The Tatami Galaxy

Alt title: Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei

TV (11 eps)
4.407 out of 5 from 5,266 votes
Rank #255

A man is miserable. Despite all his dreams of a “Rose-Colored Campus Life” filled with raven-haired maidens who dote on him, his social life is going nowhere. He has no girlfriend, his only good friend keeps getting him into trouble, and the circle he joined brings him no joy. So he tries again, and again, reliving his first two years of college life ad nauseum, making different decisions each time, having no recollection that he’s already done this all before. Will the man ever be satisfied with how his life turns out?

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StoryDirector 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.AnimationThe 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.SoundOn the other hand, the score functions without demanding or even deserving any attention.CharactersWatashi'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.OverallHumorously 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.


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. Story/Plot: 10/10 Animation/Graphics: 9/10 Music/Background: 8/10 Characters: 9/10 Overall: 10/10 For Fans Of: Bakemonogatari, Welcome to the N.H.K!


Despite being seemingly yet another romantic school comedy, Tatami Galaxy is not one of the same crap you will forget a week after you complete it. There is a lot more going on in it than petty problems common people face every day. It is multi-layered, with hints of science fiction, psychological introspection, and even witty life lessons. Unlike many series which are showing you something in the first episodes that is not representative of the rest of the series, Tatami Galaxy doesn’t try to fool you about its content. It’s a consistent train of thought coming from a university student that thinks way too fast and way too much to the point it stops being healthy. It is overthinking but unlike many other shows, it is not pretentious since he is simply rationalizing his insecurities instead of trying to pass as wise.It has a very artistic presentation, which unlike many other series it is not there simply as pretty backgrounds, nor as a trick for fooling the viewer into thinking the show is more than it actually is. The artwork is representative of the protagonist’s messed up mentality and not some poor excuse to make fan service seem artistic. It is also one of the very few exceptions where the seemingly episodic structure ends up coming together at the end. Despite appearances, every episode is not a stand-alone event with zero effect on the rest. There is even a solid ending, a thing that is very rare in slice of life series and comedies in general. It is also one of the very few exceptions where time resets are done right. They are always shit because they take away tension by giving the protagonist a cheap way to redo events. The difference with Tatami Galaxy is that it’s not really about time resets as it is about alternative realities and doesn’t let the protagonist know they exist until the very end. This way they are not overused, they bring together seemingly irrelevant events, and without trying to keep you interested during those events with tasteless fan service. Most anime are all about escapism, with cute girls in an eternally frozen paradise you have no wish to leave from. Tatami Galaxy dares to go the other way; it is not trying to make you feel fluffy inside; it tells you to break free of the illusion. It is cathartic and not otaku bait. The message of the show is finding a way out of your fear of disappointment caused by bad choices. The protagonist constantly thinks that making the right decisions is all it takes to be happy in life, when in reality it’s how you handle your choices that matters. This is something I rarely see in other series; they just use amnesia and time travel to change choices instead of changing the attitude. The show also does a good job at fleshing out its secondary cast instead of leaving them as background decorations or counterparts for the protagonist. Nobody is defined by a few simple quirks and is always relevant with the themes. By the end of the series they all evolve far beyond the archetypes they began as. And even if you leave aside all that, it is still a very good comedy, ranging from slapstick to psychological, and does it all without dragging a joke to last more than it has to, or keeps repeating it in every episode. Also, since the protagonist thinks and talks very fast, the number of jokes per minute is much higher than your average comedy.This is also what makes some to give up on the show early on, since there is too much going on to keep track of the jokes, or don’t find the comedy good because it’s not the usual juvenile variant. There are even those who find the ending to be a cop-out or consider the symbolisms of the clock and the moths to be pretentious. I am not one of those people since I loved the comedy, I found the symbolisms relevant, the ending was foreshadowed throughout the series, and had a message of anti-escapism which I happen to be a great supporter of. I find it to be an amazing series, practically flawless in every category, and easily deserves to be called one the best anime titles of all times. SUGGESTION LIST Mind Game (anime movie) Cube 2: Hypercube (live action Western movie)Groundhog Day (live action Western movie)

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