Tatami Galaxy: A Portrait of Failure

[Commie] The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei) - 03 [0936F17D].mkv_snapshot_17.38_[2010.05.20_20.39.14]

This is not a review.

I generally fail at following this show. I rely on reading blog posts to understand what’s going on. As much as I fail at this, I can at least appreciate what seems to me on of the core themes of the show: failure itself. Episode three in particular, speaks of it clearly to me.

The myth of Icarus, is a tale of failure, where the young boy whose father fashioned a pair of wings from feathers and wax flew too close to the sun and too close to the sea in a fit of heedlessness and consequently melted the wax binding the feathers together and plunged into the sea. It is a story of someone doing what’s more than necessary, in this case to escape from captivity on the island of Crete.

In this episode Akashi and her college circle engineered a flying machine for a competition. She designed it to be flown by someone whose physical traits were so slight and lacking of mass, and “I” was the perfect fit for the machine and the competition. He failed spectacularly by training hard to build strength, and therefore gaining mass. The flying machine was no longer fit for him, so close to the competition.

“I” spectacularly failed at something by exceeding expectations. Akashi engineered a prototype flying machine to his current specifications. She and her ‘circle’ not only didn’t want him to change, but also didn’t expect him to be capable of changing. That is, no one expected him to actually train for the flight test and competition. By exerting effort, “I” failed.

I suppose it’s easy enough to read this as I wanting to change, to exert effort, to try hard, in order to impress others most notably Akashi; while Akashi just wants him the way he is. It’s a reassuring, feel-good message. This isn’t what got to me this episode. It isn’t even the somewhat conflicting message of “do your best to better yourself” and “accepting yourself for who you are (and others for who they are) and not what you want yourself (and others) to be.”

It’s just the horrible feeling of failing at something despite tremendous commitment, but because you were doing it wrong.

[Commie] The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei) - 03 [0936F17D].mkv_snapshot_20.55_[2010.05.20_20.41.22]

I graduated from elementary at the top of my class (it was a very small school), and moved on to a large high school. My idea of “fitting in” was competing hard for grades and impressing my teachers. People looked at me like I was nuts. The truly smart people didn’t really want to make friends with me and I was kind of stuck with slacker nerds. I was 13, and I totally overcompensated by going Bancho which shocked everyone who knew me so far and climbed to the top of the gangs of delinquents by the end of senior year.

For a time I was cool, and was popular/notorious because I had friends (and thuggish senpai) among the upperclassmen. By senior year, nobody gave a shit about punk bad boys. The fashionable bad boys were rich kids who had cars and took girls on drives. I was irrelevant, despite being at the top, a ‘Grand Triskelion’ of the Tau Gamma Phi chapter in our school.

To cap it off, I was denied participation to our graduation because I beat up a punk three days before graduation day. We both had it coming. Yay me.

I promise you, this is not the only time something like this happened. Throughout university, then after graduation, I would launch hard into a certain direction, change course mid-way at full speed, ridiculously overcompensate, then humiliate myself. Allow me to stress this: these periods lasted years, just like “I” in Tatami Galaxy. Truthfully, my life didn’t start turning out until I was 27 years old (I am 33 now).

Watching this episode was rough. I was retching and wanted to puke. The story wasn’t tragic. “I” didn’t elicit sympathy from me. What I had for him was disgust for his pathetic existence. I found him neither funny or inspiring. In him, and in the circumstances he found himself – however absurd, I felt forcefully reminded of all the fail in my life since I started thinking about why I wanted things.

tatami galaxy 03 akashi on bike

This is the point of this essay when you’d expect me to say that things are okay now. I have a lovely wife and a cute daughter and got farther in my career than many of my contemporaries (or people my age). No. Far from it. The problems I deal with now are far more complex and consequential than ever. The failures I face more humiliating and punishing, since there’s far more at stake.

