So many series are inseparable from their visuals, using wildly differing animation styles to express their themes and ideas in complex and compelling ways. The Tatami Galaxy is an experiment in style; a non-linear and multi-branching adventure into the human condition – love, loss and, um, strange sexuality.
Comparing its visuals to any other single series is folly, being as it is more an amalgam of visual styles with shades of Kyousougiga, Belladonna of Sadness, the eerie rotoscoping of Flowers of Evil and The Eccentric Family. The latter is especially on point, as both were based on novels by Tomihiko Morimi. The 4.5 tatami room at the middle of the series could well be the centre of the galaxy, around which everything else orbits. The microcosm is framed as an idyllic respite and a kind of personal hell.
Where the above are still ostensibly anime in one way or another, The Tatami Galaxy experiments with real film footage, playing with colour hue and saturation or photographs shot in negative. More than either filmmaking or animation, the series is post-anime, exploring feelings and states that are abstract to experience, things live-action alone is unable to articulate. It was a watershed moment where anime “ate itself”, with a dialogue between the ‘real world’ live-action versus the fantasy of our inner lives.
To keep the ship from sinking, it needed a director adept enough to carry its peculiar vision. Masayuki Yuasa, mastermind director behind the expressive Ping Pong The Animation, who’s also clocked up credits on Michiko and Hatchin and Space Dandy, takes the source material and makes it his own.
The plot, such as it is, follows a nameless freshman on the precipice of college life, taking his first steps into the abyss of adulthood. Despite never bothering to participate in high school clubs, the allure of extra-curricular activities in uni was the opportunity for reinvention, perfect for his dream of achieving a “rose coloured campus life”. Almost every episode sees a branch his life would have taken, based on a different choice. But no matter how wildly different his experience, fate deals in similarities, crossing his path with the same people time and again. He’s bound to fellow student and suspected yokai, the devilishly cute Ozu (Space Dandy’s Mew, incidentally) who appears to be at the root of all his misfortune.
In one episode, the protagonist is a mischief maker, while in another he joins up with the movie making club. In one of the strongest entries, he joins up with the softball team who wear perpetual smiles and do-gooder demeaners. They sell health products on behalf of one questionable corporation. Falling head over heels for the daughter of its top dog, our protagonist spends the next two years flogging health goods to meet her again. His efforts pay off as he is invited to a secret building, yet behind the façade is a creepy cult who’s closer to drinking the poisoned Kool-Aid than not.
The source material is split into four chapters, each following a different universe, while the series opts for over double, adding entire branches. Parallel universe theory tells us that every decision we make creates another universe, and that there is an infinitesimal amount of universes populated by an equally infinite number of ourselves. If we repeat the events of our lives enough times over, perhaps we might get it right. It’s an often cringe-worthy journey for our protagonist coming to these conclusions, even able to glean mistakes and realisations of his parallel personas.
The episodes echo each other, forming one whole rather than a fragmented eleven. The last two prove their strength in context, together forming the series at its most adventurous and experimental, and tying everything together. The protagonist tells us that spilling the details of his happy love life would be boring, that this isn’t that kind of story. That doesn’t even begin to cover Tatami Galaxy’s place in the story of animation.
Extras: Creator interview; textless opening/ closing animation; promo and commercials