Space Dandy 2 – 08

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I’m officially floored by that one.

This is one of those occasional anime episodes that’s no perfect and profound and beautiful that I instinctively don’t want to diminish it by analyzing it.  Thank goodness for Space Dandy – that’s really about all I got. Thank goodness for a show that relentlessly takes chances and redefines itself, and for a studio and show-runner who’ve brought in a truly staggering assortment of talent in every aspect of the creative process.  Space Dandy itself and the people making it never even dipped a toe in all that “save anime” nonsense, but if somehow this series could provide a model for a way imagination and risk-taking can survive in the medium, it could just do it anyway if anyone is paying attention.

Credit must be given to the staff behind this masterpiece, starting of course with the man who wrote it, Watanabe Shinichirou (whose writing skills I haven’t always praised of late).  Watanabe hasn’t had a lot of obvious involvement with Dandy this season, so his writing an episode probably meant it was going to be a milestone – and damn, was it ever.  Also of great import is the music by OGRE YOU ASSHOLE (I couldn’t make up these Japanese band names).  They contributed the soundtrack and the ED, and both are gorgeous and thematically perfect – from the acoustic Spanish guitar to the dreamy prog rock in the B-Part that was more Pink Floyd than Pink Floyd (after the fact I read an interview with
OYA singer/guitarist Deto Manabu, and he named Pink Floyd as the one band he wished he could jam with).  It could not possibly have suited the moment better.

Most critical to all this, however, is Nakura Yasuhiro – who did the episode direction, storyboard, character design and art direction this week (that’s all).  Nakura-sensei has been making beautiful anime for three decades, and he has connections to Ghibli and Madhouse among others.  He’s been in charge of visuals for Metropolis, the Moomin films, and Nakamura Kenji’s Ayakashi among other projects, so you had to figure this week’s Space Dandy was going to be something special.  But if you saw this coming, you’re a prophet.

BONES has set a high bar with Dandy in terms of production right from the start – the show has consistently delivered fantastic visuals, and completed episodes far in advance of airing.  But this wasn’t just the most stunning episode of Space Dandy – it might just have been the most impressive anime episode visually since Seirei no Moribito (imagine if The Wall had been produced by Ghibli, and that’s the approximate look).  My reaction, honestly, is that it’s quite difficult to believe so much quality could have gone into one 22-minute TV episode – it seems literally impossible.  Background after background flashing stunning detail and imagination, sakuga animation everywhere, fabulously weird characters in every corner of the screen – the artistic talent alone is staggering, but it must surely have cost a fortune.

There’s a hell of a story here, too – a dreamlike, psychedelic musing on the meaning of life and death which may very well have important implications for the series’ final arc.  The episode starts with a kind of trippy viking funeral, with Dandy (reimagined by Nakura) as the guest of honor.  There’s a mysterious girl who always seems to be watching him, Poe (Nazuka Kaori) and a somewhat frightening “tour guide” named Ferdinand (Tsuda Kenjiro).  There are creatures who spin “talk to the hand” in an entirely new way and guitarists on sagging power lines and the ghostly landscape of a ruined civilisation.  There are fabulous conversations about what it means to live, and to live in fear of death, and of the “little death” of sleep, and food that makes Dandy barf rainbows.  There are cable cars that pull themselves along hand-over-hand,
and a chorale of fatalistic penises. And all the while that beautiful music.

It doesn’t take a genius – or long – to figure out that this is a planet of the dead, where the souls arrive with a “black box” containing information about their death.  Eventually QT reveals to us that it’s the planet Limbo (fittingly) and Poe explains to Dandy that it once supported a great civilisation that destroyed itself in warfare, and that the souls of the dead acted as a magnet and drew other souls to the planet.  Poe is, in fact, the planet itself – the only “living” thing.  Dandy’s instinctive reaction to Ferdinand’s description of a “world with no sadness” is horror, as that would surely mean there’s no joy as well, and he determines that he wants to live at any cost – to eat real food and sleep real sleep and, ultimately, to die again.  But Poe tells him that he can’t go back to the world of the living – the only thing he can do is go to another dimension (continuity!) where he survived the encounter with the “dark nebula” that killed him, but that would require all the energy of the planet to accomplish.  And lastly, Poe tells Dandy that she’s fallen in love with him.