But I’m far tougher. My soul is not charred with idleness and wasted passion. I may not know whether I prevail or not over the problems I face, but I am more Sisyphus than I am Icarus. I can be with having to roll up the rock I am given up this hill, never knowing if there is a point ever to come of this. Myself at 17, whose younger brothers were never bothered by thugs because my name was feared throughout the schools in the area, has nothing on me as I am today (though no one is, or should be afraid of me anymore).

If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging me. I’m a sucker for an affecting story, and Tatami Galaxy 03 (Cycling Club Soleil) got me good. Let me leave you with this, a glimpse into one of my failures:

At university I was trained for two things; the scholarship for literature, and the craft of writing poetry. Today I am neither a literary scholar, nor a practicing poet. My specialization in poststructuralism and post-colonial theory made me irrelevant in an era of Philippine literary scholarship dedicated to retrieve, archive, and translate 50,000 years worth of (often oral) literary traditions in over 70 vernacular languages.  While I got published in a couple of magazines a few times, I failed at getting into poetry fellowships and never won the contests I joined.

But I loved literature and loved poetry, and, I absolutely loved this poem, that this episode of Tatami Galaxy made me remember love for it:

Musee des Beaux Arts

by W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears,
Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.

As Auden tells me how Breughel tells it, my melancholy over my failures is of concern only to me. Carry on dear reader, again thank you for indulging me.

Note: The painting by Breughel that Auden speaks of is above the second paragraph of this blog post.

Far more useful posts on Tatami Galaxy

Tatami Galaxy and Our Inevitable Mistakes (8C 05/08/2010)
Red String Theory and the New Fascination: Thoughts on Tatami Galaxy (2DT 05/19/2010)
Tatami Galaxy 3 and 4 (Vendredi 05/14/2010)
Fast Dialogue is Fast for a Reason (Bateszi 04/24/2010)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in Diary of an Anime Lived, first impressions and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Tatami Galaxy: A Portrait of Failure

  1. Nice post, and I’m sort of curious as to why you didn’t stamp a diary tag on it, but whatever. We’ve discussed a lot of these things from your life before, but it never stops being interesting… as for comments, how does one comment on someone else’s life?

    I have no idea what the poem is trying to say – I’ve never been able to read poems, which is why I also despise them lol.

    • Thanks for reading and the effort to discuss.

      Poems are songs only that the rhythm in poetry is different. If you listen to spoken word performances, you come close to what poetry ‘sounds like.’

      To read it, you need to get into rhythm, and that requires reading aloud. As for interpretation, I believe that comes after getting rhythm down.

      This particular piece is kind of like Auden ‘leaving a comment’ or writing a blog post on an artist (Breughel) who had his image (painting) uploaded on safebooru (The Museum of Fine Arts). The title of the painting is “Icarus” whose legs you can see sinking in the see on the lower-right part of the painting.

      It’s as if Auden is writing a blog post on the painting the same way I try to write blog posts on say, Solanin or Bakemonogatari. He takes the painting as a commentary on suffering itself. Icarus’s story is a grand thing, but against the totality of the suffering of everyone in their own (mundane) lives, his plunging to the sea is no big deal. Everybody hurts, as the R. E. M. song says, sometimes.

  2. Robert Weizer says:

    Hm, gl, if I manage to get into Independent Poetry next semester (I will as long as I talk to the teacher and remember to get off my arse and finish the financial aid paperwork) I might have to share anecdotes and poems from it on Hakasen. I’ve heard really good things about the teacher.

    I used to be an English major with a focus on literary analysis. I wrote a really good paper I wrote for American Lit in which I compared Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (that semester it was being given away free via a program) and Huxley’s Brave New World. I’m going to try to take Short Story Writing as well.

    Sadly, I’m switching to Engineering, because to be quite honest, the only damn career most English majors can get is teaching, and I decided I really don’t want to teach because of dealing with administration shenanigans and all the auxillary stuff involved with teaching at the college level. I hate kids and teenagers.

    On the subject of failure, I’ve failed pretty miserably in a lot of respects but I keep on rolling. In that sense and a lot of others, I identify with Tylor from Irresponsible Captain Tylor to a pretty large degree.

    • I don’t blame your switching courses. I was a lecturer at university for two years before I ran out of money; and even with my grad school scholarship I couldn’t live on what I was making not being a full member of the faculty.

      Trust me when I tell you this. You can choose, if you want, to make poetry through engineering and design. Poets and writers appropriate words as dynamics, engineering, and structure for the purpose of the craft of writing and its analysis liberally. It is equally permitted to find beauty (and rhythm) building or designing things that work.

      I look forward to hearing from your class.

      • Myssa Rei says:

        Want to hear how I was thoroughly trounced by Dr. Marjorie Evasco in my class? And yet I’m still required to submit five other poems BY JUNE 5 THIS TERM? :P

        • Well, she was the one who said I was no good. I didn’t believe her then, but she was right. Maybe I don’t want to hear how she trounced you. I’d feel bad I think.

          • Myssa Rei says:

            I don’t really mind that much, as the criticism was pretty much spot on, but it does worry me, as Poetry is one of those subjects (in my course) that you can’t afford not to do well on, as it’ll drag down your GPA otherwise. So I’m just gritting my teeth, especially since it’s Poetry Workshop that’s up this term.

            It’s kind of daunting to be in a classes of published authors though… I think I’m pretty much the ‘normal’ person (has a Communications degree, but worked in a different field and never got to use my training as a result) there.

  3. OnyxSyaoran says:

    I simply loved the post, already read it about 5 times. The poem is just perfect in this time of my life. Your post actually inspired me in some ways. Thank You.

    • Thank you for letting me know. I wrote in a rush of emotion and was kind of afraid how it will be received by people who aren’t used to reading this blog. I’m glad you like Auden’s poem too.

      All the best.

  4. adaywithoutme says:

    I find it intriguing that you mention Sisyphus, as he is mentioned in the writings of Nagel (I think… it could be Searle, admittedly) as one option for dealing with the absurdity of life – the idea that in our awareness of the fact that our lives are truly pointless in the grand scheme, but our persistence in everyday living, we are behaving utterly absurdly. There are essentially three options for us to react to this, one of which is deemed the ‘heroic’ option – that of Sisyphus, who forced meaning into his eternal task which itself was designed to be utterly pointless. I suppose this is what you are doing here, although I am not sure I’d use the strong term ‘force’ in this instance? It is very late at night, so I could very well be mistaken from sleep deprivation.

    I don’t think Icarus fits terribly well into this scheme… I suppose Nagel would say he hadn’t gotten old enough to realize the absurdity of human existence yet.

    • I recommend an essay. “The Myth of Sisyphys” by Albert Camus. This is one of the more influential writings on my own way of living.

      Camus, like Kierkergaard finds existence “humiliated.” He puts it this way:

      We are born without reason.
      We are prolonged by suffering.
      We die by accident.

      We are given some choice: live out our lives on painkillers, or just kill ourselves outright. However, he brings into this conversation Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill. He invites us to think that Sisyphus is a happy man.

      I don’t think Camus actually buys this. His philosophy, as he goes on to write, is that of Revolt. It’s like “Hey Gods, Imma roll this rock up your damn hill. You’re not gonna break me.”

      This is best exemplified in his brilliant novel “The Plague.” Where a doctor in a plague infested Oran, Algeria; just about out of medical supplies, is asked why the hell is he still ministering to the dying. He can’t save anyone.

      He said, to the effect “It’s because I’m a doctor, and this is what I do.”

      I’m far more nihilist than Camus (he actually vehemently opposed nihilism), but I love him dearly. Despite his seemingly bitter outlook, he was a kind and cheerful man who dedicated himself to action beyond rhetoric (post WW2 French politics, he was criticized by the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre). Too bad he died in a car crash in his 50s.

      • adaywithoutme says:

        Ah, Sartre – I will at the very least appreciate him for the phrase ‘hell is other people’.

        I’m inclined to think that Searle or Nagel (this confusion of mine would be easily remedied by a retrieval of my notes from the packing box they got stuck in) may’ve gotten the notion of Sisyphus as potentially heroic from Camus based on what you’ve told me.

