The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Tamayura ~Hitotose~, On Rediscovering Newfound Happiness in the Ordinary and A Ten Year Anniversary Reflection

“As you pursue your dreams, your worries and cares may prevent you from realising it, but others can see how brilliantly you are shining.” –Sayomi Hanawa

Towards the end of her time in middle school, Fū is surprised when her younger brother finds old albums of their late father. Seeing the joy in these old photographs prompts Fū to take up photography again, and she ends up sending photographs to the professional photographer, Riho. Riho’s reply eventually prompts Fū, her brother and mother to move back to Takehara, her father’s hometown. Here, Fū is reunited with her childhood friend, Kaoru Hanawa, and during their peaceful days together with Norie and Maon, Fū comes to rediscover the beauty in the town that her father grew up in, reconnecting with him and rediscovering the joys that photography had brought them, from visiting Maon’s family over in Mitarai, to watching Norie have a cook-off with Komachi, and going along with Sayomi’s adventures. Kaoru also manages to fulfil Fū’s wish of attending the Path of Longing festival together, and as the year draws to a close, she also organises the We Exhibition to celebrate everyone’s own unique talents before celebrating the arrival of a new year together with everyone. Tamayura ~Hitotose~ (~Hitotose~ from here on out for brevity) is the first full-length Tamayura presentation that aired a year after the OVAs were released, detailing Fū’s return to Takehara and the wonderful adventures she has here while retreading the paths her father once did, and in doing so, Fū is able to connect with her father through photography, a hobby that he’d been fond of precisely because every photograph provides a permanent and visceral means of recalling of emotions and feelings in a given moment. During its run, ~Hitotose~ conveyed the idea that even in death, people are not truly gone from one’s life; by taking up photography again, Fū demonstrates the sort of courage needed to take that difficult step forwards with her life. In doing so, Fū finds that embracing her father’s old hobby means a part of him will live in on her, and at the same time, Fū is also able to create new memories that her father would’ve been proud of – as she explores Takehara and its surroundings, Fū is able to take the sort of photos that bring people together, much as her father had with his photographs, and moreover, for this particular adventure, Fū isn’t alone; she’s surrounded by people who love her dearly and are always happy to share time with her.

Taking that first step forwards to bring oneself, and others joy, is a recurring theme in ~Hitotose~; each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie, Maon and Chihiro undergo this process during the series run. For Fū, it’s photographing memorable moments. Norie takes up baking sweets because she’d seen how it can brighten up someone’s day, and ends up befriending Maon after the latter hears her out about sweets after Norie had suffered a rejection from someone she had a crush on. Maon herself is very fond of starting new hobbies, but is also an introvert who finds it tricky to express herself until meeting Norie. Chihiro had befriended Fū back when they were classmates, but like Fū, she struggles to make friends. After Fū leaves, Chihiro resolves to be more forward, and ends up coming to know another classmate, Tomo, better. Kaoru has a fondness for scents and enjoys experimenting with potpourri, but otherwise wonders what her future will entail. In the end, her desire to do something special for those around her leads to the creation of the We Exhibition, a culmination of the journey in ~Hitotose~: by taking the time to explore their interests, at their own pace, each of Fū, Norie and Maon further their craft to the point where they are confident in presenting at the We Exhibition. For Kaoru, the We Exhibition is also a glimpse into her own future. While she greatly enjoys making pleasant-smelling scents, Kaoru wonders if her interests could yield a career, and seeing how devoted each of Norie, Fū and Maon are initially leaves Kaoru feeling left behind. These feelings actually form the basis for Kaoru’s own career progression, and so, in planning out the We Exhibition, from securing the venue, to determining how the space should be used and scheduling things out, hints of Kaoru’s future career are shown here: much as how preparing potpourri requires precision and an eye for detail, organising events requires a similar level of finesse. Thus, while Kaoru herself might feel down that she has no passion equivalent to Maon’s interest in the fine arts Fū’s photography or Norie’s love for making sweets, the skills and mindset she has cultivated from making scents, as well as a lifetime of being subject to Sayomi’s out-of-the-blue adventures leave her with a distinct skillset of her own, and although she has yet to be aware of this, Kaoru’s decision to put the We Exhibition together is a showcase of where her talents lie: making the arrangements for the sort of events that help others to celebrate their own successes.

As one progresses, the progress they’re making might not be immediately visible to oneself. Kaoru’s planning of the We Exhibition was a success, although she counts it a success in that it was a fantastic way to showcase Fū’s photographs, Norie’s sweets, Maon’s recital and her own potpourri, rather than her ability to organise and set up events of this scale. For Fū, her photographs in the moment are things she’s doing to capture joy in a moment for the sake of being in that moment. Norie’s only concern is making the best possible sweets so she can see the smiles on the faces of those who enjoy them. However, from another perspective, by pursuing their goals so earnestly, and with such passion, each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon grow from their experiences. No one else puts this better than Sayomi: Kaoru’s older sister might be viewed as a disturber-of-the-peace with her frequent unexpected adventures that somehow always are more strenuous than they should be, but being older than the others, Sayomi also has more life experience, and correspondingly, wisdom. After her attempts at taking everyone to see New Year’s sunrise from the mountaintop fails when she backs her vehicle into a ditch, Sayomi mentions that down here in the valley, the mountains must remain unaware of how majestic it is when those first rays of light illuminate it. In a similar way, while Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon have grown over the year since Fū returns, they are so focused on their goals and one another that they don’t spot how far they’ve come, as well. This is a beautiful thing in and of itself, but Sayomi’s observation is also is contingent on one important thing – being together with people one cares most about. The mountain cannot see its own majesty, but observers in the valley below can, and in this way, ~Hitotose~ suggests that it is ultimately companionship that allows people to put their best foot forward: having others around to celebrate successes together, offer feedback when one is stuck, or provide support to get past more difficult times is what allows individuals to ultimately grow. While Fū’s journey was always going to be a challenging one, being together with Kaoru, Norie and Maon allows everyone to share in their adventures: each individual offers a unique perspective on things that end up helping to encourage then others on their own journeys.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Back in August, I wrote about the Tamayura OVAs after realising that despite greatly enjoying ~Hitotose~ and all of the subsequent works, I’d never actually gotten around to actually viewing the original OVAs, where everything began. In retrospect, the OVAs were surprisingly well-written, featuring many of the details that would become central plot elements to the remainder of Tamayura. With this in mind, Tamayura is slowly-paced enough such that folks who didn’t watch the OVAs will still have a good idea of what’s going on in ~Hitotose~: in 2011, I started ~Hitotose~ without having first watched the OVAs, and I had no trouble following along.

