“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world.” -Samuel Beckett

Absurdist literature and theatre is in my personal experience something of an acquired taste – and as such, rarely seen in popular media. Samuel Beckett, Kafka, and the like are certainly fine for theatre studies and literature classes, but as a commercial venture? Not likely. Which is why I’ve been pleasantly surprised this season by The Tatami Galaxy (Yojohan Shinwa Taikei) and Arakawa Under the Bridge – there is a thin thread here, just a bare hint of an absurdist aesthetic.

Absurd theatre and literature is characterized by a feeling of the surreal; protagonists of the story spend a great deal of time and effort simply trying to make sense of a world that’s completely incomprehensible, at least by typically rational standards. Side characters tend to be even simpler, usually walking stereotypes. In theatre especially the approach can be very minimalist, often times eschewing the usage of props altogether – sometimes an entire play featuring two characters discoursing over the idlest of topics.

I know very little about the history of Japanese literature, but as I can tell absurdism has found something of a home in Japan – Murakami’s award-winning Kafka on the Shore is partly a fictionalized biography of the absurdist author. Still, I think the reason absurdity finds expression in anime is particularly because of the strengths of the medium. Gaguri has already spoken at length about the role of style in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, as well as in Bakemonogatari, and his insights illustrate a good point – in animation the artifice is front and centre. Minimalism in animation can go beyond simply removing the props – it can even go so far as to begin to remove facial features, or begin to play with the nature of colours, light, and shadow. And, much like absurdist literature and theatre, the end result can be an acquired taste.

If all the absurdist stuff is over your head I recommend you to check out The Tatami Galaxy nonetheless, which is being simulcasted by Funimation in North America. I can’t guarantee you’ll like it but it won’t cost anything more than half an hour. If you’re from another continent, you’re out of luck, unfortunately.

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