Review: The Tatami Galaxy- 4.5 Squares of Life

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Synopsis: A young college student is trying to get a fresh start and live out a so called “rose colored school-life” by having the best college experience possible. However his attempts to build a solid social life are constantly thwarted and he’s found that he’s wasted the last two years of his life on nonsense and wishes he could do it all over again. His wish is somehow granted and he’s given the opportunity to restart his college life over and over again in attempt to finally get it right, but will he ever actually succeed?

The Review

So this show has something of a rather infamous reputation at this point. Mainly in that I’ve seen nothing but almost unanimous praise about it, and yet the streaming numbers for it were apparently so ridiculous poor that it’s never seen the light of day for a physical release here in the U.S. and Funimation themselves have outright said not to hold your breath on that one. As a result, I’ve mostly attempted to steer clear of the show since I didn’t want to experience the agony of pining over something I can’t have and having now sat through the whole thing I can confirm that instinct was pretty much on the money. Though I ultimately don’t have too much regret over the decision as the show proved to be worth it.

Right off the bat it’s not particularly hard to see why this show would be a turn off to most audiences. The first episode doesn’t really do a good job of explaining what the heck it’s actually about, the main character talks so fast it’s hard to keep up with the subtitles, and the artstyle of the show certainly isn’t what most anime fans are used to seeing to say the least. However there’s a method to the show’s madness that doesn’t quite become clear until the second episode, and if you can make it through the first episode’s barriers unscathed, there’s a pretty immediate payoff.

The basic story of the show centers around an unnamed protagonist who just wants to live out a happy “rose colored” college experience and build a successful social life. That doesn’t quite end up going as planned and he ends up spending the next two years getting wrapped up in what he feels is a disaster, wishing he could do it over. Somehow he’s granted that wish and so forms the various episodes and situations the show has to offer. The different timelines the protagonist finds himself in are all loosely connected, but a couple of things generally remain constant: he always finds himself becoming friends with a guy named Ozu who he feels constantly drags him through the muck, thus ruining his life, and he’s always acquainted with a freshman named Akashi who’s clearly interested in him, but he never has the courage to ask out.

Each of the show’s scenarios get crazier and more fun with each passing episode, and with each one a cast of recurring characters slowly begins to form ,with all of them having some sort of bizarre influence in the protagonist’s life. In all of these stories, the protagonist seems eternally doomed to fail, but while he believes that circumstances out of his control (mostly Ozu’s very existence) are to blame for his constant failures, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that the biggest obstacle to the protagonist finding happiness is the protagonist himself. While in pursuit of his dream life, he always fails to take advantage of what he has right now, and always finds an excuse to back out of taking an actual step forward. Even in the one scenario where he actually does (sort of) gain power and influence, he’s still left unsatisfied in the end because he’s lost out on what really matters.

It all comes to a head during a conversation with one of the other characters who tells him quite frankly that the so called “rose colored” college life he dreams of obtaining simply does not exist. The best thing he can do for himself is to just accept his life as it is, and take advantage of what he has right now. Even Ozu, who the protagonist thought was as much of a loser as he was, was actually out living it up pretty well, and it drives home just how much the protagonist has wasted his life seeking something he can’t have.

As someone who similarly wasted a good percentage of early part of their college life in the same pointless pursuit, this hit pretty close to home for me, and it’s a message that captures that particular stage in life well, as it’s definitely something we tend to go through at some point whether it be in college specifically or somewhere around that age.  Of course it takes a couple of episodes of the protagonist choosing to isolate himself if he can’t have what he wants (along with simultaneously explaining the Groundhog Day plot the audience has already mostly figured out by this point) to finally realize this, but it eventually gets through to him and it makes for a satisfying conclusion.