  • The first episode opens back in Shioiri, Fū’s old town, when she was still a middle school student. Back then, Fū wore her hair a bit longer, but after Kō manages to find their father’s old Rollei 35S, Fū suddenly takes up photography anew, feeling that her father would’ve wanted her to continue to find new happiness in life. Here, Fū hangs out with her best friend, Chihiro – while resembling The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Tsuruya, Chihiro is actually quite sensitive and is quick to tears. It is Chihiro who comes up with Fū’s motto, to be more “aggressive”, and before Fū is set to return to Takehara, Chihiro gifts Fū a special hand-made holder for the ticket with no destination that Riho had given her.

  • Thus begins Fū’s journey to Takehara from Shioiri: to symbolise a new chapter in her life, Fū cuts her hair short, and prepares to set off. This scene of Fū was prominently featured as key art prior to ~Hitotose~‘s release, and the moment is meant to accentuate that while her journey may be a bit of a lonely one, the destination will be anything but lonely. Before we delve further into ~Hitotose~, it is worth mentioning the meaning of hitotose (ひととせ): for the longest time, I’d never given any thought as to what it meant. However, in this context, hitotose simply means “a year” (一年); there’s nothing particularly deep or meaningful about the title, which simply refers to the fact that this is Fū’s first year back in Takehara.

  • Once Fū returns to Takehara, Kaoru greets her, starting the year off. The events of the Tamayura OVAs are set after Fū’s return, and presumably, before the first episode; by ~Hitotose~‘s first episode, Kaoru, Norie and Maon are all familiar with Fū. here, the girls greet Fū on their way to classes; the warehouse district can plainly be seen, and this historic section of town is prominently featured throughout Tamayaura in general, being the home of Café Tamayura, Hoboro and Maestro’s Sunrise Photography store. Amidst these gentle streets, Fū gradually comes to rediscover the joys of this town, and because every day brings something new to the table, Fū rarely is seen without her father’s Rollei 35S.

  • Maestro is an old friend of the Sawataris, having known Fū’s father since their time as high school students. While he’s a bit of a womaniser, Maestro is also an expert with cameras and is the first person Fū counts on to get it repaired. On more ordinary days, Fū takes her film here to be developed. One of the big joys about Tamayura was an appreciation of the mundane; even something as simple as receiving prints for the photos one has developed can become exciting, since with a film camera, one can never be too sure how a picture turned out until it is developed. For Fū and her friends, this anticipation becomes something to look forwards to: successful photos bring joy, and even the botched photos can create memories.

  • When I first watched ~Hitotose~, I remembered Norie best for being rambunctious and noisy to an excessive degree, while Maon was always quiet and preferred to communicate through whistling. All of the characters in Tamayura are adorable and admirable in their own way; while Norie might be overly energetic, she’s got a talent for making sweets and is always enthusiastic about learning from those more experienced than herself. On the other hand, while Maon might be taciturn and shy, she does open up around her friends and demonstrates a plethora of interests. Here, the girls are trying Fū’s grandmother’s latest creation at the Café Tamayura; after moving back to Takehara, Fū’s mother began working at the family’s café, citing it to be a lifelong dream.

  • In the warehouse district, Chimo “Hoboro” Yakusa’s okonomiyaki shop is the definitive pig-out spot: Chimo serves the best okonomiyaki anywhere in Takehara, and the girls often swing by for a bite if they’re looking for something hearty: Chimo is always experimenting with new recipes, and one of the most enticing okonomiyaki on the menu features prawns. Moreover, the portions here are enormous, worthy of Adam Richman’s Man v. Food. It suddenly hits me that when I watched ~Hitotose~ ten years earlier, I’d not even seen Man v. Food yet; I’m not able to remember how the show caught my attention, but I would come to enjoy it greatly, since the food challenges always acted as a hilarious metaphors for what I was going through at the time, from assignments and projects, right up to the MCAT. I still remember thinking to myself when watching ~Hitotose~ back then, that I’d like to try out okonomiyaki; that particular dream was realised a few summers ago while I’d been in Osaka.

  • When I was watching ~Hitotose~ ten years ago, I would’ve been enrolled in Data Structures III, Japanese, scientific inquiry, a special topics course for research and for kicks, a course on primates. Back then, my days consisted of going through my classes, keeping up with assignments, and in any extra time I had, working on the agent-based model of a sodium-potassium pump using game engines. Life was pretty routine, and the main thing I looked forwards to each month was grabbing lunch at a Korean BBQ joint on campus. Armed with the life experience I had up to that point, I concluded that ~Hitotose~ was about pursuit of one’s dreams even if the future was not fully certain. The me of a decade earlier would earn partial credit for this, and I remark that the only thing that’s really changed is that I articulate my thoughts a little differently now than I did ten years earlier.

  • That Tamayura‘s themes have remained consistent over time speaks to the series’ strengths in being able to clearly convey its intended messages. One evening, the girls end up doing a sleepover, and Sayomi,  Kaoru’s older sister, drops in unannounced to disturb the peace. With her gentle aura, love for adventure and doting personality, I have previously stated that Sayomi greatly resembles GochiUsa‘s Mocha Hoto. Kaoru is utterly embarrassed by Sayomi’s antics, and everyone generally fears her adventures, which can be quite lengthy and exhausting because Sayomi has a tendency to underestimate how long they’d take. There’s something a bit old-fashioned about Sayomi that I’m particularly fond of: she reminds me of the girls that old, nostalgic love songs often mention for reasons that, despite my otherwise firm command of language would suggest, I cannot find the words to describe.

  • However, for the trouble Sayomi causes, she’s also quite wise and offers Fū advice, as well as encourages her. Here, Fū decides to snap a moment of her friends during their sleepover together. For Fū, no moment is too trivial to photograph – photographs in Tamayura represent a physical, tangible memory perfectly preserved on something permanent, and moreover, Fū’s use of a film camera means that moments can be captured precisely as they were. If Fū messes up a photo, the results remain with her, but these photos end up being cherished just as much as the ones that turn out well; each of Fū’s photos evoke the feelings that were in that moment when they were taken.

