I hardly know where to begin talking about an episode like that one, because it was so intellectually dense, opaque and a total mind-screw to boot. Space Dandy has done surrealist and even psychedelic more than once, but this was something a little different. Of all the many influences flowing through this series through eleven episodes, the one that seems truest to its heart is that of classic American science-fiction – from the mid-20th Century American TV classics like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits to the intellectual films that exploded onto the world scene with 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and flowered in the 70’s with films like Silent Running and A Boy and His Dog.
This is another one of those eps like last week’s (which to be fair, was better-received than I expected) that I rather suspect will be hit-and-miss with the audience at large. As a fan of the sort of old-school sci-fi above I’m of the mind that Space Dandy has brilliantly found its stride, and that the last three episodes have been the best run of the series by a comfortable margin. And we’re seeing the underlying plot strongly hinted at in the ED begin to assert itself, subtly over each episode but more overtly with this one than any that’s come before.
The episode starts innocently enough. We have the Dandy gang trying to cash in an alien in a box at the ARC, with Dandy trying to convince Scarlet that as soon as she opens the box and looks at the alien her memories of it will be erased (not for the first time with this show or the last time in the episode I thought of Doctor Who here). Naturally Scarlet suspects a scam – who wouldn’t – but Dandy is unable to remember anything of how he came to be in possession of the supposed alien. Meanwhile, Dr. Gel – who is now revealed to be a brilliant scientist – is so absorbed in trying to decipher a mysterious formula that he doesn’t even notice when Bea spills hot tea on him.
Dr. Gel’s trance-like state becomes a factor when Commodore Perry announces that the Gogol Empire is going to invade the “Great Library Planet” of Lagardo, and Bea (who seems quite competent in the role) has to assume command. The reason for the invasion? Perry is annoyed at the overdue notices he keeps getting, and reasons that if he has to pay a fine anyway, he may as well just conquer the world. The book? “Mysteries of the Cosmos for Dummies“. That’s pretty funny, but the real story is that it was Dr. Gel who requested the book – and the book was stolen, as we see in security camera footage by Dandy, Meow and QT.
This all really just the jumping off point, though, and from here things get very weird. Inside the box at the ARC is a tiny book – the same one Perry is being charged fines for – and an invitation for a all-expenses paid trip to Lagardo (“Tabihoudai, Nomihoudai, Yomihoudai” – the last one the best joke of the episode). Why is it that Honey from Boobies can read the writing? We find out soon enough. Naturally the prospect of free food and drink (and reading for QT) lures the boys to Lagardo, where the Gogol fleet is waiting for them – though only by coincidence – and Dandy chooses this moment to unveil the “Aloha Beam” which seems to have the ability to destroy entire fleets of warships. A very useful option for any spaceship.
Everything that happens on Lagardo is strange, confusing and fantastic. The weird-looking security probe, QT feasting on delicious data, the librarian played by Yamaguchi Kappei, the revelations – and oh, there are many. As soon as the book begins altering perception the episode becomes mostly black-and-white and sketchy, like a finished manga changing into a name. The book is in fact the Head Librarian (Shimamoto Shumi) herself, a parasitic book that can erase and rewrite the memories of other species. The invitation is her assistant (Ogawa Shinji), who went off to rescue her. She needed rescuing because she allowed herself to be checked out hoping to see the real universe outside of books, only to wind up in the hands of the Gogol Empire. She and Dandy have apparently been together for six months, though he has no memories of it (naturally enough).
All this seems to be at the heart of more than just what happened in this episode, though. When (via Dandy’s oppai doodle) Dr. Gel finally puts the pieces together, he says he’s found the mystery of Dandy’s power – the “Ever-Changing Truths” theorem – and that knowledge of this means automatic death for the recipient. That certainly explains why Dr. Gel and Bea seem to die so often (they certainly do here) – and why Dandy and his team seem to cycle through so many different resets. There’s even one last revelation when the “gift” the head librarian (who blushes cutely, even though she’s a book) gives Dandy for helping her turns out to be an old “restricted” VHS tape which “alters the viewer’s memory” – and the narrator tells us that afterwards, restricted media of many kinds drag the galaxy into a huge war, but there are no remaining records of it.
Now, I won’t claim to fully understand just what that means, or everything that happened here. But I loved every minute of the ride, and it seems a good bet that this Ever-Changing Truths theorem is behind everything that’s happened in the series. Indeed, with her ability to erase and rewrite perceived reality the Librarian (and perhaps others of her species) are quite possibly behind everything we’ve witnessed – which certainly leads to some interesting possibilities for the final two episodes. This screwball fanservice comedy with no continuity is revealing itself to be a rather complex sci-fi rumination which hasn’t had all that much fanservice or screwball comedy lately – to the point, in fact, where I see some folks bemoaning their absence. But given the talents involved with Space Dandy it always seemed likely there was much more here than meets the eye, and that in the end all of the seemingly random elements would be tied together. I’m fully vested – wherever Watanabe takes me, I’m happy to ride along.
Incidentally, if you watch the English version, check out at least the preview of the Japanese dub – it’s worth it just to hear Yajima Masaki’s Narrator scat singing “Be my baby” for its entire length…