Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Anime Review: The Tatami Galaxy

I initially tried out The Tatami Galaxy in the spring when Funimation started the simulcast but found it too strange for my tastes and watched House of Five Leaves instead. I decided to give it a second chance during Thanksgiving break mainly because of a comment I saw on the ANN forums about the show: “watching this show will make you want to live in a four and a half tatami mat room* and eat ramen.” After a little bit of measuring I decided that yes I’d rather have a four and a half tatami mat room (nine feet by nine feet) to myself than my shared ten feet by fifteen feet dorm room. I also found myself eating a lot of ramen while watching this show, but that was more because I was low on food funds at the time. But enough excuses, onto the review!

The Tatami Galaxy

Summary: Our unnamed protagonist (referred to here as “Watashi,” the pronoun he uses to talk about himself) is in his third year of college and lamenting how he has wasted the previous two years of what was supposed to be his rosy colored life in the stupid tennis club and wishing he could do it over again (all while explaining that this mess is his friend Ozu’s fault). But this seems familiar, hasn’t he had this problem before?

The Good: It’s really hard to pull off a retcon and not make it feel cheap but The Tatami Galaxy does it well. Probably because the constantly repeating plot is key to the story and the differences and similarities between each episode are carefully planned and deliberate. It’s not exactly symbolism, more like an ultra stylized plot, and I thought that the show viewed as a whole is a great character study (and not just on Watashi, the other side characters may not appear in each episode but they also seem to grow despite all the retcons). I will also say that the ending, despite all the retcons, really and truly works so no worries there. In fact, I’d say that the greatest weakness of the noitaminA timeslot anime is that they are limited to just 11 episodes but I feel like that was actually the perfect length for this show.

The Bad: The ending certainly works although there were one or two things about it I didn’t like at the time (I won’t say anything beyond that it had to do with the character development) but looking back on it I’m not bothered as much. Other than that, I really don't have that much bad stuff to say about this show. Sometimes it got really crazy for no apparent reason but that seems to be in the style of the director. Other times the show just got very strange (the climbing wall of fake boobs has to be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen) but even that seemed to work within the context of the series. I suppose the best thing to say here is that this an avant-garde show with weird sensibilities, viewers beware.

The Art: The art is stylized and cartoonish at the best of times and there are times when it becomes super trippy without any warning. The director of this series is Maasaki Yuasa who was also the original creator of Kaiba (which I’ve never seen but have heard is even more over the top than this one). True he didn’t do anything art wise other than storyboarding a few of the episodes in each but, while the plot of the story is strange enough, I think it’s the visuals of this show that let out all the stops and show just how ridiculous the show is. I would say it was the most visually interesting show of 2010 for making all the strangeness in it (the normal visuals, whacked out visuals, and the very short live action clips used in a few places) work.

The Music: I’m happy to say that I was able to keep up with the show without hitting the pause button more than once or twice in the entire show but there really is a ton of fast spoken dialogue in nearly every episode (in my opinion, this show and Bakemongatri, the only show to make me pause to read the subtitles, could really benefit from dubs or a lot of people just won’t be able to enjoy them). The opener and closer songs worked pretty well, but again I was looking more at the imagery in them (the OP is a live action run through of a building, presumably the same building that Watashi lives in, an older building with nothing but tatami mat rooms and the ED shows a series of ever expanding and connecting set of tatami mat rooms). 

Incase you couldn’t tell, I fell in love with this show when I tried it a second time and would buy it in a heartbeat. Actually, my anime club might enjoy this as well (like I’ve said before, the club seems to love weird comedies over everything else and this kinda fits the bill), although I’d have to insist on a dub or otherwise half the members wouldn’t be able to follow it. Currently however the show is stream only and can be found at Funimation’s normal legal venues.
One final not, earlier today I complained about how Buffy didn’t make good use of the college setting and how it felt like they had never graduated from high school. The Tatami Galaxy could have never worked in a high school setting and, despite how crazy it got, it somehow still managed to feel like college (I’ve heard that the school was designed off of a real school in Kyoto so the original novel’s author may have been familiar with it and used that to ground the story).  So HAH, take that!

* which is the source of the original Japanese title “Yojohan Shinwa Taikei” or “Four-and-a-half mat Tatami Mythological Chronicles,” and the translation of the title actually works even better than most people would have guessed.