Two posts ago I said that I didn’t expect Tatami Galaxy to quite surpass Cobra as the best anime of the year (to-date).
I was wrong.
My concern with Tatami Galaxy, and I’m using the word “concern” here pretty lightly, was that it’d all boil down to love. The main dude’s love for Akashi,and the means to express that love, was always right before his eyes. All he had to do was give her that Maromi Sentai Hero keychain thingie and that’d give him the opening he needed to start a relationship. That’s all well and good, and I was rooting for him to finally be honest about his feelings for her, but I didn’t want that to be the end-all be-all revelation that would lead to his escape from his time loop Hell.
His relationship with Akashi was just one facet of his “redemption,” and to a certain extent it was one of the least important parts, as if it were a side effect of a larger revelation rather than the thing that he needed to come to grips with. And as much as I loved the fact that it ws Ozu he cried out to and rushed towards during the climax, making Ozu his primary focus in the end (more on that later), the key thing I think Tatami’s getting at with the main dude’s revelation is the notion that we can’t choose what we feel nostalgic about.
The main dude’s main struggle throughout this series has been his attempt to create some sort of idyllic college life. He wants the perfect club experience, the perfect sweetheart romance, and the perfect conclusion, and he feels that the only way that he can look back upon these years through rose-colored lenses is to ensure that life at that time was rose-colored to begin with. He thinks that the only way to have happy memories is to only have happy experiences.
That might be how the movies or romance novels or slice-of-life anime series depict one’s youth, but that’s the realm of fiction. Those are carefully crafted scenarios meant to create artificial situations that conjure up similar-but-different emotions in the viewer. The nostalgic feeling one feels while watching a movie about an idealized childhood is different from the feeling one has when looking back fondly on one’s own childhood experiences.
That’s where the main character falters. He sincerely believes (until his revelation in the end) that he must capture that fictionalized, idealized youth in real life in order to have precious memories that will last him the rest of his life. That just isn’t the case. When you look back at your youth (Or your more youthful days if you’re still “young.”), what do you remember? Do you only remember those perfect days where everything fell into place like some sort of storybook? Do you even have those kinds of days to remember? Or do you remember the funky shit, the crappy days, and the days where everything was a mixed bag, but somehow everything came out to be pretty damn memorable?
You’re just as likely, if not more likely, to remember those days that, at the time, seemed like utter shit. At the time you wished it didn’t happen, but 5, 10, or however many years later you’ll look back at that day and say “Damn, that was pretty funny” and reminisce about it with your friends. Yeah, you’ll also have some “perfect” memories, and they’re just as valid, but it’s downright delusional and unrealistic to think that one must live the perfect life in order to look back on that life and feel that it was perfect.
The main dude realizes that all of these alternative existences were filled with such memories. It may look bad at the time that he tried to run away with a real doll or helped steal bikes or got involved with an apocalypse cult pyramid scheme, but down the line he’d be able to look at those memories and say “Holy fucking shit that was crazy! I’m glad I was able to experience that and tell people about it! What an awesome story!”
In a lot of ways this makes Tatami Galaxy the anti-slice-of-life anime. It depicts daily life for a college dude, but it isn’t about crafting idealized pictures of youth. In fact, the series is about destroying such images and replacing them with ones that come closer to the experiences we have in real life. I for one find that far more rewarding and enjoyable.
Now about the ending. I fucking loved the ending, what with the main dude basically turning the tables on Ozu and becoming the shark-toothed youkai yammering on about the black thread of fate. It reminds me a bit about the Japanese movie Versus. In that one, there’s these two dudes that are also tied by a similar thread of fate. Each time they get reincarnated they end up having to face off against one another in a battle to the death. That’s their fate in life and there’s nothing they can do about it.
The catch is that each time they reincarnate they switch roles. One is the hero and the other is the villain. I got a similar vibe from Tatami Galaxy’s ending. Throughout the entire series we got this sense that Ozu knew more about the main dude that humanly possible. He always knew what was up, where to find him, and what he was feeling and desired. It was as if he knew in him a previous lifetime and all of this black string of fate stuff had some deeper implications beyond some wacko kid spouting shit that sounded cool.
With the way the series ends, the main dude is now the one who knows more about Ozu than he should. In this reality, Ozu and the main dude have never really met. All of the main dude’s knowledge comes from wandering through alternative worlds and observing what happened. Now he’s the one taking the role of the all-seeing, all-knowing ancient youkai sidekick.
Here’s what I propose: These two are indeed linked by fate, and throughout their lives they take turns “guiding” one another through their experiences. During the last go-around it was Ozu’s turn to take on this role. He had somehow gone through a similar “4.5 Tatami Purgatory” experience that allowed him to witness the main dude before all of this happened and he used this knowledge to push him along in the right direction. Now that the main dude has reached his spiritual “checkpoint,” they’re switching places. He’ll use his knowledge of Ozu to guide him through his next series of trials, and when that’s over they’ll switch back again, repeating this for eternity.
Or I could be spouting yet another crazy conspiracy theory. I bet it’s the latter.
Also: “Nothing else is as boring to tell as a story of successful love.”
I think that sums up everything beautifully.