Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
Ah, Tamayura: the lovely, heart-warming story about a girl who was so distressed about her father’s death that she couldn’t go home for years. I kid, of course, but it’s interesting to note how Tamayura manages to squeeze so much happiness out of a very tragic premise. Tamayura tells the story of Sawatari Fuu (or Potte to her friends) and how she comes to terms with her father’s death and connects with him posthumously via her photography. It’s a relaxing mood piece that leaves its mark thanks to how carefully it creates a nostalgic and sentimental atmosphere for the viewer.
At its core, Tamayura is a story about memories. It primarily focuses on Potte’s (and others’) memories of her father, but each character has their own set of memories that informs who they are now and are reflected on during the show’s run. Most episodes take you on a journey related to a special object or place that is connected to a significant memory. Whether it’s a place where you began a lasting friendship, a concert hall where you saw a performance that inspired you or the site of a marriage proposal; each episode takes these ideas and builds to an emotional crescendo that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside and even a little misty-eyed every once in a while. Tamayura manages this with human characters whose memories each tap into a relatable aspect of how we experience life. Even if you haven’t experienced the exact circumstances covered in a given episode of Tamayura, you likely have been through something similar and be able to connect to the events on screen.
Connecting to others through memories is an important theme within Tamayura in addition to being central to the viewing experience. Potte’s photography not only connects her to her father through the use of his old film camera, but also allows her to share the special moments she sees with other people. Potte’s style of photography is all about capturing the happiness around her and sharing it with other people. This is where the titular Tamayura come in. These orbs of light represent the happy emotions the people in a photograph are feeling. A key point that Tamayura makes is that a photograph of people doesn’t just capture the visual moment as the photographer saw it but also can convey the emotions present at that same moment and connect the person viewing the photograph to the memories contained within that image. This comes up with more than just photography as Norie’s sweets, Kaoru’s potpourri and Maon’s whistling/stories are all used as vehicles to share emotions and tap into specific memories people have.
Another strength of Tamayura is the way it contrasts the way in which each character interacts with the world. Each of the four primary characters has a specific sense associated with them and this informs the way each of them shares their feelings with the people around them. This association is most clearly on display in the “We Exhibition” they hold at the end of each season but the idea is present throughout the show. Tamayura shows us that each of our senses can be tied to strong memories whether it’s a specific sight, sound, taste or smell that happens to trigger something we hold inside ourselves.
In addition to remembering the past with fondness, Tamayura also takes time to look towards the future. The show tackles the feelings a person goes through when they do not yet know what they want to do in the future. This is symbolized from the start by Potte’s ticket with no destination. The ticket and the story surrounding it work to illustrate the freedom one experiences when your destination in life is not yet determined but also the fear you experience when you aren’t sure what you want to do with your life. The freedom to choose your own destination can be intimidating but at the same time Tamayura provides comfort in the idea that at some point there will be a moment that clicks with you and will place you on the path that you eventually follow through life.
In tandem with this, Tamayura reflects on the events that brought the characters to where they are now. The characters reminisce about the major events that led them to become their present selves. Tamayura shows us that it isn’t always a major life event that puts you on the path you eventually follow. Often it is a series of small events that don’t mean much when they occur but they result in big changes in your life. Even when the Potte and Kanae aren’t sure where they want to go in life, they take solace in the knowledge that when the time comes, they will know what the right path is. It’s a comforting and uplifting idea that’s in line with the overall hopeful tone present throughout Tamayura.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some mention to Mitani Kanae, Potte’s older classmate and fellow photography club member in More Aggressive (the second season). The dynamic between the two was incredibly sweet, in line with the rest of the show, but what stood out to me was the way they pushed each other forward in pursuing their shared hobby. In most cases you’ll see an enthusiastic character that’s full of energy dragging a more timid character along with them. In this case we have two timid characters that manage to help each other achieve things they wouldn’t otherwise achieve because they don’t want to disappoint each other. Watching this relationship play out and seeing the two of them grow from when Potte first saw Kanae’s contest-winning picture to when the two become close friends is one of the greatest joys in watching Tamayura.
