Review for The Tatami Galaxy - Collector's Edition
Towards the end of their tenure in the UK, Beez Entertainment released a rather quirky quartet of titles, Durarara!!, House of the Five Leaves, Sound of the Sky, and this, The Tatami Galaxy. The shows got lush digibook packaging, but when it came to the disc authoring, issues were raised. Certainly the one show that I bought, House of the Five Leaves had problematic subtitles, and incorrectly encoded audio, and anecdotally, this was common across all four titles. Durarara!! eventually got the release it deserved from All the Anime, a gorgeous Blu-ray release, while I dodged a bullet by getting the US Sound of the Sky. Now All the Anime turn their attention to The Tatami Galaxy, giving it its English territory Blu-ray debut. It’s the one show of the four that I haven’t seen up to this point.
What he wants from his time at university is a productive social life, partaking of an extra-curricular activity, the kind where he can meet raven-haired beauties, where romance will ensue. But you know how it is. Despite your best intentions the first week of college sets the tone of your life there in stone, and becoming friends with the manipulative and Machiavellian Ozu was not in the plan, while his extrovert dreams were hobbled by his own lack of social skills. After two years, his disappointment is deflating, but an encounter with a fortune teller offers him hope, that opportunity is always dangling in front of him if he can just grab it. Will he grab it? Or will the clock reset and will he get to live his university life over again?
11 Episodes are presented across 2 Blu-ray discs from All the Anime.
1. Tennis Circle Cupid
2. Movie Circle Misogi
3. Cycling Club Soleil
4. Disciples Wanted
5. Softball Circle Honwaka
6. English Conversation Circle
7. Hero Show Association
8. Reading Circle Sea
9. Secret Society Lucky Cat Chinese Restaurant
10. The 4.5 Tatami Idealogue
11. The End of the 4.5 Tatami Age
The Tatami Galaxy gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these Blu-ray discs, and quite frankly this show will be unlike anything you’ve seen before or since. It gets the Studio Madhouse treatment when it comes to the animation, while the director Masaaki Yuasa went on to direct the equally singular Ping Pong, which All the Anime released earlier this year. At first glance it’s difficult to see what The Tatami Galaxy will gain from HD, as it’s a comparatively simplistic animation, in terms of character designs, world design, and its limited use of colour. Detail levels too never trouble the resolution of the format. It’s once you’ve lived with the show a while that you begin to appreciate the smoothness of the progressive animation, and you’ll note the crispness of the line art, the total lack of aliasing, the absence of digital banding, and the richness of those limited colours, and it becomes very clear that despite its unique, simplistic art style, it’s very likely that The Tatami Galaxy is an HD native show.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by All the Anime.
The sole audio offering here is the PCM 2.0 Stereo Japanese track with optional English (yellow) subtitles. One thing missing are subtitle translations for the theme song lyrics, which is a shame. The dialogue is clear enough, for a given value of clear. That is that the protagonist is a veritable motor-mouth, and his 100mph narration of his life results in some fast paced subtitling indeed. You might wind up looking for a slow motion option on your Blu-ray player. It takes a while, but you can get into the rhythm of the dialogue, and it becomes easier to take in. It’s no surprise that this is a dialogue focused piece, but the stereo does a good enough job when it comes to ambience, music, and those occasional moments of action.
The discs present their content with static menus, although the option select screens are confusingly authored. Take the episode select screen, a brown box contains the episode titles in light brown text, and the highlighted title is in a darker brown. Brown on brown on brown, I have to get up close to my TV to read it.
The extras listing is just as obscure, albeit in a different colour. What you’ll find on the disc include the Commercials (0:50), and a Promotional Video (8:37), and neither of these are subtitled, which is disappointing at least for the Promotional Video.
You get the title free opening and two title free closings.
Thankfully the Creator Interview is subtitled. It’s presented in 1080i HD and lasts 19:52. And in it, Makoto Ueda, responsible for the series composition is accompanied by Munenori Nagano around Kyoto, as they visit some recognisable locations from the series.
I have only seen the check discs, and can’t comment on the packaging or any physical extras with this release.
