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)
The series is a continous loop where every episode, the time reverts back to the time where he has to make a decision. Every episode shows the outcome of every decision that he made. The series is episodic and if you will really think that one episode doesn't have a connection to the next one then you are wrong. Every episode shows a different perspective or angle on how you see the story. And that what makes the series a very interesting one. Imagine the episodes are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and at the end of the story each pieces will fit perfectly to make a very deep story. Another thing that makes this anime stand out is the unique style of narrating the story. 90% of the series are monologues. This series is also a very hilarious one. Most of the time you will find yourself laughing and the jokes aren't those jokes you usually see on Shounen animes. The only downside for me is that it will somehow leave you hanging because you will want to see more but that is tolerable since it wouldn't leave any unanswered questions.
The biggest issue of this anime is its Animation. Some people won't watch this because the animation is like of a coloring book but for me the animation is fine. It really suits the story and it is very unique one. This kind of animation is really the best choice to depict the story.
The opening and ending theme are sounds great. The only issue is that they should have chosen a better background music to suit the mood.
Our main character here is a paranoid and a hopeless romantic loser. A typical character in this kind of story. The anime also has a variety of characters that could make the series more interesting.
Overall, this series is one of the most underrated, under apreciated and unknown anime. It is a hidden gem unkown to people. You will rarely see an anime that is very funny but has a very deep meaning. If you are looking for a unique, non-mainstream, non-complex and very interesting story then you should give this a try. If you liked Bakemonogatari then you will surely like this one.
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.
***This is a spoiler free review***
Formulating this review was actually quite difficult because while I both admired and enjoyed the visuals and characters of this anime, I felt as if I had to force myself to sit through it.
The plot and how each episode flows within each other is actually done very cleverly. Essentially we follow Watashi as he struggles in college to find pure enjoyment and love. His so called friend Ozu is always causing trouble and leading Watashi down the wrong path but they always end up sticking up for each other. The love interest of the show Akashi isn’t utilized as much as she could have been but overall she plays a pretty important role in the story. So essentially in the beginning episodes we get a deji vu feeling because we see the same timeline played over and over again with the clubs Watashi joins changes every time and plays out differently but achieves the same outcome. It isn’t until the final episodes that everything comes together and you get that, “OHH so that’s why that happened” satisfaction. Still even after eleven episodes I wonder why I sat through this show. I will admit that the plot was interesting and original but it still provided little enjoyment.
This show sports a very abstract scheme that works very well with the universe. We see a lot of different animation styles used in many different ways to set the mood. My general opinion is that Madhouse really is one of the great forerunners of animation. This show was very visually appealing to watch.
There wasn’t really a lot to comment on about the sound of this anime. While the music wasn’t distracting, it wasn’t anything to really comment on. The only praise should go to the voice actors. Atashi, Ozu, and Watashi had spot on performances and their voice actors really brought out their personalities well.
The only other thing that I found this show delivered on other than the animation was the characters. To me a really well done character is someone you remember weeks or years after you watch a show. While I just recently finished this anime, the cast really left a lasting impression on me. The way the characters interacted with each other was very amusing and overall was what kept me coming back. A well done cast can help keep viewers stay hooked even if the plot is lacking or unenjoyable (Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu, Angel Beats!, K-On!, ext.).
While I did not enjoy this show, the abstract animation style and close nick pack of characters really helped turn this deji vu, soul searching anime into something that I could sit through. Now I really bashed the plot and I do not want this to turn you away from watching the show. The plot IS original and thought provoking; I just either wasn’t in the correct mindset or mood to watch a show of this nature. First glances made me believe it was a lighthearted comedy but it turned out to be something drastically different. Regardless I only review with the facts and what I can explain so taking my personal feelings about the show out of the question, it’s worth your time.
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