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Tatami Galaxy Collector’s Edition UK Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

tatami-galaxy-coverI’m used to watching Groundhog Day near Xmas but in anime form?

What They Say:
“”From Award-winning director, Masayuki Yuasa, comes a series that turns animation completely on its head.””
When a college dropout stops for a late night bite at a mysterious ramen stand, he crosses paths with a self-proclaimed deity of matrimony. This bizarre meeting sends the young man hurtling through a horrifying flashback to his not-so-glorious college days when the influence of a cruel new friend turned him from a hopeless romantic into a mischievous black cupid.

The Review:
Audio:
The only track available is a 2.0 in Japanese and with it I did have to raise the volume a little from my default settings, however, there were no other issues regarding sound quality, echoing, synching with subtitles, etc. The show animation is of course rather unique but the sound quality is just as good with most of their recent work (which is a lot of fun considering the many scenarios the protagonist goes through – the one where he’s speaking English being my personal favourite) and a fantastic Japanese track make a lot of fun to listen to.

Video:
Set in PAL style format with the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio on a full screen format, this is a unique series animation wise, combining live action stills and movement with chrome effect, and with no issues in terms of video to audio on a 16:9 – 1.78:1 aspect ratio though set NTSC style with top/bottom wide screen, no problem on the whole with the animation giving it a very unique/trademark look which gives it an edge to stand out and make it actually great to look at – it is very colourful, combining dull colours with psychedelic motifs and times, there was no animation delay during pausing and speed wise no stuttering, one of the most unique releases in a long time and probably one of the best as it has a vibrant energy with its animation that makes it truly stand out.

Packaging:
There was no packing for this test release, however with the special edition you do get collectors packaging.

Menu:
The menu is very basic, on the first disc we have play all, episodes and set up as your selections with the 2nd disc the same but with extras – set on a beige green background with strange images in the style Tatami Galaxy will delight you with – the image of I believe Miss Akashi among others dominates on the right hand said in an apartment style building, tatami mat style with the English title of the series over the Japanese one on the bottom. All are easily selectable and like most Blu-Ray releases have no time delay when selecting a new menu – and again like most Blu-Rays they have a popup menu that you access during your watching (though you can’t select extras) – overall easily accessible but pretty standard.

Extras:
We have a few extras – we get some promotional videos about the DVDs and Blu-Ray releases, and the cleaning opening and endings of the show, but the big extras is the creator interview which is basically the members of the team Europe Kikohol going to places that the show is set on, at Doshisha University and the experiences that campus life entailed was similar to the protagonists, going across the Kamo river delta (the show showing the anime version to the real life version as comparisons), Shimogamo, the theatre club, the ‘Birdman’ shop, the Café Collection, the Keage Incline and finally the tatami room itself where they struggle to fit the entire staff in there – quite a lot of fun but also really well done how they worked the locations into the anime especially with the unique style of animation it used.

Also with the special edition, you get a selection of art cards and a 60 page art booklet.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Tatami Galaxy, the more easily readable title compared to the original translation Yojōhan Shinwa Taikei?, or “4½ Tatami Mythological Chronicles, is based on an original light novel done back in 2004, airing in 2010 as an anime. With shows being licensed and released now at times within a year, this coming to over 5 years later is interesting considering the original source material is over 10 years old, and yet when you see it, you may kind of understand. The animation is strange, the style is unique, the plot is weird and you have to really keep a close eye on what is going on to make sense of everything with the animation and live shots used in combination with these strange style of animation.

And yet there is something about it which because of its style makes it a real breath of fresh air in today’s shows. Similar to Ping Pong, another Anime Limited license, it uses something that seems very basic in terms of animation and uses it to its advantage, and that’s when you watch the show and discover how clever it is.

For starters, we don’t even get a name for our lead. I shall just call him the protagonist for now, but it is hard to make out what the series is when you go by the 1st episode alone – the protagonist meets up with a supposed ‘god’ of relationships named Higushi whilst at a ramen stall, basically telling him to try and hook up with his kohai Akashi or else she will go out to his other friend Ozu. I say friend, as to say he barely tolerates Ozu seems to be an understatement, especially as Ozu is a very monsterish looking human who seems to be very sneaky and conniving. However, by the end of the series it is one of many ways of seeing what the show was really about in terms of the protagonists’ mindset. Anyway, he appears to join a tennis club, gets upset of all the couples, basically tries and does split a lot up, but by the end when he tries to invite Akashi out to the ramen stall, he fails….

…and then episode 2 starts resetting everything, with the protagonist now instead of joining the tennis club, he is now part of the film club. The anime seems to be going the logic of a time loop, or Groundhog Day style show – shows like Madoka, Re-Zero and Erased are three of the strongest series that has his style and Tatami Galaxy may follow them, though is quite the different series compared to those three…

Each episode seems to revert back to the start, and with it, you also get to meet new characters whose role also seems to change in different episodes. Episode 2 introduces us to Jogasaki, an older student who is charismatic and charming, but at the same time very selfish and condescending so the protagonist and Ozu spend their school life making movies and even one to showcase what a jerk Jogasaki is – one of his big shock moment, the fact he has a rather fancy for better term ‘sex doll’ all dressed up actually becoming a plot point in a later episode – but again, Akashi has a role as the link up with him (she always is standoff ish with anyone who isn’t the protagonist which again, syncs in with later episodes) and the episode ends with a reset, so episode 3 this time has him join the cycling club.

tatami-galaxy-packaging

Again, the repeating is similar – some sort of trial involving the club (his super bike is stolen) leads to him doing something else usually involving Akashi (here to help design a plane and pedal it for them) and/or Ozu as a friend/enemy of his (here, he was part of the thieves) but the idea is the same that he feels he has wasted his 3 years at college without looking for the raven haired beauties and fancy college life he expected, and thus it is reset to see if he can.

