One autumn evening, a college dropout stops at a ramen stand where he crosses paths with a self-proclaimed deity of matrimony. This odd encounter sends the man hurtling back through space and time to his starting days at college, giving him another chance to find the rose- coloured campus life that escaped him years before. Along with his mischievous friend Ozu, the unnamed man finds himself trapped among the endless possibilities that could change his life as he tries to grasp the opportunity that seems to dangle right in front of his eyes.
Of the plethora of anime I’ve seen since taking up the hobby almost three years ago, The Tatami Galaxy is probably one of the strangest I’ve ever seen, and I mean that as a massive compliment. In almost every way you can think of, it seems to toss aside any and all notions of conforming to any genre norms or general conventions of anime, which makes for an incredibly refreshing show that will be unlike almost anything you’ve seen before.
The most instantly apparent way that Tatami Galaxy sets itself apart from every other show is with its visual style. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the director of this series, Masaaki Yuasa, who has made a name for himself with other visually unique anime such as Ping Pong the Animation and Kaiba, and The Tatami Galaxy is definitely no exception. This show in an absolute assault on the eyes, using a whole array of bright, vibrant colours and textures that can often change from scene to scene, and a lot of the time even from shot to shot, occasionally incorporating elements of photography and video. It’s very hard to describe, and it really has to be seen in motion before you can get a good grasp of what it’s like, but, needless to say, it looks superb. I always love it when an anime tries to do something different with its art style, something that stands out from the crowd of somewhat samey-looking anime that are around nowadays. As much as I do love some good old fashioned moe, it’s nice to see something new, and it’s certainly something I’d like to see more of. The visuals here are plain mesmerizing and I could probably recommend it purely on the strength of the animation and art alone. The wonderful animation is provided by one of my personal favourite studios, Madhouse, who have produced anime such as Yuasa’s other work, Kaiba, as well as other popular series such as Death Note and Hunter x Hunter. This certainly ranks among the most unusual work I’ve seen from them; however, in terms of animation alone, it’s probably the best. Anime Limited’s release is the first time this show has been available on Blu-ray outside of Japan, and it really benefits from being in HD, where the bright colours can really pop. I honestly can’t imagine DVD doing this show justice, so it’s great to see it finally make its way on Blu-ray in the West.
The strange, surreal visual aesthetics of The Tatami Galaxy are paired with an equally bizarre story. The general premise of the show is that at the start of the episode, the unnamed protagonist will arrive at college in his first year, and pick a club, with the hopes that it will lead him to meeting a raven-haired maiden and falling in love, but it all goes wrong by the end, and time rewinds for a fresh start at the beginning of the next episode, with the protagonist having no memories of the previous episode, barring some brief recollections. Although the majority of the episodes work as stand-alone stories, they all intertwine nicely with one another, and it’s not uncommon to see events from previous episodes crop up, albeit in slightly different ways, due to the differences in the timeline. As I said before, the stories in the episodes themselves are just as unique and odd as the animation that they’re paired with. What I really like about each episode is how the absurdity isn’t constant, as, if it had been, it probably would have gotten quite tiring. Instead, most episodes begin with the protagonist joining a seemingly mundane club, but by the end of the episode, he winds up in some utterly crazy situation, such as falling in love with a doll, fighting in a ‘proxy-proxy’ prank war or hijacking a blimp. These stories alone would be entertaining enough, but when paired with the Yuasa’s direction and Madhouse’s visuals, they’re elevated into something truly riveting, and you won’t want to tear your eyes away from the screen. It’s just so full of energy and it makes for incredibly fun viewing. Despite the fact that The Tatami Galaxy is a crazy and fun show on the surface, you can’t help but feel there is a darker, more cynical message underneath it all; that no matter what your choices are in life, you end up in the same position regardless. We constantly see the protagonist starting over and over again from the start of his college life, yet no matter what club he joins, he never achieves his goal. Despite this, there is a slightly more uplifting message towards the end of the show that gives some greater depth to everything, and it certainly gives the audience something to think about.
At the centre of all this madness is our cast of characters, who are also pretty great. The nameless protagonist is kind of a likable loser, and serves as our guide through the weird and surreal environment. It’s nice to have a grounded character to attach yourself to among all the craziness and I think his presence is a major factor in making the show work. In the last two episodes he also undergoes some fantastic and satisfying character growth that nicely caps off the series. Ozu, the fiendish-looking best friend of the protagonist who, in the words of the show, seems to exist to make the protagonist’s life a living hell, is probably the most fun character in the series and adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings, which has a great payoff at the end. The only weak character, in my opinion, is Akashi, the primary love interest of the protagonist, whose sparse appearances and lack of any real memorable character traits make for an incredibly forgettable character. As well as the main cast, The Tatami Galaxy also features a small but very memorable bunch of side characters, my favourite probably being the personification of the protagonist’s libido, the gun-toting, sex-mad cowboy Johnny, who always had me laughing without fail.
Anime Limited’s release of The Tatami Galaxy is Japanese audio only with English subtitles only, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. Not that the Japanese audio track is bad in any way, far from it; every voice actor here does an absolutely terrific job. The nameless protagonist is voiced by Shintaro Asanuma, who has supplied his voice to a myriad of different anime, such as Accel World, Assassination Classroom, Ace of Diamond and Tokyo Ghoul, and is brilliant in his role here, as is Hiroyuki Yoshino as the devilish Ozu. The only downside to the Japanese audio track is the speed at which everyone talks. After watching the first episode, I was convinced I was going to have to watch the entire thing at half speed. Everyone was talking so fast, and because I was so focused on trying and failing to read the subtitles at the speed they were going, I also ended up missing some of the visuals. Thankfully, this did get better after the first episode, becoming much more manageable, but there were still odd moments here and there where I totally missed something because the voice actors spoke faster than my brain could process the subtitles. This isn’t a problem that I think could be fixed, and is certainly not a fault with Anime Limited’s release, it’s just that this was clearly designed for native speakers of the language who don’t have to read along. It is mildly distracting, but I definitely don’t think it takes away from the show, and, as it goes on, you do kind-of get used to it. If anything, it adds to the rewatch value!
The score for The Tatami Galaxy is provided by Michiru Oshima, who has also worked on the music for other anime such as Little Witch Academia, Fullmetal Alchemist and Patema Inverted, and she produces a wonderful, piano-centric soundtrack that oddly enough really fits well with all the weirdness on screen. I can only imagine how hard it was to score a show like this, so the fact The Tatami Galaxy has such a fantastic soundtrack is really is a testament to Oshima’s talents. The opening is performed by one of my favourite bands as far as anime openings are concerned, Asian Kung-fu Generation. They never fail at producing incredibly catchy rock songs, and have performed openings for shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist, ERASED and Bleach. “Maigo Inu to Ame no Beat” is no different, and is an unforgettable and upbeat tune that I loved instantly.
Anime Limited’s release of The Tatami Galaxy includes quite a few nice extras on the disc, including Japanese commercials and promos for the show, as well as an interview with the man behind the series composition, Makoto Ueda, on top of the usual clean Opening and Ending you expect. In terms of physical extras, the Limited Edition set includes a set of four art cards and an artbook, all contained in a premium collector’s box. It’s really a gorgeous set, and one that this show very much deserves.
The Tatami Galaxy is an absolute must for almost any anime fan. Its unique and mesmerizing visuals and off-the-wall yet deep story and an entertaining cast of characters make this show a breath of fresh air, and one I can’t recommend enough.