  • Throughout ~Hitotose~, Fū offers monologues that describe how she’s feeling in a given moment, and more importantly, what she got out of an experience. ~Hitotose~ shows how the unexpected should be taken in stride and embraced. Here, Norie, Maon and Kaoru swing by Café Tamayura for lunch. When Fū’s younger brother, Kō, shows up, Norie loses her shit and immediately begins fawning over him, while Fū begins to wonder how to best capture the taste of the food. While Fū struggles to find an angle that lets her to take a picture that describes how the food taste to a viewer, the animators clearly do not have any trouble. For me, a good photo of a given dish should capture the textures and colours. A good macro lens makes a massive difference, but lighting is also important.

  • Earlier on Friday, I swung by a newly-opened OEB Breakfast near home to enjoy their A-Lott A-Laks breakfast poutine, and a combination of good lighting, coupled with a good camera in the iPhone Xʀ, allowed me to take photos of this dish that will remind me of how tasty it was well into the future. Photos offer different challenges compared to anime scenes, but I find that, despite being flatter than reality, anime can nonetheless do an excellent job of conveying tastiness to viewers. This still captures the level of detail paid to closeups of the food in Tamayura: it’s a lunch set with fried fish, soup and rice, plus a light dessert perfect for a hot summer’s day. During such moments, ~Hitotose~ is fond of using chibi versions of the characters to express their emotions while admiring the food, and this was something that I ended up doing when writing about my trip to Japan back in 2017. I used this approach so I could watermark the images that I’d uploaded, and use of chibi characters allowed me to still leave enough of the food visible for readers to check out.

  • The Tamayura OVAs were produced by HAL Productions, but from ~Hitotose~ onward, TYO Animations would handle production: Yumeta absorbed HAL Productions in 2009 to become TYO Animation, but in 2017, Memory Tech Holdings acquired TYO Animation and renamed them back to Yumeta. Aside from Tamayura, the only other production I’m familiar with is YuruYuri: San Hai!. With this being said, if Tamayura is any indicator, Yumeta’s work should be of a solid quality: while Tamayura‘s visuals are comparatively simple, they are still rich with details that bring Fū’s world to life. The garden at Café Tamayura is one such example, and just from looking at this screenshot, one could almost feel the warmth of a summer’s day.

  • After lunch, Norie and Maon prepare to do some shopping, but along the way, they run into Komachi, a young girl who’s the same age as Kō and vyes for his attention. This frustrates Norie to no end, and it is actually quite hilarious to see Norie on the losing end of things in a battle of wits with someone much younger than herself (I’m also guilty of these tendencies from time to time). When I first watched ~Hitotose~, the Oculus Rift was still about a year from being introduced, and Google Street View wasn’t quite as sophisticated as it is today, precluding me from easily finding all of the locations seen in the series. Ten years later, things have changed considerably, so I am now able to trivially identify spots using the Oculus Quest, such as Tobacho street, which Norie and Maon walk along en route to the Café Tamayura.

  • When Norie brings ingredients to Café Tamayura with the hopes of learning a new peach recipe from Fū’s grandmother, Komachi also shows up. Tensions between Norie and Komachi over who’s more worthy of Kō’s heart is employed as a comedic device, and here, the two decide to duel over whose cooking is better. While Norie may be immature, her philosophy on cooking is inspiring, and she puts in every effort to ensure that her sweets taste good, so that the joy she derives from making sweets is shared by the recipient who is enjoying what she’s made. Komachi initially has no grasp of this, and burns her pancakes, but once Fū’s grandmother asks Komachi to slow down the process and be mindful of why she wants to make something, Komachi’s technique improves.

  • In the end, Kō judges both Komachi and Norie’s food to be the winner: indeed, everyone here is a winner for being able to savour something tasty, and Norie reveals her love of sweets comes from her brother trying to make her feel better after she’d missed a family trip when she’d fallen ill. Since then, Norie’s wanted to capture happiness through sweets, and in the moment, Fū determines that capturing the joy of someone enjoying the food seems to be the best way for her to convey taste. On my end, I’ve been photographing food at a very rudimentary level for the past seven years: my intention is to produce images that remind me of how tasty something was that day, and while I certainly don’t put in the same thought to my photos as Fū would, the photos I take do jog my memories well enough.

  • During a break, Fū, Kō, Kaoru and Norie swing by Mitarai, a nearby island where Maon’s family runs a ryōkan. After greeting their guests, Maon takes her friends on a tour of the island and plan to meet up with Fū and Kō’s grandfather. The group stop briefly at the Otome-za, a local theatre that Maon’s longed to perform in; she explains that after seeing a concert here long ago, she became inspired to take up the performing arts. ~Hitotose~ has the performers singing Enveloped by Tenderness (やさしさに包まれたなら, Hepburn Yasashisa ni Tsutsumareta): I’d originally thought the song was performed for Kiki’s Delivery Service, but this song actually dates back to Yumi Arai’s 1974 single – it is through her performance in Kiki’s Delivery that the song became well known, and Maaya Sakamoto’s cover is downright beautiful, easily my favourite version of this timeless classic.

  • ~Hitotose~ makes a compelling case for why when visiting Japan, one should consider destinations beyond iconic locations like Tokyo’s Shinjuku or Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine: some of the most beautiful locations are found well off the beaten track. Takehara and its surroundings alone are gorgeous; even more so than the Tamayura OVAs, ~Hitotose~ really showcases what’s available in Takehara and its surroundings. For instance, Mitarai Island is home to a small village and possesses a collection of well-preserved historical buildings called shotoen (松濤園).

  • Maon ends up leaving the others so she can help guide some visitors around, but the group reunite during the evening. After a scrumptious meal featuring fresh, local seafood, Fū and the others learn from Maon’s parents that she’s got a myriad of interests: besides the performing arts, Maon’s also expressed an interest in being a manga artist. Maon is utterly embarrassed by this revelation, and her expression is adorable. I will note that a part of the challenged I faced at their age was precisely this: many things were interesting to me, and I had trouble picking just one. Over time, however, I ended up narrowing down a path I would be happy walking, and this is something that Tamayura ~Gradutation Photo~ would show. For ~Hitotose~, Maon remains open to pursing whatever interests her.

