Space Dandy 2 – 05

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Where there’s BONES, there’s hope.

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.

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  1. F

    For me Space Dandy is the «surprise of the week». You really can't expect what will be in next week's episode and I love it!

  2. s

    A big change is coming for the anime industry…but i have a more positive outlook on it. Its sad that Ghibli might shutdown, but change is inevitable and im going to hold out hope that the future is in store for some great successors to the current creative minds behind anime who truly care about the medium and wish to tap into its artistic merits. The anime industry has seen big change like this before; i remember the first big change being in the late 60's. For those who didnt know, anime use to resemble american animation in that there was more of a focus on fluid motion and having multiple artist draw within the same frame of animation. Basically very early anime use to look like disney movies. I cite "the panda and the serpent" as an example. The reason why anime was so fluid back then was because anime was mostly exclusive to theatric works and art house productions. Soon after, theaters for animation were shutdown and it seemed that anime as an artform would be lost until rising key animators came forth and made anime thrive once again, moslty making it live on through TV. Without the budget that the theater business provided, key animators had to get really creative, and its the rising key animators, one of them being Hayao Miyazaki, who ushered forth anime as we know it now.

    Basically, with the possible shutdown of Ghibli, I hold out hope that a great change such as that comes forth, in which we see great animators and minds thrust their hands into the the creative goulash that is anime and make it thrive more than ever before. Spacer Dandy is such a great example of an anime that allows for creative freedom and expression. And you know what i love most about this season of space dandy? It's the way it's making me realize just how much i love space dandy and purpose behind its existence.

  3. Eloquently stated. But I confess I'm not as hopeful. We're seeing a narrowing thematically in order to reach an increasingly niche buying audience. We're seeing increased outsourcing and bad CGI, and animators committing suicide from overwork and living in flophouses. Japan is a wonderful country but institutionally calcified – real change takes more time than I believe anime has to spare.

    I grow to love Space Dandy and what it represents more and more with each new artistic explosion. But the fact that it has to target itself outside Japan in order to pay for itself isn't exactly encouraging.

  4. s

    I know…i just try my best not to think about it….aaannnnnnd i just thought about it…thanks Enzo : P

  5. J

    You made me go to ANN to make sure I read that right, now I want my eyes back.

    The fact Suzuki is keeping his options open is equally encouraging because nothing is performing so badly on its own that it has to be let go, and worrying because there's no real sense of what the underlying problems are. They must have lost a fair amount on Kaguya, because all the other releases have seen good takings and reportedly turned profits.

    Honestly I get a strong vibe of post-Ferguson MUFC with Ghibli at the moment, they're so used to operating under the vision of one man, albeit a genius in his field, that now he's gone they don't have the structure to cope. At least in Ghibli's case they've tried to find *a* successor more than a month beforehand but I think a bigger change is needed, one where multiple creative inputs can flourish instead of relying on the (domineering?) oversight of a Takahato or Miyazaki. And I'd lay a fair amount of the blame at Miyazaki's feet as well – like Ferguson I don't think he ever took his succession seriously enough. I know it's not exactly impartial, but didn't Hosoda say that Ghibli only existed to make Miyazaki's films?

    The young talent currently at Ghibli isn't going away even in the worst case (Disney …), I'm confident that enough of them would be given chances at other studios. Should they leave though, it's up to them to "show up" Ghibli for perhaps not giving them a fair go.

  6. You have to understand that the entire Japanese language is built around saying "no" without saying "no". Directness is not the way of things here. All of Suzuki's statement reads like code to me.

  7. J

    Then do you mind if I ask what you made of the comments now that there's been time to read them properly? My interpretation (of the translations) was that Suzuki is bracing everyone for some sort of major change in the way Ghibli operates.

  8. My impression is that this is the end, but no one at Ghibli wants to say that directly so this is the statement we got.

  9. w

    I really don't know enough to comment on the Ghibli news, other than to say that it's a very foreboding thought. I'll just talk about the episode instead.

    I do like the way you mirror my thoughts sometimes. As soon as Ersssime showed up my first thought was Ghibli. Possibly my favourite piece of soundtrack as well. Really liked the Moby Dick inspirations, and the fishing scene was pretty trippy.

    Also spent quite a while wondering why a massive sea creature called the Munagi sounded so familiar. Then I remembered the Unagi from Avatar: The Last Airbender. I know it just means eel, but that's still the association I draw.

  10. I think it's the unagi association and not the Avatar one they were going for there.

  11. w

    Oh I don't think they were going for an Avatar allusion. I just got a sense of deja vu while watching is all.

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