4.5 Degrees of Separation: Tatami Galaxy and a college student’s guide to Self-actualization

“Opportunity is dangling right in front of you”. This was the mantra echoed over and over within the 2010 adaptation of The Tatami Galaxy. This phrase didn’t mean much to me initially, but the words essentially wove themselves into a language that I understood. 11 episodes is nothing within the digestion of your average anime viewer (Hell, that could basically be considered “a shounen anime casual filler arc”). Yet in that time The Tatami Galaxy taught me something. Something about myself, as if the TV screen became a gigantic mirror and I glanced inward for 20 minutes at a time. Quite literally, it was impossible to look away, both in the fact that I was essentially reflecting myself onto the anime and that if one was to glance away from the screen, the subtitles would move so fast they would miss vital context to the situation. Maybe that too is a metaphor to keep engaged in life, or else the world around you will move regardless.

Tatami Galaxy – TRAIL AND TRACES
Sometimes its more literal than others.

This style of dialogue reminds me quite a bit of The Disastrous Life of Saiki K, a hilarious comedy and one of my favorite comfort animes. There, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dialogue is played for laughs (since the protagonist, a troubled psychic attempting to have a semblance of a normal life, rewrites societal norms to allow for quick conversation so as to not bore him). Here though, I feel like the language is fast to gain a sense of familiarity with these characters. You begin to understand their viewpoints this way, as it basically resembles how quickly a stream of consciousness can flow. Though obviously not realistic in the literal sense, it does have a touch of realism in allowing the viewer into a window of their world in the fasted (yet most detailed) way possible (a necessity since each episode doesn’t build off of each other in a linear fashion, so the blanks need to be filled in accordingly).

  What’s important to know in this anime is that every episode is essentially a “do-over” like an anime interpretation of Groundhog’s Day with varying results. Rather than be stuck in the same scenario, the protagonist experiences a “what-if” scenario in the beginning of his college experience. In most realities he joins different clubs his freshman year (a movie club or a school newspaper, for example), though not always. In these clubs he learns a bit more about himself as each opportunity exposes a different side to himself, though seemingly he never encompasses all of these experiences as a whole. He grows as a person, but often he begins to regret his decisions as the hands of fate rewind. Like a modern It’s a Wonderful Life, pushing through the adversities is what allows us to grow and develop, a lesson the protagonist learns within the walls of his “4.5 Tatami Room”.

The Tatami Galaxy Review
Here, becoming a school mascot teaches one self about humility.

     The tatami room itself is a powerful metaphor for the “endless” barriers we put up ourselves. In the final episodes of the series, the protagonist finds himself in an endless cycle of regret and rooms that literally lead to nowhere. What was once his college dorm now became a mental prison where he realizes life is cyclical, in a way. All of his experiences thus far were part of a greater whole and allowed the “shaping” of the protagonist. In the end he “lifts the veil” on his eyes to find himself going outside, which is to say our protagonist leaves the confines of his own anxieties or fears manifested as a 4.5 walled room. He begins his “new” life by greeting his friends (who don’t know him since they never met the real him. For example, he projected this version of his buddy Ozu that was a manifestation of his own insecurities when in reality hey never met in real life. Like a wholesome Joker scenario.) and discovers where life can truly begin, with himself.

  Having recently graduated college, this anime gains a gigantic recommendation from me for anyone both in college and/or leaving high school. The lessons here cannot be understated; your experiences shape you.  It’s not an anime about just these fictional characters, it is also a stand in for your real-life situations. My only regret is not watching the series sooner.

3 thoughts on “4.5 Degrees of Separation: Tatami Galaxy and a college student’s guide to Self-actualization”

  1. Just got the chance to watch this, and as a college senior who has spent the past year taking classes remotely from home due the virus I found it very relevant to my own experiences. Also the show is brilliantly animated, showing the narrator’s subjectivity in surreal color and imagery. I’m still pretty new to anime, but it was just spectacular. Each episode shows the main character caught up in one particular fantasy of his ‘rose-tinted college life’ but in the end he finds solace only when he recognizes each of these for what they are: fantasies which show an excess of some aspect of himself as he attempts to force reality to be what he idealizes. The moments when he runs up against his own forced narrativization of his life and the rigid, exacting mentality he takes on expose the fragility and ambiguity that I think just about everyone must feel in college. As I’ve reflected on my own college experience which was cut short, there have been many moments where I felt like I had been chasing some particular fantasy of what I felt I ought to be doing. It is all too easy to get drawn into a headspace like that of the narrator, and I think that for that reason the show offers an important lesson. For me that was a comforting reminder that maybe it isn’t worth dwelling on the past and other what-ifs, since reflecting quickly turns to neglecting the present whereby we forget to see the beauty in life and others around us. Besides, rather than being caught up in regrets, we can always grab onto the opportunity dangling in front of our eyes…

    Thanks for the great article!

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