The Tatami Galaxy 1-3

1 Tennis Circle Cupid

The Protagonist (Shintaro Asanuma) meets Higuchi (Keniki Fujiwara), the god of matchmaking, who tells him that either he or his best friend Ozu (Hiroyuki Yoshino) will be paired with Akashi (Maaya Sakamoto), an unusual girl that goes to their college. However, The Protagonist and Ozu have made a pact not only to be single, but to do their best to wreak havoc on the fools in college who are in a relationship. Both have become notorious for breaking up couples so there’s a delightful one of them is fated to be with Akashi.

That summary might sound like a lot for a first episode but it only covers maybe five minutes of the show. The Tatami Galaxy runs at a breakneck pace. The Protagonist narrates the story at an astounding speed and the scenes and images are succinct. While it might be overwhelming for some, this speedy style works in the show’s favor as a comedy. That sped up pacing gives it the show a delightful slapstick tempo.

And while the humor is quite funny, it also becomes a device to expose a relatable and human story. The Protagonist arrives at college in the blissful hopes of finding “rose-colored campus life” as well as his “raven-haired maiden.” However, the reality becomes that he experience alienation and isolation. In response, he becomes rather jaded and cynical despite the pangs of romanticism buried underneath that cruel exterior.

Another notable feature is the animation style. It’s often flat, with a paper thin feel to it at some points. The opening title might be the best example of the flatness as the characters actual spin as if they are only 2-dimensional objects. The show also feels a bit loose with its style, more of a collage of drawing philosophies and ideas. What this does do is give the show the freedom to explore animation as a way to express feelings and ideas without restraining itself to a coherent style or the rules of reality. It’s not that these elements ever become jarring—in fact, they often complement each other well—but that they never feel the need to be consistent.

2 Film Circle Misogi

This episode fully reveals the structural framework for the show. The last episode alluded to it when The Protagonist reminisced that his life might not be so terrible if he chose to be involved in a different group. Before the credits roll, the entire episode rewinds. This episode begins with The Protagonist once again starting off college but this time he joins the film club.

This cyclical structure allows the show to explore that even joining a different social circle fails to fundamentally change The Protagonist’s life. He still ends up being marginalized, he still befriends Ozu who he blames as the primary negative influence in his life and still feels affection for Akashi. Similar moments recur in this episode and The Protagonist comments on them as if he is experiencing them again, but without any specific awareness of the alternate life in the tennis club. I like that idea, but I’m curious if it can sustain a show.

3 Cycling Association Soleil

Three episodes in and I’m already extremely skeptical of the show’s structure. The show is still delightfully funny and entertaining. This time The Protagonist chooses the Cycling Club even though he lacks any physical prowess, which leads to some great gags. There are a lot of great sequences in this episode with cool animation. The final act is perhaps the grandest moment of everything going wrong for The Protagonist.

However, hitting all the same notes a third time means that The Tatami Galaxy feels like it’s already starting to stagnate. While it gives the show some thematic weight, conveying the idea that to a certain extent our choices are rather meaningless when placed against fate, it also means that there isn’t any sense of growth. While I don’t necessarily mean that the story or the characters should grow, what I mean is that this third episode doesn’t feel like it gives the audience any deeper understanding of anything that they couldn’t get from the second episode.

Maybe I’m being too much of a stickler about what the show should be, but I’m not sure that eight more episodes exactly like this will end up being worthwhile. It’s still entertaining and it’s possible the show will grow, so I probably shouldn’t worry about a problem that hasn’t started happening. Maybe something more is going on that we’ve yet to experience.

© 2014 James Blake Ewing