The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Revisiting Tari Tari: The architecture that talks back

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” —Winston Churchill

Aside from being one of the premier anime of the Summer 2012 block for its touching story of a group of high school students who sought to make the most of their lives before graduation, Tari Tari also stood out for its visual aesthetics; beyond the absolutely stunning quality of the landscapes, P.A. Works also invested a substantial amount of effort into its architecture. Architecture often goes unnoticed in an anime such as Tari Tari, where the character dynamics are more noticed and discussed compared to the setting design. Upon re-watching Tari Tari, perhaps more so in other anime, the architecture does seem to make a rather subtle statement about the major themes in Tari Tari. As an anime that strives to breathe insight into the character’s lives, buildings are constructed with large glass façades, allowing light to stream into the building’s interiors and providing its occupants with much natural light. Much as how Shirahamazaka High School’s gymnasium, canteen and classrooms have a significant glass component in its design, the glass doubles to reflect on the duality in each character’s interactions: glass is transparent, allowing observers to peer into a building to some extent. Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Wien experience problems from within, but learn the value of being transparent about their feelings to one another, in effect, allowing the others to peer into their mind. Similarly, by allowing their friends to aid them, each character is able to experience the benefits of having this support, much like how buildings gain a sense of warmth when allowing sunlight their interiors. More so than Hanasaku Iroha, the architecture subtly reflected on the character’s predispositions: just as buildings become more energy-efficient and aesthetically pleasing with the appropriate application of glass elements, individuals find that their inner lives can be enriched when they allow others to help them.

  • I’ll open with a screenshot of the school gymnasium, a large structure with a glass façade and buttresses to the side. The gynamsum appears to exhibit characteristics from the structuralism architectural style, with regular repeating patterns in its design. Moreover, use of glass allows for the juxtaposition of the interior and exterior. The skating rink on campus, designed for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, also is also an example of structuralist architecture.

  • The school canteen makes liberal use of hardwood and glass in its interiors to elevate the sense of invitation. This design subtly encourages students to enjoy their time at the canteen (cafeteria), providing them with plenty of natural light while the hardwood evokes feelings of home.

  • Shirahamazaka High School is a very unique school, even by anime standards. The school consists of two main buildings; one houses the faculty of general studies, while the other houses the faculty of music. The two buildings are connected by a pair of sky bridges for ease-of-access. I would hazard a guess that this school is probably inspired by the internationalism movement.

  • However, since I’m no architect (and do not have any formal experience in architecture), I cannot say with any certainty or authority that Shirahamazaka High School is indeed an instance of internationalism. However, it should be clear that the architecture in Tari Tari does not have a Zen aesthetic: that would be the show’s art style, which is completely different compared to the anime’s architecture.

  • While anime like Tari Tari features excellent artwork, the clean, polished environments give the impression that Shirahamazaka High School is newly built. However, the prevalent use of hardwood, plus the fact that the school’s interior resembles K-On!‘s Sakura High, indicates that the school is much older than it looks. Mahiru, Wakana’s mother, was an alumni, as is Naoko, suggesting the school has had at least twenty to thirty years of history. While others may find this to be “disconnect[ing]”, I find that said individuals may have also failed to take into account the building might have been renovated before and is generally well-maintained, hence its sharp appearance.

There is another passage about Tari Tari‘s architecture out there that motivated this post and whose origins escape my memory. This passage is stymied by a lack of discussion on how Tari Tari‘s architecture seems to fit with the anime’s message, and possesses several inaccuracies that merit correction. The main inaccuracy is the passage’s implication that Shirahamazaka High School is classified as having a minimalist, modernist design. In the original passage, the author argues that the use of glass, coupled with the use of gentle curvatures in the buildings, embody a Zen aesthetic common to minimalist architectural style. By definition, minimalist buildings make use of rectangular designs, horizontal and vertical lines, large spaces that are sparsely furnished and a reduction in elements not essential in the building’s structural components. From the exterior images, Shirahamazaka High School does not follow this pattern. The school is composed of two main buildings, each having a brick exterior and large glass windows on each floor, as opposed to the straight lines and the monochromatic colouring that defines minimalism. Moreover, the interiors, such as the canteen, make extensive use of hardwood and have a very warm, inviting feeling, compared to the colder feeling imparted by the minimalist design. The school’s design is characterised by the predominant usage of straight lines in its form, glass surfaces with minimal ornamentation and open interior spaces, characteristics of the International style (although the lack of cantilever construction and presence of a curvature in some parts of the main structure makes it more difficult to readily classify the school as such). While Shirahamazaka High School may be of another architectural style, it should be clear that minimalist, Shirahamazaka High School is not. Rather than emphasising the Zen aspects inherent in Japanese culture, Shirahamazaka High School incorporates more Western designs through its use of furnishings and interior design choices, which are more ornate relative to the Japanese interior aesthetics. The end result is a building that combines a liberal use of glass façades to encourage the permanence of natural light and interior concepts that serve to give the building a more inviting feel to it. Even if the building’s style cannot be readily discerned by those outside the architecture discipline, at the minimum, the building cannot be considered as minimalist, as it lacks the simple and well-defined contours characteristic to this particular style.

  • Here is an overhead view of the school: such a building does not exist in Kamakura, illustrating how anime sometimes necessarily needs to create fictional settings in order to fit with the story. In this case, Shirahamazaka High School bears no resemblance in design to a standard Japanese high school, which usually consist of one main building. The fact that there are separate buildings for the music and general studies departments reflects on the notion that music and everything else seems to lack overlap, but can nonetheless be linked together.

