The Tatami Galaxy

Our Unnamed Protagonist and Akashi-San pause to appreciate cherry blossoms.

In Short: Boasting excellent storytelling, encapsulating characters and beautiful animation to boot, Masaaki Yuasa’s and Studio Madhouse’s’ anime series The Tatami Galaxy is one of the most enthralling and entertaining comedy-drama series in recent years.

Review: An adaptation of Morimi Tomihiko’s original novel of the same name, The Tatami Galaxy (Yojō-Han Shinwa Taikei, or literally ‘Four and a Half Tatami Mythological Chronicles’) is a comedy-drama series following an unnamed third year college boy in Kyoto, Japan, as he comes to believe that his involvement with various social clubs in pursuit of ‘that rose-coloured campus life’ has been a complete waste of time.

Each episode is a complete story arc in itself that begins with the protagonist amid a complication, before he narrates how his selection of a particular social club two years earlier has led him into the current reality. In every scenario the protagonist becomes friends with Ozu, a strange student whose appearance and inconsistent behaviour cause him considerable distress; and the protagonist becomes affectionate for a younger female student, Akashi, but each time his commitments conflict with his interest in her in some way.

Since new each episode follows the formula of the first you can expect small sections to be repeated – surprisingly such instances are handled smoothly, centring focus on the state-of-mind of the protagonist so that even if you recognise some parts the affected scenes maintain significance and entertainment value. Neatly tying off each episode is an animation of a clock tower starting up, after which the entire episode rewinds before our eyes and the credits roll – a signification that it was one reality, and the next episode will feature another.

The Tatami Galaxy’s unique appearance is created from straight cut 3D and 2D art combined with heavily filtered and variously recoloured live action footage. Some might see the result of this approach as seeming raw or cheap, and not all will find the animation style comfortable. What is certain throughout the series is that Studio Madhouse is fluent with colour and texture theory; as in its application to the series’ animation they have created a beautiful and highly original art style.

Often exploratory, Studio Madhouse's art style is unique and satisfying.

 

One the main selling points of The Tatami Galaxy is its spot-on characterisation of the protagonist and his fellow college students – these are some of the cleverest and excellently crafted cast of characters ever to be associated with comedy anime, whose endeavours, while not always hilarious are always entertaining. Although our unnamed Protagonist – voiced by Shintaro Asanuma – is the centre of the story, it becomes clear early on that he is the shyest, most powerless and perhaps most normal cast member. It is undeniable that he isn’t a scene-stealing character – yet his carefully steered narration of serious, witty, eccentric and anxious emotion permeates each scene and encapsulates us unlike any other anime character you’ve seen. If you open yourself open to him, you’ll be pulled into the series’ awesome blend of comedy and drama and find yourself rising to cheer him on.

Ozu – voiced by a tantalising Hiroyuki Yoshino – at first seems to be interested in assisting the protagonist, and their superb chemistry makes for some crazy, weird and even a few heartfelt scenes. At the end of each arc, without exception, the protagonist realises that his search for love and happiness is a game to Ozu – and that if he had lived the past two years differently Ozu wouldn’t have had two years worth of his misery to happily feast upon. Ozu’s actual intent and goals are a complete mystery, one that proves both fun and perplexing as the series nears its climax.

Akashi – voiced by Maaya Sakamoto – is a strong female student one year the protagonists’ junior who compliments his narration and personality superbly. It soon becomes clear that they could be quite a pair, if in one of these realities the protagonist could overcome his fears and return Akashi’s missing mochiguman plush.

Of the supporting cast, of principle interest is the easygoing eighth year student Higuchi Seitarou. Initially introduced as a deity of matrimony and always seen wearing a yukata, Higuchi is an eighth-year student who sometimes aids the protagonist and Ozu in their endeavours while also providing a sense of collectively to the story in almost all of his scenes. Other recurring characters include Jougasaki – another eighth year student and the leader of the film society who leads a seemingly lecherous lifestyle, Hanuki – a dental student who enjoys inebriation, a Fortune Teller – who appears in each episode to tell the protagonist to grab the opportunity before him, and Johnny – a trigger-happy horse-riding imaginary cowboy that represents the protagonists’ virginity-fuelled sex drive.

 

In a serene moment, Higuchi Seitarou takes in his surroundings.

Unlike some other series in the genre, these characters are engaging individually and together, allowing the viewer to be easily swept along with the current of wit and melodrama. In addition, each episode gives sensible focus to appropriate combination of characters so that the atmosphere and flow is never disturbed by missing or misplaced elements. Some might be unsettled by The Tatami Galaxy’s art style, its pacing – notably the protagonists’ narration, which might be too quick for those using the subtitles – or simply its feeling of eccentricity from the rest of the medium. Such jarring senses are better attributed to the combination of Masaaki Yuasa’s and Studio Madhouse’s’ directorial approach, one which often sees the series tease the conventions of so-called slice-of-life anime and even American-style cartoons. As it stands, everything else about the series is a credit to Masaaki Yuasa and Studio Madhouse’s awesome synergy.

Studio Madhouse and Masaaki Yuasa have outdone themselves. Every aspect of this series shows a high level of artistic and literary sensibility, and is brilliantly executed with refreshingly original animation, stellar performances and a consistently satisfying narrative. Simply put, The Tatami Galaxy is a landmark anime series.

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About Matthew Kehoe
Matthew Kehoe is a multimedia enthusiast currently attending a Bachelor of Writing course at the University of Canberra.

One Response to The Tatami Galaxy

  1. Tatami Galaxy kicks ass. I especially loved the finale.

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