Home > Episode Reviews, Tatami Galaxy > Tatami Galaxy Episode 11 – The End of the 4.5 Tatami Age

Tatami Galaxy Episode 11 – The End of the 4.5 Tatami Age

No matter how serene your youth, sooner or later we all have to grow up and leave the comfortable confines of home. It’s rarely easy to learn to take care of yourself, to figure out how to keep your sanity in a world so cold and indifferent.

You’ll probably never get used to it, never be entirely comfortable with the world, or your life. Few, if any, people can really master the world in that way. But hopefully you will eventually reach a point where you can stand it. Things might not be easy, but at least you can manage.

It’s a pivotal event, a turning point in one’s life, although it’s quieter and less celebrated than more widely recognized milestones such as being born, or getting married. Sooner or later, you wake up and realize something: you’ve grown up.

Tatami Galaxy is a show about that point. For nine episodes, our hero struggles against what seemed like his inevitable fate: being denied a rose-colored campus life, forced into a series of mistakes that lead to nothing bur misery and regret. Slowly, he grows more savvy, until he finally grasps everything he thought he wanted, but finds it lacking.

The episode begins with the clocks rewinding and the usual ending credit video, this time with a blue tint

Disillusioned, he sinks into isolation and despair. But shutting himself off from the world just makes him more miserable. Unable to escape and infinite maze of his own parallel futures, he desperately searches for any scrap of other people, grabbing onto anything he could find.

Isolated, broken and alone, he reaches an all-time low: he circles back around and finds the room he started in. With a finite, if large, set of rooms to explore, he can’t even dedicate himself to exploring his infinite parallel existences. He finds himself staring up at something that’s been dangling there, waiting for him to grab it.

Towards the end, the protagonist just breaks through the wall, rather than go through the door to the next room

So he does. Instead of allowing himself to be battered by fate, accepting everything that happens as inevitable, he decides to act. Instead of following Ozu, or Higuchi, or Hanuki, he acts on his own. He grabs the Mochiguma, runs out of that apartment and into the real world, at the Gozan festival from the end of the first episode.

I think the only reason he does it is to set up this shot

And it is the real world. The fantasy sequences, diversions from reality and rapid-fire narration that have been the hallmark of Tatami Galaxy’s visuals are, after one final, bizarre and utterly beautiful sequence, replaced with more peaceful, pedestrian direction. The character designs are still the same, but overall it’s as normal looking as a Masaaki Yuasa show can reasonably get.

Instead of the sharp dichotomies of the protagonist’s embittered recollections, everything seems fuzzier, gentler, more normal. Ozu isn’t a demonic mastermind, he’s just a dorky kid, madly in love, who’s trying to make the most of life. Akashi isn’t a cold, force field-generating stoic, but a shy girl who wants to be loved. The fortune teller is a homeless woman just trying to make a living.

This is Ozu as he really is: just another nerdy college boy dressed as a woman

Everything that happened in the past 10 episodes still happened, though. Higuchi sets off on his travels around the world, although Hanuki agrees to go along with him after the protagonist pressures him to be a man and ask her to come.

The main character and Ozu continue the Proxy War, using his newfound confidence and lust for life for a noble purpose. He gets together with Akashi, of course, although little more is said about it. As the protagonist says, “nothing else is as boring to tell as a story of successful love.”

Akashi and the main character are much more lively at the end

Because Tatami Galaxy is the story of one decision, a turning point, and what led to that decision. Any further denouement is just fan service.

Sometimes you come across a piece of art at just the right time in your life for it to have a great impact on you. I seem to have good luck in that regard with anime. It’s likely because these shows tend to be made for young adults, which is coincidentally what I’ve been for most of the time I’ve been watching anime. Regardless, there are two shows that I have been fortunate to see at just the right time.

The teaser before the opening credits features a giant robot shooting lasers at tiny soldiers attacking it, for reasons I don't fully understand

The first is Honey and Clover, which I will hopefully explain later. The second is Tatami Galaxy.

There have been plenty of times in the last two years when I’ve felt exactly like the protagonist here. Maybe I’m not literally reliving the same two years of my life, but it sure has felt like an endless cycle of failure with no future but an ineffectual struggle against inevitable misery.

But it got better, slowly but surely. And eventually I realized that I could affect the world around me the way the protagonist realizes at the end of this episode.

