As I have written in my previous post, Masaaki Yuasa has been an avant-garde anime director for some time. To some extent, he is anime’s counterpart of an independent film director, creating and developing series that are clearly niche and made for the sake of its art. Mind Game is a prime example, and so are other works of his like Kemonozume and Kaiba. His works have often been hallucinatory and allusive in nature, and I was wont to think The Tatami Galaxy (Yojo-han Shinwa Taikei) wasn’t going to be any different.
I was somewhat right: as far as romances go, this totally came from left field. It was a series about romance that was as quirky as they come, and there has obviously been Yuasa’s influence peppered throughout the few aired episodes. This was certainly not a show driven by fluff or by sparkles and bubbles (as much as I loved Kimi ni Todoke). This was a romance that had both concerns rooted in reality as well as little tragedies that pervade the jaded, inexperienced, or unrequited lovers the world over. It does not have a heroic and manly protagonist, or even a wimp surrounded by a surfeit of nubile ladies after his love: it is abnormal compared to the usual romantic comedies, and rather than piquing one’s penis it ignites one’s intellect. Watashi is no Akuto Sai, and he’s definitely no Keitaro, although one can see the similarities.
Instead, we have a likable, if tragic, character who evolves through the course of his painful failures the more and more speedy realization that he is in love with a single woman. This Watashi is a character who is very human, down to his faults and foibles: he is prone to vengeance; he is, at times, Aesop’s fox; yet he is also a diligent worker and caring friend, especially to Akashi. I think I was besotted with this series the moment Watashi told Ozu that he ‘would rather have a beautiful raven-haired maiden that makes you go “whoa…” than someone who is able to comprehend such a person as myself.’ This is because I also hope to someday get to know and end up with a beautiful maiden, too, rather than just someone who merely understands me and my quirks. Looks are important for many men, and I am no exception.
I have a hypothesis as regards the first three episodes of the series, and I think it still applies in the fourth episode onward: there is a continuum between Ozu and Watashi. For example, in the first episode, Ozu is active whereas Watashi is passive, merely being dragged by Ozu to do dirty deeds alongside him. This changes in the second episode, where Watashi is merely a reactor: his act of vengeance against Jougasaki was merely his anger driven to the limit, and Ozu similarly is restive. Finally, in the third episode, Watashi became active and Ozu was the passive one, not revealing himself until the final moments of the episode. In fact, it is currently my favorite episode of the series because of the sheer perseverance of Watashi despite failing utterly everything.
This somewhat resets in the fourth episode, but as the other episodes, it is also a reaction of Watashi from the events of the previous episode. He failed so completely in the third trying to do it his own way: his solution was a popular adage that became so due to the grain of truth in it: ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ It was exactly what he did, becoming a disciple of Higuchi. This episode was explanatory more than anything, giving light into the backgrounds of Higuchi, Ozu, Jougasaki as well as finally introducing Hanuki, the drunken lady with Ozu that we saw during the first episode and the Proxy-Proxy war, a term hinted to or alluded by the novel readers in the forums I’ve visited for the show’s discussion. It was not as impressive or as empathetic as the third episode, but I think it was important for the progression of the story.
I am wont to think that there was little meaning in the fourth episode, but I do recognize that its pivotal point when after finding himself in a crossroads to choose between Akashi and Higuchi, he chose to serve Higuchi and unknowingly continue the Proxy-Proxy war. For all his bile and vitriol within the episode, he never looked within and he did not reflect to know what he really desired, who was Akashi. He was afraid to invest his feelings into something unsure and instead chose to continue his ordinary and practically meaningless existence: it was his ultimate failure in the episode, I believe, that despite knowing what to do he avoided doing it because of an impalpable fear.