  • A ways into ~Hitotose~, Chihiro shows up for a visit to check up on Fū, but a misstep causes Chihiro to get off one stop early. With the train schedules being quite sporadic, Fū’s mother borrows a friend’s motorcycle and heads off to pick Chihiro up herself. Until now, this particular aspect of Fū’s mother was not known; the moment is meant to highlight that everyone’s got their own stories, and admittedly, while I’d forgotten about it, this is actually similar to Rin’s mother in Yuru Camp△, who had been an avid biker in her youth. While Rin’s mother is a bit embarrassed by this, Fū’s mother is still quite fond of her old memories and has no trouble sharing these recollections with the others. Here, Chihiro sits down to dinner and greatly enjoys the moment, before sleeping over with Fū.

  • Fū introduces Chihiro to Kaoru, Norie and Maon, and they take Chihiro on a tour of Takehara’s best spots. ~Hitotose~ might be an anime about healing, self-discovery, picking one self up and finding the courage to walk a path to the future, but the faithfulness that the series demonstrates in its portrayal of Takehara means that the series is only a few steps from being a full-fledged travel show: besides bringing Chihiro over to the old town for okonomiyaki at Hoboro’s, they also stop by Saihoji Fumeikaku Temple, with its distinct red-framed construction and an unparalleled view of the Takehara skyline.

  • While Tamayura already excels at capturing emotions, facial expressions are used in order to really accentuate what individuals are feeling in the moment. Moments such as Chihiro being overjoyed by Takehara’s skyline do much to emphasise that there is never such a thing as a moment that is too mundane or unremarkable. This is something that I’ve come to look for in most everything I do; a lot of folks out there value spontaneity and living in the moment, but they choose to go about this by expending prodigious sums of money for travel or nights out. I argue that living in the moment isn’t about creating grandiose memories that are ‘grammable, but rather, about learning how to appreciate common, everyday miracles. For me, something as simple as a beautiful blue sky and calm days are as every bit as memorable as a full-scale trip to Japan.

  • Having said this, Tamayura is special to me because it is the anime that really initiated my desire to visit Japan; when I watched ~Hitotose~ ten years earlier, I was still a relative novice to anime. Series like Gundam 00 or Sora no Woto don’t exactly inspire a trip to Japan, but Tamayura and its highly faithful reproduction of Takehara and its surroundings changed that. While Fū stretches out on a path overlooking the Seto Inland Sea here, I’ll remark that my dream vacation in Takehara would consist of spending a week exploring the town and its surroundings. I’d probably visit in October and stay at the Nipponia Hotel, which is situated at the heart of Takehara’s old town. After spending the mornings and early afternoons visiting the spots Sayomi suggests to Fū and her friends, I’d spend the late afternoons and evenings exploring the old town itself.

  • Such a trip remains a hypothetical for the present, but I would definitely like to realise this trip someday and fulfil something I’ve always wanted to do since I first watched ~Hitotose~. While Chihiro had only befriended Fū because both had been introverted and shy, ever since Fū returned to Takehara and found friends in Kaoru, Norie and Maon, she’s become more outgoing and spirited. Unsurprisingly, Chihiro also gets along well with Fū’s friends in Takehara, even if she has a bit of trouble understanding what Maon is saying through her whistling.

  • In the end, Maon, Kaoru and Norie gratefully accept the phone charms Chihiro had made for them, and they agree that anyone who’s friends with Fū can easily be friends with them, too. These sorts of things are always so heartwarming to behold, and while Chihiro does have to head home, she now returns knowing that Fū’s doing very well, that she’s got people supporting her in Takehara, and that there’s now three more people she can chat with should the need arise. Indeed, Kaoru and the others do call upon Chihiro when something is bothering Fū during the second season, but I’ll cover that in full once I get to writing about ~More Aggressive~.

  • While I’m writing about ~Hitotose~ in full knowledge of what happens next in ~More Aggressive~ and ~Graduation Photo~, the fact is that I’ve not watched ~Hitotose~ for ten years. Similarly, it’s been seven years since ~More Aggressive~, and five years since ~Graduation Photo~. With this much time having passed since then and now, revisiting ~Hitotose~ means it does feel like I’m watching Tamayura fresh, and I’m finding myself falling in love with the series, its characters and events all over again.

  • ~Hitotose~ presents Takehara’s Shokei-no-michi Festival in vivid detail; this festival occurs in October, and for two nights, the streets of Takehara’s old town are alit with bamboo candles between 1700 and 2100. The event is free to attend, sets the old town under a magical, gentle light and Tamayura suggests that it’s a festival to guide people’s wishes to the deities in the skies above. On her last visit, Fū and her father had missed the festival, called the Path of Longing, and since then, Kaoru had longed to show Fū the festival’s beauty. However, this year, a rainfall has enveloped Takehara, frustrating Kaoru, who had really been looking forwards to having Fū see the Path of Longing.

  • The rain shows no sign of abating, but the girls do meet one of Kaoru’s old friends, Shōko Hirono, during the festival. She’d moved from Takehara long ago and swings by to greet the others before taking off. Here, Fū, Norie, Maon and Kaoru speak to Riho; it turns out that after learning about Fū’s return, she became interested in moving to Takehara, as well. Being a mentor figure for Fū, Riho’s always willing to share wisdom about photography with Fū, and surprises Fū with the suggestion that Fū’s approach to photography had inspired her own. After writing their wishes down, Fū and the others return to Café Tamayura, where she falls asleep.

  • In the end, the rain finally stops, and the Path of Longing kicks off, illuminating the streets of Takehara’s old town in the soft glow of candlelight. A year ago, I’d remarked that GochiUsa BLOOM‘s Halloween Episode employed very similar lighting on an evening that had been filled with reminiscence. It was there I realised that GochiUsa BLOOM had ventured into a topic that had prima facie seemed out of scope for a series of its genre, and not only this, but had done so exceedingly well. Like Tamayura‘s Path of Longing, which sees Fū fulfil a promise to her late father and connect closer with him, GochiUsa BLOOM saw Chino become closer to Cocoa as a result of the evening’s magic.

