Beware, spoiler-ish review.
It is a given that choices are very important for all of us, for just a minute of thought or two can change the outcome of many things in our lives, that be a relationship, that be a friendship, that be our well-being, anything I dare say. Before going to sleep, I personally reminisce of my actions, coming from my choices, which in turn come from my thoughts, and make a conclusion as of whether these actions were the right thing to do for myself. Ever thought of how much of a toll a choice can take in your life? Additionally, have you ever thought of something depicting that matter of fact in a way that is both gripping, personal and goosebumps-inducing? That is what The Tatami Galaxy did to me. It touched me so much, I could relate to it in such a manner, that I now consider it my favorite anime series of all time, something that is irreplaceable for me. Coming from the hands of an insanely experienced director in Japanimation, who specialises in style over substance shows, Masaaki Yuasa, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is an expectional coming-of-age show like no other, which takes such an everyday, simple, common concept that everyone of us has given a glimpse of thought on, and unravels it through some of the most ingenious executions I have ever encountered in any work of fiction.
The Tatami Galaxy is about a college student without a name (shall be referred to as Watashi from now on), who is lonely and considers himself as one of the most unlucky people in the world. As he eats in a ramen stand named Neko Ramen, he stumbles upon a self-proclaimed god of martimony, who decides the pairings between men and women during the Kannazuki Festival in Izumo, his name being Higuchi Seitarou (or Kamotaketsunominokamo duh). Through a conversation he has with him, Watashi starts reminiscing of his past two years in college, through his misadventures with his only friend Ozu, with whom he spends time trying to break up couples in the college in the first episode, because he has nothing else to do, blaming Ozu for coming close to him and for ruining his life. By the way, Ozu looks like a ghoul, and that is of importance. Amongst the chaos, a love interest of Watashi's appears, Akashi, who is cold and introverted, yet shows some interest when it comes to Watashi. He tries confessing to her quite a lot of times throughout the series, all of them failing because of reasons. Other side characters are present as well, including an english-loving perverted dentist, a dude who has a doll fetish, the doll itself, a god of martimony as said earlier, the leader of the Secret Society Chinese Restaurant, the Cleanup Corps, a girl that Watashi exchanges letter with, etc. After Watashi fails on doing something, or even when he himself thinks that he did not leave up to his own expectations (due to not himself as he says, but due to other people and mainly Ozu), he goes back to the start of his college years, that indicated with the backdrop of a clock or, well, many clocks, and starts his college years with a different club, interchangeable events yet mostly the same people and him remembering some things from the other timelines as he experiences them in the timeline he is in, kinda like deja-vu.
Before moving on, I would like to clarify something. Please do not take the time travel plot device literally and in a realistic manner, because it is meant to be played with. Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is after all a surrealistic unorthodox anime series, so the plot device exists for a different reason than expected, and that is to present a really important message. Consequently, each episode serves as a piece of the puzzle, all of them creating an allegory which is one of a kind. Yes, the entirety of The Tatami Galaxy serves as an allegory through the different timelines, which I would call metaphors, each of them including some basic and easy to understand symbols, examples being the mochiguman and the moths, which are utilized to the fullest. All that to answer a very simple concept, the one of life choices and their outcome. That is what this anime series does perfectly, it plays with its devices and creates a two-episode wrap up which is nothing short of a miracle for me personally, really. Simple metaphors, simple allegory, perfect everything.
To get on with the characters, Watashi shall be first. Watashi is that dude who has many expectations of his life and is very optimistic, him being the embodiment of before-coming-of-age idealism, and once he finds out that life is not that rose-coloured and that raven-haired maidens will not swarm before him, he starts blaming others and does not accept that he himself is looking too far ahead and that the world is not full of butterflies and flowers. It takes him quite some time to understand that he is the one at fault, and that he does not grab opportunities in order to be single-handedly happy. The most interesting part of Watashi would be his name indeed. Why is his name Watashi, which means "I"? That is because Watashi is open for self-insert. He is a character that us watchers can relate with really easily, not for just what he lives through, not by just understanding him and his flaws, but by adding ourselves in the story, with our own flaws, with our own character, with our own problems. After all, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is not a story itself, it tells a story, a story of Watashi and his coming-of-age, so why not adding yourself in turn and making it more relatable, productive and interesting?
Ozu is undoubtedly the most enigmatic figure of the whole series, presented as a black cupid, as the character who's connected with Watashi through the black thread of fate, as a curse in Watashi's eyes, as a ghoul. He indeed is a clever and troublesome creature, but he is one who admittedly would accept Watashi and who would always be close to him and help him, making his life adventurous in turn. Ozu is the person that Watashi must accept in order for him to come to terms with himself and try out a different approach in life, completely different from what he was trying to do all the time. An interesting thing about Ozu is his face. Why is he like a ghoul? The reasons might be plenty, but I somehow narrowed it out. Ozu might like that because that is how Watashi perceives him to be. Watashi believes that Ozu has an ugly soul, that he is a bad person that wants to make him suffer just to have fun, though of course that is not the case. To put it bluntly, Ozu's face is a personification of how Watashi feels about him in the start. That can be justified due to them swapping faces in the last seconds of the series, meaning that Ozu viewed Watashi as a black cupid then.
