Director Masaaki Yuasa has a talent for capturing the post-modern twenty-something male ripe with paranoia and grossly ill-equipped to deal with adulthood. He did it before in the buoyant Mind Game, in which he taught us to love life, and he's done it again in Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, which tells us not to take it for granted. Here, his symbol is the '4.5 tatami' apartment, a product of Japanese modernity that can incorporate everything anyone needs to live in a claustrophobic sort of efficiency. But in its simplest form, it is also a box. Anyone who spends their days in a 4.5 tatami apartment is in many ways effectively contained, packaged, cut off.
The main character Watashi (literally meaning 'I') happens to be stuck in a metaphorical 4.5 tatami room because he put himself there. Desperate to package his life into a perfect, rosy university adventure in which he's popular and girls love him, he only ends up encountering disaster. And when things go wrong, he imagines he could have attained said bliss had he joined a different club or chosen a different girl. 'Is this it?' he says in a moment of bitter reflection. 'There's got to be some more meaningful life out there. More rose-coloured, more sparkling. There might have been some university life without a single dark cloud that would have satisfied me.' He reminds me of students during freshers week, who force themselves into unnatural social situations with hundreds of drunk, horny strangers for fear of missing out. All the while, they fail to notice the bloody obvious - that there's a degree passing them by.
Then again, why would shallow and paranoid twenty-somethings ever do the obviously sensible when hiding away in overcomplicated fantasies seems so much more attractive?
Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei shares another habit with Mind Game in that their respective protagonists get multiple chances to redeem themselves. While Nishi dies and comes back to life, Watashi travels back in time to relive his first two years of university every episode. Although undoubtedly the engine that drives the narrative, this gimmick risks leaving some viewers either scratching their heads or, worse, feeling patronised. A Groundhog Day-esque story needs to work extra hard not to lose suspense as its audience essentially watches the same events again and again, and Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei only partly succeeds at this. In my case, the first three iterations seemed the least rewarding. I felt a twinge of disappointment when the second episode showed Watashi screwing up his life all over again, only while in the movie club instead of playing tennis. After the third instalment, I took a long break.
Luckily, nothing covers cracks more thickly than persistent charm and the show's mad situational comedy dispels any misgivings by the fourth episode. Regardless of the repetition, Watashi's pathetic delusions remain inherently some of the funniest tragedies I've seen this side of Welcome to the NHK. Each episode paints a slightly different facet of his university days, usually as they roll unwittingly and naturally into disorder. Best of all, this is a show that has a coherent ending in mind - every rehashed moment represents a vital fragment of the story's mosaic, making the final scene an elegant and wholly gratifying construction.
The character designs have a stylish comic book economy that give the impression the animators completed each frame in just a few strokes. The exception is Ozu, Watashi's friend who has a frightfully amphibious face: a head like a fish's, teeth like a shark's, and unnervingly dark lips set against a pale visage. Occasionally, in his wiliest moments, they give him a wagging fox tail. Other than that, most of the artistry occurs in the background details (fractal patterns in the trees and the scenery made of eerie black-and-white live-action photography), the framing of the shots, and the precision editing, which cement Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei's patchwork aesthetic beautifully.
On the other hand, the score functions without demanding or even deserving any attention.
Watashi's nondescript name seems appropriate considering his mediocre personality and his somewhat gauche, vaguely intelligent, blandly self-centred attitude towards everything. For instance, he's bitter about his lack of romance though he makes no serious effort to establish one, and he expects club members to embrace him when he harbours nothing but contempt for them. His only point of fascination is a tendency to overthink things in gorgeously poetic yet amusingly petty monologues, which flow with the kind of riptide speed that make subtitles damn hard to follow. Moreover, this is a story steeped in Watashi's subjectivity; his observations colour every aspect of the show, from dictating the confused pace of the story with his torrential dialogue, to defining even the characterisation of his supporting cast.
