I think for my next few posts I would like to examine some of the work of Masaaki Yuasa. I am a big fan of his and I think each of his works or at least the ones that I have seen could benefit from a more in depth look. Although I’m sure each one has had analysis done by someone much more qualified than me. Breaking down each one back to back could yield some interesting results through the different themes that he has explored. To start I am taking a look at my favorite Yuasa work in The Tatami Galaxy, one of my favorite shows of all time.
I actually started Galaxy twice before I was able to finish it as the first time I watched it I got bored and stopped halfway through. I’m not going to pretend that this is the perfect show, nothing is of course, but it definitely has some pacing issues that are inherent with it’s format. For those that aren’t aware of the format I have been speaking of, most of the 11 episodes of The Tatami Galaxy start with the clock rewinding and the main character starting college life looking for a “rose-colored campus life”, whatever that means. Each reset he joins a new club where he meets a lot of the same characters in different situations.
[SPOILERS INCOMING FOR The Tatami Galaxy IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED IT QUIT READING AND GO WATCH IT]
What is really beautiful about The Tatami Galaxy is how they portray the main character and his emotion. He is a man that just wants to go to college and live this perfect ideal college life where he hangs out with pretty girls all the time and has tons of friends and is super popular. However, in every timeline we see him fail to get that as Ozu hatches some scheme or messes with the protagonist in some way. Ozu who has sharp teeth and looks like some kind of demon who always gets in his way. He lusts after the beautiful raven haired maiden at the beginning of every arc, but in the end of a lot of them he finds himself more drawn to the more distant Akashi who is cold to others and terribly afraid of moths.
Despite all of these failures every season you can see the happiness and the fun the protagonist has. He enjoys a lot of the hare brained schemes Ozu cooks up even if they get him in trouble. He loves spending time with Akashi as she is so different from anyone else he knows and you can tell by the end of every episode he hangs out with her he genuinely cares for her. The beauty of Tatami isn’t that he ends up getting that perfect life that he always wanted it is that he is happier with the way things are than he ever would be with a perfect life. He loves his friends and he wouldn’t trade them for the world, even though he doesn’t realize it yet.
Then the final loop happens, in this one he does nothing, he spends most of his time just in his room. Then one day he realizes that the outside world is gone, every exit of the room just leads to another room identical to his, or so it seems at first glance. This is where the title of the show comes from, he is now trapped in a Tatami Galaxy, one of the first bits in the show is him describing how a 4.5 mat tatami room is the perfect size and now it is all he has. He survives on sponge cakes that were dropped off in the other rooms. He has one specific room that is his bathroom. He is surviving in this seemingly endless universe of copies of his room.
He soon realizes that these aren’t copies though. These are the various lives we have seen him live, the various choices he has had. This version of himself is able to learn about all of the other versions by going through the rooms, seeing what is there. He realizes how much he missed out on never leaving his room. His relationship with Akashi and how he was able to tell she cared for him. His relationship with Ozu who he always had a lot of fun with doing stupid stuff. Every room he went to he realizes it doesn’t matter what he did, anything was better than staying isolated making no friends and having no contact with anyone. As infuriating as Ozu was, he was his best friend who was always there for him.
Eventually all hope is gone. He has gone through every room and has circled back to the beginning, he no longer believes in a way out. However, he sees a stuffed doll that Akashi always missed because she lost it and it ended up with him. He is revitalized with energy and it is then that moths swarm the room and eat all of his clothes and he is able to go out the window and leave his apartment finally. This is where he finds Ozu, being attacked by a mob and he does his best to save him and both end up falling off the bridge into the river.
It is during this episode that it is revealed to the audience that every timeline is roughly the same one. The only major difference in each one is the choice of the protagonist, no matter what Ozu is in all these clubs. He has been in all these clubs because he is in love and dating the raven haired beauty that the protagonist so often wishes to love him. So many of Ozu and the protagonist’s silly antics were things that Ozu was attempting to do to impress the woman that he loved. Also, finally the protagonist remembered to give the doll to Akashi. After the incident with falling off the bridge Ozu ends up in the hospital and protagonist and Akashi end up visiting him.
Gone though are the sharp teeth and the demon like features. He is just a regular guy and we can see the banter between Ozu and the protagonist, especially now that the protagonist realizes how lucky he is to have a relationship with Ozu. All of the series was leading to this point, this realization of the power of relationships. It painstakingly showed us the tribals and tribulations of his relationships with Ozu and Akashi continually showing the trouble they and others got him into. They continued showing those to us to the point of boredom of us asking what is the point. Then it showed us his life after taking out those relationships, it showed him what his life was like with and without those relationships.
That is what makes Tatami so great. It takes a long time, but it building up to one of the most satisfying conclusions to any story ever told. Something that can honestly make you question what it means to be alive. Something that makes you re-evaluate the relationships that you have and what they mean to you. Something that no matter how you approach it is an absolute master class in storytelling in any medium and should be enjoyed by everyone. Of course it kills me a little on the inside every time I remember the sub is brutal for people not used to it, but if they can get past that The Tatami Galaxy is one of the best anime ever made and something that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Join me next time as we take a look at Ping Pong: The Animation, something with a similar, but simultaneously completely different theme.