  • I particularly like this moment, as it captures the feel of a rainy day very nicely. Compared to many anime, P.A. Works takes the effort to really give the impression of rainfall through its use of lighting and reflections on the ground, as well as colour patterns to mimic wetness.

  • The local bus station features straight lines and makes use of glass to expose the building’s internal structure. I note that the real-world architecture in Tari Tari, though remarkably well-done, does not impact the anime’s central message to the same extent as the school’s design.

  • After the principle’s accident, he’s admitted to the hospital where Tomoko Takahashi (Wakana et al.’s homeroom instructor) is. Despite being on maternity leave, Tomoko provides advice to Konatsu and the others regarding music.

  • Wakana rides her bike under gloomy skies from Kamakura back to Enoshima Island. Tari Tari may make use of architecture to subtly push the story along, but this depends on the architecture being of the right type.

Settings have a substantial impact on the story, and if Tari Tari were to indeed adopt a minimalist, modern architectural style, the anime’s central themes would not have been succinctly portrayed. Such a setting would not be able to accurately convey Tari Tari‘s warm, inviting feeling. In such a simple setting, the anime would show that the characters and their problems were detached from their world; this is not the case, given that Tari Tari is about how trusting one’s friends is a step towards addressing and solving personal problems. From the perspective of any one character, one’s friends can be said to be part of the environment, and that the environment, through its architecture, could reflect on the dispositions of those occupying the environment. A cold, simple environment gives the aura that its occupants are of a likewise manner, focused only on what is necessary; were Tari Tari to make use of such a form of architecture, it would give the sense that Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, Taichi and Wien would have been alone in their problems. This sense of distance is used in Puella Magi Madoka Magica to great effect: Mitakihara is portrayed as a vast city with clean, modern skyscrapers and vast industrial complexes. At the series’ inception, Madoka’s house is shown, alongside the promenade on the way to school. These places are inviting, being vividly coloured and giving viewers the sense that these are places Madoka is intimately familiar with. Similarly, the mall that Madoka and Sayaka visit has the hustle and glitz of a well-tread shopping centre. However, after Kyubey appears and begins explaining the terms of the magical girl contract, Mitakihara suddenly feels more distant, and as the series’ mood darkens, industrial complexes dominate the scenery. Madoka, a kind-hearted girl, seems exceptionally out of place in an artificial, hard environment, illustrating how detached she becomes from her world as she learns more about the secret behind magical girls. Minimalism, though appropriate (and well-executed) for an anime such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica, is not conducive to the themes and story in Tari Tari and accordingly, is not an architectural style that is prevalent throughout the series.

  • Besides presenting gorgeous depiction of modern buildings inspired by Western styles, more traditional, Japanese buildings are also showcased. Wakana’s house is modelled after Aburaya shoten in real life, located on the southwest end of Enoshima island.

  • Sawa’s home, on the other hand, has Shinto elements; this should not be a surprise, considering that her father is a priest. Shinto architecture is incredibly diverse and varied.

  • This is a station located on the Shōnan-Enoshima monorail line, the first of its kind in Japan when it opened in the 1970s. The station itself has what is considered to be hi-tech architecture, placing the building’s structural and functional elements in the open for everyone to check out.

  • Tonight is the opening of the Giant Walkthrough Brain show at Beakerhead: I spent most of yesterday at the Telus Spark Science Centre’s dome theatre setting up the software component of the show. We arrived at around three in the afternoon and after setup, stopped by a restaurant in the neighbourhood for dinner (chicken pizza from a wood-fired oven) before returning to see how the updated software worked with the live-performance.

  • This is an exterior shot of the café that Sawa and Konatsu are fond of visiting, illustrating the photorealistic quality of the artwork in Tari Tari. The performance will be opening in a few hours, so I’ll wrap this post up real quick, and then subsequently finish the talk on the whole anime. After that comes getting a bit of food energy into my systems before making my way to Telus Spark and attending opening night.

Shirahamazaka High School is, at the end of the day, a fictional building that was designed specifically for Tari Tari. Its importance to Tari Tari cannot be understated. However, outside of the high school, Tari Tari was inspired by the real-world buildings in Enoshima and the surrounding area, once again illustrating how meticulous P.A. Works was in their efforts to give the anime as much of a life-like feeling as possible. The use of real-world location gives the story a sense that it could happen to real people, as well, adding weight to their story. Some buildings from reality are showcased, including a transit station; these structures are modern, reflecting on the Japanese willingness to adapt international concepts and apply their own twist to things. Through some of these scenery stills in Tari Tari, more traditional structures, such as the Sakai and Okita residences, are depicted alongside stunning visuals of the entire region. This unique combination of real and fictional settings allows Tari Tari to portray a convincing, relatable story to its viewers, providing a setting that the characters fit well into, in turn amplifying the sense of realism within the story, although the impact factor in Tari Tari is ultimately a consequence of making use of a dedicated, fictional setting to amplify the characters’ situations in conjunction with a real world setting.

One response to “Revisiting Tari Tari: The architecture that talks back

  1. 8bitheadspace September 22, 2014 at 01:38

    And to think I’d almost forgotten how astonishingly gorgeous this show is. Awesome post.

    Like

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