly working to get her what she desires. Both of these strategies are presented as valid and it’s a joy to see a show with parents who care about their children and understand how to help them grow up.
While Tari Tari makes the point that it’s important to follow your passions and enjoy yourself, it also shows that it’s necessary to be realistic. Not everybody can realize their dreams and achieve exactly what they want to achieve. The show does a good job of presenting us with characters who just want to do something for fun like Konatsu, characters who want to pursue something seriously but likely can’t for reasons outside their control like Sawa, and characters who can do something seriously but have chosen not to like Wakana. None of these characters are presented as inherently right or wrong but instead they all contribute to the show’s overall message regarding the need for balance between taking your hobbies seriously and also enjoying them. Konatsu is constantly told that she can’t sing just because she thinks it will be fun but at the same time Wakana needs to be reminded that she can’t do a good job of writing music if she doesn’t enjoy it. We see that enjoyment, talent and passion are all necessary in order to achieve our goals in life.
Intertwined with these ideas of family and pursuing your passions, is the idea of how music brings people together and can convey feelings. Mahiru is the key to exploring this idea as characters frequently comment how they can feel Mahiru in the music that she wrote. Tari Tari does a great job of presenting music as a vehicle for sharing emotions and showing how the composition process isn’t just about writing down notes that sound good together but also putting your own feelings into the music you create. The characters reactions to Mahiru’s music both demonstrate the emotional impact that music can have on people as well as show us just how many different lives Mahriu touched when she was alive. We also see how Wakana is still connected to her mother, even after her passing, when she works on completing the song her mother wanted to write with her.
All of this is made possible by the fact that Kokoro no Senritsu (Melody of the Heart) is an absolutely beautiful song. The song is capable of evoking significant emotion from the viewer which makes the strong reactions the characters that were connected to Mahiru get from it feel justified. The emotional weight of the song is taken advantage of throughout the show as the main motif of the song is used frequently in the ost. The finished Radiant Melody used in the finale also does a great job of capturing Mahiru’s style while also feeling a bit rougher around the edges since Wakana is a less accomplished composer than her mother at the same age. For an anime about the joy of music and how it connects us, having a strong OST was always going to be important and Hamaguchi Shiro doesn’t let us down here. (Incidentally Hamaguchi also composed the music for HanaIro and Girls und Panzer, two other soundtracks I have high praise for)
Another key strength of Tari Tari is the way it allows each character to grow even in the show’s short, thirteen-episode time frame. In addition to Wakana’s aforementioned growth, Konatsu learns to focus her passions, Sawa gains a greater understanding of the struggle and sacrifice related to pursuing her goals and Tachi, while still deeply passionate about Badmintion, learns that there’s more to life than just that. Even Wein, mostly relegated to the status of gag character, has his time in the sun. The way the Vice Principal is handled was also notable as she starts the show out as the clear antagonist, but by the end she has become a very sympathetic character as you learn more about her and her connection to Mahiru. All of this comes together thanks to the superb writing. All the dialog feels natural and the character interactions genuine. The friends feel and act like friends and family feels and acts like family. A lot of the jokes the characters play on each other as well as their one-liners are genuinely funny and I find myself laughing at the show quite a bit for an anime that isn’t specifically a comedy.
As an anime original, Tari Tari feels very well planned out. Not only is each arc connected to the others, the show also makes good use of its limited time as many scenes serve multiple purposes in the overall story. A good example of this is the episodes involving the Condor Queens. At first it would appear that they’re being used as a force to help push Konatsu forward towards her goals. However, at the same time, their connection to Mahiru is used to set up Wakana’s arc which follows. Despite the generally economical use of time, there are some cases where the time limitations are apparent. The businessman villain at the end has no time to be anything more than a generic greedy developer that is evil just because. We also see the male characters occasionally get marginalized to give more attention to the female characters. (Which, to be honest, I prefer to the alternative.) Still, I understand the choices that were made and I think Tari Tari did an excellent job with a limited number of episodes.
In closing, Tari Tari is an anime that rewards the viewer for giving it a chance. While it may seem generic on the surface, it’s competently made and there’s a lot going on underneath to make the show very compelling. The characters are superbly written and the music is top notch. The show can come off as predictable at times but it also tells a touching and heartwarming story about music bringing people together and chasing your passions. (And sometimes badminton) It might not be the most ambitious show in terms of its scope or the themes that it explores but it doesn’t need those things in order to be worthwhile. There’s space out there for simple shows done well and Tari Tari certainly accomplishes this. Straightforward and unassuming, Tari Tari is a shining example of a one-cour anime original done right.