What the story goes through is that all the characters he meets subconsciously actually makes him have the life he goes through quite a wondrous one. Episode 4 brings Higuchi back but now he is just an upperclassman and the protagonist is a disciple of is, and in a running ‘war’ with Jogasaki which the protagonist helps find the allusive tortoise brush to help him on his quest. Episode 5 has him join a softball team just for the sake of getting girls, but it turns out to be a ruse and leads into a complex episode of a Noah’s ark which is sabotaged by Ozu. So simple episode type series always returns to a start and seems quite clichéd.

Episode 6 changes that – here we get basically the same arc told 3 times, the protagonist a bit more grown up and now that he does have female attention, things seem to change within in – despite the comic imagery of his inner mind (or his ‘Johnny’, yeah we’ll leave it at that) he joins an English speaking circle and first we get a woman who was in episode 4 as a fellow disciple of Higuchi in Hanuki – as well as learn he is looking after the sex-doll Kaori, and also writing to another girl named Keiko (hints as the girl we don’t see the face of in episode 5). Episode 6 is basically the Hanuki arc, episode 7 the Kaori one (which is a bit creepy if you think about it) and episode 8 is the Keiko one. Episode 6 basically has him reject a drunken Hanuki’s advances and doesn’t take advantage of her but feels dissatisfied with the outcome, and then instead of the full years reversed, just the last few hours. We then get if he chose Kaori, which is definitely the most squicky of the three but again, it is obviously impossible and rejected, and then wishes he went out with Keiko, which is what happens in episode 8 which leads to the reveal that it was both Ozu and Akashi writing the letters which was partly prank (Ozu) and partly trying to help him (Akashi) – there are little things in earlier episodes which hint this (the protagonist getting a job at a sentai show and rescuing Akashi the big one) – however at the end of episode 8 the time is reverting back to further out…

Episode 9 however again changes things – like all the little organizations that have been involved in previous episodes the protagonist know has involvement in a secret society, whether it is the bike thieves, the library, the ramen shop, the print shops, all of these are involved in a lot of the episodes from 3 to 8 and a lot of the tasks he does along with Ozu again are alluded in previous episodes. He even steals the plane that he saved in a previous episode but Akashi shouts at him as he begins to wonder why he did that – with this combined with Ozu actually seemingly having the rosy life he wanted when he discovers he has a girlfriend and trying to save her from her family, sends him into a depression – and in a twist, the time doesn’t revert back and instead returns to his ‘tatami galaxy’ and remain in that room.

The galaxy changes to a lot of live shots with the animation as he goes through a literal tatami galaxy as rooms similar to his appear, finding food (a running theme is that Ozu keeps sending him castella cakes), money and all have slight variations as his memory plays tricks with him. It is here as he begins to truly waste his time that in these previous memories, he actually didn’t waste time and each ‘life’ was interesting and fun at times, and eventually the realization makes him want to break out of this cycle. The final episode also sees how and who Ozu really is and how he truly relates to the protagonist, the promise way back in episode 1 coming back in the final episode to Akashi, what the moths meant outside of a fear device for Akashi (every episode she is attacked by a moth which terrifies her) – the characters like Jogasaki and Higuchi also break with their lives, and how Ozu truly was as a friend…

I recently reviewed Yurikuma Arashi which was another series which was being clever with its imagery and how its story was told. The trouble was it was not displaying the message as well as it could have – here, the show seems infinitely times weirder, yet the way it is told is incredibly smart and worked a lot better in telling the story which is basically the protagonist learning that whilst he didn’t have the life he thought he wanted, he got several lives which were just as interesting. I love the fact he doesn’t even have a name because it ties in great with the twist ending and just how all the little things in previous episodes all come together in future ones. Granted, the show doesn’t exactly explain how he keeps going through the Groundhog Day loop – it just is assumed it is the imagination of the protagonist, and that the Tatami Galaxy he is in keeps sending him through alternate timelines. The suggestion that the first episode might be the ‘canon’ one and that Higuchi was a god which allowed the protagonist to keep these timelines might be true, but it is the one thing about the show which is confusing and isn’t made clear.

Outside that though, it is really the only moan I have of the series. The animation is superb, the gritty dark style with almost a look of old 60s-70s cartoons would have combined with live action shots which almost fade into the animation – the character of Ozu seems to be the slimy manipulator behind the scenes but a lot of what he does is actually for the protagonist’ benefit (there is even a kind of spoiler in the opening song which suggests Ozu is not what he seems to be and maybe just part of the protagonists’ mind vilifying him) which leads into the ending, Akashi is there as seemingly a static love interest, but she is very interesting and is more involved than she appears, and all the other characters with their quirks (the love doll aside) make them all very memorable. And as the show develops and everything ties together, then episode 10 happens and it all comes together.

This isn’t an easy series to get yourself into and certainly not one I’d say should be on any starter park for new anime watchers. However, it is deep, smart, funny and has a real charm about it, and after a couple of watches, you’ll marvel how clever it is.

In Summary:
Tatami Galaxy is one of those series that at first, you’ll just go ‘huh?’ It feels confusing, strange and the animation style is not one of those you’d immediately scream ‘anime’. However the way the story is told, the hints that everything is tying in together and the development of the protagonist learning about his rose coloured life and finding the raven beauty may have happened before and needs to get back on track, it is one of those series you’ll have to watch and realise the beauty of it. The slight confusion and some uncomfortable moments make it not perfect, but for what it is, definitely a surprising highlight as we come to the end of the year.

Features:
Japanese Language, English Subtitles, Interview with the creators

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: November 28th, 2016
MSRP: £54.99
Running Time: 275 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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