The anime Kaiba was the closest point I every got to turning The null set into an episodic blog, every episode left me positively brimming with stuff to think about and talk about. It ended up being my top show of 2008 and since that spring 2008 season, I’ve been silently (and anxiously) waiting for the next work from Masaaki Yuasa.
The wait is over and it’s all the sweeter with Madhouse reprising their role as the animators for Masaaki Yuasa.
Rating for episodes 1 to 2 – 11.5/12 Near Perfect
Anticipation Level: 4/5 Medium to High
Our nameless male protagonist (“Watashi” is a form of saying “I” but since I feel weird writing Nameless every time, I’m going with Watashi) started college with the desire to have a wonderful time meeting people and falling in love with a raven-haired maiden. To this end he picked a club that he thinks will most increase his chances of this rose-colored future but that choice just leads him into meeting Ozu, a sinister demon-looking fellow, and all hope in discovering that wonderful college life is lost. Watashi is now in his third year of college and can’t shake the feeling that if had only picked another club to join, his life would have turned out so much better. Ozu disagrees with him by saying that basically it’s the character flaws of Watashi that have caused him to be alone. Watashi disagrees but it’s a moot point since someone/thing gives him the opportunity to rewind these college years and try out another college club. Will he find that rose-color college life with the raven-haired maidens? Or will he discover that he actually doesn’t know what would make him the most happy?
The Fine Print
I’ve been trying for the last two days to find some other way to start this section without first discussing the furious pace at which Watashi narrates the story. No other topic seemed to quite work; not even the interesting geography lesson at the start of episode 1. I was all set to quip that I’d never be able to visit Point State Park in Pittsburgh with a straight face ever again and then go on to talk about the animation but nothing I wrote down looked right or lasted more then a couple minutes before I erased it.
I wanted to pass on talking about the narration speed because I honestly didn’t think it was that difficult and after reading several other reviews that complained about this speed, I didn’t want to further discourage people from possibly watching Tatami Galaxy. It’s a great looking anime that I’m sure will entertain but Watashi’s machine gun style narration style kept coming to mind first when I think about Tatami Galaxy. Finally, I asked myself, why is that so?
That was the correct question to ask because I realized that for all the potentially odd elements to Tatami Galaxy, it was the narration speed that I thought was the most strange thing about the show. Not the animation style, not the rebooting story, not the declaration of one of the characters that he is a god, not the inhuman appearance of Ozu with his impish nature, and not the fortune-teller that Watashi meets who’s fortunes seem just a little too on-target. And I think it’s done on purpose as a subtle means to convince us that Watashi is not a normal person (would a normal person narrate at such a speed) and he is not as blameless as he’d like to make us believe about why he only has one friend and little chance of ever having a girlfriend. He almost acts like he’s trying to pull one over on the viewers because we’re functioning as the conscience in his brain.
Moving on; I was impressed to see how many of my buttons this anime was able to press, it was like Masaaki Yuasa was reading my mind. For starters, maybe it was watching It’s a Wonderful Life so often at Christmas time while I was a youngster, but I’ve always liked when a story involves a time loop and/or a reboot with different conditions aspect to them. A recent example would be the infamous Endless Eight, which I enjoyed entirely more then I know I should have, or Higurashi no Naku Koro ni or Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Deciphering what’s different, what’s exactly the same, and what’s remains important gives these stories an added dimension of entertainment and thought. In the case of Tatami Galaxy, I’ve noticed something that’s similar in both stories but not exactly the same (Watashi has promised Akashi something and hasn’t fulfilled that promise) which I think will turn out to be a very important fact and can’t wait to see if this is born out in later loops.
The next button he hit was with the unique animation style and quality of Tatami Galaxy. I was expecting it but that didn’t make my enjoyment of the any less. It’s style is similar to that of Kaiba but evolved a bit; the character designs are a bit more realistic, a little more rigid and I noted the inclusion of the occasional photo-realistic element. (I’d be tempted to say it was Shinbou-like but it didn’t feel the same and it’s probably just ignorance on my part since Shinbou is the only animator I know that likes to include real objects into his animation with regular frequency.) If I had to compare it to something else because hardily anyone watched Kaiba, I’d have to say the animation style to Tatami Galaxy reminded me of the style that Birdy: The Mighty Decode used in the second season during many of it’s fights. More specially, a lower detail to the character designs which allows for an increased fluidity and speed to characters and their movements. It made for amazing fights in Birdy and awe-inspiring scenes in Kaiba so I’m excited to see how it’s used here.
Another button hit was my liking of a good romance/love story. First Love Limited, Clannad, Toradora, Sasameki Koto, Bakemonogatari, and Spice and Wolf being anime examples and let’s throw in The Princess Bride and Pride and Prejudice as non-anime examples of a good romance/love story. Which is what my gut is telling me Tatami Galaxy really is if you strip the show down to it’s most basic elements. Stranger things have happened, just look at Kaiba; underneath the awesome high tech SF world and thought-provoking plot, it turned out to be really just a love story. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, I just wanted to point out a misconception many people have about what type of stories are found in SF.)
I can’t finish without praising both the opening and closing songs and to say that I’ve particularly liked the closing animation sequence that accompanied the song. The music has been more muted then what I remember in Kaiba but still good. I’ve also enjoyed the voice work, especially Maaya Sakamoto as Akashi who’s also doing Nino’s voice in Arakawa Under the Bridge.
In conclusion, I know not every show is for everybody but I hope every anime fan gives Tatami Galaxy a try. And as long as I’m asking for stuff from the readers out there let me put in a good word for Kaiba, Makaaki Yuasa’s last anime, and ask those that like Tatami Galaxy but haven’t seen Kaiba to give it a chance. You can check out Kitsune’s site for more screenshots and a second opinion.
As an aside with my entry into the aniblog tournament, I’ve gotten some very good constructive criticism about my blog and I thought I’d give something different a try after reading Josh’s comments about how I use pictures. I originally had a much narrower layout and using full width pictures didn’t seem as visually disruptive as they did with this theme but I thought it was just me and left it alone. Now that I know that there’s at least one other person that thinks the same way, I’ll use this opportunity to try this type of picture using. Any feedback would be appreciated.