Anime | Review

First impression: 'Tari Tari' full of great surprises

I love it when an anime series can surprise me, and in its first four episodes, “Tari Tari” from Sentai Filmworks and Section23 Films does just that.

TariTariboxFrom the description, it sounds pretty straightforward:

The last year of high school is always a time of both looking forward and looking back.  Ahead of you lives the future, alternately bright and scary.  Behind you lie memories, both happy and sad.  And somehow, in the course of one year, you have to reconcile those two and decide where your life is going to go.  For Wakana Sakai, who had started studying music, it’s time to face the tragedy that made her abandon that path.  For Sawa Okita, it’s about her dreams of riding professionally.  And for Konatsu Miyamoto, it’s about bringing her friends together through the magic of song.  Can something as simple as the formation of a chorus club really help solve the hurts and pangs that come with growing up?  Can music bring people together despite their differences?

The show starts with Miyamoto going behind the back of her mean vice principal (and choir director) to start her own chorus. Will she be able to rally her friends and perform (and redeem herself) at the big choir competition? Well, that’s taken care of in two episodes (and, nicely, not the way you expect).

OK, then it’s about her taking this ragtag group to the city’s new world music festival. OK, not so much.

Just when you think you have the show’s direction figured out, it goes another way. But it doesn’t move in a lurching style. It’s perfectly smooth and natural. There’s no big, artificial drama created around some epic goal. Instead, like real life, the show goes here and there, concentrating on the smaller victories in life and how our choices affect our own actions and the lives of others.

It still moves in a straight line, but its goal is a bigger picture wrapped up in a smaller package. Music is what brings it all together, and it goes deep into the characters’ pasts to bring out the stories of the present.

Along the way, the show also brings in two boys: Taichi Tanaka, who dreams of becoming a competitive badminton player but also gets stymied by the vice principal, and Atsuhiro “Wien” Maeda, a transfer student originally from Japan but who spent the last 12 years in Austria.

The end result is utterly charming. Even in four episodes, each character has a distinct personality and clear motivation (though some physical similarities can cause a bit of confusion). Under different circumstances, some of these kids probably would never have been friends, but circumstance throws them together, and they created a nice little family to get them through their final year of high school.

And it certainly helps the animation is gorgeous, with beautiful backgrounds and nice character work.

So far, “Tari Tari” is one of the best in its genre I’ve seen in a while. Bravo.

Eric Henrickson is a Detroit News copy editor who has also been writing about comic books, video games and anime for The News for more than 10 years. His favorite bit of geek cred so far: appearing in an online "Star Trek" fan series.