  • The Path of Longing is absolutely beautiful, and Fū is able to take some stunning pictures here. During the course of this evening, another girl manages to take a picture of Fū and submits it to a photography competition. This girl becomes important in ~More Aggressive~, but for now, I’ll keep the focus on ~Hitotose~: while the evening of the festival is filled with happy memories as people take in the sights, for some, it is also one of sadness. Shōko is seen openly crying her eyes out among the gentle glow of candles, and a lady named Shimako is seen giving a kokuhaku to a fellow she’s long had feelings for.

  • Halfway through ~Hitotose~, Riho surprises Fū with the announcement that she’s moved to Takehara full-time and moreover, has taken up lodgings with Chimo. This allows Riho to really mentor Fū and spend more time with her, and consequently, Riho becomes a regular as ~Hitotose~ continues. Having older characters meant Tamayura was really able to give Fū a full spectrum of people to interact with. Her friends help her live in the moment, but the adults in her life provide wisdom and gentle guidance that lets Fū to also begin considering the future, as well.

  • It turns out that Riho and Chimo hit it off when they’d met, so Chimo decided to let Riho live at her place. News of Riho’s move to Takehara surprises Fū’s friends, and during a quiet afternoon, the group spends some time discussing this turn of events. Maon’s mind begins to wander, and she starts speculating on what could’ve happened. This is, of course, untrue, and the reality is that Fū’s now got someone to talk to frequently. Thus, when Fū learns that Riho had stopped photographing the sky, she grows worried about Riho: sky photography had been her specialty.

  • After seeing the sort of impact Fū’s photographs have, Komachi begins to develop an interest in photography herself, and like Fū, regularly visits Hinomaru to get her photos developed. Upon meeting, Komachi and Norie clash almost immediately, and it is hilarious how Norie always allows Komachi to get the better of her. This conflict is all in good fun, and now that I think about it, Komachi resembles Arthur‘s D.W.: mischievous but also well-intentioned. That Fū’s love for photography has inspired someone else speaks to the power that a sincere interest in something can have on others, and now, Komachi is able to begin thinking about how to capture feelings, too.

  • After swinging by Hoboro, Riho and Chimo invite Fū to come with them to Kure so they can visit Chimo’s old senior, Misano Fuji. They learn that she’s now running a café of sorts; both she and Chimo been illustrators and excelled in their craft, but set it down to enter the restaurant business after desiring to lay down roots and enjoy the changing scenery in their towns. One of Misano’s regulars had inspired her; he’s more than happy to try her experimental menu out, and is mentioned as being fond of taking photos of the same spot to show how differently one place can look. This is something that I often do; while hiking the same trails and passing by familiar places, I always take a photo, as well. I’d completely forgotten about this moment in ~Hitotose~, but seeing the moment again reminded me of why I’m fond of doing this.

  • Speaking to how close Fū and Riho have become, they reach for their cameras to capture a moment of Chimo and Misano together. Upon returning to Takehara, Riho explains that she’d been concerned about Fū, but while some things may change, others will remain constant; it turns out Riho had simply wanted to explore different forms of photography. In a monologue, Fū feels that there is great beauty in being able to choose one’s path even when other things are held constant in life, because even then, the possibilities that await are endless.

  • When I’d watched the story of Shimako Tobita ten years earlier, I found her situation hilarious and quite difficult to relate to. In the present day, I completely empathise with her: one evening, she arrived at Hoboro and starts an eating contest with Kazutarō, the girls’ homeroom teacher. The next day, Shimako continues on with her eating spree at Café Tamayura until her best friend, Manami Hoshi, shows up. It turns out that Shimako’s kokuhaku at the Path of Longing festival had failed. While Maon speculates something wild’s happening, Sayomi shows up and decides to take Shimako for a ride. The drive up to a peaceful viewpoint is violent, but up here, Shimako is able to be truthful about how she feels.

  • In the end, with support from Minami, Shimako is able to cry her heart out over this unsuccessful kokuhaku and is able to take a step forward, too. The reason why I say I empathise with Shimako is because I’ve now been where she’s been, although I’ve never cried out my feelings before. Instead, I ended up channeling all of that anger and negativity towards The Giant Walkthrough Brain project; the reason why I reminisce so often and speak so fondly of this project is because my determination to plow forwards, away from heartbreak, led me to build something wonderful. However, in retrospect, my approach didn’t allow me to fully heal, either, and since then, I’ve busied myself with my work and hobbies to avoid the issue.

  • With this in mind, this isn’t exactly the smartest thing in the world to do, so one of my goals in the upcoming year will be to stop thinking so poorly of relationships in my context. I’m not going to say with confidence that additional years of life experience will help me in this area, but a part of me is now curious to know whether or not I am better equipped to deal with what follows now, versus the me of a decade earlier. Here, Fū, Norie and Maon wonder if something’s off about Kaoru; it turns out that Kaoru’s been wondering about her own future and feels a little left behind upon hearing about everyone’s plans for the weekend; of everyone, she feels like her future is the least certain, and is envious that everyone else can follow their pursuits with such passion.

  • Everyone in Tamayura is immensely likeable in their own regard, but for me, my favourite of the characters is Kaoru; sensible and caring, but also the most serious of everyone, Kaoru bears a great deal of similarity to myself in that both of us had been uncertain about our futures, and similarly attempt to tend to our problems independently rather than confide in those around us. Kaoru’s got a mildly tsundere personality in that she’s not always truthful about how she feels, and therefore bounces off Norie the most; Norie is fond of calling Kaoru Kao-tan, an adorable-sounding nickname that Kaoru isn’t too fond of, and as Norie note, the fastest way to see if Kaoru is alright or not, is to try calling her Kao-tan and seeing if she reacts in her usual manner.

  • Kaoru is generally pretty cold about Sayomi’s constant want for adventures, while Norie and Maon are outright terrified of them. However, I’ve found that despite their reputation and the impending dread that comes prior to Sayomi’s adventures, everyone’s always had a memorable time nonetheless, fitting right in with Fū’s mindset of enjoying things as they happen. This is something that I’ve come to accept about life: I’m very fond of peace and quiet, and while a part of me always dreads events, whether they be parties or panels, I typically come in with the intention to make the most of things and in the end, always find them much more enjoyable than expected. The me of a decade earlier probably would’ve missed this part of Tamayura. Here, Kaoru insists that things are fine and pushes Sayomi out of her room.