Given that the main character was previously naked in a river, I don't think Akashi wants to know how this Mochiguma got to her

Even if you’re not currently going through this, I can’t help but think everyone goes through some variation of this. It’s an inevitable part of maturation, the sort of thing that is universal and very human.

It’s this kind of thing that anime, as entertainment for a niche audience devoted to escapism, doesn’t deal in nearly enough. Tatami Galaxy is a show full of human experience and emotion. It’s frank, honest and affecting, while still being clever and entertaining. Really, what more can you ask from a piece of art?

It’s not perfect, of course. It wastes a lot of time on retelling things that have already happened, or know are going to happen. The first half of this episode, for example, was almost entirely devoted to describing the other characters through recycled animation. And some episodes—3 and 5 in particular—never really come together. But even they do something to further the larger narrative. For all the time it wastes, it tells a deeper story in only 11 episodes than most series that get 26.

The first half of this episode is reused animation from previous episodes

And it crams a lot into the parts that aren’t repetition. Tatami Galaxy is a very lean, tightly focused narrative. Everything, all the parallel stories that build one cohesive world, ties together into one thread, on appreciating the life you have and learning to assert yourself on it, focused entirely on a singularity at the center of this episode.

This is in part because Tatami Galaxy is a show that fits its format perfectly. You simply could not tell the same story without being a TV anime. The story, for the most part, fits the structure and length of a half-hour television episode about as well a story can, and the abstract, expressionist visuals and manic pace could only be done in animation.

It does have this great 3D model of Jougasaki, though

Other than Hayao Miyazaki, I can’t think of another director who knows both the limits and potential of animated storytelling as well as Maasaki Yuasa. Most directors of animated works take their cues mainly from live action film direction. Yuasa, on the other hand, is an animator first and foremost. He isn’t trying to create a realistic world, but with big eyes and blue hair; he’s expressing the essence of his story through the elements of unreality. Because he’s being drawn rather than being played by an actor, Ozu can look like a yokai, a Japanese spirit creature, even though, in terms of the story, he’s just an ordinary, if mischievous, college student.

Tatami Galaxy is full of these elements of the unreal. Like the shopkeeper with the head of an octopus, or the constantly changing clothes of the passers-by outside when the protagonist emerges from his exile, reflecting all the parallel realities he’s reliving, or the possible futures in front of him. Abstract scenes, fantasy sequences play over the constant narration, to the point where the whole thing seems like one very surreal slide show.

Everyone in the background's clothes change every frame. It looks kind of like the scramble suit in A Scanner Darkly, but with an entire person at once

This level of disjointed abstraction and this representational depiction of reality are unique to comics and animation. Sadly, they’re almost entirely unique to Maasaki Yuasa productions. But it’s exactly this kind of thing that keeps me watching anime when it seems like I’m drowning in an endless sea of pointless, meandering comedies and lifeless, girl-shaped blobs of cuteness. This is what I like: stories that play with reality in a way only the Japanese are interested in and only animation can handle, while still remaining focused on the drama and emotion of human existence. And, in Tatami Galaxy’s case, that last part in particular hits home for me.

All this is to say that Tatami Galaxy is rare, the kind of show that succeeds at nearly everything it sets out to do, and does it in a way that is unique to itself and unsurpassed in the rest of the medium. In animation, in writing, it is simultaneously ground-breakingly novel and of a greater quality than anything else in the industry. That the story rings particularly true to me is just a bonus: Tatami Galaxy would still be spectacular even if it didn’t.

Here our hero is flying, and naked. I don't know why he's naked: maybe it's to symbolize his rebirth or something. You're just going to have to trust me when I say this is the most beautiful scene in the whole series

Tatami Galaxy is exactly the kind of strange, touching show I wanted to write about when I started this site. Its ambition far outstrips anything else that’s aired this year, and it matches that ambition with a maturity and artistic spirit that one rarely sees in the medium.

It’s one of the best anime I’ve ever seen. If, a few years from now, when I’ve grown beyond the person I’ve been these past few years, I still feel the same, it most definitely will be.

  1. Pizzadood
    July 25, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Great review! Just had to tell you that this is exactly what I felt when I watched this show as well as with Honey and Clover, that I got lucky and watched both of these series in a point of my life that I felt as if the show is meant for me.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: