四畳半神話大系

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The Tatami Galaxy (or A Compendium of 4.5 Tatami Mythology”) is a novel written by 森見 登美彦 (Tomihiko Morimi). The ‘smart-arse’-me bought the Japanese version (on purpose, though, not by mistake) and so as much as I’d love to be able to read all those beautiful kanji… I cannot…yet. Yet. Anyway, for this reason, I shall talk about the anime only (as usual, although there’s a reason why I read only certain types of manga, which I shall discuss in another post, I promise).

Without further ado, this novel has been turned into an 11-episode mystery, romance, psychologicalanime, produced by Madhouse (mainly), Dentsu, FUNimation Entertainment, Kadokawa Shoten, Fuji TV, Asmik Ace Entertainment, Sony Music Entertainment, Fuji Pacific Music Publlishing, and TOHO animation, and directed by 湯浅 政明 (Masaaki Yuasa).

The plot of the series is just your usual slice-of-life one…or is it, now?! Basically the story is about 私 (Watashi – I), a third-year at the KyoDai, who realises he’s wasted the last couple of years of his life and finally makes a move…well, these are the very end. The facts are: in his first year, things didn’t quite work out for him and his crush and together with 小津 (Ozu) he basically decided that since he was never going to experience the “rose-coloured campus life” that he was so ardently pursuing, it was fine for them to ruin everybody else’s romances…until he starts liking one of his juniors, 明石 (Akashi-san). One night, while having ramen at Neko Ramen, Watashi meets the god of matrimony樋口 清太郎 (Seitarō Higuchi) (later on shown to be a student in his eighth year and referred to more commonly as The Master (Shishō)), who tells him that he and the other gods will soon decide whether Akashi-san will marry him (Watashi) or Ozu. After hearing from a fortune teller that he needs to make a decision and being prompted by her to grab the opportunity dangling right in front of his eyes (these at an increasingly high price), Watashi decides to have some giblets and do something productive with his life – including returning the Mochiguman to Akashi-san. Do excuse my lambasting tongue and do not take it the wrong way, I loved the characters to pieces.

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The story is presented in an anachronic style, which actually works wonders in this case, as we’re talking about parallel universes here (as a matter of fact, this style can also be found in Boundary of Emptiness – especially in the 5th film ­– as well as in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, not to mention Hetalia, amongst others). The “Groundhog Day” Loop is also present, and considering this and the anachronic order of the story, the plot is pretty much a puzzle which, because of the repetition, makes it easier for the viewers to understand when and what happens, and also helps to find out more about other characters. I also loved the concept of Epiphanic Prison – Watashi firstly doesn’t realise that he is a ‘prisoner’, and when he finally does, for a while not only does he not want to–, but he also finds it impossible to escape. There are plenty other aspects which make this series so enjoyable: the cliché Gilligan Cut (in episode 8), as well as the repeated use of the so-called brick jokes – you need some patience with this series, but trust me, it’s all worth it. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who regrets they watched it. I mean, yeah, at times you’ll feel your head swirling with too much info, especially if it initially makes no sense, even more so when you hear Watashi with his insanely fast narrating speed (and not just Watashi, for that matter), but I stand by my opinion: this is one of the best anime series out there. Before I go on, if you watched the series (which I hope you have before reading this post…well…this sort of contradicts what I’m about to say next) and remember the beginning, well let’s just say that you could find out more than you thought you might have, just from those few scenes. Also, I strongly recommend watching the specials, too – they’re really funny.

Various motifs (common to quite a few anime series) are present, such as the usual cicadas and the cherry blossoms; as I said, I have read and researched a little here and there, and some seem to believe that another motif in this series is the one of the Macabre Moth – I really do not agree with this. Yes, I know I am a butterfly-lover, but this would not cloud my ability to understand facts about butterflies versus moths. Not to mention that science rejects the very basis of this myth altogether.

The characters are all pretty much cloud-cuckoo-landers to quite an extent; however, there is character development in this series and you can’t not notice it. And this is what means a lot to me, as I have said quite a few times in previous posts.

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The narrator, 私 (Watashi – I), is pretty much your usual uni student who is searching for a goal in their life; however, he doesn’t want just any sort of life, but a rose-coloured life – I had to laugh at that, as mean as this confession might come across as. The narrator is pretty much what is called a “Motor Mouth” most of the time; back to Watashi though, he’s very oblivious (…well, most of the characters in this series are, now that I think better) and stubborn – in my opinion; for a short while he even becomes a hikikomori (and this reminded me vividly of the Welcome to the NHK! anime, in a very nostalgic way) but at the end, as I said, he actually finds the giblets needed to make a decision and open his mouth and talk and do what he was supposed to do since quite some time ago. And that matters a lot to me and this is why I couldn’t not warm up to him (quite a lot *cough*). Since I’m here, I couldn’t not laugh hysterically at the image of Johnny, Watashi’s…thingy…nice euphemism, nice depiction. I approve. Thanks to this, I finally found out what the expression ‘a date with Rosie Palms’ means. Yes, go on and laugh at me. I’m innocent, OK?! Just kidding…well, almost. Johnny is more correctly described as Watashi’s sexual desires.

