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.
Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (or The Tatami Galaxy) is an anime about a university student stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop. In the span of each episode, our nameless main character (he is referred to as Watashi, basically meaning "myself") goes over the same two years of university, unaware of the loop, each time joining a different club, in search of a "rose-coloured campus life".
Yojouhan is a rare example of a series with time loops where the loops themselves are actually played with. Throughout the 11 episodes, there are several different stories, but many of the episodes focus on the same stories as others. What makes these episodes work is that we see the stories from different angles. In some episodes, we see segments of the story that aren't entirely clear, though at the time are not distracting. In later episodes, these plot points are often explained when Watashi's perspective changes and we see what actually happened. The best part of this, though, is that every episode lends pieces to a larger story. While the series is episodic, what we see effectively falls into place like a jigsaw puzzle, all coming to fruition in the final episode making for one of the most satisfying conclusions I've ever seen.
As a result of this, the first few episodes of the series don't make complete sense. They come off as being more abstract than part of an actual plot, but as the series goes on the beginning is referred to in a way that makes this start a vital piece of the puzzle. The second episode is actually repeated later in the story with only very minor changes, and yet while this sounds boring it actually comes off as a masterstroke in that the episode stays interesting because of all the things that suddenly make more sense as a result. At the same time, showing the episode as second is a necessary touch because it turns into not only excellent foreshadowing rather than a convenient explanation, but is also referenced to by episodes inbetween. However, the start is hardly a throwaway. While not as strong as the rest of the series upon viewing, the bizarre and abstract style make the beginning an enjoyable watch anyway.
On that note, the way the series is presented is part of the genius. Upon starting the show, the first thing that will strike you is undoubtedly the art. The characters are drawn in an oddly cartoony way, using only one-tone colours for the art and having a rubbery kind of movement to them. This seems like an odd choice, but it does help to draw you into the unique world of Yojouhan, and later in the story it even gets used for plot purposes. This is also combined with a lot of black and white live-action shots, wherein the characters are sometimes drawn over the actors.
The strange presentation doesn't stop there, though. One strange feature of Yojouhan is that Watashi is very fond of monologuing, in a way very reminiscent of Kyon. He does so, however, at a very high speed. If the show has a fault, it is this, but it's more of a double-edged sword than a flaw outright. For people who aren't great at reading, the high speed of the subtitles can often make the things Watashi says hard to keep up with, but it's rarely overwhelming. On the plus side of it, it helps to keep the pacing of Yojouhan fast, which keeps the series interesting, an important factor in a series that is driven with an abundance of dialogue (excellent though the dialogue may be).
For a show that could have easily been dull or just weird if it had been handled wrongly, it only makes sense that even more precautions are made to make sure that there isn't a dull second in Yojouhan, as evidenced by the motormouthed narration. What helps with this is that rather than being thrown into an entirely new plot every time, there are a few elements that remain the same throughout every story. The beginning and end of each episode are usually the same, as well as Watashi's meeting with a fortune teller. This helps the viewer to keep a pace with the series, which may have been otherwise hard to do.
The characters of Yojouhan aren't really the focus point, but they aren't an afterthought by any means. While each member of the cast is a vibrant and distinctive individual in of themselves, the actual characterisation isn't really the strong point of the characters, but rather how they are used. Just like the story, each character and their actions throughout the two years are explained slightly more with each new perspective. This ends with more or less every character coming out good, but one character in particular sticks out as being an excellent example of defied expectations, showing their nature as a 3-dimensional character as we see their story from each side fall into place. I won't spoil who it is, but anybody who has seen the series should know who I mean. Watashi himself, while an unremarkable person, is hard not to like for his enjoyable musings and relatable situations, and as the series goes on he does develop well, if not remarkably so.
Of course, the time loops persist for as long as Watashi continues to miss the proper way to live the two years, with conclusions that have been dangling in front of his eyes the whole time. Some of the conclusions become expected after a mere few episodes, but other, more important ones (as well as the entire point of the time loops) are less obvious and yet no less excellent.
Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is an exercise in series structure unlike anything before it. The way the entire series is built comes off as nothing short of genius. I have yet to see any of acclaimed director Yuasa Masaki's previous works, but Yojouhan makes it blatantly clear that he lives up to the reputation that precedes him. I can only hope Kaiba, Cat Soup and Mind Game are nearly as good as this, because now Masaki has set an excellent example of how to make a truly great, original anime.
For Fans Of: Bakemonogatari, Welcome to the N.H.K!
I can't tell you what attracted me to this series apart from the name as I thought it was a person, but I was completely off. Luckily, I was persuaded to join up the FYAB group on this and it was well worth it. It's most certainly strange and oddball, but it's quite fun.
Basically, each episode is a two-year campus life of Watashi, who seeks a rose-coloured campus life. At the start of the episode, he picks a club to join and that choice presents a durastic change in the events in each episode. So he can join the tennis club and in another episode the movie club but the events in the two are pretty much different. Pretty much, as there are some events that are shown in previous episodes, events/scenes that can co-relate/reflect what has happened before and give a sense of deja-vu; a "I've seen this before" vibe. It's clever and fun, and that's part of the fun I've had; seeing scenes reoccur in a different perspective.
What also adds to the fun is the comedy, which can be a bit oddball at times but it works. I may not have laughed out loud everytime but it certainly made it more enjoyable. The characters really bring out the funny parts, especially Ozu, a reoccuring devil-ish chap who looks like a demon. He's sinister, manipulative and calculating but is immensely fun when combined with Watashi. And as each episode passes, we get more and more glimpses into the lives of the cast that we would never have gotten if it was simply a linear storyline, or a timeline, to be more percise. The whole groundhog day thing works, it flies and doesn't crash and burn throughout the series.
When I started The Tatami Galaxy, I could barely keep up with the subs, having to pause every minute or every time Watashi voiced (Thought, but speaking his thoughts) his thoughts. It was a machine gun and it annoyed me, but thoughts are quick, aren't they? (Took me a few episodes to process that thought, admittedly) But as the series progressed, I got more and more used to it and was able to keep up to the point where I was nearly on pace with it. And what helped was the VO's. It felt good. I wasn't annoyed at it at all and was able to keep at it, trying to keep up with the subs. It most certainly helped the transition to keeping pace with it all.
It's about time I got to the animation, but going to mention the OP and EP. I may not remember any of the music from the series but the OP/EP combo are strange. Strange as in I didn't enjoy it much at first but it grew on me to the point where I dreaded watching the last episode, because it would be the last time I would hear the OP/EP while watching the show. Seemed so... final, as I didn't want it to end but it doesn't overstay it's welcome. Anyway, brilliant stuff in that area. And the animation that goes along with it.
The animation is a total trip, and I loved it. It's stylish, pretty bizzare at times and at certain times, absolutely beautiful. In particular a scene with bottle rockets. And check out the screenshot with Watashi covered in flames, totally wicked. It's simple and yet at times complex, but the simplicity is what works. It doesn't overcomplicate it everytime but relies on a style all of it's own. It's beauty is in it's style, how it isn't all glitzed and glittered up, shining and buttered up. But it's a love/hate it thing, and I for one loved it.
I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and it was a total surprise to me. The groundhog day plot really got me intrigued when I actually looked up a description and the animation only further drew me in. I wasn't hooked at the start, but it's one of those series that either grows and nutures your love for it or a weed that you want to pull out and stomp on. Harsh, but give it a few episodes; it's not one that you can simply decide on with a single episode.
Totally worth judging a book by it's name.
***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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Because of its unconventional animation style, Tatami Galaxy is love or hate at first sight for many viewers. Regardless of how you feel about the art, though, the heart of the show—its story—is smart, funny, and well-written. Meet the nameless protagonist often referred to as “Watashi”, a college student searching for his dream of “rose-colored campus life” and a raven-haired maiden with whom he can spend it. Throughout the series, Watashi tries out many different extra-curriculars, including the Tennis Circle, Hero Show Association, and Cycling Club. These clubs are almost always more sinister than they first appear. No matter which path he chooses, it never seems to lead to the future Watashi desires, and he is repeatedly granted the chance to redo from his wasted college years.
