Quotorium Reviews: The Tatami Galaxy

Welcome to a belated June Year of Anime entry! I’ve wanted to watch this show for a while since it was mentioned in a class, and this was the year to sit down and do that thing. The Tatami Galaxy has some interesting things to offer on the animation and narration side of things, so let’s see what that’s all about— a little reviewlysis, if you will, but what else is new.

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The protagonist learns in Episode 1 that he’s destined for a girl named Akashi unless his frenemy Ozu gets her first.

Tatami Galaxy is a 2004 novel that was adapted into an anime in 2010 by Studio Madhouse, directed by Masaaki Yuasa. The anime is also loosely connected to the 2018 film by Yuasa, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, which appears as a novel in the show. Tatami Galaxy follows a first year university student in Kyoto as he tries to join clubs on campus, hopeful that he will become popular and get a girlfriend. In Episode 1, he meets a god of matchmaking at a ramen stand who tells him that a girl at his university, Akashi, is going to be matched with either him or his devious friend, Ozu. With that as the setup, the show replays the same first year of university, with each episode having the protagonist join a different club, meeting the same set of people, realizing the delusion of university life and his possible feelings for Akashi, then turning back the clock and starting over. Wash, rinse, repeat. Just a note that the main character doesn’t have a name, so we’ll call him “protagonist.” 

Parallel Galaxies (the Castella Crumb Trails)

Tatami Galaxy has a unique relationship with time. The series isn’t linear; it doesn’t follow events in order. Nor does it follow a sequence of events out of order. Tatami Galaxy starts each episode with the exact same premise and characters, but the different clubs shape the episode’s conflict. Basically, Tatami Galaxy plays with parallel realities. Because it moves across time rather than through it, we the audience learn about the protagonist and his relationships and goals after watching a bunch of episodes, putting the disparate pieces together like a puzzle. Unfortunately, this means that the show is only worth it if you invest in all of it, but it also means you can watch it without the pressure of missing any details, since these details will always resurface. For example, a Castella cake is gifted to the protagonist for various reasons throughout the show, so we learn that the cake is a recurring motif. It takes on more meaning as we see more timelines.

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A trilogy of episodes explore the protagonist’s pursuit of 3 different girls.

The episodes will also vary in how much they change. The standard formula is that the protagonist’s relationships are outlined in similar ways, but the context is different. However, some episodes have him join many clubs at once, some have him join none at all. The episodes end on a large clock rewinding time, but sometimes the episode after will still be linked to the episode before (eg, episode 6, 7, and 8 are connected since they look at what would happen if the protagonist chose 1 of 3 girls in the same night). Near the last few episodes, the clock won’t rewind at all. All of the motifs that are built up over the runtime teach you to spot the differences in a way, and by changing these formulas slowly, Tatami Galaxy starts to feel like it can conclude. This makes the show slightly different from the infamous “Endless Eight” episodes in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, since the repetition is always slightly off, not an exact copy.

Animation and Sound 

When I first heard about this anime, I was instantly drawn to its style. Tatami Galaxy is very flat, and mostly monochrome. There isn’t a whole lot of detail, shading, or dimension, and the shadows are just plain black, with no gradients. The way the characters move around in their world makes them look unmistakably flat too. Once you’ve been watching the show for a bit, this flat look does start to feel underwhelming, only for some scenes to be brightly coloured and shake things up a bit. This colouring will usually play off of the “rose-coloured” life that the protagonist wants.

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Tatami Galaxy is mostly black and white, but lays on the colour for moments where something clicks.

On the sound side of things, Tatami Galaxy is honestly the ultimate test for those who prefer subs. Even if you’ve learned to read super fast thanks to anime subs, I can almost 100% guarantee that Tatami Galaxy will cause you problems. The protagonist narrates most of the scenes in such a dry, quick way that your eyes are doing all they can to register what he’s saying. After a while it got easier to figure out what to pay attention to when, but the way this show just hits the ground running and lets you figure it out over its entire run means that you’re struggling for those first few episodes.

The Tatami World

As the name suggests, Tatami Galaxy has a bit of an obsession with tatami. Especially in the later episodes, the tatami mat is used as a metaphor for life, in the sense of the 4 1/2 tatami mat one room apartment that can loop and be infinitely redecorated, or be a place to hole up and ignore the world. The tatami world seems to contain some sort of deep existential worry about leading a life worth living. It’s where things make sense, where revelations are made, but everything is immediately forgotten outside as the protagonist tries to make it on the outside. A lot of this spoils the end of the show so I won’t go too in depth, but essentially tatami are what weave the whole show together.

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The tatami unsurprisingly becomes a central part of Tatami Galaxy.

Even the abundance of floor-level shots constantly place the viewer at the level of the tatami, reorienting our understanding of the protagonist’s world every time the clock rewinds each episode. The escalating importance of the tatami room means that the protagonist will eventually come to terms with his life choices and own up to them. And hinting at this the entire way through is the OP and ED that showcase the tatami room. In the OP, the camera moves through a loop of the tatami room, and the ED is a stylized architectural drawing of a tatami room as it grows and shrinks. Both point to Tatami Galaxy’s climax before we even reach it, much like the parallel galaxies that take up its runtime.

So What? 

Tatami Galaxy was worth the wait, and I was happy that I didn’t ever feel frustrated by the time looping. Each episode brought a new dimension to the protagonist’s life, and how all of the characters in the show could be woven together. It never felt too preachy, and addressed its comments on social anxiety and isolation just the right amount so that it gave other parts the room to breathe. In addition to the anxieties around developing connections with people, Tatami Galaxy also addressed the sexual politics of campus life, which accounted for much of the humour. If the dry wit comes across as funny to you, that is.

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Tatami Galaxy balances existential worry with completely insane fun.

Overall, the style and wit made me feel like there was enough entertainment value, however I totally understand not watching this one. Tatami Galaxy’s animation mixed with its parallel universes make it a satisfying watch if you stick with it. It offers some great analysis opportunities; as soon as I realized the story rewound each time I got invested pretty quick. I’m definitely going to watch The Night is Short, Walk on Girl now that I’ve gotten a taste of its style! Masaaki Yuasa’s become much more of a powerhouse as of late, and seeing some slightly earlier work is really helpful after watching his other hit shows like Devilman Crybaby, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, or even movies like Ride Your Wave and Japan Sinks 2020.

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