As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hi everyone. I’m Mokugyo, a manga and anime loving writer from MANGA.TOKYO. You could say that most Japanese anime can be split into certain categories. There are anime with doe-eyed girls; anime set in a fantasy world; violent action anime with eye-catching battle scenes; robot anime with many battle scenes, and many more.
In this article, I’m going to introduce to you a uniquely strange, coming-of-age anime which doesn’t belong to any of those anime categories- The Tatami Galaxy.
The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei) is based on a novel of the same name written by popular novelist Tomihiko Morimi. It’s a comical coming-of-age story that revolves around an unnamed university student who experiences a life-changing event through university societies. The anime is unconventional in all aspects: its character designs, the amount of lines, and the anime effects. If you want to watch a different kind of anime, I would definitely recommend it.
Official English Trailer for The Tatami Galaxy
The Tatami Galaxy was directed by Masaaki Yuasa, whose name should be remembered by any anime fan. He is renowned for his uniquely innovative anime works. The most characteristic aspect of his anime is its moving images. You might wonder what I mean by that, because that’s what animation is in theory. However, the moving images of Yuasa’s anime will surpass your expectations.
His character designs are quite simple and such simplified characters are moving around wildly all over the screen. His camera work is also audacious and he doesn’t seems to mind if the characters or background are distorted. He is a director who focuses on the unique movements which are only possible in anime. His other works, such as Mind Game, the adventure of a man who is sent to limbo, and Ping Pong, a TV anime series famed for its spectacular ping pong matches, also demonstrate Yuasa’s effective animation. You can even read an interview with this unique director about one of his new movies here:
His newest movie, Lu Over the Wall (Yoake Tsugeru Lu no Uta) has just made it’s overseas debut in France, with more countries to play the movie later this year! I have written a review for Lu Over the Wall, so look out for it here on MANGA.TOKYO very soon!
Upon watching The Tatami Galaxy, the first thing that impresses viewers must be its unique expressions. Each character design is deformed to feature individuality, like Higuchi with his disproportionately large jaw, or the cat-like eyes of Ozu. These simplified and deformed characters are one feature of Yuasa’s anime works.
The uniquely pop-like color scheme is also characteristic to this anime, which is quite different from conventional Japanese anime works. It’s a love-or-hate style but definitely unique to Yuasa. If you like it, you’ll get addicted to his anime.
Incorporating real images into anime as a background or as props is another feature of this anime series. It creates a strange space where reality and fantasy are blended.
The story of The Tatami Galaxy starts with a flood of dialog from the very beginning. Such long lines are unique to Tomihiko Morimi’s novels, including The Tatami Galaxy. Many of his novels have been adapted into anime and stage plays which also applied his long dialogues. It must be quite difficult to dub into another language, since it’s difficult enough for Japanese to follow the lines. The dialogues are witty and comical, as well as rhythmical. They enable viewers to enjoy the voice acting of the cast members.
Tomihiko Morimi has written a couple of novels set in Kyoto other than The Tatami Galaxy, such as The Eccentric Family. Kyoto is one of the best-known tourism destinations in Japan. With numerous historical buildings, the ancient city is popular both among Japanese and foreign tourists. Although today’s capital of Japan is Tokyo (The ‘Kyo’ in Tokyo means ‘capital’ and is the same ‘Kyo’ from Kyoto), Kyoto was capital of Japan for centuries.
There are many sightseeing spots in Kyoto including the golden pavilion, Kinkakuji, as well as Kiyomizu-dera with its famous wooden stage. However, The Tatami Galaxy shows a part of Kyoto which tourists may not visit. For instance, Episode 1 takes place in the riverside of Kamogawa, a date spot for young couples. It introduces Kyoto from the view point of a young university student.
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl (Yoru wa Mijikashi Arukeyo Otome) premiered in the spring of 2017. It’s another anime adaptation of a Tomihiko Morimi novel that is set in Kyoto. The movie shares the same staff and director as The Tatami Galaxy, as well as the same theme song artist. The movie depicts a young university student known only as ‘Senpai’. Senpai is not so popular among girls and is trying to get closer to his crush, who is known as ‘’The Girl With the Long Hair’- this is quite similar to The Tatami Galaxy. However, the story of The Night is Short, Walk on Girl follows the girl’s perspective in some parts, which is different from The Tatami Galaxy. There are some characters who appear in both works as well. It’s interesting to watch this movie while trying to find the things in common with The Tatami Galaxy. Since The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is a theatrical movie, the action scenes in the latter half are spectacular to watch.
The original Japanese title of The Tatami Galaxy is ‘Yojohan Shinwa Taikei’, which means ‘the mythological chronicles of a 4 ½ tatami room’ and the protagonist explains the size of a ‘4 ½ tatami’ space in the anime. At about 270 cm squared, it’s just about an adequate size for a poor university student to live alone. I know many of you think it’s too small to live in. However, it’s the best option for students as the rent goes up significantly for bigger places, especially in the city center. A ‘4 ½ tatami room’ is cheap and not too small a room and is a typical ‘room for people who have less money.’
‘Shinwa Taikei’ means ‘the mythological chronicles’ and it’s a suggestive title which can be interpreted in many ways. It’s believed that all the Shinto deities gather once a year at Izumo Shrine to decide the fate of humans, including the relationships between men and women. This myth is told in the first episode which suggests that the anime is a variation of a matchmaking story. Each episode follows the protagonist’s effort to get close to girls in order to fulfill his student life by joining student clubs, despite him being rather argumentative and shy. Unthinkable events happen in each episode, as if deities get into mischief.
The story is the journey of a shy and unpopular guy who is trying to get a girlfriend. It’s the same old story but the way of showing and telling it make this anime fabulously interesting.
Making a lot of friends among boys and girls by joining a student club is the ideal life for university students, and many students enroll in universities with this dream in mind. Obviously, some of them study hard and spend lots of time in job hunting, or even try to establish their businesses, whereas others spend most of their time in part-time jobs.
The theme song of ‘The Tatami Galaxy’ was sung by a popular rock band, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, who have written many anime theme songs, such as ‘Rewrite’ for Fullmetal Alchemist and ‘Re:Re:’ for Erased. I guess anime fans overseas must have heard their songs before. The band is very good at expressing impulses and struggles of adolescence by promoting a positive vibe. The theme song of The Tatami Galaxy, ‘Maigoinu to Ame no Beat’, also brilliantly expresses the sensibilities of the anime.
The ending theme of The Tatami Galaxy is quite unique with patterns of connecting floor plans for 4 ½ tatami-sized rooms. The song, ‘Kamisama no Iutori’ was sung by Etsuko Yakushimaru, who is known to anime fans for the opening theme song of popular comedy anime Arakawa Under the Bridge. She sings mysterious and strange songs with her cute voice.
Both Asian Kung-Fu Generation and Etsuko Yakushimaru are widely acclaimed by, not only anime fans, but also music fans in general. Their songs make the series more delightful to watch.
The Tatami Galaxy is a unique and original anime series. I think that experiencing such an unconventional world is one of the wonderful things of anime. It’s a love or hate anime, but I hope many people will have the chance to watch and experience it.