Reviewby Tim Henderson, Aug 5th 2011
The Tatami Galaxy
University – a time for study, a time for socialising, and a time for blaming it all on misinformed club decisions once you've reached your third year and have realised that you've not been living the dream you imagined you would back when you graduated from senior high. A spiral of stories involving the one nameless character and this very scenario, The Tami Galaxy continues the experimental lead that Noitamina was conceived to nurture.
It's clear that time plays a central role to the themes that Tatami Galaxy wishes to explore. A show about transience, second chances and the importance of what you do with the opportunities granted to you over and above how fruitful those opportunities may actually appear; it makes no gripes about stressing its point through innocent repetition. No two stories are quite alike, but they all build to the same message, and the image of a rewinding clock at the end of almost every episode cracks this home with thunderous energy that is as powerful as it is genuine.
Appropriately Tatami Galaxy is in a way, timeless. Much of its more expressive and experimental moments click together, an obvious consistency with director Masaaki Yuasa's excellent work on the hyper-coloured and hyper-modern Mind Game. But at the same time, without the occasional mention of the Internet or smart phones, it would be just as easy to assume that Tatami was set sometime in the seventies as it would be to perceive it as yesteryear.
This is somewhat attributable to the gentle, curvature nature of all the character art – one member of the supporting cast sports a chin so bulbous that it's difficult not to feel that the show is striving to evoke an era when Tetsuwan Atom ruled the animation roost. This is compounded by complexions so pale that all the characters are pure white, none more so than the show's appropriately unnamed lead.
As dry as ink on fresh paper, this human-shaped fodder for narration is a literal construct of line art – his shirt and trousers combo sporting nothing more than shades of pure black and white; his hair gelled, but gently curved to match his perfectly circular glasses. He's competent, but his delusions outweigh his ability; his fantasies stretch farther than his courage. Routinely beginning as a University first-year in search of a rose-coloured campus life, he inevitably and reliably picks clubs and groups to join and waits for the colour to leak in. Given enough time, the lethargy of his third-year life and his sugar-high verbal reflections become a sturdy backbone for thematic impact.
Colours are often pale, and appear of powdery ink applied neatly to cheap paper. Galaxy excels in presenting a flat aesthetic that in turn excels in making the odd burst of vibrant or fluorescent colour really stand out. It works towards the show's visually misleading sense of time and setting – it's as though hours, days, even years have slipped rapidly through our fingers without our noticing, a dilemma that our nameless narrator must surly emphasise with.
Refusing to show the balls or make the effort to grasp the opportunity always dangling (quite literally, on a string) before him – a date with a 'raven-haired maiden' – no matter the price an elderly fortune-telling woman takes him for, he instead spends his life re-living his higher education debut, cursing his misfortune and telling himself how much better things may have been had he joined a different club or circle when he first strode onto campus. Little wonder that so much of the location art appears so papery that it might crumple if grasped in an angry fist.
This becomes more infuriating to watch as each episode passes, always getting to an end point where our nameless lead realises how much potential he has wasted and demands a chance to do it all over, spurring the world clock to rewind far enough for the following twenty-odd minutes to present a new alternate reality. As such, the message is communicated effectively and heavy-handedly through a sense of repetition that doesn't really repeat very much at all. However it becomes apparent that there are consistencies bound to this young man's life that won't go away, and the lesson is clear: if MacGuyver can make do with some super glue, a teddy bear and a box of matches, then surely you can deal with the deck of friends that you've been served... so long as you can accept them for the role, which you probably should.
Chief among this cast of human condiments is Ozu, an ugly trickster with a head like a deformed vegetable and teeth inspired by an unhygienic bear trap. He is an apt portrayal of a human with little in the way o redeeming features, but he nonetheless makes good with his time – even if doing so often spurs pranks and backstabbing. He's an entertaining character and an amusing choice for a close friend who's presence regularly flits between actual person and mental metaphor.
At the same time, he also represents Tatami's most ironic flaw. Free-spirited with its aesthetic tricks, its effectiveness at communicating themes and ideas... even emotions, is undercut by its own cleverness. This is a show to be watched and admired, if perhaps not to be felt. It's an engaging experience at times, even a fascinating one at times, but all of its cool intelligence has left it feeling a mite vapid emotionally, an issue that may be less of a problem if the thematic core didn't wish to lean so heavily on empathy.
Ozu represents much that gets denied, a needed release that seldom finds release. Instead, live-action footage reverts to boiling kettles, sponge cakes are eaten by the fistful, and a cowboy-like libido becomes trapped on a hamster wheel. Tatimi Galaxy isn't always subtle, but it is strongly visual in spite of the hyper-kinetic chain of words that form each episode's narration. This is a rare DVD where even the most puristic of fans might wish for a dub track, their eyes crossing in attempt to keep pace with the subtitles while still taking in the lucid and bizarre animation tricks.
Much as with Irabu before it, The Tatami Galaxy represents a top-quality release on Siren's part. The technical specifics are great, and the clean package is protected by an equally clean cardboard slip-case. Extras are a mite slim, but at least there are some, and it's difficult not to be glad that stuff like this is at least seeing some kind of local release.
Overall : B
Story : A-
Animation : B+
+ Clever use of repetition for thematic exploration; skillful exploitation of the animation medium
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