The Tatami Galaxy as an Exploration of the Psychological concept of Rumination

So you’re sitting in your abnormal psych class and they start talking about depression… Or maybe not.  Maybe you’re a Wikipedia junkie, and are obsessively wondering whether or not it’s ruining your life when you realize (OF COURSE) that wikipedia can answer that! So you stumble upon the psychology term “rumination.” And you think to yourself, yeah, no, I can see how nearly obsessively replaying things you’re not happy with in your mind is not good for your mental health.  But why would that make you depressed, exactly? What does it all mean?

BEHOLD, my friends, Yojouhan Shinwa Takei, which FUNimation has dubbed as The Tatami Galaxy. BTW, there is no excuse for not beholding it, since FUNimation has made it free to watch on their website, youtube, and Hulu.

The Tatami Galaxy

As you can tell, the animation is different from the usual look and feel of anime, which I appreciated.  Apparently I’m not the only one, since it won the Grand Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival, the first television program to do so and in part to its interesting visuals.  The music for the opening and ending are also catchy as all get out.  I wasn’t an instant fan, but by the time I had finished the series I couldn’t drive them from my head (in the good way).

The story follows the protagonist, who remains nameless, as he ruminates about his college life.  ORLY, you say? You’re really telling me this is good entertainment?

YA, RLY! I reply.  I know you wouldn’t think so, but DOODE. Chillax and check it out. The first reason: it’s not just some wanker angsting in his bedroom. The main character actually lives out his college life in the first episode, and he comes across some colorful and interesting characters, but because of them and his own personality, things just don’t end up like he was expecting (and usually in a way that is fun and entertaining for us spectators).  He is dissatisfied, and thinks to himself, if only I had done something different, had joined a different group of people, etc.  So at the end of the episode everything rewinds and he does exactly that. And for each of the next nine or so the show follows him as he repeatedly rewinds and strives for his “rose colored campus life.”

How is this rumination, you say, and not just a re-do of Groundhogs Day? I’ll admit it is sorta similar in premise and conclusion, and can get a little repetitive feeling in the middle, but I urge you to keep on!  Because the payoff at the end of the show, for me, was epic awesome. In comparison, Groundhogs Day was trite and waxing sentimental dribble.   Over the course you can see the protagonist growing more and more desperate, willing to throw himself to extravagant and complicated lengths to have his perfect life, while the world around him is filled with imperfect people acting like people, and therefore thwarting him.  But in the end, he retreats into himself, loosing his desire for a rose colored campus life and giving up on the world altogether. And this is where it struck me that it was a beautiful example of rumination. The show makes the mental path rumination can follow into a literal path, exploring the futility and consequences of it.  The character relived – literally instead of only mentally – experiences in his life he wasn’t satisfied with.  Clinical depression is often characterized by losing interests in the goals in your life, withdrawing away from social situations, and lethargy–all played out by the protagonist when he chooses a world that is only his 4 1/2 tatami room.  And ultimately, the message was that you have to learn to accept yourself and your past and move on from them to get out of your rut, to break free from that which confines you.  Just like psychological studies have shown for rumination.

So I say to you: Watch The Tatami Galaxy.  It’s free, so why the fuck not?  And think about yourself and your life!

Fractale: Only raging against a semi-virtual machine?

Today, I found a lovely 15 minute video of a lecture by Cynthia Breazeal on TED called “The rise of personal robots.” At about 5 minutes in she starts talking about her research with robots as tools to communicate and interact with people over long distances.  According to her research, she finds that this adds a human element and that interacting through robots was better than through more static media. Which makes sense to me and my experiences.

And of course, I immediately though of Fractale, an anime currently running during the usually awesome Noitamina programming block.

The setting of Fractale is in the distant future, where a satellite and implant based technology system –Fractale– allows humankind to live a semi-virtual existence.   The main character lives practically on his own in a quaint cottage in what looks like a futuristic-past version of Ireland. He interacts with his parents solely through “doppels”  – holographic avatars. Whole cities are even built out of what appears to only be crude slabs but through the fractale system, can be experienced as colorful, lively, vivacious places. Think of the Matrix if it were overlaid onto actual reality and that is the kind of world that the characters live in.

However, the value of this semi-virtual existence is a driving force of the plot.  The system itself is failing and rebellion groups calling themselves “Lost Millennium” have formed in places where the Fractale system’s influence is waning. The proponents of doppels arguing that it allows a huge amount of personal freedom to travel, live and work as well as be anything that you want.  Dissidents say that doppels are dehumanizing and tearing people apart. It is clear that the show is leaning towards the dissidents, but that places the show’s messages in direct conflict with the research presented on robot-human interactions as well as semi-virtual interactions in the real, modern world.


The key difference, I argue, is that of touch, or the lack thereof.  Clain cannot touch or be touched by his parent’s doppels, which he could if they were robotic instead of holographic.  And this point, the lack of warmth and comfort of human interactions, is one of Lost Millennium’s arguments against Fractale.  Look at the way the characters interact with Nessa, who is a doppel, but who can touch or be touched.  Quickly, even those who are against doppels treat her as if she is a person, someone who has meaningful interactions with the characters.  Not the same treatment as the doppel parents and general doppel systems.  Similarly, the great city of Xanadu was amazing to Clain… until he tried to touch a fountain and his hand went through it.  So I ask you, would the world offered by Fractale be so horrible if the doppels were robots instead of projections? I would say no, though I think future episodes are going to introduce reasons why the system is corrupt outside of the properties of the doppels.