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Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei Anime Cover

Score: 8.62/10

Synopsis

One autumn evening at a mysterious ramen stand behind the Shimogamo Shrine, a lonely third-year college student bumps into a man with an eggplant-shaped head who calls himself a god of matrimony. Meeting this man causes the student to reflect upon his past two years at college—two years bitterly spent trying to break up couples on campus with his only friend Ozu, a ghoulish-looking man seemingly set on making his life as miserable as possible. Resolving to make the most out of the rest of his college life, the student attempts to ask out the unsociable but kind-hearted underclassman Akashi, yet fails to follow through, prompting him to regret not living out his college life differently. As soon as this thought passes through his head, however, he is hurtled through time and space to the beginning of his years at college and given another chance to live his life. Surreal, artistic, and mind-bending, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei chronicles the misadventures of a young man on a journey to make friends, find love, and experience the rose-colored campus life he always dreamed of. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (or The Tatami Galaxy) is an anime about a university student stuck in a Groundhog Day-esque time loop. In the span of each episode, our nameless main character (he is referred to as Watashi, basically meaning “myself”) goes over the same two years of university, unaware of the loop, each time joining a different club, in search of a “rose-coloured campus life”.

Yojouhan is a rare example of a series with time loops where the loops themselves are actually played with. Throughout the 11 episodes, there are several different stories, but many of the episodes focus on the same stories as others. What makes these episodes work is that we see the stories from different angles. In some episodes, we see segments of the story that aren’t entirely clear, though at the time are not distracting. In later episodes, these plot points are often explained when Watashi’s perspective changes and we see what actually happened. The best part of this, though, is that every episode lends pieces to a larger story. While the series is episodic, what we see effectively falls into place like a jigsaw puzzle, all coming to fruition in the final episode making for one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve ever seen.

As a result of this, the first few episodes of the series don’t make complete sense. They come off as being more abstract than part of an actual plot, but as the series goes on the beginning is referred to in a way that makes this start a vital piece of the puzzle. However, the start is hardly a throwaway. While not as strong as the rest of the series upon viewing, the bizarre and abstract style make the beginning an enjoyable watch anyway.

On that note, the way the series is presented is part of the genius. Upon starting the show, the first thing that will strike you is undoubtedly the art. The characters are drawn in an oddly cartoony way, using only one-tone colours for the art and having a rubbery kind of movement to them. This seems like an odd choice, but it does help to draw you into the unique world of Yojouhan, and later in the story it even gets used for plot purposes. This is also combined with a lot of black and white live-action shots, wherein the characters are sometimes drawn over the actors.

The strange presentation doesn’t stop there, though. One strange feature of Yojouhan is that Watashi is very fond of monologuing, in a way very reminiscent of Kyon (from the Haruhi Suzumiya series, in case you’ve been living under a rock). He does so, however, at a very high speed. If the show has a fault, it is this, but it’s more of a double-edged sword than a flaw outright. For people who aren’t great at reading, the high speed of the subtitles can often make the things Watashi says hard to keep up with, but it’s rarely overwhelming. On the plus side of it, it helps to keep the pacing of Yojouhan fast, which keeps the series interesting, an important factor in a series that is driven with an abundance of dialogue (excellent though the dialogue may be).

For a show that could have easily been dull or just weird if it had been handled wrongly, it only makes sense that even more precautions are made to make sure that there isn’t a dull second in Yojouhan, as evidenced by the motormouthed narration. What helps with this is that rather than being thrown into an entirely new plot every time, there are a few elements that remain the same throughout every story. The beginning and end of each episode are usually the same, as well as Watashi’s meeting with a fortune teller. This helps the viewer to keep a pace with the series, which may have been otherwise hard to do.

The characters of Yojouhan aren’t really the focus point, but they aren’t an afterthought by any means. While each member of the cast is a vibrant and distinctive individual in of themselves, the actual characterisation isn’t really the strong point of the characters, but rather how they are used. Just like the story, each character and their actions throughout the two years are explained slightly more with each new perspective. This ends with more or less every character coming out good, but one character in particular sticks out as being an excellent example of defied expectations, showing their nature as a 3-dimensional character as we see their story from each side fall into place. I won’t spoil who it is, but anybody who has seen the series should know who I mean. Watashi himself, while an unremarkable person, is hard not to like for his enjoyable musings and relatable situations, and as the series goes on he does develop well, if not remarkably so.

Of course, the time loops persist for as long as Watashi continues to miss the proper way to live the two years, with conclusions that have been dangling in front of his eyes the whole time. Some of the conclusions become expected after a mere few episodes, but other, more important ones (as well as the entire point of the time loops) are less obvious and yet no less excellent.

Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei is an exercise in series structure unlike anything before it. The way the entire series is built comes off as nothing short of genius. I have yet to see any of acclaimed director Yuasa Masaki’s previous works, but Yojouhan makes it blatantly clear that he lives up to the reputation that precedes him. I can only hope Kaiba, Kemonozume and Mind Game are nearly as good as this, because now Masaki has set an excellent example of how to make a truly great, original anime.

