4 Jul 2010

The Tatami Galaxy (Anime) Review

The Tatami Galaxy (Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei) (2010)
Format: TV Series, 11 X 22 minutes
Studio: Madhouse
Score: 5 stars
Summary: Superb characters, brilliantly thought out setting, very creative use of animation. The highlight of 2010 TV series for me, and possible one of my top 10 favourites of all time. The last episode in particular shows how well planned this series was. Perfect execution by Director Masaaki Yuasa.

The story follows an unnamed protagonist, living in a 4.5 tatami mat room. To describe the plot in more detail destroys the joy of uncovering what the conclusion might hold, so I'll try to keep it to just the first 2 episodes. The basic premise is that every episode shows how our protagonist joins another circle (similar to a CCA in Singapore) and all the mad antics Ozu puts him through.

In the first few episodes of the series, it felt a little weird. It's episodic nature made the show feel shallow, but at the same time the characters were well fleshed out because of it. Through the many different scenarios the characters are put through, we see different sides of them, slowly forming into a fully, more understandable picture of what that person really is. Just when the viewer begins to tire of the same formula repeated from a different perspective, the director mixes things up a bit, giving us very different stories, and then the exact same story with different circumstances. And in the last few episodes, things start to come together. Not in a way that a puzzle is being pieced together, but more like how the puzzle pieces evolve into something entirely different, giving not a new perspective, but a new reaction to all that has happened. And all that accumulates into a final episode that puts you at ease.... and then surprises you in what must be the most brilliant final 60 seconds of any series I've seen.

Madhouse is one of the best production companies out there. For this series, they did not bring out their most meticulous animators, but they had the ever creative Masaaki Yuasa at the helm of this project. For most people, the art here is a turn off. Lack off details, blatant use of photoshoped photographs, and weird design decision. But don't let that turn you away from watching this gem. Masaaki Yuasa never wastes a single frame. Every scene is well thought out. Every design decision has a reason. It's hard to put it in words, but if I had to, I would say that the art and animation was meaningful.

From the very first episode, I was quite certain this series would end up as one of the best this season. The creativity put into every scene and the intriguing storyline, hinting at a grander plot, kept me going back every week. After 10 episodes however, I demoted this series to 4 stars because, even though episode 10 was the best up till that point, because I felt that a few of those interactions were meaningless to the overarching plot, even though they served the purpose of building up the characters. And then came the final episode. Right off the bat it Masaaki Yuasa surprised me with his direction, as if saying "Aha! I still have some tricks up my sleeve!". The defining moment, however, was in the final minute of the show. The way the series was wrapped up showed the skill and foresight of the director. Everyone reading this, please watch.

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