So what happens in the end?  As in most dream-like stories of this nature, it appear to be up to us to decide.  It seems to me that Dandy makes a conscious choice to return to Limbo and stay with Poe rather than go to the dimension where he lives – which is why we see him “sleeping” on-board the now safe Aloha Oe.  Why did the planet itself survive, when we seemed to see it destroyed to send Dandy back?  Perhaps that was two different fates for Limbo itself in two different dimensions, I don’t know – but I do love the fact that the nature of Space Dandy eliminates the notion of plot armor and allows the series to end every episode in whatever way makes the most sense for the story itself.

I’m close to giddy about this episode, really, because it’s such a profound triumph of imagination and sheer artistic genius and a reminder of just what TV anime is capable of when it’s in the hands of a great studio, show-runner and visual artist.  This is why, while its very structure leads to a certain inconsistency from week to week, Space Dandy is a truly important series and capable of heights of brilliance that few other shows can match.  It’s my opinion that a willingness to take risks and to trust the audience is as fundamental as anything to making great anime, and that while these qualities are rarer than they’ve ever been, they’re personified by Space Dandy.  Don’t take it for granted, because it’s going to be sorely missed when it’s gone, and there are no guarantees we’ll see its like again.

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ED: “White House” by OGRE YOU ASSHOLE

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32 comments

  1. j

    Wow… just, wow…

    Really good one here, no doubt about. It almost felt like a final episode, giving a possible answer to the series, packed of feelings and a lot of philosophical musings about life and dead.

    Now since the end is one where you can decide what happened (A Watanabe favorite it seems, he even left Spike's fate in Cowboy Bebop up to the viewer to decide or at least that's what he said in an interview) I would like to expose my point of view:

    Poe actually send Dandy to another Dimension, We can see Dandy "soul" leaving his "body" and the planet "dying" as a result. Since Dandy was sent to another dimension his body in the episode's dimension is dead.

    Since the process used all of "the planet's energy" then it meant that Poe died as a result. She had said that the planet was an intermediate place between "this world and the other" and it's implied that the "ghosts" are there until they face the fact that they are dead and are ready to move on (Remember the name of the planet, "Limbo").

    When Poe is with the other two at landing pad of the Cable car I see it as they are ready to "move on". She is dressed as the previous occupants of the planet and, more telling, is using she shell pendant that Dandy was carrying the whole episode evoking the image that she is going in a trip.

    And the one that comes to pick her up… Is Dandy! She looks truly surprised and ecstatic, the first in the whole episode. Since Dandy made the leap, she didn't expected him there. Could Dandy have returned somehow from the other Dimension? Or is Dandy actually "something else" entirely?

    There is the moment when Poe "sees inside Dandy" and is very surprised not believing what Dandy true identity "is". It only after that she offers the Dimension sliding to dandy and we are shown several Dadies evoking the whole multiverse thing featured so prominently in the series.

    So as I see it Dandy made the leap but returned maybe he returned by choice or there are two different dimensions (as you have already said) or Dandy is a being that transcends dimensions and is able to, somehow, be connected to all the possibilities in those universes.

    Of course it maybe something else entirely (and I wrote a wall of text of pure babble) but at least is funny to try to find the logic in the episode.

    Keep it up Guardian Enzo, Dandy may end soon but there are several of us enjoying it tremendously and your comments are part of the experience (at least in my case).

    And, who knows? maybe if the situation is good we might be graced with a third season. Unlikely but always possible.

  2. Good theory.

    Yes, it could happen. It won't be via traditional anime revenue sources like disc sales and there's no source material to boost, so it really comes down to how much CN would like more. If they'll guarantee BONES a break-even, BONES would almost certainly make another season.

