It’s quite appropriate that on today of all days we got a Space Dandy written, directed and storyboarded by Oshiyama Kiyotaka. Why? Because on his sterling resume are several Studio Ghibli credits, and the Ghibli influence can be felt in “The Big Fish is Huge, Baby” – and on today of all days, Ghibli is on the mind. I’ll be posting about that topic at some point soon, but I need some time to digest what we heard today – especially given that what we heard seemed to evolve as more translators had a chance to look at what Ghibli co-founder Suzuki Toshio actually said.
Oshiyama Kiyotaka may not be a household name but knowledgeable anime fans need no introduction. Ghibli, BONES, Gainax (when it was Gainax) even Shinkai Makoto – Oshiyama has worked with the best. It’s nothing new for Watanabe-sensei to turn Space Dandy over to an auteur of course – in fact in this season it’s pretty much the norm. But Oshiyama is a little different than some of them – he doesn’t bring an indelible individual style with him. Instead he’s simply brilliant across a wide range of styles, which is why he’s been such a popular choice to work with big-time directors at big-time studios.
With this episode Oshiyama-sensei delivers something (as usual) radically different from Yuasa Masaaki’s trademark surrealism and last week’s uproarious musical satire. As with Yuasa’s episode there are psychedelically-tinged elements here – even fish – but this is not Yuasa lite. This is an elegantly simply and straightforward episode about a contemplative topic, fishing – and while there’s a fair helping of the usual Space Dandy zaniness, it’s among the more low-key episodes in the series.
The story begins and ends with the BBP trio fishing in a rowboat on an idyllic lake, and Meow suggesting they raise their sights and go after something money-making. The first go-around, it’s the Munagi – a giant creature from the mysterious backwater plant of Kayu which only appears every 3600 years. QT notes that it carries a huge bounty at the A.R.C., so naturally the gang are off in the chase – only to be caught up in space kelp on the way. So Dandy uses the hand-held teleport (continuity!!) to go on ahead.
Kayu is yet another in a seemingly endless string of bizarre and beautiful worlds that Space Dandy has brought to our screens, a planet of muddy oceans and exotic creatures which live in them. The basically human land-dwellers are introduced in the person of Ersssime (Kobayashi Seiran), a little girl with a giant headpiece who lives with a bearded coot named L’delise (Sugo Takayaki). He fishes and watches the stars (for good reason, as we’ll find out), and the two of them look and feel as if they fell out of a Miyazaki movie. Dandy is good with little girls, it seems, and bonds with this one right away. But the old man – who believes a legend that the Munagi appear only with the blue moon (which is a problem as Kayu has no moon) wants no part of the irreverent stranger asking after the beast he’s spend a lifetime chasing.
Space Dandy is uniquely diverse in it’s style from week to week, yet there are things that are constant. Limitless creativity, amazing music, legendary voice actors. Much of the episode is Dandy (in fundoshi) and Erssime chasing the Munagi fruitlessly, but the music and pictures make it a joy to idle away our time with it until the truth becomes clear. That truth is a comet called Rubini, which is the real home of the Munagi and about to make its 3600-year close encounter with Kayu. QT and Meow take the duck-boat dingy from the Aloha Oe and come to the surface to warn Dandy but end up pitching in with the entire village in the effort to land the Munagi. It’s a failed effort but it seems only right, somehow – they’ve been waiting 3600 years to go home, after all.
I don’t want to make too much of it, but it’s hard to have much faith in the future of the anime industry if Studio Ghibli’s business model is indeed untenable. BONES is not Ghibli, not by any stretch – but they are a studio that pays their animators a living wage, and they are a studio that minimally relies on CGI and outsourcing. And they’re still trying to find ways to make anime profitable without appealing to the tiny slivers of disc-buying viewers nearly all other anime are trying to win over. Space Dandy, with its unorthodox international distribution and production process, is the most glaring example of that effort, and I’m more grateful than ever on days like this that it and BONES exist.