Akashi is yet another interesting character in the Tatami Galaxy. She has a cold demeanor and does not express herself most of the times, but she seems more open when it comes to Watashi. Another reason is the thing that she is Watashi's love interest. Despite not appearing a lot in the series, as it mostly revolves around Watashi, it can be observed that she does care about him, and quite a lot at that. She is the observant type, and takes action in episode 8 as well, where she is asked to be the one Watashi exchanges letters with. Therefore, she is one that wants Watashi to develop and understand more things about what a happy life is and where it might lead. It is heavily hinted that by the end, Akashi ends up with Watashi, them going to Neko Ramen as he had promised in previous episodes, and him returning the Mochiguman to her.
The side characters by all means defy certain archetypes, as they all are quite unique to say the least. A fellow with a doll fetish is always fun to watch, the three episode arc with Watashi and the three women being the most hilarious thing I have ever watched in animated form. The side characters mostly serve as means for Watashi to develop, as well as comedic elements, and successful ones at that. After all, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei has a large portion of dark comedy through Watashi's fast-paced monologues, which also serve as great social commentary and which, for the lack of a better term, are funny as heck. Many kinds of comedy are included in the story, including slapstick, which is successful as well, despite slapstick not working out in other series and being a complete miss. Johnny's usage throughout some episodes is also of significance as well, him being a metaphor to Watashi's sexual urges and worries. The scenes including Johnny teh Cowboi and his horse always were really funny, to the point of finding myself bursting out laughing without second notice.
In each different timeline, Watashi joins different clubs. In some others, the series does not focus on the clubs he has entered, but on his romance anxieties and interests. In episodes 1-3, he enters the Tennis, Film and Cycling associations, episode 4 is about the proxy wars and Watashi and Ozu's place in them, episode 5 goes back to the way episodes 1-3 were done with a Softball circle, and episodes 6-8 are about him joining some circles, but mostly about him and the three love interests of his, apart from Akashi (though Akashi is one of them in disguise but that is another matter). Episode 9 is about the mysterious Chinese Restaurant circle, and episodes 10-11 serve as the wrap-up of each and every episode of the series, Watashi coming into conclusions and realizations and completing his development and coming-of-age. With that being the case, you might think that the first 9 episodes are pointless, but that is in no way true. Letting alone that each and every episode has underlying and self-sufficient themes, examples being unrequited love, consumerism and the use of personality masks, what the first 9 episodes manage to do is building raw connection between the viewer and the main character, as well as something really fun and wacky to follow. It is a matter of fact that it is the journey that matters and that leads things into a conclusion which is not of as much importance as the journey itself after all. Trials and tribulations are made, but the conclusion is happy plus cathartic plus ambitious.
The production values work greatly, in a way that I can not imagine the series working out in another way when it comes to how it looks. The artstyle is really unique, really unorthodox, changes depending on the moods, is extremely detailed, vibrant and variable. It also adds to the comedy, because of the dumb faces and the funny reactions of our main character because of what he is going through. It is natural that it might turn someone off by its start, because it is an artstyle that is not that dominant in the medium, especially for the newcomers, but it is easy to get used to after one or two episodes, and it is even easier to realise how unique it is in a great way afterwards. The animation is also detailed, includes live-action shots and scenes to add to the realism of the concept, the movements feel natural and it is generally something great to watch and behold.
The soundtrack is really strong as well, and about my favorite part in all the show is included here, that being the opening. The opening is so fun to listen to, it has some of the greatest background music I have ever set my ears on and, most importantly, the lyrics are godly. And they spoil the whole show. Such connection with lyrics of a song have I never shown aside from the Tatami Galaxy's opening. Its title is "Maigoinu no Ame to Beat", a title that fits incredibly well to the theme of the series, by Asian Kung-fu Generation, who never disappoint me with their work in opening songs. Their songs also include Boku Dake ga Inai Machi's opening, Re:Re:, which is the best part of the whole show. The ending song of Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is tremendously good as well, sang by one of my favorite and most unique singers in the japanimation medium, Etsuko Yakushimaru, who also sang the first opening of Mawaru Penguindrum, which is also godly. Fun and unique to listen to, her songs always impress. The OST is, by all means, goosebumps-inducing. I am amazed at how each song fits the scene it represents, and also going to give a round of applause to sound director plus the creator of the OST of the series, for making it as strongly present as it is throughout the series.
Undoubtedly did I enjoy The Tatami Galaxy to the fullest. Having watched it many times, it is the piece that I feel is the one that was meant for me, it is like fate had its hand into my connection between me and the series, a masterpiece. It is nothing short of a masterpiece in my opinion. I laughed a lot, I cried a whole lot, I felt a connection I have never felt in any other kind of series, in any other kind of medium, it is nothing short of a miracle for me, this series. Thank you Yuasa, thank you for bestowing the anime industry and especially myself with such a present. Amazing, spectacular, cathartic, ambitious, goosebumps-inducing, emotional, hilarious, genuine.
Letting my bias aside, The Tatami Galaxy is a series that everyone should check out. Right off the bat, I am gonna decline it being called "deep". What is deep is the execution, not the anime itself in heart. On the inside, the Tatami Galaxy is human, it is so true that it hurts, it is so simple that everyone can understand it if he or her focuses on it just a bit. Simple yet complex. Over-the-top yet down-to-the-earth in its true form. That is what the Tatami Galaxy is. And it is nothing short of a work that should be considered a masterpiece.
Note: Sorry for being biased. This review comes from the bottom of my heart, I hope you will understand where I am coming from. Thanks a lot for reading, it means much.