The show begins with a self-proclaimed god of marriage explaining to Watashi that he has a fifty-fifty shot at a pretty, independent underclassman named Akashi. However, the other contender happens to be his best friend/mischievous rival, Ozu. Though Watashi only vaguely remembers this proclamation as time is reset again and again, the viewer certainly keeps it in mind. A lot of the brilliance behind Tatami Galaxy lies within this fact—though the characters never fully realize that they are reliving their college days, we take note of the events which seem to repeat themselves as if they were predestined, each time in a slightly different manner. It all adds up to a wonderfully triumphant ending that doesn’t leave a single character behind.
Tatami Galaxy is based on a novel by Morimi Tomihiko, and the quality of the script resembles that of a novel. The transition between book and anime is beautifully handled; not at all clunky or obvious. My only complaint is that a few elements become expected after we’ve seen them a few times and lose some of their impact. Rest assured that the formula is not the same for every episode, though.
As I mentioned previously, the animation will probably garner strong opinions. Tatami Galaxy is not beautiful in the same way as Clannad or Summer Wars. However, if it had been animated realistically instead of in its vibrant, cartoonish manner, the show wouldn’t have been half as good. Tatami Galaxy has what many shows lack—style.
I also commend it for making such a great use of its low budget. Just because a show has fewer frames per second doesn’t mean it has to be any less good than another, more expensive anime. Sure, maybe Ergo Proxy has amazing production values, but I enjoyed Tatami Galaxy a thousand times more.
Honestly, I can’t recall a single song that occurred between the opening and the ending, and I really care about OSTs. But every time the opening and closing music began, it made me smile. “Maigoinu to Ame no Beat” is the creation of Asian Kung-Fu Generation, a rock band that has also played themes for mainstream shows like Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Naruto. "Kami-sama no Iutori" is a mellow, catchy electronic number sung by Etsuko Yakushimaru. I enjoyed both songs enough to put the full-length versions on my iPod.
The voice-acting is very well-done, too. It takes talent to be able to speak so quickly and so level-headedly as Watashi, and Shintaro Asanuma does not disappoint. Even the more cartoonish, exaggerated characters like Ozu and Higuchi receive proper treatment. They’re weird, but not distractingly so. Most of all, I loved Maaya Sakamoto (Haruhi in Ouran, Aerith in FF, Crona in Soul Eater) as Akashi. Honestly, so many female characters have overly cutesy, high-pitched voices. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Fuko Ibuki, but as a girl, I’m often left thinking, Wow, I don’t speak like that. The only voice that got on my nerves was that of Johnny, whose existence is a metaphor for Watashi’s lust for female company. (That probably serves as an explanation in itself.)
You know how you’re supposed to get annoyed at a character for being self-centered or even half-evil?
Usually it works that way, but this show is an exception. The characters in Tatami Galaxy are flawed in a way that’s loveable—because it makes them seem like real people. Watashi is unrealistic and self-interested; Ozu is disloyal and impish; Akashi answers all questions coldly; Heiguchi is a lazy, eighth-year student; Hanuki drinks too much…the list goes on. At the same time, none of them are bad people, and it reminds us of ourselves as viewers.
That being said, the characters are quite interestingly handled. Throughout Watashi’s many realities, the cast remains at about ten people or fewer. However, they play many different roles and range from good-hearted to diabolical without the fundamental basics of their personalities changing. It shows how people can act differently depending on the situation they’re put in, but ultimately, there’s some things about them that will never change.
Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, Tatami Galaxy has a lot of heart. It may not be your typical anime, but then again, who is really looking for a typical anime? There are a lot of “weird” shows these days, but underneath the abstract animation and storyline, they’re hollow. Tatami Galaxy rings true with anyone who has ever sought a life different than their own. You should definitely give it a shot.