‘Tatami’, the cultural knowledge of which probably is visually clear to everyone who have been accustomed to watching anime for a while now, you’ll know when i say that it is a type of flooring material used in Traditional styled Japanese houses. The word is actually derived from the verb ‘tatamu’ which means, to fold or pile. Now, placing the word side by side particularly with the word ‘Galaxy’ definitely has a connotative implication of ‘claustrophobia’ which i guess most people did perceive. Yes, the shows throws the protagonist’s life as living in a 4.5 tatami room, almost like in a huge cube and the events occurring all around his college life are directly relate-able to the claustrophobic experiences he comprehends while expounding in the aspects of the space.
The show exhibits traits of dark comedy, much relate-able to the anime ‘Sayonara Zetsubo sensi’, heck even the protagonists look way similar. Though Itoshiko is a character who completely taints himself to pessimistic way of life exhibiting suicidal tendencies, the protagonist here is ideologically much more alive and doesn’t live by tending to hang himself everyday, nor is his life psychologically contorted to the point of living every second in horror within the walls of his apartment, as seen in the films of Roman Polanski who also dealt with the theme of claustrophobia. The show also perhaps is relate-able to the anime ‘Welcome to NHK’ which portrays the life of a shut in/NEET, but the line differentiating both the series is on the level of layered and visual symbolisms which is the main concern for this series, a symbolic succession resulting in an exhalting fulfillment.
The plot follows freshman ‘Watashi’ (which translates into the subjective pronoun ‘I’) as he narrates his life, ready to experience a “rose colored campus life”, putting aside with renewed optimism, his disastrous highschool life. His ideal of College/ Bachelor life is that of a conventional one, ready to stretch out an arm to a raven haired maiden by the grace of cupid and flowing down the river of young love. But the flow is dammed by Ozu, a mischievous character who is up to wreck everyone’s love life in the college and ironically is Watashi’s only friend and unfortunate for him, Ozu’s accompaniment leads to complicacies and disillusionment towards his so called ‘Rose colored campus life’ as being associated with him leads to a bad reputation all around. As I’ve mentioned earlier, a lots of other references to the theme are brimming in ever symbolic corner throughout the series. Ozu keeps on reminding him how both of them are tied with the “black thread of fate” which resonates the claustrophobic nature of the title.
Watashi has seniors : Jougasaki, who is the president of the Movie club that he had once joined and Higuchi, of whom he is a forced disciple and is caught in between an aging tussle of pranks between these two characters, which goes by the name ‘proxy-proxy war’, in which one sides either gets their robes dyed pink or the other gets their film tapes replaced and vice versa. Our Protagonist droops with the weight from both sides, Jougasaki has a secrete which he heaves on Watashi fearing it might be a potential weakness on his part in the ‘proxy-proxy war’ and threatens to beat him up if it’s out while being a forced disciple of Higuchi he has to go on with the pranks on Jougasaki, replacing his film tapes, releasing swarm of cockroaches into his apartment. Watashi is getting squeezed in slowly by closing in of the walls in his 4.5 Tatami galaxy.
Even with all the complicacies around him leading to his cornered situation, Watashi doesn’t let go of his dream of living a ‘rose colored campus life’ and thus cooks up a make believe love triangle of his own, including ‘Hanuki’ a foxy lady who studies dentistry in the same university and is a senior of Watashi, and two other characters. He is well aware of the consequences he could end up in being in multiple relationships, which is again a cornered or claustrophobic one, as time ticks on his lovers are narrowing down their distancing from him and the moment of denouement in his ‘rose colored campus life’ is gradually coming to a close, a climactic revelation. But Watashi is addicted to this claustrophobia, he subconsciously finds a sort of masochistic pleasure in living inside the cube.
He won’t avoid the make believe love triangle even though he is fully aware that it might end up earning him hate from every side. He keeps on repeating in monologues how Ozu’s accompaniment has ruined his ‘rose colored campus life’, but not even for a single once does he let go of his side in pranking. He has subconsciously adapted to the claustrophobic outcast nature that society has deemed him for being associated with Ozu and he is happy with that. Watashi is a character who is caged between these conflicting layers of sub-conscience, and hence suffers from split personality, which brings us to the whole point of the series that follows his rehabilitation from this psychological disorder. Perhaps his plight is relate-able to the famous Campus Novelist Kingsley Amis’ book ‘Lucky Jim’ in which the protagonist James Dixon strives within the brick walls of University life.
There are other characters who play their important part in accentuating the plight of the protagonist, fore-fronting them is Akashi-san a character with cold personality and surprisingly there is a dangling love tryst between Watashi and her, the job to rectify and grab hold of this situation infront which is repeatedly notified in every episode by an anonymous Fortune teller to him. In a way Akashi san could be the key to his rehabilitation. There are few other significant characters, delving into their characterization might leak unwanted spoilers.
About the animation and visuals, there is a lot to be observed in this part as it is the main force driving the plot and every other thing, the visuals fuel the entertainment in this series ! It is drenched in symbolic references, there are visual metaphors in every second following the narrative. The art and animation is surrealistic and perhaps a product relate-able to the avant-garde movements like expressionism, which was fore-fronted by paintings like ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, the horrors of war was manifested in this piece, an epitome of visual metaphor. Very similarly there are instances throughout the series vibrant with visual metaphors pertaining to the situations, like everytime Ozu talked about how they were tied with the ‘black thread of fate’, it was simultaneously established with an image of Ozu and Watashi tied up with the ‘black thread’ as they fell into the depths of a trench. Infact every episode introduces Ozu in a new avatar pertaining to Watashi’s initial reactions to his mighty evil grin, which adds to many of the reasons why the visuals also carry the humor in this series. At one point of time he looks like a kappa rising from the green swamp and dragging Watashi down back with him, and some other time he might look like a gigantic shadow of a demon hailing from the depths of hell reminding Watashi frequently of how much of a good friend he is of him.
Watashi himself is a connoisseur in cooking up visual metaphors as he is expounding within the expanse of his galaxy, he is a philosopher within his own boundaries as well as a scientist observing the various aspects occurring all around within his Tatami galaxy, and perhaps is content with all of it but yet again, he contradicts himself quoting Terayama Shuji : “Throw away books and go out into the city”. Aside from all the symbolic aspects, the art in general is a beautiful one if you open up discarding the conventional detailing, this series goes back to the rustic style of applying cartoon-esque template for the characters, with feminine elegance established by the presence of Akashi san in vibrant colors within the frame and yet again dingy shades for ramen stalls, as well as vibrant color pallets for the rest of the part which adds to a sort of psychedelic demeanor. The drinking feud between Jougasaki and Watashi accompanied by Hanuki for an instance, which gradually deludes our vision and the colors seem as if being mixed up in a huge cauldron. The psychedelia is also accentuated by the beautiful muzak sort of background music comprising mostly of classical piano tunes. The animation thus relate-able to the likes of ‘Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei’ or even to the rustic demeanor of foreign animations like Marjane Satrapi’s ‘Persepolis’.
After all the exaggerations i would want to highlight an important point, ‘weather one should approach the series or not’ : A lot of people steer clear of this series because of the animation style which i think is wise if you are not big into visual metaphors and prefer more the conventional style of anime like Death Note and Monster which escalates the plot through twists and climaxes, the sort of excitement stimulated from thrillers. Tatami Galaxy is a series facing in exact opposite direction to that of exciting thrillers, it is more like a light headed and romantic Gondola ride through the city of Venice in a moon lit night, making you lay back loosely on your couch as the beautiful piano tune plays in the background. That is all.