  • Things finally reach a limit of sorts when Kaoru lies to Norie and the others about having agreed to come with Sayomi on an adventure, only for Norie to have actually asked ahead of time and learning that Kaoru had actually declined. In the end, Norie decides to create a bit of a pick-me-up for Kaoru at Café Tamayura and asks Sayomi to take Kaoru there. Because Kaoru can be quite stubborn, Sayomi ends up filling a water pistol full of bamboo vinegar and threatens to drench Kaoru should she resist. Because the bamboo vinegar contains some 200 different organic compounds, many of which are volatile, it has a very distinct smell, hence Kaoru’s compliance. In more mundane applications, bamboo vinegar is primarily used in gardening and agriculture, where it is used to discourage insect infestations. It also has applications in footcare and odor removal.

  • In the end, after Norie takes Kaoru to the woodshed, Kaoru explains that she’d been feeling left behind after seeing how earnestly everyone had been pursuing their interests. However, she also was moved by the fact everyone had sent her messages wishing she could be there, and seeing how varied, but capable her friends are, Kaoru suddenly has a stroke of inspiration – she decides to organise an exhibition showcasing everyone’s talents before the year is out. While Kaoru’s interests lies in scents, she’s never really considered this to be a long-term career, and as such, wonders about what her future will entail.

  • After outlining the logistics for this event, which becomes known as the We Exhibition, Kaoru speaks to her father and manages to secure a location to host the We Exhibition: the former Kasai House (旧笠井邸, Hepburn Kyū Kasai-tei). Built in 1872 as a home, the former Kasai House has a distinct tiled roof and as ~Hitotose~ portrays, the second floor is beautiful and open. The building is indeed used as an event venue in reality, making it particularly suited for the We Exhibition: Norie immediately begins to imagine what the different areas can be used for, and excitement for the We Exhibition begins mounting as each of the girls have something tangible to strive for to cap off Fū’s first year back in Takehara.

  • The We Exhibition is a fantastic example of how people can seize the initiative to do something meaningful for others; for me, my equivalent would have been participating in the various research symposiums and hosting lab tours for the media, as well as when I organised a group of my fellow undergraduate researchers into finishing a publication for the province’s undergraduate journal during the summer after we’d started back during January but forgot about the project. Shows like Tamayura encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone at my own pace, and in ~Hitotose~, after Maon reveals she’s looking to do a live play recital for the We Exhibition, the others support her fully: she wants to put on a trial run at her family’s ryōkan.

  • For Maon, the biggest challenge is actually coming up with a story, and with anticipation mounting, it turns out that the Sakurada ryōkan won’t actually have enough space: Maon’s parents have rented out the Otome-za, the theatre that Maon had always dreamt of performing at. Pressure suddenly mounts, and Maon is unable to write her story out – this aspect of being a creative is probably the most challenging, and those involved will find that, on a good day, inspiration allows one to seemingly churn out masterpieces, but on bad days, no idea ever sticks. Even at the casual level, this holds true: as a blogger, there are some times where I’ll struggle to write even a few sentences for a post, and at other times, I have to willfully reign myself back lest a post become too lengthy.

  • In this post, I’m actually tending towards the latter because there are actually quite a few memories I have associated with ~Hitotose~, and re-watching the series was a nostalgic experience. The feeling of nostalgia is greatly augmented by the incidental music in the series, which has a gentle and warming feel to them. Tamaura‘s composition is such that the series is timeless despite being firmly set in the early 2010s: Fū and her friends still use feature phones to communicate, social media is absent, and the world’s pacing is much slower than what most viewers would be used to. In the decade that passed since ~Hitotose~ aired, technology and society has changed considerably, so seeing the laid-back pacing in Tamayura did indeed feel nostalgic.

  • As the day of the recital draws nearer, Maon’s nerves grow because she’s still unable to come up with an ending to her story. In the end, Maon does not actually complete the story in time for her stage play, but decides that she’d like to go ahead and continue with the performance anyways, especially after seeing how engaged everyone is. For Fū, Norie and Kaoru, they’re about as nervous as she is, but once Maon settles into her groove, things actually end up progressing quite smoothly; it turns out Maon’s story was based off her own experiences, and consequently, said story conveys sincerity with every word she reads out.

  • Maon’s story speaks of a bird who leaves her home island and explores the nearby islands, finding them to be inhabited by friendly neighbours, and in the end, she befriends them after recalling the courage her parents had imparted on her, mirroring how Maon had met Fū and the others. The recital is a success by all counts and shows that Maon does indeed have a range of talents, as well as how inspiration can come from the bottom of the heart at the most unexpected moments. In this way, Maon is able to put on a memorable performance at Otome-za and fulfil a longstanding childhood dream of hers.

  • In the aftermath, Maon, Norie, Kaoru and Fū visit a viewpoint to celebrate a successful showing. Years earlier, all four had met here as children; Fū had gone exploring and found Maon reading to herself, while Norie and Kaoru wound up in a minor fight of sorts and end up in tears. While Maon had become too embarrassed to continue when Fū showed up, she ends up taking inspiration from the book she’d been reading and whistles out a song, impressing Norie and Kaoru long enough for the pair to pull together and apologise to one another. That this happened at all is Tamayura‘s way of showing how some friendships were simply meant to be.

  • On the day of the We Exhibition, all of the displays are fully ready, and while everyone is excited to get started, there’s also a bit of nervousness surrounding everyone. Komachi soon arrives and wonders if it’s too late to participate, but Fū and the others welcome her, helping to get her set up besides Kō’s displays. While early on, the streets of Takehara are quiet, Momoneko-sama pops in, admires some of Kō’s drawings and then takes off, satisfied. In this recollection, I’ve not mentioned Momoneko-sama at all: he’s a fluffy pink cat who wanders Takehara as a guardian of sorts, and while he’s well-known around town, Momoneko-sama resists all of Fū’s attempts to photograph him. His actions suggest a level of sentience similar to the cats seen in ARIA.

  • However, if Fū and her friends were worried about a low turnout, things quickly turn around: it feels like the entire town has shown up, and every visitor is engaged by what they see. Some of Kaoru’s classmates find it adorable to see Kaoru presenting her work with such confidence, and here, both Sayomi and her father show up to check things out. It is with the We Exhibition that I found ~Hitotose~‘s themes to really come together: as a result of everyone’s learnings throughout ~Hitotose~, they are able to convey the joys they’ve experienced to others in a tangible way.

