The Novel Connection Between The Tatami Galaxy and The Night Is Short, Walk On Girlby Evan Minto,
In 2010, eclectic anime director Masaaki Yuasa (DEVILMAN crybaby) created a TV anime adaptation of Tomohiko Morimi's campus novel The Tatami Galaxy. It was a critical darling in Japan, winning Yuasa his second Grand Prize in the Japan Media Arts Festival (the first being for Mind Game) and breaking new ground as the first TV anime to ever win the coveted award. But The Tatami Galaxy was actually the second novel in a trilogy from Morimi. Yuasa originally intended to move right along to adapting the third novel, but ended up having to wait seven years to direct The Night is Short Walk On, Girl. The film gets the gang back together in more ways than one: Yuasa and much of the staff are back, but so are many of the characters from The Tatami Galaxy. These two anime productions, separated by seven years but bound together by staff and source material, complement each other in fascinating ways.
The Tatami Galaxy follows a disaffected college junior as he relives various alternative versions of his first two years of college, joining different clubs and having his life ruined by his troublemaker friend Ozu while trying to win the affection of the girl he has a crush on. In The Night is Short Walk On, Girl, an energetic college girl spends one long night cavorting around Kyoto, drinking lots of alcohol and meeting various colorful characters, while a lovestruck upperclassman trails one step behind her, desperate to win her heart but too cowardly to do anything about it. The similarities are pretty obvious, and both stories arrive at similar places by the end, with the protagonists breaking out of self-destructive cycles and learning to live more emotionally fulfilling lives.
Not only does Night Is Short take place in the same city — Kyoto — and at the same university, but many members of its supporting cast are plucked straight out of The Tatami Galaxy: Higuchi, the gourd-faced god of matrimony; Hanuki, the drunken dental hygienist; and even Ozu, who appears in Night Is Short as a spirit haunting a used book fair. It's never mentioned directly, but the obvious implication is that Higuchi (and maybe Hanuki and Ozu too) is once again working his magic to bring two hapless college lovebirds together. Plus, there are cameos from Kaori, the inanimate love doll; and Johnny, the imaginary cowboy who represents the insatiable sex drives of the male protagonists of both series. And while the protagonist of The Tatami Galaxy doesn't appear directly (outside of some monitors in one scene that cheekily display footage from the series in the background), both protagonists of the film are unnamed, just like "I" in The Tatami Galaxy. "The Upperclassman" and "The Girl with the Black Hair" don't need names because the story isn't about them as much as it's about the experience of being young and in love.
As if that wasn't enough, Yuasa and his team went and recreated all of the stylistic flourishes of The Tatami Galaxy too! It's got the flattened art style of illustrator Yūsuke Nakamura, who provided the cover art for Morimi's original novels; the lightning-fast absurdist monologues; and even an ending song from alternative band Asian Kung-Fu Generation, who performed the OP for The Tatami Galaxy. Of course, there's also a heaping dose of surreal imagery and cartoon exaggeration, matching and at times surpassing the visuals of the TV series. When watched back-to-back, it's probably the closest animation could get to the feeling of reading both books, in that the stories are different but the pacing, dialogue, and artwork all feel like they sprout from the same mind. Compare that to Paprika and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, two Madhouse adaptations of author Yasutaka Tsutsui's works with vastly different styles!
However, hidden underneath the stylistic similarities is a key difference between the two productions. Large parts of The Tatami Galaxy were animated using traditional hand-drawn animation, but nowadays Science SARU mostly animates digitally with Adobe Flash. You can feel it sometimes in the way the shapes appear to smoothly morph into one another (an effect the studio used to great effect in the mermaid-themed Lu over the wall). What's really impressive, though, is how similar the two productions manage to look despite the vast gap in technology between them. It helps that Yuasa has always had a digital-friendly style, full of smooth shapes and flat colors.
When taken together these two tightly bound stories have a lot to say about love and life as a young adult. But where The Tatami Galaxy is about inaction, Night Is Short is about action. The characters aren't stuck in limbo, considering all of their options before moving forward; they're in constant motion. In that sense, it provides a bit of a counterpoint to The Tatami Galaxy's exhortation to set out and chart your own path in life. The Girl with the Black Hair is positive and open-minded, just like The Tatami's Galaxy's protagonist should have been, but her constant pursuit of whatever is in front of her makes her blind to her own feelings. The Tatami Galaxy teaches us to embrace life's imperfections and, ahem, walk on, but Night Is Short reminds us that sometimes we also need to stop and take stock.
The Upperclassman, for his part, is pretty similar to "I" from The Tatami Galaxy, but his problem isn't so much a lack of personal responsibility as it is his own cowardice. And one of the most refreshing parts of Night Is Short is that it doesn't treat its female lead as a mere target for the male lead's affections. The Girl with the Black Hair is the title character, and her growth is even more central to the film than his, making Night Is Short a story about a relationship rather than one about an individual.
Those thematic differences, between inaction and action and between individuals and relationships, also point to a subtle shift in Yuasa's focus as a director. The Tatami Galaxy is a cerebral series with twisty time manipulation and an unreliable narrator. Night Is Short, on the other hand, is dreamlike but refreshingly straightforward (it's literally about walking straight ahead, after all). While most of this is no doubt the result of Morimi's original novel, Yuasa seemingly uses it as an opportunity to make something a bit more palatable to mainstream audiences. Underneath the rapid-fire monologues and manic adventures is a heartfelt rom-com, capped off with a spectacular high-flying dream sequence in which Yuasa channels the unfettered surrealism of Mind Game. Of all of his recent works — Ping Pong, Lu over the wall, DEVILMAN crybaby — Night Is Short feels like the most quintessentially Yuasa, combining his clear love for Morimi's introspective bildungsroman stories with his own brand of bombastic cartoon expressionism. And it does it all while being some of the most crowd-pleasing fun that he's ever made!
Despite all the connections between the two, both The Tatami Galaxy and The Night is Short Walk On, Girl are self-contained stories that can be enjoyed on their own. That said, they really are best enjoyed together. Each one provides its own nuanced perspective on the struggles of young adulthood, and the fact that those perspectives are sometimes lightly contradictory just makes their insights that much deeper. Yuasa has done an incredible job bringing two of Morimi's novels to life, and it sounds like he's interested in tackling the first novel in the series as well! Hopefully we won't have to wait seven more years for the final installment of this trilogy.
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