An anime show where the protagonists repeat the same period of time over and over again might ring more than a few alarm bells in anime fans, especially those fans that have suffered Haruhi Suzumiya’s Endless Eight. But The Tatami Galaxy is very different from that exercise in self indulgence. The Tatami Galaxy can best be categorised as a concept show, where the main character lives through his college years repeatedly, once for each episode, but each path through is markedly different, you don’t get the same events over and over again. In that respect, it’s less like Groundhog Day, and more like Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi.
While the show’s narrative concept might work the brain cells a little more, at heart it’s a very relatable and indeed common story. It’s about the nameless protagonist who dreams of having a great social life at university, partaking of an extracurricular club and finding romance with his perfect woman (raven-haired). Who hasn’t wanted a perfect adolescence, replete with romance? As we all know, wanting and getting rarely coincide, and even less so at that age. Who hasn’t faux pas-ed their way through a social situation, only to wince in embarrassment afterwards, pleading to the gods to have a do-over? Becoming an adult would be so much easier if we had more than one try at it.
Alas, for the protagonist, having more than one go at it isn’t what you might expect, as the narrative of the universe has to be respected. So each time he will start college with the best of intentions, choose a club to join, only to be let down by the hierarchy of the club, or his own lack of skill and talent, or the nature of student politics. On top of that, his own lack of social skills limits him in the friends he can make, let alone relationships with girls. There will be a consistency of characters in his life. The first friend he makes, Ozu, is also described as the worst, and Ozu certainly is the kind of friend that you avoid, a user, a prankster, a general bad egg. As he becomes more and more disillusioned with the club that he joined, he’ll gradually fall in with one of Ozu’s schemes, which inevitably leads into trouble. And somewhere along the way, he’ll encounter a fortune-teller, who keeps telling him that opportunity is dangling right in front of him, if he would only grab it.
One problem is that memory doesn’t go from one loop to the next, just the odd moment of déjà vu, and the fact that the old woman telling fortunes increases her rates each time around. So while the clubs chosen are different each time, it seems at first that the same mistakes get made. This isn’t merely a case of repeating the same events though, in case you were having Endless Eight flashbacks. While the overall arc of each story might seem similar, the stories themselves are quite different, what with the characters encountered in each one, and how they relate. But I have to admit that The Tatami Galaxy was a slow grower for me, certainly in the first few episodes, there was a greater similarity in the stories, setting the basic structure in place, and it took a while to warm to the animation style, and try to keep pace with the dialogue. My attention even began to drift around about the third episode.
It’s as the series unfolds that its genius becomes clear. The Tatami Galaxy builds a house of cards for its story. It’s a house of cards built on a foundation of whimsy, eccentricity and flights of fancy, and you get the feeling that the slightest gust of incredulity on the part of the viewer will bring the whole thing down, but it turns out to be surprisingly strong. What’s key is that events and characters introduced in earlier episodes get revisited in later ones; certain things are constant across each loop, and we get to see things from different perspectives, gain in understanding. The story does imperceptibly develop too. There’s a three episode run, a series within a series, where it looks like the protagonist has succeed in his aims, joined a club (or rather three clubs) where he can flourish, and he actually has the dilemma of choosing between three different raven-haired beauties. Each of these three episodes follows the consequence of each choice.
It doesn’t go strictly to plan, as by the penultimate episode, it seems that he’s given up, and retreated to his dorm room, the 4.5 Tatami mat space where he would rather avoid all the hassles of social interaction. It’s here that the show takes a complete left turn into unexpected and introspective territory, but that’s only the prelude to the show’s climax, which builds on everything that has come before, delivering a conclusion to the story that is truly inspired. The Tatami Galaxy takes a very esoteric and creative route to tell an honest and relatable story about self-discovery and personal growth. It’s a terrific show and although it isn’t immediately visually striking, this Blu-ray release does it fine justice. Of course by releasing it, as well as Durarara!!, All the Anime have shouldered the burden of expectations. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to the Sound of the Sky and House of Five Leaves Blu-rays too.