I have a suspicion that history is going to be kind to Space Dandy. Long after most anime are forgotten I think this one is going to be remembered as one of the watershed moments of the medium, and not because of its unusual production and marketing but because of its content. I’m happy BONES is running things but back in the day I would have had no trouble seeing this as a Gainax series – it has that extra creative gear that for a glorious decade or so the studio seemed to be able to call on more frequently than anyone else.
It’s quite fitting that Space Dandy has multiple universes as its core mythology, because this is a show that lives the example. It’s a Heraclitian river of ever-shifting styles and influences that refuses to repeat itself. One of the secrets to that of course is the Watanabe strategy of using elite writers and directors of myriad styles and giving them free rein, but though this episode recycles the creator of one of the first season’s best it doesn’t step in its own footprints.
As he did in the first season, EnJoe Toh pens the 11th episode. Last season’s was the remarkable story of the library planet Lagardo, one of the most surrealistic and intellectually sophisticated anime episodes in history. This time around EnJoe – a physicist and novelist of immense intellect and vision – gives us a tale of dimensional reality. It’s a collision of universes, from 0-D to 4-D, and all driven by love. It says a lot about what makes Space Dandy so unique and wonderful that Watanabe reached so far outside the anime mainstream to work with EnJoe, and the results are predictably brilliant.
I don’t think it’s coincidental that EnJoe’s episodes have been the antepenultimate in each season; this season’s (and perhaps the series as a whole) final two are going to be written by Satou Dai and Watanabe himself, and last season it was Dai and Ueno Kimiko. Clearly EnJoe is being used to set up the “canon” episodes, and he’s certainly in on all the secrets as he drops some very interesting hints in this episode. I was especially intrigued to hear Dandy say “I have about 200 pasts and futures I don’t ever wanna remember, Baby” – the surest indication yet that not only is Dandy freely moving between realities (that’s a given by now) but that he has a “Reading Steiner” like ability to remember them.
The stone that starts the ripples in EnJoe’s pond is the intrusion of a 2-D universe into – well, not our universe most likely, but a 3-D universe. Dandy has bad memories of that universe, and he seems unsurprised by the arrival of his old girlfriend Catherine (Sawashiro Miyuki – sultry and retrained, one of her best sides) who happens to be a resident of a 4-D universe. Even with Dandy’s ability I’m not sure how the mechanics of a relationship between a 3-D humanoid and a hypercube work, but the really strange bit is that the guy Catherine dumped Dandy for is a 2-D Prince named Paul (Inoue Kazuhiko – seriously, could this show get any more awesome?), and he’s the one who crashed his universe into this one searching for Catherine (who dumped him after he was named heir to the 2-D throne). How did he do it? He built an inter-dimensional warp drive by putting a 1-D universe in a box.
This is just fabulous stuff that demands to be watched, not explained. Anime doesn’t get any smarter or more challenging than this, that’s for damn sure, but there’s a lot of EnJoe’s trademark humor here too – Meow speculation that a universe crashes into another because it’s “looking to meet other universes”, for example. He and QT discuss Catherine’s looks as follows:
QT: I don’t know what to say. I’m starting to think I don’t understand his taste in women.
Meow: QT… In your opinion, does she look pretty?
QT: She just looks like a box to me.
Meow: I’ll bet she looks that way to other boxes, too.
Honey tags along with her mind set on snagging a prince, but balks when she sees he’s just a rectangle. And the 2-D universe itself – which Dr. Gel and Bea get sucked into – is an 8-bit game landscape straight out of the decade in which EnJoe and Watanabe grew up.
Played off against this absurdism is Catherine’s repeated teasing question to Dandy – “Have you figured out the secret of warping yet?” Finally Dandy answers yes, he has – it doesn’t exist. What people call warping is just really moving through the spaces between universes, and becoming an alternate version of yourself in a different place but not realizing it (though the 4-D Catherine does, and thus realizes this is not the Dandy she fell in love with). Let the speculation begin.
There can be no doubt that this has been a more melancholy, darker season of Space Dandy – nor that Dandy himself has been a far more self-aware and contemplative fellow. Whether this is simply a stylistic evolution or represents a genuine change in Dandy’s perception of reality I don’t know, but the feel of the series is very different. Even Dr. Gel and Bea have evolved into victims rather than adversaries, and it’s never easier to pity them than this week – they too seem to retain an awareness of their repeated fate, and a fatalistic resignation that it can’t be avoided. I’m nowhere close to guessing how this series is going to end, both because of the sheer breadth of the imagination behind it and the way it’s managed to leave every conceivable possibility well, conceivable. These final two episodes are going to be quite a trip.