  • Much as how Kaoru’s potpourri presentation has drawn quite a crowd, Norie’s sweets corner acts as an oasis of refreshment for those looking to unwind in between checking out the different exhibits. Because Norie’s not served such a large number of people before, she sets up her sweets and then offers visitors a chance to tailor the experience just the way they’d like. Despite being infatuated with Kō to an unhealthy extent, sporting a very boisterous and energetic presence and talking more than she should, Norie is also quite mature when the moment calls for it.

  • To punctuate the day and give others a chance to rest up in between their presentations, the We Exhibition is structured so that Maon is able to perform her play in chapters. By now, Maon’s upped her game, and her latest story is highly captivating, leaving viewers to yearn to hear more. Subtle details in the We Exhibition show just how committed the girls are to doing a good job, and more so than I did ten years earlier, the We Exhibition is a particularly impressive show of what youth are capable of when given the right encouragement and opportunities.

  • This is why I’m so fond of volunteering with the local science fairs; seeing what young minds are up to out there is always so inspiring, reminding me that there are people out there with a genuine interest and passion for the sciences, and the drive to learn enough so they can apply that knowledge and make a tangible, positive contribution to the world. I imagine that Riho is at least as happy when she sees Fū presenting her photos to others with confidence; this shows her that someone new has taken an interest in photography and has something she can pursue whole-heartedly. For Riho and those around her, that Fū’s become so passionate about photography also means that she’s slowly beginning to embrace what her father had taught her, moving on from the pain of loss into recovering and making the most of things.

  • As the evening sun sets, the We Exhibition draws to a close, and the girls review feedback they’d gotten. While some of it is of questionable value (one fellow remarks he’d like to see more hot peppers all around), much of the feedback is encouraging and useful. The We Exhibition clearly touched the hearts of those who visited, and while its success is the result of each of Fū, Norie, Maon and Kaoru’s efforts, I feel that Kaoru’s decision to plan and organise such an event also speaks to the merit of her character. While Kaoru may not feel it, that she was able to manage the We Exhibition shows that she’s also grown greatly. The We Exhibition was set on the 31st of December, and after they clean up the venue, it’s time to go and welcome the new year.

  • Whereas hatsuhinode (viewing the first sunrise of the year) is a commonplace tradition and the one that is typically portrayed in anime, ~Hitotose~ chooses to have Fū and her friends attend a countdown at the local shrine. Everyone makes a wish prior to ringing a bell, and moments later, the new year is upon them. How each of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon ring the bell speaks volumes to their own personalities, and once the new year arrives, everyone returns to Café Tamayura to catch some shut-eye. Looking back, 2011 was a bit of an interesting year for me: it saw some of my lowest of lows, but I also managed to recover and get my game back together.

  • As 2011 drew to a close for me, I steeled myself for the new year: I had wrapped up that term on a much better note, but the elephant in the room was the fact that I was set to write the MCAT in 2012. This loomed over my head, but entering the new year, I resolved to simply take things one step at a time. For Fū and her friends, their sleep is broken up when Sayomi shows up with plans to take everyone out to check out the first sunrise of the year, and here, she invites everyone to board her Mazda 5. The Mazda 5 model I drove dated back to 2006, and it appears Sayomi is rocking the 2008 model, characterised by the shift from circular brake lights to a vertical strip of brake lights.

  • While Sayomi’s driving sends them off-course and very nearly into a ditch, Fū and the others end up embracing this change of plans: instead of viewing the sunrise from a mountain top, they end up viewing it from the valley floor. It is here that Sayomi demonstrates her wisdom, by remarking that each and every one of Fū, Kaoru, Norie and Maon have grown up without even realising it, much as how the mountain can never really be aware of how majestic it looks. This moment particularly stood out to me, hence my choice for the page quote. Thoughts like these are what make Tamayura particularly special, and while the sorts of life lessons in Tamayura may appear to be common sense, it is actually surprising as to how quickly they are forgotten amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

  • From ~Hitotose~ onwards, the idea of seeming inconveniences and unforeseen change of plans are presented as something to enjoy, and that they also bring something new to the table if one’s mind is open to it. Fū’s father was of the mindset that what happens, happens, and this is something that Fū herself discovers throughout the course of ~Hitotose~ as she spends more time in Takehara, treading the paths and photographing the things that her father had known so well. In this way, a full year passes in Takehara, and Fū exits the first season with a newfound perspective on life.

  • ~Hitotose~ ends with half the neighbourhood gathering to hang out while Sayomi and the others await the towing company to show up and extricate her Mazda 5, creating yet another warm memory as Fū gets to converse with the locals. The whole of Tamayura is a masterpiece: Graduation Photo was the series that set me on the path to becoming an iOS developer (and we recall that series I consider to be masterpieces must have impacted my life in a tangible, positive manner), but ~Hitotose~ welcomed me to the series and acted as a reminder to always keep an open mind about me. At present, I will note that I will be returning shortly to write about the second season, ~More Aggressive~: the announcement of a second season some three months after ~Hitotose~ ended came as a pleasant surprise for many, although ~More Aggressive~ itself would not broadcast until the summer of 2013.

