Welcome to Round 2 of GLORIO Anime Club! The rules are simple: choose any anime you’ve watched in its entirety and the next randomly chosen person on the list MUST watch it, no questions asked. After watching and documenting their thoughts for your reading pleasure, they get to choose what the next person watches and so on. For this edition, Marlin has selected Tatami Galaxy for Jel to watch. Read on to see how things went.
Why Tatami Galaxy?
Marlin: The Tatami Galaxy came out on the Noitamina block three years ago(good lord has it really been that long?). It had won awards never garnished by the anime community, and built up a small following of ardent fans, one which I wasn’t even a part of. It wasn’t until a Japanator article talked about the show’s central theme that I finally got around to watching it my Junior year of college, finishing the whole show in a span of maybe two days at most. I quickly latched on to the Protagonist’s plight in struggling to belong in college and grow up as a person. It has sat near the top of my list of all time favorites ever since. While I knew Jel didn’t have the same kind of experience in college as I did, I still thought he could appreciate its story of youthful regret.
What did you think?
Jel: I’ve had Tatami Galaxy on my backlog for some time now. The unique art style and potential for a mature story seemed like something that I would really enjoy. Having now watched it, my short answer to “what did you think?” is “I was disappointed”. As for the long answer, it was a little hard for me to pin down why.
Part of the difficulty was the first couple episodes did manage to catch my attention. The premise of a young man trying different ways of living out his college years in some kind of time loop structure certainly has potential to be a great character piece. The free flowing, surreal art style is a refreshing change of pace. The setup is simple enough too, as the unnamed protagonist’s key to a fulfilling college life, we are told quite literally, is dangling in front of his face. Right from episode one it’s made clear this is going to be about the journey and not the destination, and I was sufficiently intrigued.
As the episodes ticked by though, I found myself feeling less and less satisfied. Whether our hero was trying out something mundane like joining the movie club or something more ridiculous like accidentally joining a cult, there was always a sense of inevitability hanging over the proceedings. You knew the clock was going to rewind at the end of the episode and undo everything. Without fail, you knew the exact same message would be beaten into your head by the old fortune teller woman, offering no further food for thought on the theme. Since the protagonist doesn’t remember anything, he learns nothing and makes no progress. To clean up and paraphrase my yelling somewhere past the midpoint, “JUST GIVE HER THE LITTLE BEAR CHARM THING AND GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE”. By episode eight I was so frustrated I had to watch the narrated scenes with the volume off as the mere sound of the main character’s super fast inner monologue was making me want to punch my screen.
Even with the repetitive nature of the plot grating on me, I still felt like there was a bigger issue at hand. To help me clarify my feelings for this post, I tried to think about what I like to see in good art, particularly when it comes to anime. Why were the main character’s rapid fire musings any different than, for example, the dense philosophical conversations I love in the Monogatari series? Why is Tatami Galaxy’s surreal, exaggerated imagery less effective than, let’s say, the dreamy, provocative symbolism in Penguindrum? In both those series, thematic questions are raised and the audience is given the pieces to decide the answers for themselves. Basically, they make you use your brain and really think about what the creator’s message means. In the definition I’m using, good art makes you think.
So while Tatami Galaxy may have the look and feel of a creatively stimulating art house classic, at no point in watching did I feel intellectually or emotionally challenged. Sure, the animation is unique and some of the plot lines are playfully weird (I found the love doll story particularly amusing), but it never deviates from the course it sets for itself and never asks you to question where it’s going. The theme is so explicitly stated throughout that my brain just shut off. Sometimes that’s OK, but I think the unique style choices and presentation of Tatami Galaxy show the creators intended it to be much more meaningful. In my opinion, they did not succeed.
I know I just made a lot of negative points, but I’m really just frustrated because I like the message of Tatami Galaxy and I really wanted it to work. Learning to stop looking for perfection and enjoying the opportunities you have in front of you is an important part of growing up. If that is something you struggled (or are currently struggling) with I could see how you might like this series. I must also admit having not gone to college, perhaps some of the appeal of the experience went over my head. Between that and my respect for Marlin’s opinion, I’m not going to say you should avoid watching Tatami Galaxy. I know there’s an audience for it, but personally I’m ready to move on.