“Say it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make believe
If you believed in me.”
-It’s Only a Paper Moon, Harold Arlen
Sometimes, it takes a little magic to make something believable. Sticking glow-in-the-dark stars to your bedroom ceiling won’t suddenly transport you outside, especially with your brother’s snoring. Sledding down the hill behind the elementary school on a stolen cafeteria tray won’t make you an Olympic luge medalist. And the giant plant puppet in the high school play didn’t actually eat your friend playing the sadistic dentist.
Kyoto Animation doesn’t do anything in Tamako Market to make a mysterious tropical talking bird believable to the inhabitants of the Usagi-yama shopping district, he just is. The question that arises is: why?
The obvious answer is to act as a catalyst for the story progression. But why then did they pick a bird that speaks? A loud transfer student, returning childhood friend, or new teacher could have accomplished the same ends. The reason lies in the oddity of Dera Mochimazzi’s existence, allowing him purposefully stand out in the role, where a perceived “ordinary” character would have simply blended in.
Tamako Market focuses on simple problems, but they are no less powerful for being easily identifiable. The Usagi-yama market café becomes the isolated space where characters turn forward and attempt to come to terms with their conflicting, and painfully human, thoughts. In the café, Tamako – the brightest spot in the series – shows a quiet inner strength when speaking of her mother, Midori is able to accept her love for another even if she cannot vocalize it yet, and Shiori is finally able to give a voice to her gratitude.
Much like Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! addressed the question of abandoning our childhood dreams in favor of the self-aware mantle of adulthood, Tamako Market displays the personal concerns of its cast by using the exotic bird Dera Mochimazzi as the bridge between inner turmoil and acceptance. He is magical in order to stand out to the viewer, not the characters.
Houtarou’s deductions and Rikka’s delusions are given animated substance in Hyouka and Chuunibyou respectively to show the difference between thought and reality, where Mochimazzi’s existence as the animated magical element of Tamako Market simply is. This allows him to play his part to perfection. He becomes the lens that we peek through into the wonderful world of Usagi-yama. It is Mochimazzi who takes Midori aside and gives her an opportunity to reflect on her love for Tamako in the café. By falling on Shiori – and falling for Shiori – he brings her into the warmth of the shopping district, allowing her to finally speak to Tamako and friends, whom she had always wanted to grow closer to. And although a new transfer student or Usagi-yama shopkeeper could have achieved similar ends, it wouldn’t have been nearly as magical to us, the viewer.
Last year, Mysterious Girlfriend X used magical realism to develop its primary relationship: saliva-tasting and subsequent sharing of emotions were treated as a common occurrence. Like Urabe’s saliva, Mochimazzi’s being is supernatural but also treated as an everyday existence. The truly magical in Tamako Market are the ordinary people who inhabit Usagi-yama, and Tamako herself.
Later on, the series will surely address Mochimazzi’s mission to find a bride for his prince, and the perceived magical elements will come to the forefront, once all of the characters and their relationships have been established. However, I prefer the series as it is now: sticking glow-in-the-dark stars on our ceiling to allow us to appreciate the true beauty of the real night sky.