Title: The Tatami Galaxy aka Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 11 episodes
Dates: 22 Apr 2010 – 1 Jul 2010
Synopsis: Watashi walks into college ready to experience his “rose colored campus life” after wasting away high school. He chooses to join the tennis club and chase raven haired maidens, but is obstructed by Ozu, a devilish character that seeks to wreck everyone’s love life. As Watashi stoops to Ozu’s level by being his partner in crime, he becomes hated by the general community and is thrown into the river. With regrets, he wonders what could have happened if he had joined a different club, what could have happened without Ozu…
Plot: Cyclical story that never gets boring; what “Endless Eight” should have been.
Narrative: Purposefully disjointed and unreliable.
Characters: Entertaining and multifaceted in their characterization.
Atmosphere: Playful and endearing while still being contemplative.
Finale: Cathartic and satisfying.
It would seem doubtful that the reiteration of the same story over and over again would make good show. One need only be reminded of a certain series that attempted it in a nonsensical and ultimately unnecessary fashion. But put it into the hands of a visionary and skilled director, and what you get is a playful and ultimately refreshing look at an interesting mode of storytelling. Yuasa Masaaki’s work on Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei thrives on its ability to avoid stagnation and build a developing story even when each episode follows the exact same structure. In fact, it is this very paradox that drives the creativity.
The series builds itself on the concept of multiple paths of choice given the exact same situation. Yuasa takes this and explores the numerous stories he can tell, effectively telling ten instead of one. On a superficial level, each story stands well by itself; each one progresses naturally in its own direction without major overlap. Nevertheless, Yuasa takes great pangs to tie the natural events of all of them into one coherent narrative, which provides a cohesive story that builds toward a wondrous ending while still tickling our imagination. It is from this that the story of Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei derives its strength.
Yuasa’s dynamic storytelling is further bolstered by the characters, who act as the foundation of the ever-changing state of the singular story. The main character Watashi, or simply I, acts as the unreliable narrator, which drives the perspective of the show. The defeatist attitude with which he views the world skews the very nature of things. His character seems pitiful, his actions absurd. Yet it is these very actions that form his identity as he moves from episode to episode. He is not a static character that commits the same mistake again and again; rather, the choices he makes are multiform and logically or emotionally sound, even if his character flaws cause him to fail again and again.
The other characters are equally delightful in their depictions, which begin archetypical and seemingly one-dimensional. Some are malicious, others are lecherous, and a few are downright whimsical. But Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei is quick to remind us of Watashi’s unreliability by providing alternate looks at these characters, creating interpretations that are hardly apparent at the beginning but still complimentary to the quirks seen in the first few episodes. The development of these characters come naturally, and their presence in the story support Watashi’s characterization immensely.
All of this is topped with Yuasa’s directorial and artistic touch, propelling what is already solid narration and characterization. The artistic style is loose and stylized, which helps purposefully misrepresent the characters and allows for the art to change at the drop of a hat. Allusions and symbolism between episodes are amusing or subtle, keeping the story creative in its connections. Most of all, the sense of humor of the series continually seeks to entertain even when the general atmosphere is introspective, maintaining the show’s levity throughout.
Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei proves many things. It proves that good direction can make what seems to be a boring concept interesting. It proves that a story can engage intellectually without being overbearing. Most of all, it proves that it is possible to take a serious concept and present it in the most playful manner possible. Even to its contemplative and cathartic end, Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei engages us humorously and intellectually, never compromising its creativity for anything less.
The Rating: 9
Reviewed by: Elineas