  3. s

    Watching this ep, I had a smirk on my facethe entire time through…you know…that smirk you have when you find yourself watching something pretty damn awesome. This had movie quality written all over it (and you must have thought so too since you have six screenshots for you're opening versus you're usual three), and i guess that would be my one and only complaint. The way this ep was handled was rife with such creativity that the possibilities of making this concept into a full fledge feature length film would have been endless. Imagine that, a space dandy movie based on this ep…it would have been one of the best feature-length films to come out of anime in decades and it would have been glorious. A glorious ep this was, filled with so much potential to be an even more glorious movie is what i felt about this stupendous ep, and that feeling made me feel a bit melancholic. After watching this ep, i sort of asked myself.."why does Enzo not think Watanabe's writing skills are up to snuff?" Most of the things ive seen him do scripts for are actually pretty good such as baby blue, some of the best eps of Samurai Champloo, the 9th ep of the first season of space dandy; barely anything ive seen him written has had truly faulty writing, which is why im truly waiting for a confirmation that he is the one behind the writing in Zankyou, which while not the best, certainly isnt bad either

  4. Just to clarify, I simply don't think Watanabe's body of work as a writer is enough to call him great. I'm not as huge a dan of some of the things you mention (like most of his Champloo episodes), while other efforts are very good indeed. It's not that I think he's a bad writer – I just don't think he'd consistently a great one.

    As to this episode, it was arguably the most "cinematic" anime episode I remember. Not only were the production values of theatrical standards but it somehow "felt" like a movie – it was big, soaring, enveloping. When I was writing the post it did feel more like a movie post than an episode one, not least based on the sheer volume of screencaps I took (you never saw most of them).

  5. s

    See, i get that; but one thing that has always been in watanabe's writing regardless of whether it was great or good was an attention to the coherency of his scripts in relation to what work he was involved in. He maintains structure and focus in most of what he writes. Love it or just like it, ive never truly seen a watanabe screenplay that was truly faulty in story-telling (not to say that there were absolutely perfect). Zankyou is the first time where the writing slips a little in coherency and focus. I would just chock that up to watanabe slipping up just a tad bit except this doesnt feel like his style of writing, which i why im really curious to see if he actually is the one writing the series. I know he was the one who came up with the original concept but that's all i know is confirmed.

  6. T

    The music in this episode was amazing. I especially loved the guitar rendition of Maurice Ravel's "Pavane for a Dead Princess" – and the accompanying visuals of the guitarist sitting on the power lines, against a backdrop of a graveyard of a city, buildings jutting out like tombstones – breathtaking.

    The first season of Dandy was very good, but this season has just been such a colossal triumph of imagination and execution. There are so many "greatest" episodes this season, the worlds and stories so packed with imagination that they could act as pilots for their own full length series.

  7. w

    This might just have been the best episode of any anime this year. It was one of those ones where you're left staring at the screen in stunned silence after the credits roll. Dandy is, in my eyes, officially the best summer anime. It's not even close.

    And on a plot note..
    Do you think this means… That this is what happened to Dandy and crew after every single death they've had so far? Also slight foreshadowing as to the nature of who or what Dandy really is..

  8. s

    Space dandy 2 has always been top-tier for me this season. Sometimes i think people forget that execution is really really important in making something genuinely great. Everything doesnt have to be profound in order to be amazing…heck, there are times when something being profound is actually not that good. It's sort of like how some people likr art-house films just because they are art-house films. Space dandy is a show that relies on its execution and creativity; it's a show that has vigor, passion, and a sense of fun that exudes most of its eps. Then you get eps like these that show you that dandy can be an abstract series as well, which makes it stand out that much more because it illustrates that space dandy can marry together so many elements. this is why i truly consider space dandy one of the top-tier of the season: it revels in its execution and understands the power of that. It uses that key element to create anything from silly fun to what we got this week

  9. K

    It's sad that it's practically selling Shin Sekai Yori numbers in Japan.

  10. s

    hence why a more international market in this day and age for anime is going to start becoming more important..cant wait till anime gets to the point where not just the japanese market matters

  11. R

    As soon as a full season set comes out, I'm buying two copies. One for me, and one to throw at my friend to watch (maybe more). VIVA ANIME

    In all seriousness, if Space Dandy doesn't find success in Japan, but does in America, I'd still say that's a step in the right direction. I'd much rather see more series branch out and appeal to the international group if they have too rather than force themselves into a smaller and smaller niche for the buying crowd in Japan.

    I never understand the backlash for the whole branching out thing to begin with, but in my opinion, it's still better than stagnation whatever the opposition may say.