        Maybe Sisyphus enjoys watching the rock roll down the hill; it reminds me somewhat of sledding. I climb up the hill endlessly, and then back at the bottom as many times, but its fun. Guess I’ll have to read that essay to see what Camus has to say about why Sisyphus is happy.

  5. Vendredi says:

    I think this is part of what can make Tatami Galaxy particularly resonant to at least some viewers – who doesn’t regret all the wasted effort, half-starts, and the like from our educational years?

    And yet, in turn, these particular years are very formative ones – without all that wasted effort, “I” would not have been noticed by Akashi at all – it is his wasted effort that stands out to her. In essence, the show I think is about “I” coming to terms with his inadequacies and realizing that rather than trying to redo them, he should realize they are part of what makes him himself. There’s something of an archetype here in Watashi – all his failures are at the very least, consistent regardless of how things change. No matter what he does, Watashi is Watashi – Tatami Galaxy underscores the idea that there really is only one “you” – if Watashi were ever to succeed, he’d no longer be the Watashi we know.

    After Cycling Club Soleil though, I am firmly convinced the show is absurdist – because when confronted with bitter misfortune, the absurdist response is to laugh; there is no other reaction one can muster.

    Think I’m going to have to start keeping track of my comments again like I did with Bakemonogatari… now that lots of people are talking about Tatami Galaxy they are getting quite long.

    • Given what I know about Camus, I think we can locate Tatami Galaxy in absurdist ‘tradition.’

      I wonder what would be a more powerful absurdist resolution: Watashi never gets his objective and wastes his efforts ad infinitum; or, he actually gets what he wants — beyond ‘acceptance for what he is/it’s worth’ by Akashi, but actual esteem by virtue of perseverance, then come to the meaninglessness of it all anyway… just like how rest of us (like our parents, for example, even if they deny it).

      • Myssa Rei says:

        Absurdist in a Kafkaesque manner? Hardly, though I’m often wondering just why doesn’t Watashi take the simplest solution, and confront Akashi, in all his pathetic glory.

        I guess it’s because if he does what is right, the story would end, so it’s more amusing for us, who are following his string of failures.

        • I haven’t read any Kafka for a decade so I’m not able to confidently say so.

          Your reason for Watashi not taking the simplest solution is perhaps due to plot-induced stupidity, which is consistent with his character. This makes him absurd, not to mention elements like his nemesis, and the guy with the epic chin.

          The repetition/iteration is part of this too. You can disqualify all these, but tell me exactly why.

          • Myssa Rei says:

            A tit for a tat? Help me complete my blog post, and I’ll humor you a bit? :P

            Just kidding. Higuchi’s antics aside, I’m struck by how… dumb Watashi’s decision was in episode 4. It was a clear choice, in my eyes, which made his choice to buy the darned bath brush so absurd, nay, STUPID.

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  7. sadakups says:

    Awesome post, as always.

    What Watashi was doing in The Tatami Galaxy got to me – that I spent three years in college only to realize the failure I was inevitably getting into. There was no organization that I got myself involved with, but there was indeed the part of having a “rose-colored” college life by doing a lot of things that was out of my character. Suffice to say, I did a lot of mistakes back then and there was a point after the first stint in college that I wanted to go back in time and do it right.

    And I think you’re absolutely correct that the show is all about failures. It’s just that I’m curious on how all of these “resets” culminate at the end of it all. Why does Watashi keep on recalling these events? Obviously not all events shown so far happened to him, but there’s the recurrence of hanging out with a bad company, making bad decisions, which eventually leads to his failure.

    • Thank you.

      Failure is a theme, yes but somehow I think the show takes on more than just this. For example the second episode can be read as a critique of the film industry/anime business; where purportedly there are a lot of talentless hacks getting their projects green-lit while Yuusa tries to make ‘Art.’

      I won’t go into speculating on how the narrative threads play out, as this is the weakest part of my understanding of the show.

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  9. Ernest Keys says:

    Really interesting read. Truely!

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