The Tatami Galaxy

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A common misconception is that being experimental makes your work inaccessible. Too many experimental works got this reputation, and too many people now think difficulty is praiseworthy. It’s as if jumping through 50 hoops somehow increases the value of 20 dollars. It may increase perceived value, but that’s not the same. It just means your mind distorted the real value so you won’t feel bad about wasting time.

Difficulty can’t be the main aim of any piece of art. Art is a way to communicate ideas. The reason we seek these experimental/non-traditional/avant-garde methods is not because of their difficulty. These new approaches are meant to enhance a story, to shed new light on the same ideas. Experimentation shouldn’t draw you away from an anime, it should make you curious and involved in it.

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Tatami Galaxy is a perfect example of an anime that’s both experimental and, at the same accessible. It follows a non-linear narrative, whose structure has significant meaning. The characters all look weird, but that’s only makes them more lively. The characters themselves are weird, but people are weird. All their quirks aren’t there just to make them different from one another, but related directly to their personalities.

Jougaski’s love for a doll is directly related to how he’s an idol for women. Akashi is cold and intelligent, but it doesn’t help her when moths are around. Ozu is a scumbag, but even scumbags like him can love.

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The way they are drawn is also important to their personality. Anyone who thinks character design isn’t important has no business watching anime, with Tatami Galaxy a strong argument for the importance of character design. The designs are expressive for their personalities – Jougaski looks perfect, Akashi is pretty in a low-key way, Higuchi looks both absent-minded and too wise to care. Look at the shut eyes and the small smile. It’s right between a wise master and an oblivious buffoon.

The designs are both cartoonish and realistic at the same, and that’s whole approach of the show. It manages to be realistic by being cartoonish. Too many times we see attempts at realism by being ‘low-key’, like in Mushishi or Texhnolyze. In order to be ‘realistic’ you first have to ask yourself what is the reality your story is about. Then you seek methods, techniques, and cues that make us believe in your reality.

Life is weird, but college life is especially weird. It’s not a matter of life and death, but it’s a constant chase after an ideal. Even outside college, the dream of a life of constant partying, joy and excitement is common.

In the age of social media, this theme of ‘rose-colored life’ is more common. People often post only the good stuff and inflate them. We follow celebrities more closely than ever. Sometimes celebrities rise out of that social media. As a satire of that desire, Tatami Galaxy is dead-on.

It’s not so much about choices, because whatever Watashi chooses the results remain fairly similar. It’s also not about some big philosophy about Destiny and Fate, because every time Watashi fails it’s in different ways. The reason he fails so much is because of his desire. This dream of the rose-colored life is his undoing.

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Whether it exists or not, the anime doesn’t answer. It shouldn’t, since easy answers have no place in a great story like this. What it asks us to do look beyond our huge ambitions. The vivid, wacky art style is meant to portray a reality that’s varied, full of weirdness and ups and downs. Notice how the colors constantly change. Life can’t be ‘rose-colored’. It has too many colors.

The message is, thankfully, not just ‘enjoy your life and be thankful for it’. As I said, there’s no room for easy answers in stories that ask questions. Failure is a running theme and the anime is aware you can’t avoid failure and how painful it is. Characters who should lead ‘rose-colored life’ don’t lead them. Jougaski has plenty of things that make him ‘not a real man’. Hanuki may be a sexy, fun woman but she still falls into bad relationship. Ozu may be cunning, but he can also fall apart when loves takes over.

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All the colors, weirdness, and personification of a sex drive only lead to one conclusion. Life is a mess. You can enjoy it not by stop aspiring. You don’t even need some sort of ‘mythical balance’. The world is full of things, of Ozu’s who will knock us down and Higuchi’s who will babble nonsense. It’s about trying to enjoy it despite all these things, to sort out the mess and find what fits you. You can be life-affirming without being shallow

Some have pointed out that the monologues can be too fast. At first it’s annoying, but it quickly dies down. Watashi still talks pretty fast, but the monologues become less dominant and slightly slower. It was easy getting over.

The Tatami Galaxy is worth all the hype surrounding it. It manages to be so many things at the same time, and never losing control. It’s realistic without being dry. The narrative is experimental, but in a meaningful way rather than an obscure one. The character design is weird, but it’s for expressive purposes. For all the reputation it gained as an ‘intellectual anime’, it’s so accessible I’d recommend it to anyone, even people who aren’t into anime.

5 tatami rooms out 5

Green Green

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Green Green is the most important ecchi anime, for all the wrong reasons. Don’t be fooled by the pictures that promise you fun times with the occasional peak at tits. Green Green is cruel and mean-spirited. It doesn’t want to, but this is the side-effect of taking sexual shenanigans to their extreme. This is what happens when you’re making a sex comedy and enjoy the limitlessness of animation.

Despite what I and many reviewers write, anime is a really just a lot of lines and colors moving around. The stories are in our heads. It’s like how a novel is just some ink painted in different shapes upon (recycled?) paper. No real people are involved, but it’s surprising how legal action hasn’t taken against the creators. Surely, such sexual harassment shouldn’t be presented in such a care-free and comic way, even if it targets animated characters, right? If not, then the viewer himself was sexually harassed and the viewer is a real person.

This is how watching Green Green feels like for most of its length. Panty shots and the camera finding its way to the girls’ bathroom aren’t its defining feature. Very early in the first episode the fat guy gets off on rubbing his man-boobs. This is what the series revolves around. Everything else is just a side dish.

It’s amusing, but only because it’s hard to take your eyes off it. The show pushes things to the extreme, doing things in the real world would land the idiots in jail if not in a hospital. Key scenes include ‘fishing’ a shirt in front of other boys, basically stripping her and a fat guy jumping on the teacher screaming ‘here we go’. In the real world, we call this an attempted rape.