  12. It's the same as the backlash against KyoAni for making Free!. People who have the industry spend most of its time catering directly to their fetishes have come to believe they own it lock, stock and barrel, and they get very upset anytime something not for them gets any attention.

  13. R

    From the Japanese side, perhaps, but I don't quite understand the backlash from the Western side. It could be for the same reason (I know there are plenty of people in the west who probably have the same fetishes) but it seemed like there was a rather big uproar from the general anime viewing audience as well, the one I don't really associate with the core audience for most shows pandering to otaku and such.

    There were some really bizarre arguments too, as if by targeting an international audience the show was going to somehow lose what made it an anime. Which tells me that they have no idea about the original roots of anime (Japanese cartoons made in the style of western cartoons, that eventually branched out to the style of it's own, but the starting point is pretty damn similar)

  14. w

    I think essentially, a lot of Western fans wanted this to be Cowboy Bebop season 2. It was given the burden of expectations, and because it's not what they wanted it to be, they react negatively.

    Western fans were complaining about it targeting international audiences? Was not aware of that. That might just be about the silliest thing I've ever heard. I'd love if the people complaining that it's losing what makes it anime are the same who loved Kill La Kill because it reminded them of Western cartoons.

  15. I'll be honest, I've been following this pretty closely and I haven't heard a peep about backlash from the Western audiences. Most don't seem to know why it's significant that the show is premiering in English, and those that do seem happy about it.

  16. w

    Are you talking about the Western audiences outside the anime community? I've only heard ever good things from them, but I've heard plenty of complaints from the established anime fans.

  17. Who are we talking about, specifically? People on MAL, you mean, who'd complain about free beer and massages?

  18. w

    Never really been on MAL, but them too, I suppose. I was talking about the Western anime community as a whole. Places like R.C, reddit, other anibloggers, I think even a lot of your regular readers took against it early.

  19. Z

    I was one of them, but not because of the anti-Western appeal rubbish (Chevalier d'eon was targeted towards Western viewers and I quite liked that), but rather because it didn't appeal on a week-to-week basis. Sometimes it really is just visual noise and the characters placeholders for whatever creative person is doing with a particular episode. This episode was okay though.

  20. d

    I have no fancy words. This show makes me drool in contentment.

  21. g

    "Perhaps that was two different fates for Limbo itself in two different dimensions, I don't know"

    This is it, I'm pretty sure. He says "Alive or dead, I'm me"…I think that there are parallel dandies at work here.

    Which is really the perfect way to end this episode.

  22. A

    When I tried to give words to my thoughts immediately after watching the episode, I couldn't. A few days later, I still can't. The best I can do is this:

    It was wacky and wonderful.

    The only other thing I can say is that Watanabe is a (the? He might warrant a "the") genius when it comes to matching music to animation. Oh my god, the last ~5 minutes, oh my god. I had to watch it twice, then I listened to it a third time as I went to sleep.

    Oh, but if you think that creature spins "talk to the hand" in an entirely new way, then you've clearly never been to Tralfamadore. Actually, now that I think about it, Dandy seems to be "unstuck" as well.

  23. D

    I was waiting for this Dandy season's equivalent to the plant episode from the last one (which was my favourite)…and, well, here it is! Hell, it may even be better. It really is hard to find words to describe an episode like this, because it's just something that has to be experienced. This was as close as you can get to a perfect anime episode. It's almost like a short film, really. The music, the imagery, the story, everything was awesome. It certainly would get my pick for episode of the year.

    What a trip.

  24. R

    Oddly enough, the music in this episode kept reminding me of Kaiba for some reason (they really aren't similar at all). Ironic, considering the actual episode a few weeks by Yuasa didn't.

    That being said, I really have no words. This was simply a gorgeous episode, full stop.

  25. M

    Discovered this very fine blog while trying to find who played the music in the second half of this episode (Ogre You Asshole, LOL). You make a very interesting read sir.

  26. Thank you, and welcome!

  27. J

    The French artist Santiago Montiel was responsible for many of the incredible backgrounds in this ep.
    http://mondocanard.blogspot.co.uk/

  28. Thanks for the heads up there – just makes me that much more anxious to see Giovanni's Island.

  29. R

    Was there supposed to be some symbolism behind the shell? Seeing as how Poe was wearing it at the end instead of Dandy.