Potte and Kanae’s similarities are reflective of the show as a whole since Tamayura is, for the most part, overwhelmingly uniform in tone. Each episode, while it covers different aspects of the characters and their memories, possess the same idyllic almost saccharine tone. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As I said, one of Tamayura’s greatest strengths is the atmosphere it creates and how well this atmosphere is crafted. However, the show rises to another level near the end of More Aggressive when things aren’t as purely happy. In the ninth episode, the arrival of Natsume Nozomu is extremely important because it represents the first time Potte has actually met any resistance to her photography and her outlook on life. This episode forces Potte to reflect on why she takes photographs the way she does and understand what makes her photos so special and meaningful to her. Even though Natsume is never going to see things exactly the way Potte does, they manage to come to a mutual understanding and Potte learns a great deal about herself and her father in the process.
This is followed by several episodes about Kanae’s pending graduation and Potte’s father’s proposal (which I wrote a full post on here) where the tone changes to a wistful, mono no aware feel which is where the show really shines. After spending more than twenty episodes building your connection to the characters, the show uses that connection to take an emotionally potent look at the impermanence of things. As Potte says in the finale: “Memories in photographs never change, but everything else gradually does whether we notice or not.” It’s a beautiful reflection on the small changes we’ve experienced throughout the show’s run and a fitting way to close out the show (at least until the FOUR FILMS coming up)
Beyond the narrative beats that build to these emotional highs, the soundtrack to Tamayura does an excellent job of enhancing the key moments in the show. In a show that’s all about atmosphere, songs like the main theme play a huge role in creating the calm, comforting feeling that surrounds Tamayura. The OST combines joy, sorrow, nostalgia and melancholy (sometime within the same song) to create an immersive world for the viewer to get fully invested in. The visuals also do their share of the work in this regard. While TYO Animations may not provide the same level of fluid animation or overall visual impressiveness that you get from a KyoAni or a P.A. Works the people behind Tamayura, appropriately for a show about photography, really know how to frame a shot. Over and over again you’ll see an episode build to a beautiful panoramic shot during which the music swells and everything comes together in a rush of positive emotion. The show does an amazing job of capturing the beauty of Takehara and the greater Seto Inland Sea area. At times the show almost feels like a travel advertisement in addition to a typical healing anime given how beautiful it makes the region look. You can tell the people behind Tamayura had a great fondness for the area both in how beautifully they render it but also how true to the actual locations it is. In addition to the natural scenery, Tamayura also has more than its fair share of beautiful food shown throughout the show. Good food and good friends are central to Tamayura’s healing qualities and the sight of these dishes does a lot to enhance this feeling.
One quality that applies to Iyashikei anime in general, and Tamayura in particular, is that they get better the more you’ve watched. The reflective tone and the overwhelming focus on memories is enhanced the more time you’ve spent with the characters and the more memories you personally have of them and their experiences. I enjoyed the show a lot the first time but there were certain scenes that took on a much greater significance on a subsequent viewing. In particular, when Potte first arrives in Takehara and see’s the inscription welcoming her back home, I understood the significance this town held to her and could feel the rush of emotions she felt when she finally came back to this place that held so many memories for her. Like each individual episode, Tamayura as a whole is a slow build that rewards the viewer the more time he or she spends with the show.
Ultimately, Tamayura is a great example of one of my core philosophies about anime and about life in general. If you can do one thing extremely well, there will be a place for you. Whether it’s in work, hobbies, sports or art, having one singularly great skill will allow you to achieve something great and hold meaning for somebody out there. In the case of Tamayura, the show excels at being sentimental almost to a fault. However, it doesn’t do a lot else aside from that, so if shows like that tend to come off as maudlin to you then maybe Tamayura isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you, like me, enjoy the wistful melancholy of a good iyahsikei and don’t mind when things get almost sickeningly sweet, Tamayura is magnificent in this regard. It may not have the range of some other anime, but where Tamayura excels, it excels to an extreme. Like Potte with her camera, Tamayura captures the moments of happiness that make life special. I’m sure if you photographed me while watching it you’d see the Tamayura surrounding me as well.