Tatami Galaxy, The

Tagged: TV

Japanese animated tv series (2010). Original title Yojōhan Shinwa Taikei. Based on the novel Yojōhan Shinwa Taikei ["4.5 Mat Mythical Chronicles"] (2008; vt The Tatami Galaxy) by Tomihiko Morimi. Madhouse. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa. Written by Makoto Ueda. Voice cast includes Shintarō Asanuma, Keiji Fujiwara, Maaya Sakamoto and Hiroyuki Yoshino. Eleven 23-minute episodes. Colour.

The first nine episodes each begin with a student (Asanuma) – we never learn his name – joining one of the University of Kyoto's clubs in the hope it will fulfil his romantic ideals, both of student life and of meeting girls. Unfortunately things do not go well: he fails to fit in with most of the other members; finds himself befriended by Ozu (Yoshino), a prankster student of seemingly demonic appearance; and is caught up in the activities of an older student, the bulbous-chinned Seitarō Higuchi (Fujiwara). More agreeably, his path crosses with the engineering student Akashi (Sakamoto), who – though having a slightly distant demeanour (and being terrified of moths) – appears interested in him. A fortune teller (their fee increasing by ¥1,000 each episode) will tell him to seize opportunities when they arise; but he does not, things fall apart farcically and after two years – at the end of each episode – the student, blaming his problems on the choice of club rather than himself, wishes he had joined a different one ... whereupon a clock and images rewind. The next episode restarts at the beginning, with the student joining a different club (see Parallel Worlds; Time Loop). The events that follow differ from what has gone before, but it is still a journey to disenchantment; furthermore, the stories are closely intertwined – for instance, in one episode an Airship is stolen, but we only learn Ozu was responsible in a later one.

During the first episode Seitarō claims to be a matchmaking shrine god (see Religion) pondering whether to pair off Akashi with the student or Ozu. The clubs – tennis, film, cycling, etc – are usually mundane, though the softball club proves to be a front for a cult which believes 2012 will see the End of the World and so has built an airship ark for its members (which Ozu takes and crashes); another is a secret society (see Secret Masters) that influences university life.

These first nine episodes are slice-of-life stories within a sf framework, albeit with the suggestion of supernatural elements. In the tenth the student does not join a club but spends his time in his 4.5 tatami (or large mat) sized room ... eventually finding it only exits into other, similar, 4.5 tatami rooms – of which there are many. Wandering them he realizes they are the versions of the room used by his parallel world selves (see Multiverse) and comes to understand that their experiences, however imperfect, were stimulating. He loses his compulsion to seek an ideal life, understands Ozu may be a positive force and realizes how he might win over Akashi: he can now escape and engage healthily with the world. A wordy, amusing, thoughtful and memorable series, recalling Groundhog Day (1993), though here the protagonist is, until the end, unaware of his plight (save for a vague awareness of the fortune teller's price hikes). As would be expected of the Director of Kaiba (2008), Devilman Crybaby (2017) and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (2020), the animation is adventurous and impressive. [SP]

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