Review: The Tatami Galaxy

Honestly, if it were not for a friend I had who has an utmost love for this series, I would’ve never even come across it on my own. No one talks about it. It’s not even mentioned on lists of anime that are rarely mentioned. This show hasn’t even gotten a DVD release here in the US (there is an Australian release, and there was one planned for Europe too), despite airing in 2010. I don’t really know what future this series has in the West, but it probably doesn’t seem the brightest. This is disappointing, because it is an amazing show, and I’m glad my friend showed it to me.

So, in honor of this friend, and in honor of how great but yet unknown this series is, I’ve decided to make this my first review on this website.

An Introduction

Enter into the mind and eyes of the main character, whose name we’re never given, as he goes through his first few years of college. He wants to be able to enjoy a “rose-colored” college life, where he reaches all these big goals, gets to have fun all of the time, and even gets some romance on the side too.

But such a life isn’t just laid out right in front of you: you gotta look for it yourself! Through all the friends you meet, the clubs you join, and – most importantly – the decisions you make, you’ll end up somewhere on your way to such a life; who knows what it takes to actually get the “rose-colored” ending though.

And so, each episode, we – through the main character’s eyes, ears, and mind – get to see him go try out various clubs, and see which, if any, of them bring us to that sought-after goal. Along the way, we get to interact with and slowly get to learn about a couple of people along the way: there’s Master Higuchi, this older guy (god?) who seems wise beyond our comprehension; there’s Akashi, a headstrong no-nonsense girl who had this thing against moths; there’s Jougasaki, the charismatic leader of the film club who’s biggest interests are best kept secret; finally, we have Ozu, our “best friend”, although he makes it pretty easy to get us into situations we’d rather not be in.

The Plot and Characters

I’m going to say this upfront: this show deserves to be watched in full at least twice. You can pick up what this show is putting down in your first watch-through, but when you watch it a second time, things become a lot clearer to you because you know where things will end up. As well, this show can go by super-fast at some points, especially in the very first episode. On your second watch-through, you can focus a bit less on all the subtitles and words flying by, and more focus on the story and the show as a whole.

So yes, it’s pacing can be extremely quick at points, like it’s going a mile-a-minute. Even when it isn’t that fast, though, it’s still pretty fast, but it does know when to slow down at the right times (especially towards the end of the series). Once you get used to the quicker parts of the show, you’ll have no issues with it overall.

What you may have an issue with is how this show presents its story. A lot of the actions you see take place in this story are explained and said, rather than just simply “done”. Usually it’s the main character describing his reasoning for the action or the background behind why the action is taking place, as it’s occurring. For some, that can turn them off from really enjoying this show, and there are shows that this would not work as well in. However, for me… it just fits here.

Tatami Galaxy reminds me a lot of the Endless Eight arc of Haruhi Suzumiya (but done better). Each episode, you get to see the main character start from the first day of college again and select a new activity or club that he hasn’t done before, all in search of that “rose-colored” college life. There’s really a bit more to all of this than that, but really, I can’t say much more without spoiling things.

Throughout the different clubs and paths of life that we see the main character take, we also get to learn about the secondary characters as well: each episode, and path, can show a new aspect to these characters, or expand on an aspect only previously hinted at before. A prime example is Jougasaki, who you first meet in episode 2. After that, he becomes a very heavily recurring character, simply because he’s involved in so much of the other things the main character gets involved with too. It’s honestly a cool way to flesh out these characters, in a way that can’t usually be pulled off. Tatami Galaxy, of course, waits until towards the very end to show us more about the most interesting characters in this bunch though.

Throughout these episodes, you can really get a feel for who these characters are and what their motivations are. However, because we always only see these characters during the exact same two years of time, we don’t really see them grow or develop as people; they more remain as caricatures, at their flashiest, or quirky, at their least. I can’t really say it’s a bad thing, but it’s a bit disappointing to not be able to see where some of these other characters end up. Of course, all of this being said, there is, of course, character development in this series, but towards the very end. The character that gets the least shown about her, sadly, is Hanuki, whom we mainly just see as connected with Higuchi.