There is a light-hearted tone to all of this, but it doesn’t fit the events. It gives the impression that it takes what’s going on lightly, which only makes things worse. The three idiots are not bumbling buffons, but creeps. It’s hard to feel anything but contempt and hatred for them. The fat guy sees women as literally a stick with tits on. Tenjin is a pedophile who gets off on eating rice while Sanae is asleep. Metalhead-looking guy is sometimes better. He sometimes serves as an amusing satire of a desperate horny teenager. Mostly, he’s a stalker who goes on and on about love but tries to use brute force.

The creators try sometimes to give them what they deserve, but its at the expense of the viewer. We may not feel very sorry for them when they get humiliated, but here the punishment includes a rape from a bear. Worse, it’s not an implied one. A bush volunteers to prevent it from becoming full-blown porn, but there are enough sounds and moaning so you’ll have a clear image enough in your head.

The characters have nothing resembling depth, but that’s not the problem. They’re comic relief characters, but it’s hard to be funny when all you do is harass. What else can you call peeking at the girls while they bath and sending them questionnaires about their bra size? There are even homoerotic and cross-dressing moments. This is when their assault shifts again target to the viewer. I don’t know what is worse, but if I had to choose between seeing Futaba humiliated again or watching Bacchi-Gu rubs his breasts again, I’d choose the latter. Call me a white knight, but it’s not like I’m catching a bullet.

No girl leaves this show unharassed. Sanae and Futaba are the main victims, but only Wakaba kind of avoids this. She only falls victim to them whenever their harassment schemes target all the girls, instead of their girl of choice. The fact Wakaba is the luckiest girl, and she’s still getting harassed thanks to scheme that are the equivalent of sexual genocide should tell you how unpleasant this feels.

The creators hit a fun, energetic, sex-driven high school vibe that makes me feel nostalgic for the days when I was too young to see that girls were just as confused as I. The decision to have more than one male character and have them do stuff makes this stand out. Most high school anime tend to have a comic relief who pops once or twice, a gay dude or a trap.

Still, in such a sexually-predatory environment it’s hard to find friends. Almost everyone here is a creep, not just the idiots. Midori has her happy-go-lucky charm, but what she does to Yusuke is only a little better than what the three idiots do to the girls. Chigusa remains AWOL for most of the show, appearing occasionally to let us know reality can’t compete with those breasts. Sanae is boring and does nothing, and Arisa is a pathetic attempt to make us feel awkward with a horny ugly girl. Too bad for her she can’t compete with the three idiots.

Speaking of Yusuke, he’s a little less boring than your typical do-gooder. His occasional aggressive behavior with Midori is surprising. It’s good to see a male character this active, but all he does is add more to the mean-spiritedness. Midori and Yusuke, instead of being the emotional core and safe haven just add to the unplesantness of it all. Adding Futaba to the love triangle doesn’t help. She’s fun at first, but then quickly becomes a tsundere. You’re always sure these tsunderes are bit more interesting than they are.

Reika and Wakaba are the only ones who lighten the atmosphere a little, and even the former isn’t good enough. Reika doesn’t fit any archetype at first, and she adds some genuine appeal. For a show so obsessed with sexuality, she’s the only one with actual sex appeal and it’s not just because she has breasts. Too many times though, she’s given a cruel edge whose reason is very unsatisactory. She also get a single moment of harassment that might be worse than anything else. You’d think the creators would let us enjoy the sex appeal without seeing the girl humiliated. As for Wakaba, her role is to stand around and talk to the cactus. It’s the only joke here that works, and it’s those little details that make characters feel alive. She’s the only one who’s not an empty archetype or a creep. She deserved a much better show, maybe something like Bamboo Blade where everyone is weird like her.

Maybe it’s the story that makes everyone comes off like creeps. All this envelope-pushing at least makes them feel alive, and not just archetypes. The premise is also great and has a lot of room for satirizing the sexual confusion. There’s even a great atmosphere that makes it easy to forget how terrible everyone they are. They just don’t do anything with it.

High school boys can be silly, and sometimes creepy with their sexuality. They’re never like this. This is criminal behavior. It’s like a satire of bullying where the bully is the killer. They’re both violent, but the satire is way off-target. It doesn’t deal with the confusion or the pressure or the excitement of being sexual. All it does is present sexual harassment with a light tone, hoping we’d forgive because ‘it’s just comedy’. Sexuality can be a pain, but it shouldn’t be this depressive.

The romance is also shaky. It was about to say something interesting about fate and destiny, but then it decided to take the easy road of manipulative sentimentality. A big emotional climax was very uncalled for, but the supernatural elements made the whole thing look like they came up with it ad hoc. It gains a little impact because the characters feel alive, even though they’re shallow. It’s a romance whose obstacle isn’t inner but outer. Instead of exploring how the two lovers deal with challenges, it just throws a silly reason that doesn’t let them be together with hopes it’ll capture some tears.

Yet, this is somehow not a total trainwreck. It would’ve been easier if it this was just a string of terrible ideas after another. There’s focus here. There’s more life in this anime than others in the genre. The story is actually concerned with themes, and teenage sexuality can be a lot of fun to watch. Is focusing on a terrible idea better than not focusing on a good idea? I’m not sure. Green Green has a few things to teach other shows, but I’m afraid people will borrow the size of Reika’s breasts instead of her sex appeal or the fun atmosphere.

The fact that I spent so much time writing about women’s breasts should tell you enough about this anime. I wish I could’ve used it as a starting point to talk about how messy but fun high school, but here I am, writing about the fourth paragraph where women’s breasts appear. I hang my head.

1.5 horny idiots out of 5