It has only been a little while since I’ve last talked about a Masaki Yuasa post. I’ve talked about his works on some level already with Devilman Crybaby, I have a short review of The Night is Short, Walk on Girl around these parts, my post about Kaiba has appeared earlier in the year, and I’ve had that little chat with Irina about Mind Game which still makes me smile, but I don’t think that I’ve reached anything that I would have considered his magnum opus yet. Or, you know, at least talked about one yet. From all that I’ve seen, I think that Tatami Galaxy is it. That’s a very hard thing to call because everything he’s ever made is so unique from each other besides the unique, cartoony visual stylings, but that is where I will plant my flag for now until I watch more of his things and plant it somewhere else. I guess it’s just time to explain it now, huh? Well, here we go. Thank you Funimation for allowing me to watch this one for free on your site.
The Tatami Galaxy is actually a really simple thing to explain. Why? Well, you can technically call it some sort of time loop (in a way) with similar but different events happening at the same time. This isn’t a spoiler by the way. The opening animation of the show couldn’t do a better job of giving this away to you. The location of it constantly spins between the same tatami apartment with different colors each time. Plus, how the characters show up with character shots spinning and then revealing another character very fast gives that away too. If that isn’t enough, the end of each episode has a vhs rewind noise (remember those?) with shortened, backwards clips of what happened in that episode to reset it. There is no way to get around this time loop scenario.
With the nature of the show established, everything in it easily clicks together as the show moves on from episode to episode. A basic sort of episode is something like this: Our nameless main male character joins a club during their freshman year of college. So that’s normal, right? He then runs into a character named Ozu who can be called a demon in either personality or characterization (plus he works as the servant for a random master who calls himself master for some reason who gets caught up in a little proxy war with some random figure who is also a senior. Oh and our protag meets up with an intelligent girl who obviously likes him named Akashi. Ozu immediately flips the protagonists life upside down for protag’s life, his club, or both. Two years later, we slowly learn about how the club is either apart of some secret, underground fascists group and protag tries to leave it. Our protagonist forgets a completely obvious choice he didn’t make by the end of the episode and then everything resets again.
That’s all the general formula, but I can’t say that it’s never the same thing episode for episode. More cast members are added to the series as it goes on. At one point, he gets into a love sort of square(?) where he has to choose between meeting live sized doll, a pen pal he hasn’t met but has been buttering up with his false good deeds, and that hot dentist he went out on dates with who is bad at english and is suddenly drunk and IS REALLY going after him. (Have you noticed this anime is pretty nuts yet?) Our protagonist also joins different clubs and organizations at the beginning of his freshman year or sometimes doesn’t even join a club. Maybe he gets a job instead. and sometimes he just doesn’t join any sort of club at all. The largest thing that changes each episode is perspective. We see each character in a different light or a different angle, so you see the full dimensions of each person to make them feel real. Interests, hobbies, love interests, and so on are all apart of the package of this show. The Tatami galaxy only gets more and more layered as time goes on which is great.
Our protagonist may be nameless, but he does have a very distinct personality. Maybe having him not have a name would make him have some sort of self insert character, but he’s at least more then that. Our protag is the consistant outsider because he doesn’t know how to interact with people in societies. If he joins a club and is invited to a situation, he automatically says the wrong sorts of things to put people off. If he is given a task, he will somehow fail spectacularly. That’s why he doesn’t have many friends besides maybe Ozu. Hanging out with Ozu, a person who twists his life in directions and is full of contradictions like being an electrical engineering major who doesn’t care about either of those aspects, is the only time where he has a sense of adventure in his life. Of course, protag complains about it all the time. As they say in the series, it’s a blessing and a curse that our protag has met Ozu in the first place.
Then the rest of the cast line up is full of color characters of different aspects. Jogasaki has been at college for eight years, runs the film club for nefarious reasons involving the female student body, but loves a life sized beauty doll named Kaori. Akashi is a smart engineering student one year protag’s junior that enjoys our protag’s company, but is missing one element in her life to make it a success. Ryoko is a dentist who is very bad at learning English and only drinks with people she knows unless she goes wild, and is a weird relationship with the mysterious master Higuchi. A person who has also been at college for eight years, lives in the protag’s dorm, is endlessly vague and wise, and calls himself protag’s match maker. There are others, but this is where it starts. I can’t help but think about how I feel like I know each of these people somehow. Kind of weird to think about, but I like all of them for what they do in the series. Tatami Galaxy couldn’t have existed without them.
What is the point of The Tatami Galaxy is a question you may ask when it comes to talking about this show. Yeah, that’s the question isn’t it? Well, the protagonist lives in an incomplete groundhogs day scenario based on the choices he’s makes. I call it incomplete, because it’s never the same thing. The whole show is about our protag’s choices. What clubs will he choose to join, what choices will he make in the club, will he allow the strange friend he has by the name of Ozu to push him around (though sometimes he has no choice), will he talk with Akashi more? That’s how Tatami Galaxy worked in my eyes. What someone does from one situation to another dictates how their relationships with other people changes as time goes on. The Tatami Galaxy is microcosm of that in a very select sort of time frame with Masaki Yuasa’s unusual and expressive visuals guiding us through this unnamed character’s journey and how their life changes but doesn’t change at the same time. Understanding this principal of Tatami Galaxies story telling allowed me to love it more and more as it went on.
There is a massive complaint about The Tatami Galaxy’s narration dialogue being too fast and yeah, it generally is. When I first started out, watching this show was the first time I’ve been happy to see advertisements in my videos so I could recharge my exhausted eyes. I mean, there was more coming. Then that’s when I noticed some narrative short hand. Characters that you’ve seen in one episode act in a similar manner to how they would have acted previously, so their behavior doesn’t change. Then you see how similar yet different one episode can be to one that came before it, so understanding the show becomes easier as the viewer keeps going. I don’t want to call dealing with The Tatami Galaxies fast narration like some sort of barrier of entry, but I guess it is in some way. I’m not saying this as an elitist, but as someone who reads subtitles and finds it hard to link fast dialogue with fast dialogue sometimes. (One can practice your subtitle reading skills by watching Excel Saga.) Still, I know there are a large variety of fans out there who haven’t watched it or can’t watch it because they couldn’t get a grasp on it at first.
I suppose watching Tatami Galaxy depends on what kind of person the viewer is. If they are someone who immediately drops what they are doing when they don’t understand something or don’t know how to figure it out, then this show might not be for them. If the viewer is a determined person that likes a challenge and likes watching some strange pieces of anime and getting something out of it, then this there might be something here for them yet. I greatly enjoyed this anime series because I really think this little series is great and has a lot of things to say. So many cool ideas to interrupt from a fantastic director who knows what he’s doing to innovate the anime industry. I hope that more people see what Masaki Yuasa is doing and decide to jump on board to his stuff. I think Devilman Crybaby might have opened the door for more audiences to give him attention, but it’s really hard to tell sometimes. I just have my corner of the internet.