This is particularly the case with the mysteriously ugly Ozu, who triggers the strongest emotional reactions. Watashi's language becomes most emphatic when he talks about his friend, who he describes as being able to eat 'fifteen helpings of people's misfortunes' and having 'a laugh so unnatural it was like he wasn't born with the proper muscles to do it'. More than once, he refers to their relationship as like being tied together by 'a dark thread of fate', which is the long way of saying Ozu is his foil. A shameless hedonist who, unlike Watashi, easily flows with his every destructive whim, Ozu appears like a veritable Loki, a subversive trickster of the most entertaining kind.
That's probably the root of Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei's success - its exhuberant and vivacious supporting cast. Every eccentric twist in the story seems all the funnier or unnerving because they make it so.
Humorously misanthropic, weird and offbeat, but also hopeful, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is the perfect antidote for the lies we tell ourselves that life would be perfect if only we could attain a certain status or join a certain social group or just be someone else. Furthermore, the show turns out to be one of the surprising triumphs of 2010. Not that standing out is particularly tough in a year marked for its famine of originality, but I am surprised that among the current trend of aimless moe and gratutious ecchi shows, someone is still making daring, life-affirming programmes about empathetic human beings. Thank you, Yuasa.
Animated by the king of anime series, Studio Madhouse. They did an exceptional work once again. Directed by the most awesome director of recent times, Yuasa Masaaki, who has blessed the medium with some of the most exceptional and/or artsy anime of all times (Mind Game, Kemonozume, Kaiba). This was a combo that was very hard to mess it up. And indeed it didn’t.
When I first watched the first episode, a lot of other titles started popping up in my head. I kept making references to other older works, which usually translates to bad impressions because it felt like it was going to be a rehash of something else. But eventually it wasn’t, nor it was made with disjoined elements that seem like random scenes thrown in the pot. Despite all the shortcomings of a story that feels episodic, random-gaged, and repetitive, I must say that by the end of the day it was none of the above.
This series is to the most part a comedy. If you happen to have watched several anime comedies you will probably have realized that the story is (ironically) a joke too. The first episodes set up a premise, they promise a plot, they give hints of mystery, progress, evolution… and do Jack. Really, it doesn’t take more than 2 episodes to turn to random gags, episodic structure and open ended to keep trolling the viewers for a sequel with the hopes of a conclusion to come along… only to eventually create a far less exiting second season with far less context and far more fan service. This is quite the usual bait and the fandom bites it all the time, unwilling to admit the harsh reality.
Well, that is not the case with Tatami Galaxy, which happens to belong in this very rare category of concluded scenarios.
- But wait; there is more innovation that just that going on here! The very structure of the story eventually becomes a web of events that interact with one another, making the final episode to actually feel like everything happened for a reason as such. It didn’t feel like there were wasted episodes, dead time, random gags and such. I know many who believe they were but they are idiots; eventually everything comes together. This series is NOT shitting around to the most part before ending in a rushed and half-baked way.
- Hold on; there is more! The story is actually pretty deep, far more than a run of the mill plotless school comedy. The scriptwriter didn’t begin with the usual “Well, duh, let’s start at random and make up stuff along the way.” It was planned to unfold this way since the very start and was not ass-pulled in the narrative along the way. Multi-layered, science fiction, psychological immersion, and even witty life lessons around one’s being.
- Where do do you think you are going; get back here, I am not over. There is another thing I loved in it and that is how it was never trying to offer fan catering in the least. You have probably figured out how most anime are basically offering escapism with moe girls and an eternally frozen paradise you have no wish to leave from. Tatami Galaxy dares to go the other way; it does not trying to make you feel fluffy inside but in fact tells you to break free of the illusion with some really harsh aspects of real life. It is cathartic and not otaku bait. And sadly that is why many found it to be dull or depressing and didn’t have a huge fanbase.