The show was hemmed by Maasaki Yusa, who has since gone on to be known for last year’s Ping-Pong: The Animation as well as the Food Chain episode of Adventure Time, and it shows. All of his works carry a very unique art style, that looks almost cartoon scribble levels of crude, while allowing for a solid amount of fluidity in regards to animation and taking advantage of the art through the weirdest ways imaginable. That holds pretty true here and it really helps to make a lot of the show’s comedic moments work a lot better, while also making for a really neat contrast with some of the show’s real world backgrounds to give it a really interesting sense of flavor, though it can certainly be a turn off for the uninitiated. Michiru Oshima’s soundtrack for the show however isn’t nearly as distinct though the opening  “Koinu to Ame no Bīto” by the now legendary J-Rock band, Kung Fu Generation is pretty catchy.

It’s not hard to see why The Tatami Galaxy got the amount of praise it did when it aired. The show takes advantage of it’s weird premise to make for some pretty entertaining material, and the overall theme of the show is one that speaks well to both younger and older audiences in regards to living life to the fullest with what you have. It’s also perfectly capped off at a relatively short 11 episode count which is just the right amount of time it takes for this kind of show to work before the repetition of it really starts to set in. If you can get past the somewhat incomprehensible on it’s own first episode, and the weird art style, this show’s a really winner and one that definitely deserves a lot more appreciation than what it’s gotten thus far. So I guess you can now count me among those who’ll wait until the end of time for this show to ever get released here, and will complain ever day it isn’t. You win this round Tatami Galaxy. You win.

Overall: 9/10

 

Animation Talk- My Top 10 Male English Anime Voice Actors

Well this is another one of those things I said I’d get around to and there’s been enough changes from the last time I ever mentioned it online, so here it is: My list of favorite male english voice actors in anime. I’m keeping it strictly anime voice actors because well…if I just went english male VA’s in general and included people primarily in western animated stuff this would a veeeeeeerrrrryyy different list. I’ll get to my list of top female VA’s a later date but for now this is it. I tried to include performance samples for whatever I could find so any of these don’t have one I apologize in advance. Anyway, enjoy ^_^

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10) Robert McCollum

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Notable Roles: Shinobu Sensui (YuYu Hakusho), Jellal (Fairy Tail), Shinya Kogami (Psycho-Pass), Ginti (Death Parade)

Robert McCollum has done voice work for Funimation since the days of yore and yet isn’t one of their larger name VA’s which is kind of a shame because his work is pretty great. He has a pretty cool voice and does good work in snarky and anti-heroish roles like Kogami  or Kurusu in Future Diary though his best area of expertise is in villains. His portrayal of Sensui in particular carries a cold calculation and insanity while still feeling somewhat sympathetic and it’s what helped to make the character one of the most memorable anime villains of all time. Robert McCollum’s repertoire is solid and as far as villain voice actors go, he’s one of my favorites.

9) Josh Grelle

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Notable Roles: Kenichi Shirahama (Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple), Armin Arlet (Attack on Titan), Nobuchika Ginoza (Psycho-Pass), Femt the Lord of Depravity (Blood Blockade Battlefront)

Well Josh Grelle actually IS one of Funimation’s more celebrated VA’s so there’s not much I can say about him that hasn’t been said already but he does great work. While he’s primarily known for doing shonen hero-ish voices, he has a pretty impressive vocal range and his roles extend from teenagers, adults, cross-dressers and even occasionally villains, bringing an impressive amount of character to each of them. He’s also one of a handful of primarily Funimation centered VA’s that sometimes goes further down Texas to do work at Sentai Filmworks as well, and his work has started to become pretty common. Certainly not anything to complain about though,  as he’s more than earned his current popularity and is definitely one of Funimation’s finest

 

8) Patrick Seitz

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Notable Roles: Wolfgang Grimmer (Monster), Ira Gamagoori (Kill la Kill), Dio Brando (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), Sweet JP (Redline)

