Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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« Space Dandy #22Space Dandy #20 »

Sunday, September 14, 2014

08:24:00 am , 1098 words, 5251 views     Categories: TV, Space Dandy

Space Dandy #21

Dandy wakes up on a strange planet and can't remember how he got there. He meets a clown-like creature and a mysterious girl who reveal to him the truth about the planet and his own fate...

This episode is basically a visual poem about death, and features some of the series' more surreal and enigmatic imagery. It's very different from any other episode, with its dark mood, disjointed storytelling and almost total absence of all the side-characters. Dark yet creative, melancholy yet whimsical, it's my kind of episode. The impenetrable imagery also happens to make it one of the more rewarding episodes to re-watch and try to figure out.

The great Yasuhiro Nakura is the force behind this delightfully aberrant vision of Dandy as character designer, storyboarder and director, although the episode was written by series director Shinichiro Watanabe. Yasuhiro Nakura was one of the first animation artists about whom I dedicated a whole post in this blog way back in 2004, as I was a huge fan of his work, particularly on less-well-known outings like Moomin, Memole (I translated the movie years before), The Acorns and the Wildcat and the Rampo short.

So again we have in the episode an artist-driven episode like Eunyoung Choi's episode 9, Masaaki Yuasa's episode 16 and Oshiyama Kiyotaka's episode 18. The series has a fantastic approach to delivering variety: the base pattern of Kimiko Ueno-style gag episodes is occasionally interspersed with more artist-driven episodes. It's the best of both worlds - an accessible show that nonetheless gives a handful of talented animators free rein.

The overarching story is relatively easy to parse, but the words (images) with which it's told are poetically opaque and impenetrable. Dandy was killed when the ship shifted and he hit his head as they approached planet Limbo, which is inhabited by the souls of the dead killed many centuries ago in a global war that wiped out the population. The girl he (his soul) meets is the incarnation of the world. The rest of the details are murky and probably aren't meant to be logically explained. Why does Dandy find himself floating down a river in a boat? Who are the two mysterious figures discussing how everything is headed towards destruction? The lutenist with no mouth who instead speaks through her instrument? What does that shell necklace represent? There were many fascinating scenes, but the one in the desert where Dandy's face is replaced by a skull and his boat goes up in flames was particularly striking.

I like that none of these have an explicit explanation but are more there to contribute to the lugubrious, oneiric atmosphere. In this sense it reminds me of the Licca-chan: Wondrous Yunia Story (1990) by Ajia-Do, whose fantastical and creative images don't need (indeed don't have) explanation. It's a rare treat to find an episode based purely on fanciful visual storytelling in a conventional studio-produced series.

The series has had its fair share of enigmatic endings, and this episode's ending is among the more memorable, with Dandy's ghost resigning itself to being dead and settling down on the planet, while his doppelgangers continue on their merry way in another dimension (another episode).

I liked that the song played by the lutenist is Pavane pour une enfant défunte by Ravel, which ties in perfectly to the theme of the episode not only musically but even in its inspiration. Also, since this is technically a sci-fi show, I appreciate when the episodes of Space Dandy have something of a sci-fi aspect, and aren't just slapstick parody episodes. This episode could be said to fall into that category, more or less, in the sense that it's about an advanced alien civilization that destroyed itself, and what happened to the world afterwards. It plays out as something of a bleak cautionary tale, on a scale far grander than the Mihara episode.

Of special note are the backgrounds, headed by immensely talented French artist Santiago Montiel, who recently worked as background artist for a film entitled Giovanni's Island that was released earlier this year. I can't think of another anime that has made better use of international talent. From the mysterious spires that are like antennae of a long-lost civilization, to the beautiful purple clouds rising above a red desert, his backgrounds create an incredibly vast and fantastical otherworldy space that you don't want to leave. He was kind enough to post a few of the backgrounds on his blog. I can't wait to see his work in Giovanni's Island. This is one of the standout episodes in the series in terms of background art. The importance of the background art makes sense for Nakura, who made a short entitled The Acorns and the Wildcat consisting entirely of background art and who in his latter years focused on illustration.

The episode would not achieve half its impact without his incredible images, as the animation is somewhat less convincing. The animation does not seem as creatively conceived as the background art. Yasuhiro Nakura is best known for his amazing work on Angel's Egg (1985) and then to a lesser extent The Tale of Genji (1987), but there is not much of the delicate grace of those films here, as he was not in charge of the animation. Nonetheless the episode is filled head to toe with beautifully immersive images, and the episode is the closest he's come to re-capturing the feeling of his brilliant Rampo short in the intervening 20 years. It's criminal negligence on the part of the anime industry to allow an animator as talented as Yasuhiro Nakura to languish for decades without a project into which to funnel his incredible imagination.

In terms of the animation, notable names included Hiroyuki Aoyama, Kenichi Fujisawa, Chikashi Kubota and Eddie Mehong, but the animation of the episode was for the most part fairly low-key without any real standout sections. It's probably for the best that the episode was lacking in animation grandstanding, as it would have been inappropriate for the episode's somber tone. I felt that Dandy looked different in this episode for some reason. Of course, he was given an expression of dead exhaustion presumably to mirror his mortal state, but he's also not very recognizable without his hair and clothes as identifiers.

I didn't notice this until now, but the music credits get switched up in every episode to indicate the contributors to that particular episode. That's something I've never seen before. Credit in this case should also go to Ogre You Asshole for the fantastic Popol Vuh-esque reverb-laden solo guitar music that helps give this episode its serene and chill atmosphere.


1 comment

Nemphtis [Visitor]

This is one of my favourite episodes in Space Dandy. Early into the episode I was getting excited from the Kino’s Journey vibes I was getting. Those vibes disappeared pretty fast but I still loved the overall feel in this one, plus the ending was cute. As you say, this is an episode I wouldn’t mind watching more than once.

10/29/14 @ 16:01