- Sit down damn you; there is even more. The best part is how the story wasn’t even original yet managed to be amazing. It had to do with times loops, a plot device that exist purely to give extra chances to the hero to do things right. Eventually that was not even the main message of the story. You will constantly hear him saying how things would be different if he had made different choices yet everytime no matter what he does the outcome is sad. Because in the end it is not so much the choices we make but rather how well we handle them. This in effect tells you something that no other time-looping anime ever dared to say. There is NO wrong choice or wrong path, or wrong anything. There is only wrong handling. Mind blowing!
- The ending may feel weird and far-fetched or as some called it “pretentious” aka the scriptwriter offers the ideal ending on a subject that bothers him. That is not a reason to detract points from the story, since as I said for such a type of series offers a hell of a lot instead of just going for the easy way out.
Then comes the cast, which feels great as well. Usually a series focuses too much on one or two characters, leaving all the rest as comedy generators, irrelevant and useless to the actual plot. For example, do you remember TK in Angel Beats? How can’t you, he was dancing and speaking in dreadful engrish. Did he actually do anything in the story? Nope! Here, every character is part of the plot, affects future events and is looked upon from different viewpoints. By the end of the series they have all evolved far beyond the archetypes they were formed from and are not by any chance cardboards. Plus, the way the series uses internal monologues all the time offers a deep insight to each one’s mentality that flesh him/her out with simple comedic speech. So cheers to the scriptwriter for a job well done!
Some of them indeed feel dried up and not imposing in any way. I find no reason to detract points for that as they are still maturing and evolved by the end of the day. Definitely way more than your run of the mill moe chick; that’s for sure. Also, the most interesting character ends up being Ozu, the “main villain” of sorts. Unlike most series where the villain overshadows the hero for being damn evil and politically incorrect, here he is great for having a secret agenda that is revealed late in the story.
True art is timeless. It has nothing to do with KEWL visuals and 2354 different points from which the sound emanates. This series uses a style that is both minimalistic and enough for all that it tries to depict. Abstract, almost cartoonish, with little to no shading on characters and with a lot of live action film segments used in for quick depiction of areas with lots of background detail. Although that can be seen as cheap by most, you can see that it actually fits with the thematics of the story and doesn’t actually hinder it in any way. It really has to do with tatami apartments and university groups in Japan, plus it takes a somewhat realistic approach on the problems many college students face. So it’s not alienating to see actual filming of such areas. And surely, haven’t you got tired of watching the same style of animation again and again? This is so special it stands out in the crown while most others are hard to tell which is which. If you add to that all the psychological symbolisms, such as Johnny the Cowboy, then you get a very interesting result that hardly disappoints. And believe it or not, it actually has more animation and detail than SHAFT works, which although similar in aesthetics use still panels most of the time. I prefer the Miyazaki fully animated level of detail a bit more than this but I still like it very much.
The protagonist speaks faster than a speeding bullet and you’ll end up freezing the episode every 30 seconds to find the time to read the subs. Other than that, I’ve seen even faster speech in Puni Puni Poemi. But no worries, it is still very funny and smart most of the time, as most of the context is an allusion to ones’ mentality. Voice acting is fine too; I found no out of place voices. Sound effects contribute to the series’ thematics and the music score is great both in intro and outro.
Very famous show for those who appreciate it and although not super high seller, it showed us how high the bar can get. Replay value is actually very high, as you will be interested in watching again all those minor details that were cleverly intergraded in each episode and seemingly played no purpose up until the final episode, where everything ingeniously comes together.
Aside from a few scenes that appear really weak in humor and the ending that may or not feel meh for some, I must say that I fully enjoyed every minute of it. An amazing series, far more mature and well thought of that most comedies out there which are no more than “Well, duh, there is this cute girl and, duh, a dork living with her, and, I don’t know, duh, stuff happen”.