Patrick Seitz is one of the ultimate chameleons of anime. Odds are pretty good that if you’ve listened to a California-based or Funimation dub anytime in the last 5 or 6 years, Patrick Seitz was either in it, or somehow involved in it working behind the scenes as a script writer or director(sadly not so much the latter which is a shame since he’s a pretty good one). Yet somehow despite the insane amount of stuff he’s been in, he blends into shows so perfectly that you hardly ever hear complaints about how over used he is. It just lends to how impressive his work is as he’s played an incredibly wide range of character archetypes from nice guys to manly men, to depraved villains with a shonen hero role probably being the kind of role he hasn’t done (and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he actually could pull it off). Exactly how standout his performances are tend to vary on the relevance of whatever character he’s playing to the show itself but when he brings his A-game his work is phenomenal and he stands as one of the most prominent VA’s in the biz

 

7) Eric Vale

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Notable Roles: Casshern (Casshern Sins), Solf J. Kimblee (Fullmetal Alchemist), Director Tamaki (Deadman Wonderland), Trunks (Dragonball Z)

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Much like with Patrick Seitz above, Eric Vale is also a chameleon of sorts when it comes to anime roles and has been doing work for Funimation since the days of the old Dragonball Z dub. He’s done a great variety of work across the board including heroes, villains, introverts, dads, psychopaths and the occasional corrupt businessman, with one of my personal favorites being his Desert Punk just because how comically underhanded it is. A lot of his performances carrying a certain level of humanity to them that comes across as very natural sounding, but he can certainly cross the line into full blown ham when he needs to and his extremely level of versatility makes my favorite among Funimation’s talent pool

 

6) Liam O’ Brien

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Notable Roles:  Garra of the Desert (Naruto), Kenzo Tenma (Monster), Lunatic (Tiger & Bunny), Nephrite (Sailor Moon)

Liam O Brien’s something of a veteran among the California talent pool and has done a variety of works over the years, with a lot of them carrying a certain level of humanity to them much like with Eric Vale’s roles though his performances tend to resonate a bit more. While he’s done a lot of different roles including pacifists, anti-heroes and even little boys at one point (yes that was him as the main character in Duel Masters) like with Robert McCollum he utterly excells at doing villains, bringing equal amounts of ham and depth to each of them, playing them up for all their worth. His expertise in those roles makes him my favorite in that particular area, but he’s pretty good at doing everything else and almost never fails to deliver.

 

5) Johnny Yong Bosch

3307587-jyb31Notable Roles: Lelouch vi Britannia (Code Geass), Ichigo Kurosaki (Bleach), Izaya Orihara (Durarara), Vash the Stampede (Trigun)

Eh well…no one’s ever really accused me of being original when it comes to these things (usually the opposite) but darn it do I really need to be?  Johnny Yong Bosch’s work pretty much speaks for itself as he’s one of the most well known voice actors in the industry and certainly one of the most popular. His main forte is generally shonen hero-ish roles, which he does really well, though his roles certainly branch out beyond that including anti-heroes, little boys and most recently quite a number of villainous roles. The performances he brings usually range from super solid to outstanding and there’s usually a pretty good level of intensity to each of them. It’s easy to see why he’s made such a big name for himself over the years and it’ll likely stay that way for quite a ways to come.

 

4) Yuri Lowenthal

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Notable Roles:  Sasuke Uchiha (Naruto), Barnaby Brooks Jr. (Tiger & Bunny), Pip Bonaparte (Hellsing Ultimate), Suzaku Kururugi (Code Geass)

On the note of VA’s who generally specialize in shonen hero-ish roles, here’s Yuri Lowenthal (whose characters incidentally happen to either be best bros, mortal enemies or some combination of the two whenever he and JYB are in the same show). While he’s certainly played his share of varied roles over the years from bros, to suave playboys, even including deeply voiced villains like Victor from Buso Renkin (though to be honest I think we’d all rather forget about that one) his expertise is by and large in young hero roles. His work in that area ranges from the classical archetypal hero to brooding angsty teens and rival characters, playing all of them with a strong level of emotional intensity (and sometimes reaching for that even where it’s barely need). For a long time he was more or less the definitive VA for the California talent pool in that regard until the niche was filled by Bryce Papenbrook and while he’s generally more prominent in western animation these days, he still pops up in anime from time to time, and his roles are typically a stand out.

