Anime feature The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is wrapping its limited nationwide run tonight, with a more select number of theaters to receive additional screenings through the end of the month. If you’ve already watched the film from anime visionary Masaaki Yuasa, you may have come away with at least one of two reactions: “What the eff did I just watch?” or “That was the most absurd, beautiful, unpredictable animated film I may have ever seen.”
I was struck by both feelings after watching the The Night Is Short, which is hard to describe upon first viewing. A girl known as Otome (or “The Girl With Black Hair”) impulsively decides to spend an entire night doing as much as possible, ranging from drinking to her bottomless bladder’s content; taking part in improvised, publicly staged operas; searching for an old book; and caring for an entire village of cold-stricken friends. She really packs it in there, crossing paths with an expanding cast of guys who lose their underwear and fail to out-drink her. There’s also a romantic subplot, as hapless, love-drunk Senpai stalks her around Kyoto in the hopes of running into his crush “by chance.”
The thing about The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl is that its plot can be reduced to something sensible, though the process of watching the film is inscrutable as any experimental film. If you enter it unprepared, you may struggle to catch up with the fast dialogue and quick pacing. There’s an easy solution — or, at least, easy enough — to this problem: watch The Tatami Galaxy.
After his breakthrough film Mind Game, Masaaki Yuasa returned to the small screen with a number of anime series. The most exciting of these is The Tatami Galaxy, which ran for 11 episodes in 2010. In the show, a character known only as “Watashi” (Japan’s first-person pronoun) spends a lot of time eating at ramen stands and navigating the difficulties of university social life by joining different clubs. Each one is a disappointment, as is his unrequited crush on another student, Akashi; his frustrations lead time to bend backward and give him another stab at happiness. By the end of the series, Watashi’s loneliness forces him to give up and hide in his small tatami room, with his apartment growing into seemingly endless tatami rooms.
The Tatami Galaxy’s connection to Night Is Short is explicit and tacit; they’re both based on novels from the same author. But fans of The Tatami Galaxy are likely the ones primed for the flexibility of the animated adaptations, speed of the dialogue and complete dismissal of human logic. The show and film find humor in the absurdity of its situations, which our straight-man leads resist until begrudgingly committing to their bizarre rules. (Here’s an example from The Tatami Galaxy: Watashi joins a softball club, which turns into a food-selling operation that actually has something to do with the upcoming apocalypse.)
The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl lives in this same bizarro universe, with some recurring characters — Otome’s new drinking buddies? They’re straight from Tatami Galaxy. — and each anime’s style is one where an alleyway becomes a superflat piece of art, characters are reduced to pastel, liquid-y silhouettes and parallel universes are traversed with ease. It’s a hyper-stylized cartoon, and The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl feels so energizing from that regard. Yuasa’s courage to delve deep into a compressed situation that makes no attempt at settling the viewer is commendable. Just remember that The Tatami Galaxy set it up first — and is essential viewing if you’re still left scratching your head at the film’s end.
Best of all? The whole series is available for free on Crunchyroll. I recommend watching the first episode at least twice, to really grasp the pacing. I’ve embedded a YouTube version from Funimation below.