Mind Game (anime movie) has similar thematics in terms of the protagonist’s inability to interact properly with others. In fact, the visuals and the plot of Tatami Galaxy reminded me a lot of that movie. In fact… it is made by the same guy! WOOP! And guess what, being a series that takes place in far more areas and has more duration allowed the same theme to unfold far better and smoother that in that movie. Thus it is overall SUPERIOR to Mind Game.
SHAFT comedies such as Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei and Bakemonogatari also have a high amount of artistic animation, social criticism, and psychological immersion. The problem is that they are episodic with not much overall plot or development and lots of fan service that turned its characters to nothing but shallow plot devises. Thus, once again, Tatami feels SUPERIOR.
Endless Eight (Haruhi trollfest) WAIT, TAKE OUT THE GUN FROM YOUR MOUTH! GET DOWN FROM THE ROOF! MOVE AWAY THE KNIFE FROM YOUR WRIST! Although this series has a similar form of pacing, it is NOT REPEATING TO THE POINT OF SUICIDE. It made sure to be using the same events with a far different take or just skip them when they loop and leave you alone to understand the rest. Plus, no moe bullshit.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (anime movie) is a decent version of the same theme but it is way too simple in plot.
Some overhyped bullshit shows with time loops that are used as excuce for shitty fan service: Clannad AF, Steins;Gate, Madoka Magica, Higurashi, Mirai Nikki, Mai Hime.
Kuuchuu Buranko (anime series)
Cube 2: Hypercube (live action Western movie)
Groundhog Day (live action Western movie)
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks so special)
Character Figures 2/2 (they look special too)
Backgrounds 2/2 (artsy)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (artsy)
SOUND SECTION: 10/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (funky)
Music Themes 4/4 (great)
Sound Effects 3/3 (great)
STORY SECTION: 9/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 2/2 (great)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 1/2 (kinda messes up towards the end)
Conclusion 2/2 (solid)
CHARACTER SECTION: 10/10
Presence 2/2 (bold)
Personality 2/2 (well founded)
Backdrop 2/2 (everybody gets some)
Development 2/2 (everybody matures)
Catharsis 2/2 (solid)
VALUE SECTION: 10/10
Historical Value 3/3 (one of a kind)
Rewatchability 3/3 (very high)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely artsy to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 9/10
Art 1/1 (looks artsy)
Sound 2/2 (sounds amazing)
Story 2/3 (great themes but kinda messes up towards the end)
Characters 4/4 (they are great)
Critic’s Log - September 30, 2015. Review #99: The Tatami Galaxy
Masaaki Yuasa was born on March 16, 1965 in Fukuoka, Japan. He is an Anime Director that many consider to be unique in the Anime industry. His style is unique indeed. He is known for titles such as Mind Game, Kemonozume, Kaiba, Ping Pong, and the anime I am reviewing. Sadly, almost all of Masaaki Yuasa’s work are unlicensed in the United State, this one on the other hand did get licensed but not much has been done to it in terms of a home release in the U.S.
Here is my review of The Tatami Galaxy!
A second year student from the Kyoto University finds himself entrapped amid an overabundance of unsatisfying possibilities to change his life. Accompanied by, his mischievous best friend Ozu, and Akashi, a firm engineering student, the nameless student and protagonist trudges through each path as he tries to grab the opportunity that seems to dangle right in front of his eyes.