I don't mean to get deep and definitely not right off the bat, but it's pretty true that small events can change the course of your life whether you're aware or not and that is what Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei (or the 4.5 Tatami Mat Galaxy) is all about. Sure it's also about pleasing your Johnny, hijacking blimps, engaging in prank wars, being ripped off by fortune tellers, joining the local power ranger squad, and eating cats and castella, but that's all trivial. Brought to you by the same guy who brought you Mind Game, Cat Soup, and Kaiba, Masaaki Yuasa, brings you what I would like to refer to as his best work yet. Story: 9/10 A nameless protagonist, referred to as Watashi ('I') by himself, has just entered college, and the story more or less follows his many lives and many misfortunes. Each episode starts with Watashi pursuing something inane or stupid - like a "rose-colored campus life" or "raven-haired maidens" and in each episode his friend Ozu, manages to somehow screw everything up. I say friend in the lightest sense of the term, because Ozu isn't really anyone's friend. He's a backstabbing punk who just loves to terrorize people, and he always manages to infect Watashi in one way or another, usually ending up driving him away from his goal. Along Watashi's trip across the Tatami Galaxy you're introduced to many different people, and in each life, a different story unfolds. Each story is unrelated other than by starting the same way at first glance, but you'll start noticing some patterns, and eventually it brings you to one of the most impressive endings I have ever seen. If I were to tag a genre to this anime I'd first have to say it's a slice-of-life comedy, then mystery, but it's also a really great psychological anime. It's incredibly dialogue heavy, and the first three minutes of episode one has the most text I've ever seen in an anime. That being said it can be very easy to lose track of what is going on, but if you're on your feet then you shouldn't get lost too easily. Art: 10/10 Yojou-han is brought to you by MadHouse, which is known for it's diverse art style and in this anime's case it is either defined as pretentious or glorious. I would like to call it the latter. It's non-traditional and is unlike any other anime in existence, seriously. It's like Mononoke when Mononoke was new, it can amaze people, or turn people the heck away. It's a very vibrant anime, and everything is so fluid - movement looks just splendid. For those faint of eyes, be wary, Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei may not be the anime for you. Sound: 9/10 Well, there's a song about shapes in an early episode. That was like, totally freaking awesome. How many anime have songs about shapes? Unless Fullmetal Alchemist the Musical is coming out anytime soon, I think that's about a zero other than Yojou-han. The opening is amazing, and Asian Kung-Fu Generation does a great job (It's called "Maigo Inu to Ame no Beat"). I believe it's their first opening for a non-shonen show. The ending is amazingly well positioned (you'll see what I mean) and the first time you hear it I promise you'll get a small shiver. The singer is the same who sang the Arakawa Under the Bridge opening, Etsuko Yakushimaru. The voice acting for every character is of course, awesome as well. Watashi does most of the talking and I was considering favoriting his voice actor (Shintaro Asanuma) just because I liked to hear him talk. The background music is the only flaw sound-wise. There really isn't much to listen to, and even if their is, I probably didn't notice, because between following the dialogue and looking at the art, it's pretty hard to manage a third element. Character: 10/10 I've already explained who Watashi is, but let me tell you a little more. Watashi likes shortcuts and doesn't like working, and almost can be seen as a lazy Ozu. Ozu is our antagonist most of the time. He's the downright rotten scoundrel who always leads our poor Watashi astray, and usually ends up profiting off of it. I called Watashi a "lazy Ozu" a moment ago because Watashi isn't an innocent little bird, he's just too lazy to put his efforts into anything other than his hobbies. Akashi, the somewhat romantic interest, is a girl who loathes moths and is bluntly cold to everyone around her. Kind of like Senjogahara (from Bakemonogatari), but easier to cope with. She's pretty funny herself, but all the characters are. We have the doll-fanatic Jougasaki, the drunk and elder Hanuki who likes to speak broken engrish, the Master Higuchi, who is an 8th year graduate who plans to travel the world, and multitudes of others (like Watashi's Johnny (see Eden of the East)). The character development is insanely good too. This anime is about Watashi's little foray of self realization, thusly he gets the most character development, but never have I seen it done so well. Enjoyment: 10/10 An anime that can create a macrocosm within itself is an anime to be trifled with. It sets the stage with brilliant characters and visuals, brings hilarious moments throughout, and manages to deliver numerous meaningful messages. Is there a perfect world? Will I be happier with more money and women? Will I be happier doing what people say I should? Yeah. It's pretty damn complex. It's as thought provoking as Kaiba while bringing the comedy of Gintama. I think it's safe to leave it at that. Overall: 10/10 No fanservice, no lolis, no moe, no ultra-violence, no regrets. It's intelligent without being snobby, it's stupid without being idiotic, and it's appealing without being inappropriate. To sum it up, I think you should just try it out. It's only 11 episodes, and I think for the one season range of anime, this is one of the best out there. Destiny is always dangling right in front of you, so why not reach out and grab this anime?

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