Home > Episode Reviews, Tatami Galaxy > Tatami Galaxy Episode 2 – Stars of Screen and Stage

Tatami Galaxy Episode 2 – Stars of Screen and Stage

You’d think my worst fears were realized. I was worried that every episode of Tatami Galaxy would be the same, and it turns out I was right. The second episode has the exact same plot as the first episode. It’s not just that he rejoined another club and had the same experience; it’s the same two years of college, with the same structure to the episode, but with a different club joined, and a different theme.

And yet, I’m not. In fact, after this episode I find myself even more taken with the show.

Most anime try to change up the plot, to make things novel and interesting, but never change in tone and mood. Tatami Galaxy seems like it will have the same plot, but with a drastically different tone. It’s almost like a game: how many different stories can you tell with the same plot elements?

Rather than the tennis circle, our nameless protagonist joins a film society upon entering college. As before, he enters with the naïve dreams of making 100 friends, dating some unattainable raven-haired beauty, and generally making a better life for himself. As before, he ends up spending most of his time with his despicable friend Ozu, striking out with the stoic ice queen Akashi, and generally ruining his life.

If you can't tell, he's pretty blatantly aping Bruce Lee here

You see, it turns out the film society is run like a dictatorship by its charismatic leader, Jougasaki. He insists on making shallow formulaic rip-offs of Hollywood action movies starring himself, and uses his squad of devoted followers to enforce his every whim. I’m guessing everyone has met someone like Jougasaki: someone who gathers cliques purely by charisma, who wields power like a club, solely because he can. If Jougasaki wasn’t leader of the film society, he’d be the student body president, the head of the PTA, a Little League commissioner. His large presence and good looks are the only things covering his petty smallness and ugly demeanor.

Tired of the system, Ozu and our hero go independent, borrowing equipment whenever they can, shooting short films starring themselves featuring the same kind of nonsense that mischievous students with delusions of artistry make. These, of course, don’t go over well at all (except with Akashi), and, like the gypsies and homosexuals to Jougasaki’s Hitler only serve to further alienate the protagonist from the rest of the society and cement Jougasaki’s rule.

You might think the Nazi thing is in poor taste, but the show totally goes there

Now here’s where things start to seem familiar. Ozu and our hero have a conversation in a restaurant, where our hero mourns his wasted life and Ozu tells him that his corruption was inevitable once Ozu set his eyes on him, just like last episode. In fact, it even prompts a fourth wall-breaking comment from the protagonist about how familiar that seemed. Then the protagonist goes wandering onto the city streets and meets a fortune teller, who tells him, word for word, the same thing she told him last episode, then charges him 2000 yen instead of 1000 (“have your rates gone up?”).

But Ozu knows something: Jougasaki is a man of many secrets. Really embarrassing secrets. His grades are terrible, he’s abusing his power to peep on the girls in the club and much, much worse. So our noble hero decides to make one last film: a shocking expose documenting Jougasaki’s execrable personal life.

Jougasaki's diagram of the female society members. I think the “Extinct Volcano” is hilarious

The two work tirelessly to smear Jougasaki, shooting footage of his secret shames, stealing his transcript, and doing everything they can to show him as a miserable person—although it seems like Ozu is doing everything he can to make sure our hero gets all the credit.

So the protagonist swaps the his masterpiece with the second reel of Jougasaki’s latest work: an epic telling of the life of Alexander the Great. The audience sees everything: Jougasaki compulsively washing where people touch him, throwing away presents from admirers, his failing grades, begging his mother for money, his giant climbing wall of fake breasts and the life-size doll he dotes on lovingly when not using it for unsavory purposes. True to the show’s exaggerated, representational style, it’s a magnificently depraved portrait of a seriously disturbed person.

I think the subtitles speak for themselves

So, once again, Ozu and the main character have to make a getaway—this time from Jougasaki’s enraged fans. Ozu sells him out, but he still manages to escape with the help of Akashi, who reminds him to keep the promise he made to her. She’s introduced in much the same fashion as before, although with a force field instead of laser beam eyes, and she’s still the love interest, the symbol of the life he could have lived had he made better choices. His promise to her—to make the film he wants to make, a love story that transcends time, space and even gender—is once again a choice that he should have made but didn’t, a way to be virtuous and true to himself rather than letting his own evil nature get the better of him.

So, filled with regret for a life waylaid by bad decisions and youthful vice, he trudges back to his room. He throws away the half-eaten Castella he left laying on the floor in the last episode, turns out the lights, and watches an unfinished rough of the film he promised to make. Ozu takes off his wig, the two kiss as the camera spins around them, then the main character appears on a projection and tells them to stop. He yells cut, the clock tower spins backwards, and everything rewinds.

This is what the ending felt like. Except I have shorter hair. Also, not a girl

I can’t tell you how drained this left me. I couldn’t do anything but stare numbly at the screen as the haunting electro ending theme played over a scene of dancing floor plans.

I don’t know why it happened. I mean, I was less enraptured with this episode than the first. But the ending really got to me, as two lives came crashing down as a result of their own pride and spite, as both were left so utterly wrecked and miserable that the only option was to shut everything down, to rewind and start again.

That last act is the part of the episode that was almost exactly the same, scene for scene, as the first. It was the same in terms of what happened, but it was completely different in tone and execution from last episode. The first episode was a losing battle against cowardice; it was an episode about blowing your shot at love by being too afraid to make a move. This episode, by contrast, is about revenge, the unjustly abused seeking wrath on their abusers.

The stylized, comic book-like visuals continue to impress

It’s like a Greek tragedy: you know the form without even having to see it—the basic structure of the plot, that it will end in misery and despair—how it fills in that structure to bring everything to life is what differs, what makes the story unique.

I can’t believe that Tatami Galaxy managed to tell two stories with the same shape and structure yet give them two different yet well-realized tones. I mean, most anime can’t even manage a consistent tone across one episode. But Tatami Galaxy isn’t most anime; it’s something rare and affecting.

I love that the same events can tell two completely different stories. I love the three reoccurring characters (Ozu, Akashi and the protagonist) and how they’re familiar enough to be instantly recognizable but so complex and warped as to feel unique and human. I love the animation and art, with its underground comic aesthetic and stylized, representational take on reality that captures the feeling and emotion of a scene better than mere realism. I love the glimpses of continuity, whether that means a larger plot arc is looming or just more self-aware gags. I love the Japanese garage rock of the opening theme and the haunting electro of the ending.

I love Akashi

I love pretty much everything about this show. Everything it does, it does with style, purpose and an originality unheard of in anime and rare in animation in general. It’s the kind of thing I want more people to see, and want to see more of. I can’t wait to watch the new episode tomorrow.

Watch this episode here.

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