The Tatami Galaxy or “Yojō-Han Shinwa Taikei” (meaning “4 ½ Tatami Mythological Chronicles”) is a Madhouse production which means a high chance of Good Animation. The Tatami Galaxy is different than what you would expect from Madhouse. The animation is both simplistic and unorthdox in how it moves most of the time. There are also some shortcuts here and there but they are put to good use. There is also some live-action shots that are filtered to add to the artsy nature of The Tatami Galaxy. I am also aware that it is very colorful in its aesthetics and the use of color really does give greater emphasis to the show’s substance. This series is both vibrant and melancholy with its artwork and it is at times a visual mindfuck. You know what? This should be expected from Masaaki Yuasa, As I write up this review, this is the only anime I have seen that is directed by Masaaki Yuasa and I am aware that this is not the only show with his own unique style. The anime that Masaaki Yuasa directed before The Tatami Galaxy was the 2008 anime Kaiba. I have not seen that series but I did see the opening and I after seeing the opening and doing my homework on some of Masaaki Yuasa’s other work. I am certain that what The Tatami Galaxy shows from start to finish is another example that Masaaki Yuasa is a unique anime director. The style in The Tatami Galaxy does not show in Kaiba, or even his more recent work which is Ping Pong. Pretty much every Anime that Masaaki Yuasa directs has its own design. The Tatami Galaxy is colorful, unique, and artsy. It also can look sloppy and bizarre at times but it is intentional considering some of the things that occur in this show. The animation in a nutshell is “Style with Substance”. The art direction is flawless.
The music of The Tatami Galaxy has some great orchestral pieces and the person behind all this is Michiru Oshima who is greatly known for her work on FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST (the original anime). I loved the soundtrack to the original FMA series but if you ask me… The soundtrack to The Tatami Galaxy is my favorite when it comes to Michiru Oshima’s work. The themes may not be as memorable as Fullmetal Alchemist but the sound and instruments in The Tatami Galaxy’s soundtrack is far more fitting than what she used for Fullmetal Alchemist. The music in The Tatami Galaxy is both classy and beautiful. The Opening theme “Maigoinu to Ame no Beat" (The Beat of a Stray Puppy and the Rain) by Asian Kung Fu Generation is pretty groovy and I never skipped this opening. The opening is rather good for showing every character in the series that will have their purpose in the show. Another nice thing about the opening is how for almost a minute is that live-action effect that makes the show intriguing to look at. The Closing theme "Kami-sama no Iutōri” (As God Dictates) is a catchy theme as well and even though the opening and closing theme are not on the same page as the soundtrack, they are still good themes that do compliment the series well. The soundtrack is good stuff.
On the vocal department, No English Dub exists for this series and you know what? I am okay with that to be honest because the show starts by having the show’s protagonist (who is unnamed) talking really fast. There would be no bloody way that an English Dub could replicate this in the same way. Shintaro Asanuma really does deserve props for having a unique performance. Even though half or most of his dialogue is narration, it is fitting considering that The Tatami Galaxy is all about its main protagonist. The voice stuck to me and I think it’s a pretty good performance overall. Hiroyuki Yoshino as Ozu was great as well. Then there’s Akashi played by Maaya Sakamoto. What can I say? I like her as a voice actress. As for The Tatami Galaxy, she’s not bad in it. This anime also has Keiji Fujiwara who plays Higuchi and he is a voice actor that I like because he has a cool voice and even though Higuchi isn’t a cool character, he still plays Higuchi well. Junichi Suwabe is also in here as Jougasaki. The voice is fitting. Then there’s Nobuyuki Hiyama. He is really over-the-top but for good reason. The voice acting is superb in this series. Even if there was an English Dub, I think the original voices are fitting.
When characters are concerned, The (Unnamed) Main Protagonist is the center focus of the series and his whole purpose of the series is finding this “rose-colored” campus life and he wants to meet this raven-haired girl of his dreams. There is actually more to him but it requires me to go as deep as I am willing to go. He goes to different social circles to achieve what he is searching for. However, his opportunity is often right in front of him and he misses his opportunity and tries again with something else. Even though The Tatami Galaxy is not strictly a Slice-of-Life anime, this aspect of the series is actually quite relatable for the viewer to understand where the main protagonist is coming from. Ozu is… good for character study. I am afraid I can’t delve too deep with him but he is a great character in contrast to the Main Protagonist. Akashi is a good character in the mix of characters in The Tatami Galaxy but I feel like she was sidelined in the middle of the series considering her role. Higuchi is nonchalantly amusing, I will leave it at that. Jougasaki is a douche, but not a bad character. He’s great for comic relief. There are other characters in the show but I decided not to delve in anymore on the other characters since they play a part in later episodes, but I will say that each character has some significance to the plot, whether it be the big points of the Tatami Galaxy or the really small but ingenious hints that the show offers. The characters in The Tatami Galaxy are great and it sounds crazy as I say this considering the conditions of the plot of The Tatami Galaxy.