 

3) Crispin Freeman

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Notable Roles: Alucard (Hellsing), Itachi Uchiha (Naruto), Kyon (Haruhi Suzumiya), Jeremiah Gottwald (Code Geass)

Yet again I’m not terribly original but it’s another case where I really couldn’t care less about that. Like JYB, Crispin Freeman’s one of the most celebrated actors when it comes to anime in english, and it’s not hard to grasp why as he boasts one of the most impossibly cool sounding voices ever, and brings the performances to match. Though he’s garnered his massive reputation courtesy of his Alucard baritone, he actually has a pretty solid vocal range and can handle a variety of roles from smooth sounding adults, gruff middle aged men, young teens and then back to the infamous super baritone that made him iconic. There’s a certain degree of power to his voice that really stands out and it makes all of his roles that much more memorable, and it’s partially thanks to it that he’s endured as one of the best VA’s out there.

 

2) Ben Diskin

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Notable Roles: Joseph Joestar (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure), Misaki Yata (K: The Animation), Sai (Naruto), Takaharu Fukuroda (Kill la Kill)

Ben Diskin is a very interesting case as far as anime voice actors go as he was largely more involved in western animation before branching out into anime whereas it’s usually the opposite case with California based voice actors. Perhaps it’s because of this that he’s gone largely unnoticed by the fandom at large until recent years and it’s really a shame as he’s proven to be one of the most impressive VA’s out there. He boasts an incredibly level of vocal range and is one of the few anime VA’s who I’m convinced could voice multiple roles in a show with none the wiser as he can do everything from little boys, to angsty teens and gruff baritoned characters with each of them sounding distinctly different from one another.  More impressively he’s really great at playing all of these varying roles to their absolute fullest and when he gets to go full on ham, he can deliver on completely show stealing performances and sounds like he’s having a great time doing it. Again it’s sort of a shame that he went somewhat underrated for so long so I’m hoping that having finally gotten a lead role in something as large as Jojo’s, he’ll be getting a lot more attention in the future.

 

number1

 Steve Blum

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Notable Roles: Spike Spiegal (Cowboy Bebop), Mugen (Samurai Champloo), Orochimaru (Naruto), Guilmon (Digimon Tamers)

Welp we all knew this was coming and I don’t think it should really come off as that much of a surprise to anyone so rather than talk again about my unoriginal choices I’ll just get down to it. Steve Blum is one of if perhaps not the most celebrated english voice actor in anime, and to the point where even some of the most die hard sub elitists out there have respect for the man’s work. Though his claim to fame in anime will likely always and forever be Spike from Cowboy Bebop, his vocal range extends far, far beyond that as he’s done young heroes, deep voiced villains, dads, a creepy pedophile snake man and even an adorable little dinosaur…thing, with each of them having a high level of distinction from each other much like with Ben Diskin above. Though of course the default voice he’s commonly associated with it also carries an impossibly natural sounding level of cool to it, and helped somewhat in making him the icon he is today. One of the best things about his work though is that while I can more or less pick a favorite role from the other VAs on this list, Steve Blum has done so many incredibly sounding performances that picking just one is borderline impossible for me and even his legendary Spike Spiegal is well matched by a lot of his other roles. Call him overrated if you want, but Steve Blum’s become the voice acting icon he is for a darn good reason, and his work continues to stand the test of time.

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And there you have it, my current list of favorite male anime voice actors. Though as always I wouldn’t be surprised to see it look pretty differently within the next couple of years as that’s the nature of things when it comes to that and there’s plenty of promising newer talent on the horizon. Now hopefully I can get around to doing my female VA list before the week is up though I have a feeling it’ll be harder finding worthwhile clips for that one…

Review: Inside Out- That’s Life

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Synopsis: 11 year old Riley is a girl with a peaceful little life, and she’s defined by her core emotions of Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear, though mostly Joy. However when she has to move to a new city, her life starts to hit some roadblocks and her emotions of Joy and Sadness end up getting separated from the center of her brain alongside the core memories that make up Riley’s personality. Now Joy and Sadness must make their way back to the center of Riley’s life and restore her personality before her life completely falls apart.

