There is something incredibly tiring about repetition. Enduring again and again, only to be worn down by a hopeless maze where no exit exists, and trapped by the idea that whatever you do is futile and leads to the same conclusion. This can apply to the simplest of things – repeating a class, practicing the same kind of dance move, or even rewatching an episode of anime. The mind is shaped by new experiences, where we constantly seek a fresh perspective. After all, if nothing changes, what’s to prove that we made a difference?
I experienced two series that compelled me to think about repetition this year. One of them was a game called Undertale, a story about a human that falls down a mountain and lands underground where monsters have been trapped for hundreds of years, forced to confront – and often, befriend – these monsters to try and escape alive. Through a unique set of mechanics you’re given the chance to replay the game and change your choices only to find out that they may not have the intended effect. Furthermore, characters that have this knowledge previously are the most worn out – they either don’t care about anything, knowing that nothing truly changes, or instead attempt to play against the rules in the desperation of feeling anything at all. Every action taken in the game has a consequence, and every action is remembered, reinforcing immersion of character and morality. I don’t consider myself a video gamer as I rarely have time to spend on many of them in a year, but Undertale captivated me with its messages of empathy and the power of choices.
The other series was Tatami Galaxy, which I finally got to watching before my college life ended. Focusing on the nameless protagonist (cleverly named “Watashi” as a stand-in for the audience), Tatami Galaxy pushed ambition to its limits by relying on a Groundhog Day method: repeat every episode in a similar manner, with slight differences to connect backstory and characters and create one grand climax. Its presentation is almost inverse to that of Undertale; it tells its tale over and over again, almost relentlessly, to the point where you feel like you’ve had enough of the tiresome antics and want something new. The intended effect? Ushering a compelling climax for the last two episodes where that fresh breath of air becomes a powerful message about naivety, self awareness, and the capacity to change.
One of these I expected to be something truly interesting. The other, I went in with absolutely no information whatsoever. Interestingly enough, the former – Tatami Galaxy – almost left me hanging in disappointment. It wasn’t the built up hype; I usually do a good job of staying spoiler-free on shows I want to watch sooner or later. It wasn’t necessarily the way I decided to marathon the show either; it was simply that I had outgrown the message of the story. I had already felt those vibrations with Aku no Hana nearly two years ago. Undertale by contrast, was completely unpredictable. I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea a pixelated game could move me to tears to the point where I kept failing the boss battle because I couldn’t see the screen.
Is there a fault? It’s not like Undertale has a new groundbreaking message for me either. It very much resonates with my way of life today: be kind to others, and recognize that empathy is a very powerful tool for the ability to become better. Many anime I’ve watched over the years have repeating messages that I’ve grown accustomed to hearing. By this logic, wouldn’t I be worn out by every show’s welcome of positive stories? “Ah,” you say. “Perhaps it’s not the story, but the execution.” But Tatami Galaxy had that as well. I recognized a lot of myself in Watashi. The way the show strung along the characters and revealing different sides to them was absolutely fascinating. Episode 10 and 11 are brilliant in wrapping up any loose ends and tying the story into one beautiful loop.
The more I think about it, the more I come to realize: repetition is a double edged sword. You can only repeat a thing so many times before you get worn out. I was tired by the time I came to Tatami Galaxy‘s finale; I wanted it to end. I had gotten the message. I did not get the message until the first run with Undertale. Not only that, but it was message in the form of a question that compelled me to look for more answers with another run. The repeat didn’t feel so much of a repeat as it did a peek into a new, changing story. A story that truly changed with repetition. Tatami Galaxy‘s repeats felt like a more visually striking but equally intimidating Endless Eight.
Many people have told me that Tatami Galaxy is more rewarding on a rewatch. They may be right; it’s a beautiful, stunning and ambitious show that holds merit. But for now, I think I’m satisfied with this year’s use of repeats. There’s only so much I can endure, after all.