The Story of The Tatami Galaxy is a rather fascinating topic. First, I would like to refer to the 2009 airing of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Somewhere in the middle of the airing came the infamous episodes known as “Endless Eight”. The Endless Eight was infamous for having the first part set things up but the following 7 parts repeated the same episode but with minor significant differences. The Endless Eight arc was so bad that even one of the staff apologized for it. The plot of The Tatami Galaxy has a similar approach but it's more like that movie Groundhog Day and none of the repeating bullshit like Haruhi Suzumiya’s Endless Eight. Even though the plot resets itself with time loops, the scenarios do differ from episode to episode, and this series actually ties things together. I can’t say why but some might be turned off by the time loops so I am at least hinting on what the show is like without going into much detail. Still, there are some moments that really make sticking to the series rewarding. I will say that I only had one issue with the series, The ending… I cannot say too much but even though the show was great up into the climax, the ending was rather odd and I wish there would have been more closure than how the whole series wrapped up. Even though the ending is odd, It is still worth seeing even if you do not understand it completely after the first viewing all the way through. It may require some repeated viewing but given the amount of episodes… I’d say that isn’t a difficult task to consider. The Tatami Galaxy is a unique and colorful experience.
The Tatami Galaxy is available by Funimation, however… This series is only available by the means of Streaming. The Tatami Galaxy to this day has not received an American Home Release and shame on them because I seriously would love to get my hands on a Blu-ray release of this anime. The Tatami Galaxy is available by Beez Entertainment if you reside in the U.K and if you live in Australia or New Zealand, it is available by Siren Visual.
Overall, The Tatami Galaxy is a very interesting show with a rather fascinating plot, a classy and beautiful soundtrack, interesting character insight, and skillful visual direction. This is the only series by Masaaki Yuasa that has gotten licensed in the U.S. which is a crying shame since I hear he’s a pretty good director when it comes to Anime. If you have not seen any of his work, The Tatami Galaxy is not a bad place to start.
I give The Tatami Galaxy a 9.6 out of 10.
Feel free to leave a comment…
It took me exactly three minutes to understand that I will like Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei a lot. It took me up to ten minutes into the second episode to find that I'll love it. By the third episode I was hooked. This is a series that combines Groundhog Day with a dash of Bakemonogatari and Welcome to the NHK! in a fresh and unique way.
This is a perfect series to describe the second coming of age in a man's life, not from a boy to a young adult, but from a young adult into a part of something greater than himself. While Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is not unique in this way, as there are plenty that explore similar themes, but this does it in a gloriously self aware combination of insidiusly self-centered monologues and thematic repetitions.
It has always been quite fashionable to have a socially awkward male character in the lead. Usually, it adds nothing to the story except for making the viewer cringe a bit. In Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei it is actually explored, rather than used as a standard trope. This ends up being both a deconstruction of the archetype and an honest tribute to it at the same time. Now, enough with all the heavy handed analysis and big words.
Where nearly every series out there copies at least part of another, this is a surprisingly innovative and creative series. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei will make you laugh. It will make you feel for the characters. It will make you angry at the recurring stupidity of some situations. What really makes things interesting is the way that the series takes a lot of European influences in both writing and art, and incorporates them in a fresh and unique way.