  30. Well, according to Elianthos it's a "coquille St. Jacques" and closely associated with a pilgrimage that's itself associated closely with death and the next world.

  31. e

    It's also associated with a liminal/burial site/place shaped like a boat and linked to stars, on top of being not far from the sea in an area where that kind of shell is common (to the point it has become a symbol and token for those going to and returning from there)… and in this Dandy episode we got the specific pendant shell both for the one who arrives and the one to leave that site, the boat funeral of ealier Celtic tradition but also a planet carrying the souls of the dead and shaped like a boat floating in space :p.
    Also… I mentioned the French name of the shell because unlike the English term it's the one explicitly mentioning the saint associated with the pilgrimage (St. Jacques = Santiago) and I couldn't remember the Spanish name (concha de Santiago). In Italian that specific shell is a capasanta ( lit. a 'head'+'holy' compound noun ) and refers to Jacques/Tiago/James the Elder's martyrdom by decapitation . <—————- It's possibly just a coincidence but Jasper's comment about the name of the background artist in this episode being Santiago Montiel in such a context is quite amusing.

  32. s

    Something just hit me while watching this ep again for the second time…i dont think dandy ever made it back to his timeline (well the time line that is associated with his journey through the nebula)…Poe did say that she wouldnt be able to bring him back to where he came, but to a dimension where he doesnt meet a disastrous fate in the nebula (doesnt have to be that universe in general). Now this ep is completely up for interpretation so any interpretation could be correct, but this is an interpretation i see that really brings up some questions as to who dandy is.

    I think that Poe met dandy a long time ago in an alternate dimension. When she talks to him in the cable car, she recognizes him upon taking a closer look at him; now I know that could be interpreted as Dandy's constant deaths bringing him to Limbo and her recognizing him because of that, but they way she reacted towards recognizing Dandy was if it was the second time she had seen him or that she had not seen him since a certain period of time. Ud think with the bajillion times dandy has bit the dust, she would stop having that reaction, but regardless, she did which is why i dont think it has to do with Dandy dying a bunch of times. i actually think it that has to do with the ending, in which we see dandy coming down to see poe in the cable car. I think what we see in the end is Dandy, in the dimension where Poe recognizes him from. Dandy may have been a entrepreneur type of person (a sort of true dandy, which would explain the fancy clothes), a random soul that gravitated to Limbo in the early stages of its creation; i say early because we see Poe wearing the clothes similar to the one she was wearing when the planet was still full of life (and those exact two aliens in the field of flowers she was standing in when telling dandy about the history of limbo, one of them being ferdinand). I think this the dandy that Poe remembers, which is why she made that statement that she loved him; she has loved Dandy for a long time, in another life where they were actually together, a time that he no longer remembers. At the end of the ep, Dandy was not sent back to the "nebula time-line" (it that time-line it seems that he is truly dead, i mean…why would Poe just send him there if he was still going to be dead) but to a dimension similar to the one Poe remembers meeting him in.;the dimension in which she fell for him.

    Limbo can exist everywhere and yet nowhere so even if Limbo was destroyed in one dimension, it can exist in an infinite amount of other dimensions. This is a very early Limbo we see in the end. One can also interpret that scene as a Limbo that is not necessarily for the dead, but just it's own planet, and the new residing place for an alternate Dandy. Either way, i dont think dandy ever made it back to the nebula time-line, which is why we still see him dead at the end of the ep; or perhaps he did, but since he is just knocked out, his soul is still able to drift between the living and the dead. It doesnt explain why Limbo is different, but again the aesthetics could just be a result of it being a different dimension. Still, i strongly believe that this alternate dimension has something to do with Poe's first (or second) aquaintance with Dandy long before she became lonely because that scene right before she sends him back to an alternate dimension is too poignant to be dismissed. As for Dandy himself, we can assume that in any infinite amount of dimensions, whether dandy was creating a new universe, or traveling in time and becoming a religious symbol, dandy affected the universe in multiple ways through his death and rebirth, and him meeting up with Poe in Limbo were just a result another one of his outlandish escapades, albeit a more beautiful one. Upon second viewing, this ep was more romantic than i intiially thought and it makes a hell of a lot more sense why Poe said she loved dandy.

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