The best of anime: non-linear narratives in Steins;Gate and Tatami Galaxy
Before I start with the article proper, shout-out goes to Conor, Angelus, and Ryan A for sticking with me even though I haven’t been updating much lately. I really appreciate your reading my posts, Conor. I’m downloading Madoka next, Angelus.
One of my earliest introductions to classic literature was Poe’s ‘Casque of Amontillado.’ My father badgered me into reading it, and I obeyed in due time. I’m glad I obeyed, because I started reading good literature at an age significantly earlier than my contemporaries. I was about 10 during that time. When I was 11, I decided to read more of Poe’s works, because I liked the horror stories he wrote. To my surprise, however, I discovered that he also wrote detective stories and was arguably the first auteur of modern detective stories. I had heard of Sherlock Holmes, but the detective that introduced me to the mystery story was clearly Auguste Dupin in The Murders of the Rue Morgue.
Although I moved away from mystery stories and focused on realistic classics, I have never stopped appreciating the sophistication and the apollonian artistry found in the detective story. In fact, through the years I find that the classics I end up liking the most have significant elements of a detective story: there is the initial confusion and obfuscation, followed by piecemeal plot development that culminates in the story fitting everything together beautifully in the end. I certainly think this can be said about Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Bely’s Petersburg: while the stories are extremely jarring and disorientating early on, the pieces of the puzzle slowly fit into the big picture. When the big picture is finally seen, the scenery is explosive, moving, and cathartic.
I think it’s not coincidental that the two works are also recognized to be challenging works of literature precisely because of the novels’ method of narration. Temporal shifts occur without warning, and the reader is left to figure things out with few guides. The non-linear technique further makes things difficult: much effort has to be expended to understand the flux of the plot, but there is also much reward when one figures it out, as behind the confusion lies a truly potent story.
This is where the beauty of Steins;Gate lies in, as well. I’m actually reminded of one of my most favorite series, Tatami Galaxy. And yes, while eyes of some readers are rolling, one can’t help but admit of the similarities with its methods of narration: both tell the story non-linearly, with highly intelligent and kind female deuteragonists, and initially conceited but ultimately endearing protagonists. There is the Groundhog Day rewinds found in both series, as well. Although there wasn’t a physical establishment of a time machine in Tatami Galaxy, both series tackled the immutable and tragic alternate realities suffered through by its protagonists while seeking for a solution to their pressing problems. Tatami Galaxy was simply more of a series of internal catharsis than Steins;Gate: it focused on self-transcendence and self-realization more than it did on the concept of transcendent filial and romantic love in S;G.
Steins;Gate, given that it had more time for explication, was more patient and deliberate than Tatami Galaxy. It was afforded more time in the development of its world than Tatami Galaxy: I simply prefer the primacy and immediacy of Tatami Galaxy, however; but I do admit that the execution and finesse of Steins;Gate is at the apex of anime series.
The central reason why I think quite highly of both these series, however, lies in the fact that these two execute their stories with such intelligence and sophistication without pandering to its viewers. Tatami Galaxy is the more brusque, artistic entity, whereas Steins;Gate is the more refined, aristocratic one. I prefer the rawness of Tatami Galaxy particularly because its roughness allows more interpretation within established limits: it’s more secretive and mystical than the polished, structured glamor found within Steins;Gate. It simply takes a certain kind of prescience and artistry to properly map out a series so beautifully and so accurately that everything coalesces at the end of it all. It takes even more to execute this beautifully, and both series have done so majestically without foregoing of the emotional drive that is pivotal to any series’s success.