明石 (Akashi-san) has to be my favourite character, as it must have been very hard for you to guess.

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Anyway, she’s pretty much a kuudere, and as such comes across as stoic most of the time but it can clearly be seen that she is also affectionate. She has various ‘abilities’, such as the ‘armour-piercing slap’ and the ‘eye beams’. As if these wouldn’t be enough to love her, her seiyū is none other than Maaya Sakamoto, who is one of my all-time favourite seiyū. Akashi-san and Watashi seem to be connected by the so-called Red String of Fate.

小津 (Ozu) is mis-depicted by Watashi, who considers him gonk (ugly), cruel (going as far as depicting him as a dictator) and due to his appearance, even calls him a yōkai. He seems to be quite the trickster, however, he also shows he cares about and wishes to help Watashi. If Watashi and Akashi-san seem to be connected by the Red String of Fate, Ozu and Watashi appear to be connected by the Black String of Fate – which is shown as a black cord round the two of them. As much as they don’t seem to get along, you can clearly see they’re best friends. I have read others’ opinions and some seem to believe that Ozu is another version of Watashi; I, however, strongly disagree with that view, and you can clearly see why this theory doesn’t stand – I mean, just watch the end of the last episode and you’ll get all the proof you need. I could, however, say that I think there’s quite a bit of bromance between these two. Indeed.

樋口 清太郎 (Seitarō Higuchi) – I have already talked a bit about him, so I’d only like to mention that I liked him a lot, especially how he prompts Watashi to forget about chasing the idea of  a rose-coloured campus life and live in the present.

城ヶ崎 マサキ (Masaki Jōgasaki) is another eighth-year who apparently is in love with boobs and…his doll, 香織 (Kaori). He and Higuchi appear to be rivals in the “proxy-proxy war” …well, only for a little over 10 episodes.

羽貫 涼子 (Ryōko Hanuki) is a dental hygienist and doesn’t hold her liqueur very well… As a result, Johnny gets quite fired-up for a wee while at some point…

老婆 (The Fortune Teller) is the one who repeatedly tells Watashi to grab the opportunity which lies right under his nose and with each episode, charges him more and more. She made me wish, for the first time, to start fortune-telling as a part-time job.

As I have said already, there is a lot of character development in this series and I think – or I hope – that everyone who has seen the series agrees. I had not noticed but I have read, and if anyone knows better and more accurately, please let me know in the comments, that Ozu’s name is pronounced as ‘fearful’, Akashi’s as ‘evidence’ or ‘testimony’, and Hanuki’s as ‘tooth extraction’. It’s a very interesting aspect and I’m awfully curious about it, so I’d be grateful if someone could confirm or infirm this. There’s also something called Grey and Grey Morality in this series, which refers to the fact that each character has done good and bad deeds, but whether these are good or bad depends on the angle from which one looks at these, and more importantly, it is these deeds that make them characters who they are.

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Animation and Music

As I mentioned already, The Tatami Galaxy was produced by Madhouse, which did quite the job; I mean they mixed 2D graphics with real life scenes; the animation is quite crazy in general, but this just serves to show that there’s nothing one can imagine which can’t be shown in this anime. Yuasa is insane in the best way possible (he’s also known for directing Kick-Heart, My Neighbours the Yamadas, and Samurai Champloo, amongst others), and this anime series is the first one which has won the grand prize for animation in the Japan Media Arts Festival in 2010.

The soundtrack for the series was composed by 大島ミチル (Michiru Ōshima) (who also composed for Fullmetal Alchemist and Arc the Lad, amongst many others); I have already mentioned and posted the ending theme for this anime series, so I shall post here the opening theme, which is titled 迷子犬と雨のビート (“The Beat of a Stray Puppy and the Rain”) and performed by the J-Rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation.

The music, the art and animation, the characters and the plot – everything – EVERYTHING in this series is as close to flawless as it can get; and this means a lot coming from me as I am very fussy and picky; existentialism or not, there’s a lot of food for thought in this series and I reiterate: I strongly believe that this is an anime that everyone should watch sooner or later, regardless of whether they’re into anime and/or manga and/or Japanese stuff in general. But that is solely my opinion. I, for one, loved it to pieces and it means a lot to me. And I’m most definitely planning to watch it again sometime.

Thanks for stopping by and for reading this far!

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