Of all the anime I’ve seen this year, probably the one that deserves blogging the most is The Tatami Galaxy. Life imitates art; and looking back on the past year, or the part of my life which, in many ways has abruptly stumbled to an end of sorts I can qualify the title. For me, it really has been a Tatami Galaxy kind of year.
The reason Tatami Galaxy, even through its almost blinding abstractions, resonates so strongly with so many is the show’s all-encompassing focus on liminal spaces. Liminal spaces is just a fancy literary term for purgatory or limbo; inbetween spaces, either imposed or voluntarily entered into, in which there is neither advancement or retreat (again, voluntary or imposed).The days repeat and repeat, and while there may be variation there is no color, no impetus, no motion. If life can be thought of as a river, through which one is either being swept along by the currents or “going with the flow”, then a liminal space could be thought of as sitting on the banks of the river, watching things float by.
Perhaps the most noteworthy liminal spaces covered by anime are that of school times. While high school settings are a dime a dozen, however, anime set in colleges are slightly rarer. Moreover, the idea of college as a liminal space is considerably more powerful: one’s term in college is self-determined, and almost no-one graduates within the prescribed 3 or 4 year timelines. And thus, we join our intrepid Everyman, Watashi, through his ever-repeating, spiralling college years.
As viewers, it’s not that we hope Watashi will find his way through his ‘maze’. Instinctively we know he will, because it follows the patterns of narrative that we’re used to. The reason why Watashi is so interesting to watch, as he cubes up in nervousness in front of Akashi, or gloats to himself at his literary prowess, is because, just as we know he’ll make it, we also know exactly what he needs to do to escape: he has to take a chance. Watashi needs to jump back into the river and be swept away. This is contrary to Watashi’s – and really, all of our – views on life, love, and our careers. We’d much rather feel in control of things, but control is contrary to progress. As if to underscore this point, Higuchi and Watashi, at the turning point of the anime in episode nine, have a conversation by the Kamo Ohashi, on the Kamo River – a place the characters find themselves at repeatedly throughout the course of the Tatami Galaxy.
Higuchi: I’ve thought about this for quite a while, but now my mind is made up. It will soon be the day for me to go forth, out into the world. I will circle the globe.
Watashi: Sounds like fun… I feel like something went awry with my life.
Higuchi: Your life has not yet begun. You are spending overtime inside of your mother’s belly.
Watashi: It’s not that bad. I successfully obtained a life that people would be jealous of. But something is missing. Is this really it? There’s got to be some more meaningful life out there, more rose-coloured, more sparkling! There might have been some college life with not a single dark cloud that would have satisfied me!
Higuchi: What’s the matter? Are you half asleep?
Watashi: I got to where I am by believing in my own potential! I’m not sure I’m saying it right, but why does my heart feel so cold? Maybe there’s a choice I should have made that would have led to some other possibility? Maybe the choices I made in my first year were wrong!
Higuchi: You cannot use the word “possibility” without limitations. Can you become a bunny girl? Can you become a pilot? Can you become a famous singer, or a superhero who saves the world with his powers?
Watashi: No, I can’t.
Higuchi: Perhaps you could. But if you keep focusing your gaze on that which is unrealistic, you never will. The root of all your evil is in always relying on one of your other possibilities to get your wish. You must accept that you are the person here, now, and that you cannot become anyone else other than that person. There is no way that you can lead some worthwhile college life and feel satisfied. I guarentee it, so have confidence!
Higuchi: There is no such thing as that rose-coloured campus life. Why? Because there is nothing rose-coloured in the world. Everything is all a bunch of colours mixed up, you see.
What Higuchi has realized, and so eloquently says, is the very same mantra by which Ozu lives his life. To truly live, one has to open themselves up to possibilities. Not the possibility of being a bunny girl, perhaps (because as Higuchi says, this is likely impossible) but to the potential of the things, people, and situations set before us in life. The reason that Ozu steals a blimp, and not Watashi, is because he lets himself be swept away by the tides of love: he falls deeply and without restriction.
Watashi, with his continual focus on some far-off concept of who he wants to be, continually misses the ‘opportunity dangling right in front of him’, with Akashi, with the clubs he enrolls in, and with the people who surround him. He narrates the entire series in his customary lightning-fast way, but always in a disconnected manner. Even though the narrator and Watashi are the same person, the narrator sees himself as someone above this. In reality the narrator is probably one of Watashi’s far-off imaginings of himself as well.
I have two more semesters left in my degree. Tomorrow, on New Year’s day at 7am, I’m flying to the other side of the country, moving out, and doing an internship for the next 8 months. This time last year, if you had told me that I’d end up taking a year off and delaying my graduation, that I’d stumble my way into a relationship, and that I’d move to Eastern Canada, I’d probably look at you blankly, with dull eyes, and wonder who this girl was with the rose-colored college life.
No risk, no gain. Have a Happy New Year, everyone.
Thanks for the screenshots, bateszi. I am a lazy, lazy anime blogger.