Writing (Story and Characters):
Thematic vision is what makes Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei so great. The endless recurring themes and phrases are wonderful, the metaphors poignant, the interactions sharp, and most of all, the soul of the self-centered young adult explored. Machine-gun paced monologues second only to Puni Puni Poemi and certain parts of FLCL in density are what the writing hinges upon, and it is glorious. The side characters are magnificent representations of how the most trouble people have is with themselves rather than others. This drops out all the cutesy bits and offers a sharp focus on the themes.
While the story is purposefully simple (yet another incarnation of the Groundhog Day trope), the execution is not. There is a delicate balance between cerebral humor and scathing criticism that makes the self-centered (and rather shallow) protagonist truly shine. Thematic repetitions to explore different angles of the main character end up being enlightening and doubly clever when you think of the metaphors used (his choice between loving his self-destructive side to just loving, for instance). It is a character driven story executed in a refreshingly honest and modern way, not going out of its way to be either cute nor ugly, and ending up surprisingly honest.
Needless to say (because if you haven't picked up this tidbit from the review yet) this is all about the main character. He is shallow, not particularly smart, egotistic, lacking in self-awareness, and expresses his deep self-loathing by taking it out on others. As opposed to most other such characters in anime, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei ends up with him being sympathetic and understandable because there is such an earnest quality to the protagonist that you can't help liking him despite his (obvious, huge, glaring) flaws. His struggle is that of one still trying to find where fantasy ends and realism begins... and like any person in that struggle, the lessons he learns are extremely painful. This is a beautiful metaphorical take on character development that left me stunned.
A story of a man trying to stand up and getting beat down again and again, succumbing to his weaknesses, until he can finally stand up proudly on his own is a wonderful story to empathize with. It is a common theme in anime for a male audience, and here it is executed in one of the cleverest ways, if not the cleverest way, I have witnessed. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei has beautifully thematic writing which would stand only on its wit, but adds beautifully executed dimensions of metaphor, character development, and self-awareness. This is at the very top tier of anime from both artistic and technical perspectives.
Art (Animation and Sound):
OK, this is where one cannot help but be subjective. The artistic flair to Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is extreme, on top of taking influences from European animation (rather than the more standard US) and sound production. This is not your standard anime, and goes way outside the box in nearly every parameter. What makes this so wonderful is that the technical execution is top notch, so even things that are far less elaborate than standard end up feeling perfectly places even when decidedly crude rather than polished.
Usually, when the animation is this far away from standard, you think to yourself "oh, those guys at Shaft and their shenanigans again". Wrong. This is Madhouse, and subjectively speaking, Madhouse at their very best. This isn't their usual super clean, refined, and detailed animation. It is dirty, gritty, full of patterns rather than details, crude, and most of all raw stuff. The entire style is built as a metaphor around the writing, rather than just bringing it to life. To me, this is perfection itself. Creative, timeless, and brilliantly executed on every level.
Since this show is all about the monologues, the voice acting is the critical point. Boy does it deliver. Not only the main character, but his main foil and the other side characters are dripping personality. The choices of opening and ending themes are intelligent, and the soundtrack is not only a great fit for the series, but a stand-out on its own (even if the opening theme tends towards the cliche for the demographic). My main issue is the lack of good use of stereo/surround, which wouldn't be noticeable for most people. What is very important here is that the audio works well in bridging any gap between the writing and animation.
This was the show that convinced me that anime will always find ways to innovate from an artistic standpoint. Everything from the choice of particularly flat character designs and floral patterns to the abstract and clever ending sequence with a matching song is as close to perfection as it gets. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei has artwork that is not only top-tier, but timeless and clever.
This is the series that may very well be my favorite of all times. I had reviewed over 130 different works of anime before I got around to reviewing Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei because I wanted to be sure that I could touch all the points I loved without losing track. I have watched thousands of hours of anime, and this one series has had the most impact since FLCL and Spirited Away, which I watched when I was a lot younger.
