Hyouka added plot back into the mix this week, but while it’s been absent for a while it wasn’t an entirely new proposition so we more or less knew what to expect. With TT, the first four eps have been remarkably consistent – comfortably settled between silly and serious, between plot and time-wasting, between story and character-driven. This was the first seismic change in tone for the series, and until it happens you can never be sure how that’s going to go.
If Tari Tari was going to “go serious”, it made sense that it would center on Wakana, whose backstory has been given the most reverent treatment so far, by far. It always seemed as if Konatsu might just be a bit of a false main character, and that Wakana was the one who would drive the story forward in the end. That might just be true, or it might be that the characters are going to rotate in central roles arc by arc – we’ll see. But Wakana’s past has always been a subtext even when the story focused on Konatsu’s stage trauma and her plucky quest to get the
Karuta Chorus Club up and running. She seems to be the character that ties everything together, and her journey towards finding her love for music again the closest thing to a spine running through whatever other arcs the series chooses to pursue.
While I wouldn’t want Tari Tari to be as heavy in tone as it was here every week (next week will also be a drama ep, clearly), as an outlier I thought they handled it very well. The flashback scenes with Wakana and her mother scattered through the ep were just detached and dispassionate enough to escape feeling manipulative. On the face of it this could hardly be more of an anime cliché – young girl with a sick mother (Ohara Sayaka) in a hospital bed, single Dad (Hamada Kenji) soldiering on as daughter suppresses her feelings. But the familiar can be powerful if handled tastefully, and I felt this was. I think this is a scenario teenagers (and former teenagers) can relate to – not being nice enough to our parents when we had the chance. Wakana has been a mostly kind if detached presence in the series for the most part, but this is a different side of her – driven, focused, and intolerant of her mother’s joyfully irreverent behavior to the point of nastiness.
The exposition is handled nicely – we get the gist of it without details being hammered home. Dad withheld the seriousness of Mom’s illness from Wakana. Wakana probably knew, but convinced herself not to worry. She wanted to study and work hard, Mom wanted to write songs and sing them. In the end I think Wakana is tortured by two things – that she wasn’t nicer to her mother all along, and that she never properly apologized for that and said goodbye. That’s as universal a regret as you can imagine, and I found her decision to get rid of her piano and so many memories connected to her mother quite sad (seeing “useless” and “unneeded” written on them was especially effective, if not subtle). I also liked Keisuke’s helpless foundering as he tried to understand how his daughter was feeling nicely understated. It’s certainly no wonder Wakana is so reluctant to open herself up to anyone and especially to immerse herself in music again, considering the associations she has with it.
There are some frustrations here, and (big surprise) they mainly involve the gender imbalance of the narrative. This isn’t the offensive stereotyping that’s occurring in Kokoro Connect, but is it any wonder series like Tsuritama or AnoHana are held in such high esteem by viewers like me when they come along? When the two choices with reality-based ensemble shows about kids these days seem to be to either leave the boys out altogether or write as if they’re completely unimportant, the rare show that treats male characters as if they matter is something to be treasured. The frustrations are different here than with KC, and different with the two male cast members. Taichi at least gets treated as if his concerns (such as the most important tournament of his life) matter, though they’re inevitably wrapped up and discarded in a couple of minutes so the show can move on to more important matters. With Wien, he’s trivialized so pointedly that I’m beginning to think it’s intentional – he’s basically operating as the male moeblob so far (even getting eyecatch time), universally kind and haplessly inept, but given absolutely no substance whatsoever apart from tiny, tiny glimpses such as the pre-open this week. Maybe the optimist in me hopes this is building to something, but the realist in me expects that to be his lot in life for the entire series.
Perhaps the best hope for relevance for the boys here is the romance angle, which the series has thus far largely skated around. The flags between Sawa (the only girl who hasn’t had a deep background ep yet, so though her gender assures that will be rectified) and Taichi have now been hinted at too strongly to be coincidental. And though it’s largely because they share supplemental classes, Wien and Wakana continue to appear on-screen together often. Given that no one else has been able to reach her and Wien appears intent on trying, perhaps he’ll be the one to finally break through – and perhaps the vehicle in doing so will be her cat, Dora, missing in a roiling storm – we’ve already seen that Wien has a strong affinity for animals (that’s about as deep as we’ve gotten with him). It’s certain that the next episode at least will continue the focus on Wakana’s traumatic past and present, and it would be a refreshing decision to have Wien rather than Konatsu or Sawa be the catalyst for her comeback.