All in all, the last two episodes of the series, in my mind, are the coolest things about this whole show. I obviously can’t talk about what happens, but the resolution that they bring the series to, and the way it does it, is amazing. I won’t necessarily call this show ground-breaking on the message that it ends up telling you, but it is ground-breaking in the journey it takes to get to that ending. Without a doubt, I believe Tatami Galaxy has a great story.

The Atmosphere

The art of this show is another thing that’s rather interesting and uncommon. Rather than going with the usual styles we generally see in anime, Tatami Galaxy’s character designs, and artwork in general, are a lot less detailed, and uses more simple colors and little-to-no gradients. I can really only compare it to older 90’s (and earlier) anime, such as Big O, or the American cartoon Samurai Jack; it’s really a style we don’t see all that often, if at all, in the past decade.

The show tends to use darker colors throughout everything, and has a big tendency to color things in these weird, unrealistic colors (except for key objects and other such things). The skin of the characters are pure white, and the hair is pure black. Tatami Galaxy also tends to use a lot of artistic effects and visual metaphors, and really incorporates a lot of photorealism in the latter episodes of the series. The simplistic style that this show uses, I think is great, as something more detailed or similar to other shows of its time would not work well with the fast pacing; even setting aside the pacing though, it’s unique, and it’s stylistic in a way that, when blended with the pacing and its large amount of talking, really gives this show its own identity, and really makes it stand apart from anything else of recent.

With how much talking he does, you’d hope the show has a good voice actor for the main character, and, of course, it does. How he can handle the sometimes-super-fast stuff is beyond me. I’d say this show does pretty well with selecting a voice cast for all of the characters we meet; special mention goes out to Shintaro Asanuma as the main character and Hiroyuki Yoshino as Ozu. If there’s one that I feel may be at least a tiny bit off, it’s Akashi’s, although Maaya Sakamoto is certainly a talented voice actress.

When it comes to the background music, there’s a lot of scenes where there just isn’t any present. The constant dialogue being spoken, along with any other sound effects, are usually enough to not make the soundscape feel like it’s missing something. When there is background music, Tatami Galaxy tends to rely upon string instruments and woodwinds (such as the oboe); the music tends to be used in scenes where it’s meant to feel uncomfortable or off-putting, which translated a bit to my emotions during the scenes they were used in, so I guess they’re successful in that regard. I may have enjoyed some more exotic instruments for this series, but it isn’t like the instrumentation used here doesn’t work decently well.

The opening theme is done by the Asian Kung-Fu Generation, who are consistently pretty great, and this song really isn’t an exception. It isn’t energy-filled or bombastic, and it’s nice-sounding for this series; I probably wouldn’t listen to it on my own, as I tend to like the more bombastic energy, but it’s still good. The opening animation is also not quite as flashy or extravagant, but, again, it is unique, featuring a camera moving through an apartment building, while the credits fly past. I love the ending theme, on the other hand, and the ending animation consisting of eerily sentient floor-plan rooms is just fascinating to watch. The show also has 2 (if I remember correctly) insert songs, which just oddly feel cool and are simply nice to listen to.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

The Tatami Galaxy, undoubtedly, is a show that’s very unique and highly identifiable. From the way it presents its story and characters, to the way its art and colors are done, it’s unlike anything of its time and I think it should be appreciated for that. The message that it has to give, while not groundbreaking, is presented in a groundbreaking way, and in a way that’s so uniquely and stylistically this show.

Unfortunately, these way-out-there shows are guaranteed to either be super-successful or super-not, and given by its treatment here in the U.S., it’s fallen on the latter side, at least here. It is disappointing, though, because I feel this show is something that should get a lot more attention, as it has a lot going for it, and a lot of people just never even learn of its existence. I’d easily recommend everyone go out and watch the show through, if and when you get the chance.

Rating: Near-Perfect
Recommendation: Put This On Immediately
+++ unique in so many ways from start to finish, last two episodes are just awesome along with the message they give, ending song/animation is great
— constant fast talking and explaining can put off some people, Hanuki gets short end of stick with fleshing out characters, background music could’ve benefited from more exotic instrumentation