#1 Masaaki Yuasa at his best
Tatami Galaxy is a show I picked up assuming I would drop it. I respect Masaaki Yuasa to a degree and love how his shows are often surreal, but also find that his storytelling is weak and his animation falls apart when it actually has to move; see the absolute disaster that is Devilman Crybaby‘s running scenes.
However, the laid-back nature of Tatami Galaxy means motion is less of a concern. That it was adapted from an existing novel also helps in the story department. Masaaki Yuasa’s Kaiba was an anime original of his that I grew to actively resent for its opaque story and nonsensical pacing. While I haven’t had the chance to read the original novel, it’s obvious that Tatami Galaxy has the solid structure that Kaiba severely lacked. The plot is still plenty complex and mysterious, but not because it’s deliberately made to be obtuse.
I know I abused this chance to smacktalk Masaaki Yuasa a bunch, but I really am happy to see him working on a genuinely interesting show. His talents are put to great use and the impact of his “flaws” is minimized here.
#2 Time-travelling romance
Tatami Galaxy is framed (sort of) like a time loop story. It follows a college student who experiences all the different ways that his life at school could have unfolded. He hopes to join some kind of club, make many friends, and score a date with his crush Akashi. Those may sound like realistic goals, but his situation is… complicated.
Each episode is an alternate take, which changes what kind of afterschool activity he takes up and recasts various characters to fit new roles. In one episode he might join the film club, only to find himself bullied and excluded by its controlling president. In another, a kind and welcoming sports club gets him involved in a dangerous MLM company. After the situation has become truly unsalvageable, time rewinds once again and a new direction is explored instead.
Time loop stories always interest me and Tatami Galaxy puts them to good use. Each episode feels very different, while at the same time contributing to a bigger picture. It challenges you to pay attention to overlapping plot points and themes. It’s satisfying to puzzle this plot together, especially when you get that eureka moment where it all falls into place.
#3 Godly interference
Our main character isn’t entirely alone in his struggles. After all, time doesn’t just magically rewind itself for any old college student. Several unusual people, who may or may not be divine creatures, are actively involved in his life. However, it is unclear if these entities are as helpful as they present themselves. Perhaps they are merely toying with our protagonist.
Alongside a God of matchmaking and a price-gouging fortune teller, the most interesting cast member is Ozu. In each arc, Ozu becomes the protagonist’s only friend by offering easy ways out of whatever predicament he stumbled into. For example, combating the film club’s president by exposing his perversion and abuse of power through film. It’s never clear if Ozu is a well-intentioned friend that nevertheless steers the protagonist from the right path, a deliberate saboteur, a romantic rival or maybe even a romantic interest himself. I found the character utterly fascinating.
The story is as much about our unnamed friend trying to attain the life he desires, as it is about figuring out the true intentions of all his bizarre acquaintances.
#4 Sexual frustration
It’s well-recorded by now that I like anime & manga that tap into the storytelling potential of sexuality. While it’s not an overly-prominent theme within Tatami Galaxy, the main character is still a frustrated virgin looking to get his first hint of romance.
Several episodes deal with his inexperience in love. For example, in one awkward storyline he believes he might have a shot with an older girl, only to get scared and hide out in a toilet when the opportunity finally arises. There is also a real doll character who plays a prominent role in several episodes. These often explore questions relating to whether it is possible or even healthy to love something truly inanimate.
Sex isn’t an overpowering theme within the show, but you do see how it’s a part of most of the characters we meet; often in the form of tiny flaws and eccentricities. It’s a force used to give us a deeper understanding of the characters and it handles this quite tastefully.