The Review

So it’s no secret that Pixar’s gone through something of a rough patch for the last few years. A lot of their recent films have lost the magic that made the studio so legendary with Brave being fairly generic, Monster’s University mostly passable (though I do have something of a fondness for it) and of course Cars sequels/spinoffs up the wazoo. Needless to say the expectations surrounding this film were fairly low, but not only has it beaten them to prove itself as the best thing they’ve done in years, it’s also one of their greatest works yet.

The film both figuratively and literally takes us inside the mind of an 11-year old girl named Riley. Her life has been a fairly happy one, and one mostly defined by the emotion of Joy, who serves as the movie’s protagonist. Alongside the other core emotions of Anger, Disgust, Fear and of course Sadness, she helps in keeping Riley’s personality on track, literally going out of her way to keep sadness to a minimum by trying to keep said emotion out of her life as much as possible. After all, no one wants to be sad right?

However things in Riley’s life take an unexpected turn when she moves from her home in Minnesota to San Francisco and has to try and adjust. While the other emotions all appropriately have a negative reaction to the situation, Joy still believes she can put a brighter spin on things and tries to keep a positive outlook. It doesn’t take long for things to get worse and Joy and Sadness end up getting accidentally launched out of the core of Riley’s mind alongside the core memories that make up who she is.

As the two attempt to make the journey back alongside Riley’s old imaginary friend, in order to restore those key memories, things in Riley’s life gradually begin to fall apart piece by piece as the key parts of her life up till now become unsustainable. To make matters worse in the absence of Joy who’s been the defining emotion of Riley’s life up until now, the others keep making worse and worse decisions for her until they eventually decide that she should run away from home since that’s where all her happy memories lied and should be the best way to restore them. During their journey, Joy and Sadness begin to slowly bond with each other, and Joy starts to think that maybe sadness isn’t such a bad emotion after all, but as the situation worsens she abandons her since she still feels joy is all Riley really needs in her life.

When things get to their lowest point though, it’s at that moment she takes the time to realize that Sadness is indeed a necessary emotion and that it has it’s importance in Riley’s life too. Joy goes back to reunite with her and it all leads into the moment that defines the film’s core message. To resolve the whole situation, rather than Joy being what convinces Riley not to go through with running away it ends up Sadness because it’s something she’ll ultimately come to regret. This leads to Riley reconciling with her parents in an emotional breakdown, and a moment that’s defined as equally sad and happy in Riley’s memories becoming a new core memory that helps to define who she is.

At it’s core, the film understands that we aren’t just defined by our happy experiences in life. We experience sadness, frustration, disgust and various other emotions as we encounter situations throughout life. However all of these emotions define who we are and it’s important to recognize the sad times in life just as often as the happy ones because they’re what ultimately make us stronger. The ending is equally strong in that respect as while it ends on a somewhat upbeat note, it also suggests Riley will have another experience just like that one before too long because well…that’s life and you never really stop encountering those kinds of problems. It’s what you take away from the experiences that really matter.

The film’s thematic merits are strong but it also works really well as a solid piece of entertainment. The world of Riley’s mind is fun and imaginative, making it pretty neat to explore as Joy and Sadness traverse it’s various parts. In addition the movie’s humor hits just the right cord of silly enough to make kids laugh, while not overtly dumb enough to turn off adults, and a lot of the jokes are really clever and witty. Also have to give a small thumbs up for the film NOT featuring an antagonist, in an extremely rare feat for a kids’ movie. It briefly tempts it as the imaginary friend initially seems like he could be one, but the movie decides to trust that Riley’s situation is conflict enough on it’s own, and it makes the film much more close to home and personal. This movie has all the makings of a modern classic and is definitely a strong contender for one of the best, if not the best film(s) of the year. Welcome back Pixar, now please don’t go away again.

Overall: 10/10