The Tatami Galaxy
Number of Episodes: 11
Production Company: Madhouse
Brief Overview: A college dropout stops for a late-night meal at a mysterious ramen stand and happens to meet a god of matchmaking. This starts a series of flashbacks during which the protagonist relives his past where a fateful meeting with a devilish classmate named Ozu turns him from a hopeless romantic into a "black cupid" bent on destroying others' happiness.
Episode Summary: One windy night, the nameless main character ("Watashi") of the story enjoys a meal at the elusive Neko Ramen stand, when he encounters a strange man who claims to be the god of a local shrine. He informs our hero that Akashi, a girl one year Watashi's junior, is ripe to be romantically matched, and both he and another man named Ozu are potential suitors. Watashi remembers his fateful meeting with Ozu in the tennis club after a breakup, and how Ozu converted him into a "dark cupid" bent on destroying other peoples' happiness, which of course alienates the both of them from the other college students and ruins Watashi's dream of a lighthearted campus life.
After meeting with a mysterious fortune teller on the street and being left to wallow in his own loneliness by Ozu, Watashi decides to have the shrine god (who conveniently lives in the same apartment building) set up a meeting between him and Akashi. The meeting goes awry when his nervousness takes over, and Ozu throws himself over the side of a bridge. It's then, while also being tossed over the bridge, that Watashi wishes that he could have spent the last couple of years differently.
Thoughts: While I make every effort to do otherwise, it's virtually impossible to keep from anticipating certain shows once they're announced. I realize that, in many cases, this ultimately leads to disappointment; no matter how good a series might be, it's always difficult for it to live up to unrealistic expectations. This series in particular gave me multiple reasons to get excited. Not only is it part of the illustrious noitaminA block of animation which has historically provided me with some of my favorite anime, but it's directed by Masaaki Yuasa, who was responsible for two other extremely creative series, Kaiba and Kemonozume. To top it off, I could tell from just the first little bit of teaser artwork that the visual style was going to be different from just about anything else, which in my book is icing on the cake. In spite of all this, I endeavored to be very open-minded when watching the episode. And you know what? My nervousness was totally unfounded because I loved almost everything about it.
The "almost," just to get it out of the way, is something that didn't bother me much, but might be a major issue for other viewers. The dialog in this series is fast. The story is narrated by the main character, and much of what he says tends to be a little stream-of-consciousness and spoken without taking a breath. Props really must be given to the voice actor because this represents a great deal of skill on his part, but the consequence of squeezing so much information into relatively small spaces of time is that those of us who rely on subtitles are often faced with the choice of reading the subtitles in their entirety or taking in the wonderful animated art on the screen. I probably won't say this very often, but in this case I almost feel like the show would benefit from an English dub just so that viewers won't have to decide whether to concentrate on one or the other. I will say that, by the end of the first episode, I had less of a problem with this, but your mileage may vary.
Other than that minor hiccup, I was thoroughly pleased with this introduction to the story. One of the obvious strengths so far is the characterization, especially that of Akashi, surprisingly enough. More often than not, it seems as though the female object of desire in most romantic series is not really much of a character at all; she's often seen from afar, perhaps tossing her hair and being forever surrounded by sparkles or some other visual device. In short she's an unattainable ideal, someone's idea of the perfect girl. Akashi is decidedly more down-to-earth and often hilariously blunt; when asked what she does in her free time, her reply is something along the lines of "why would you want to know?" She's laid-back when those around her are in a state of panic, as evidenced by her cool collectedness when under attack from bottle rockets. The only time she seems ruffled is when she has a close-encounter with a moth, an endearing trait that borders on goofy, but it provides her with a bit of balance. The other two core players, Watashi and Ozu, make the perfect complimentary team with Ozu as the manipulator and Watashi as the easily-manipulated. Only time will tell whether that dynamic will remain so cut-and-dry.
One thing to mention about this series that might surprise some people is that it's actually quite funny. I think that there's a perception that artsy or auteur animation is somehow always stuck-up and complicated, but this show has some excellent comic timing as well as plenty of great visual gags that add a lot of flavor to the story. Once again these are sometimes easy to miss due to the speed of the dialog (I had the urge to pause the video multiple times, Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei style, just to read or take in what I was seeing), but to be quite honest I think that the episode is worth watching more than once anyway (I've seen it about three times and each viewing has been entertaining and I've caught a few more things here and there).
I'm a bit disappointed to hear that this show and its companion noitaminA series, House of Five Leaves, have been getting pretty dismal ratings in Japan, especially since I see no good reason why. In my opinion, it seems like it would have plenty of universal appeal, combining multiple levels of humor, a creative time-bending plot, and a cast of likeable, relatable characters. Perhaps there's the perception that the show is too skewed towards the art crowd, which is amusing to me because it reminds me of one of the more popular noitaminA series, Moyashimon in its treatment of the quirks of college life. In any case, I give this series a definite stamp of approval, and can't wait to see what will happen to Watashi along the way during his search for meaning and love.
- The dialog is witty and the comedic moments are unexpectedly frequent.
- The visual style is beautiful and unique - there's no mistaking the characters in this show for characters in any other show.
- The characterization is done well, especially for the female lead.
- Watashi's inner monologue is spoken so quickly that a dub might be in order for those unable to read quickly enough (or who don't like to pause the video frequently).
Recommended? Yes, enthusiastically. I knew I would enjoy the series, but the creative premise and the abundance of comedy helped lift it up even further than I expected. A definite winner.