At its heart, Tamayura ~Hitotose~ is a story of rediscovery at one’s own pace, of taking steps forwards in the presence of people precious to one, and of making the most of the present. It is meant to be a gentle, cathartic portrayal of how people come to understand themselves, make peace with the past and push themselves into the future. In keeping with the aesthetic such themes require, ~Hitotose~ possesses soothing visuals and music. The artwork and animation in ~Hitotose~ possesses the same gentle style seen in the Tamayura OVAs, using soft colours and lower saturation in conjunction with high visual detail in order to simultaneously bring Fū’s world to life without overwhelming viewers. Through the visual style, ~Hitotose~ shows Fū’s world as being a vivid one, filled with possibility and the potential for adventure around every corner. However, it never strives to displace the characters as the main star of the show, either. Similarly, Nobuyuki Nakajima and Yumi Matsutoya lend a nostalgic, wistful and occasionally, whimsical tone to ~Hitotose~‘s incidental music. The songs are slow, creating a feeling of warmth that surrounds Fū and her friends as they explore Takehara together. There are a few songs here and there that are used to set up more comedic moments or create tension, but even these remain faithful to the aesthetic in ~Hitotose~. In conjunction with one another, the visuals and music of ~Hitotose~ complement one another flawlessly such that, along with the characters and their experiences, ~Hitotose~ acts as a proper first season to Tamayura that greatly extends the messages the OVAs originally began exploring. By the end of Tamayura ~Hitotose~, viewers are left with the distinct impression that Fū’s father is no longer something that saddens her, but instead, acts as a source of inspiration for her, and moreover, by pursing photography, she’s experiencing the same joys that he once did (alongside making new memories of her own). Together with Kaoru, Norie and Maon, it is clear that Fū is no longer weighted down by her past, and instead, has found new joys in the present to look forward to. In a world where time passes by in the blink of an eye, and where there hardly seems to be a moment to take a step back to live in the moment, Tamayura ~Hitotose~ encourages viewers to be mindful of the smaller things in life, and that joys can come from most anywhere so long as one takes the time to savour them.

6 responses to “Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Tamayura ~Hitotose~, On Rediscovering Newfound Happiness in the Ordinary and A Ten Year Anniversary Reflection

  1. Michael E Kerpan December 19, 2021 at 10:53

    This is one of the anime shows I love most/ It is one that makes me extremely happy — yet just thinking about it (over the course of its whole run) makes me get instantly misty-eyed. The characters here seem incredibly real, utterly sweet — yet simultaneously quite vulnerable but also always willing to support each other to the fullest.

    I think this is surely one of the best shows dealing with depression — and recovery from depression. Welcome to the NHK is very good, but it seems much less “believable” (at least in terms of plot — if not “feelings”). The series really is all about a child re-building her life — which she feels has been destroyed by the death of her beloved father — inch by inch, aided at every step by her family, old friends and new friends. I think the key issue is, indeed, Fu-chan’s ability to reclaim the initial joy of her memories, which had been suppressed for several years by crushing sadness. I love the fact that this process was triggered in Fu-chan by her brother’s re-discovery of the hidden-away photo albums documenting those memories — and HIS sense of unalloyed joy at revisiting these.

    The depiction in this show of a full web of familial and friend and neighbor relationships, cutting across generations seems pretty much unparalleled in anime. (Going far beyond other fine shows in this respect — like Tamako Market). But we meet people, bit by bit, and see how relationships fit together. I find it incredible just how real all of this feels (even for characters who initially feel a bit over-the-top — like the teacher with the unsuppresssable penchant for what seems to be really awful puns — or the Japanese equivalent of puns).

    Ever since I first encountered this, I’ve been a persistent shill for it. But the limited availability of the series after Hitotose is a BIG problem (similar — but far worse than Yama no susume’s “missing from legit streaming” second season). There is just so much to say — and think — about this series. I desperately wish it got the love it truly deserves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith December 22, 2021 at 10:42

      I’ve never seen Welcome to the NHK myself, but after familiarising myself with a synopsis, it looks like Welcome to the NHK is a lot more focused on the details behind why people are the way they are, and assess how approaches are in terms of being able to help people to find solace and grasp the future, whereas here in Tamayura, the idea of camaraderie and unwavering support acts as that first step to recovery, as well as how the further one recovers, the more capable they are of standing of themselves and regaining their best self. While I’ve got no background in psychoanalysis, Welcome to the NHK does appear quite intriguing.

      I can’t help but feel that every character in Tamayura bearing exaggerated traits is a deliberate choice to show how everyone is unique and has an identifying characteristic that makes them, them. The colourful characters stand in contrast with the gentle, but somewhat subdued palette in Tamayura; my inclination is that this is deliberately so, to show how it is people that make a place special. Takehara certainly would not feel so compelling were it not for Kaoru, Norie, Maon and the others to liven things up, and Tamayura makes the case that, were it to be set anywhere else in Japan, the series’ themes and messages would still hold true.

      Finally, on the topic of accessibility, all I’ve found of Tamayura online is for ~Hitotose~. I therefore agree with you in that this is very unfortunate, since these series are a remarkably sincere and genuine presentation of recovery, and gratitude, that has a lot of value. I can’t remember how I watched ~More Aggressive~ during its original run, but I only watched Graduation Photo when the BDs came out, and these days, I can rewatch ~More Aggressive~ only thanks to the BDs.

      Like

      • Michael E Kerpan December 22, 2021 at 13:34

        Did you find subbed BluRay releases of any of Tamayura? If they existed, they seem to have completely vanished from the market place. More Aggressive and Graduation Photo _can_ be found streaming online — albeit only from a “pirate” source — whose name probably should not be mentioned (lest I get your blog in trouble).

        We will just have to hope that, at some point, the whole of this series will eventually re-appear — outside of the shadows.

        Like

        • infinitezenith December 28, 2021 at 23:46

          As far as I can tell, there aren’t any legal avenues for anything outside of ~Hitotose~. I vaguely remember watching ~More Aggressive~ on Crunchyroll, but that could be the Mandela Effect at play; it has been some eight years since ~More Aggressive~ aired, and I could be mis-remembering things.

          For ~Graduation Photo~, I definitely remember biting the bullet for that one and cheating to watch it: no English-subtitled BD collection exists. This does make me feel particularly bad, since ~Graduation Photo~ was the series that ultiamtely set me down present career path. Giving back to the series by way of thanks is the thing to do here, but it’s difficult where there are no avenues of doing so.

          Like

  2. BBOvenGuy December 19, 2021 at 16:11

    Tamayura is one of my all-time favorite celebrations of creativity. I was a campus photographer in college, so you’d think I’d relate to Potte most, but in the end Maon was the one I really connected with. The fact that she bounces around from one interest to another tells me she’s clearly a storyteller. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith December 22, 2021 at 10:45

      That you’re an author now means it’s none too surprising you relate to Maon with the most 🙂 She is shown as having a knack for putting things together (such as when the gears in her mind lead her to suggest how Shimako’s failed kokuhaku resulted from some conspiracy involving foreign intelligence). For me, I connected most with Kaoru because while she’s got a unique set of skills and talents of her own, she’s worried about the future, too.

      Like

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