Like those two, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is a form of coming of age story. Out of the bunch, this is the one that both hit closest to home, and explored the theme in a way that I found pleasing on the most levels. The story may be rather ordinary for anime, as is the main character, but everything else about it is not. Everyone should watch this now.
In our everyday lives, we are often forced to make a myriad of choices, such as what to wear, which people to talk to, and what activities to do. However, have you ever stopped to consider how your life would be altered if you had just made different decisions? Could you have found more happiness, love, or success if you had done things in some other way? These are the primary questions asked in Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, also known as The Tatami Galaxy, which follows an unnamed protagonist (officially known as Watashi, which literally translates as “I”) on his quest to achieve a “rose-colored campus life” at his new university. Watashi is soon drawn into nefarious plots and schemes by the devilish Ozu, though, and laments on the fact that he seems to have wasted his first two years of college. Suddenly, time is reversed, and Watashi is given the chance to start his journey at the university all over again, although he retains no memories of any previous timeline. Thus, Watashi lives out the same two years in every episode, choosing a different club each time but feeling wholly dissatisfied with how his life turns out in any and all scenarios, as he believes there must be some decision to be made that will lead him to a wonderfully fulfilling life on campus.
Though the concept behind the story is indeed interesting, the first few timelines that occur after the opening episode are a bit of a drag, as Watashi makes little to no progress achieving his goal, and the fact that things start all over again so frequently is somewhat off-putting. The plot line for each scenario becomes more intriguing during the rest of the series, however, due in large part to how the characters are presented. By throwing its characters into many different situations, The Tatami Galaxy is able to show various sides to its wacky supporting cast that would have otherwise gone unseen if a single viewpoint had been maintained throughout the show. Characters who are initially glorified or vilified are made more human when seen from a different perspective, and even Watashi receives nice doses of character development here and there. Overall the story is told quite well and is made all the more enjoyable by Watashi’s dry wit, which is humorous more so in a clever way than in a “laugh out loud” one. The show is also bolstered by its satisfying conclusion, as the last two episodes are wonderfully executed and left a lasting impression.
Now, everything that I’ve mentioned up to this point is important to what makes The Tatami Galaxy a great series, of course, but the real breadwinner here is the animation. As is to be expected from an anime directed by Masaaki Yuasa, the art style is a large departure from anything we’re used to seeing. Much like a child hopped up on copious amounts of sugar, The Tatami Galaxy’s style is constantly jumping around and proves to be extremely engaging. The variety of colors that are employed do a fantastic job of creating unique moods and making the show extremely pretty to look at. More often than not, I found myself going back and re-watching certain scenes after I had just finished an episode just to see the beautiful animation another time. While the characters themselves may seem simplistic in design and don’t have those classic enormous anime eyes that take up half of their faces, the style of The Tatami Galaxy is a really refreshing take on animation and one that I hope others can appreciate and enjoy.
Of course, I can’t go any longer without addressing one of the main complaints that people voice about The Tatami Galaxy, being that it’s so damn overwhelming. As you watch the first episode, you’ll immediately find that Watashi speaks at a breakneck pace, almost as if he needs to finish narrating the story before a bomb strapped to his chest detonates. Watching The Tatami Galaxy requires intense focus (No eating snacks while watching an episode!) and will test your speed-reading abilities from the outset. I found that I was able to get used to the fast-paced subtitles after a few episodes, but there still remained the problem that it was difficult for me to pay attention to both the animation and the dialogue at the same time. The sad truth is that The Tatami Galaxy is not really meant for non-Japanese speakers. An English dub of this show would be a godsend, but it seems very unlikely to ever come to fruition due to the freakish speed at which Watashi narrates and the culture-specific jokes sprinkled throughout each episode.
Despite the overwhelming nature of the show, you can still get plenty out of it as long as you’re willing to pay enough attention to what’s going on. The animation is fresh and quite engaging, the characters are quirky and multifaceted, and the story is told very well; I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for something different from the standard fare we find in anime nowadays.