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Space Dandy – 09

「植物だって生きてるじゃんよ」 (Shokubutsu Datte Ikiteru jan yo)
“Plants Are Living Things, Too, Baby”

That was an amazing trip, in many senses of the word.

It would seem that Space Dandy has ventured so far and wide across the stylistic map that it should have offered something for just about anybody by now – and if your tastes happen to be of an eclectic nature, then so much the better.  My suspicion is that just as Episode 5 was the most mainstream and went on to be the most well-liked, this week’s effort will end up being the most divisive.  It offers little in terms of comedy and conventional narrative – it’s more or less an extended surrealist doodle.  But boy, did it ever work for me.

More so than with just about any series in recent years, it’s crucial to read the credits if you want to know what to expect from an upcoming episode.  The director this week is Choi Eun-Young, who’s two things very rare among anime directors – a woman and of Korean descent.  More crucially she’s a disciple of Kaiba and Tatami Galaxy director Yuasa Masaaki – whose singular vision tends to be pretty divisive itself – and that aesthetic is all over this episode.  I sometimes struggled with Yuasa’s perspective growing tiresome over the course of an entire series, but Choi-sensei’s vision is a spectacular success for this episode (which was written by Watanbe himself, as was the premiere).

In short, I loved pretty much everything about this episode.  I have to start not with the visuals, but with the music, which seamlessly blends with those visuals and bathes the entire ep in a bouncy, bizarre and oddly hypnotic rhythm.  We’ve come to expect incredible visuals from Space Dandy but these were some of the best – a fabulous riot of colors and irregular shapes constantly in motion in a kind of native dance of the plants.  This is psychedelia in a way we rarely see it in anime – if you’ve watched Kaiba (or played LocoRoco) you have some sense of what to expect, but the look of this episode was even more distinctive and spectacular.

It’s fitting that the speech of the sentient plants via Dandy’s wrist translator is halting and deliberate, because that’s exactly how the story is laid out.  We have the gang traveling to planet Planta in search of Code D, a rare alien Meow has read about in “Space Adventurer Magazine”.  Some kind of force field prevents the Aloha Oe from landing, but happily QT has modded the transporter so that it’s now lightning-fast – unhappily at the expense of accuracy, as it deposits Meow and Dandy in mid-air (and some distance apart).  One painful landing later, each comes into contact with one of the two sentient plant species on the planet – Dandy the advanced Vegims, and Meow the tribal Movies – and that’s where the real story begins.

The last time this happened (Episode 6) we got a very straightforward comedy that was an homage to 70′s science-fiction but this is handled in completely the opposite way – there’s nothing broad or conventional about it.  What’s happening to Meow (the “foie gras treatment”) is immediately obvious, but most of the focus is on Dandy.  He’s collected by scientist Dr. H (the great Mugihito), who’s never seen a human (or any non plant or microbe) and initially mistakes Dandy for a strange plant.  We also meet his daughter 033H (Tomoko Kaneda, who does great things with very few words), who’s a surprisingly cutting twist on this particular moe trope.

Dr. H is kind and welcoming to Dandy once he’s been identified, and he too seeks to know more of the mysterious Code D – which emits a hormone that causes plants to expand to even more preposterous size.  What he doesn’t realize is that it’s also Code D’s presence (it turns out to have been a meteorite) that gave the plants of Planta their sentience – and when Dandy and 033H (I’m not clear on why her father allowed her to come) go on a magnificently surrealistic journey to find and retrieve Code D, the result is the end of sentience on Planta.  Dr. H is sanguine as his evolution reverses itself – “This is not an ending, but a new beginning.”  For Meow, it seems, this all happens just in the nick of time – and once again all of the main trio escape the chop (and in an ep where the transporter was used, too).

Any time you try and describe an unconventional story that’s mostly told in image and sound using words on a screen, you’re going to lose most of its essence – and none of the above does justice to the experience of watching this episode with an open mind.  I keep falling back on the same words – hypnotic, surreal, psychedelic – and it ends up working quite well on an emotional level too.  The entire episode is a triumph of imagination and a ringing endorsement of Watanabe-sensei’s approach of allowing his staff almost total creative freedom in crafting their individual episodes. It’s one of the best episodes in this series, and one of the best of the season.

 

Preview

March 3, 2014 at 4:58 am
28 comments »
  • March 3, 2014 at 5:17 amCybersteel

    This episode makes me wanna be a carnivore.

  • March 3, 2014 at 5:41 amstarss

    It seems Watanabe wants to showcase a ton of the best animation directors he knows from the best of anime all around, as well as composers as he did for his past shows! It makes me sad that the average American viewer likely doesn’t even know who most of these people are.

  • March 3, 2014 at 5:46 amrunner

    Such a trippy ep.

    Also, seems like next ep. will has Meow in the focus, yeah.
    (I’m a cat person.)

    • March 3, 2014 at 6:20 amGuardian Enzo

      Me too – looking forward to that one.

  • March 3, 2014 at 6:46 amDvalinn

    I agree that this was definitely one of the best episodes of the series so far. It was a beautiful journey through a truly alien world, using the few characters it had perfectly, and which left you feeling melancholy at the end. Gah, it was over too fast. Hell, I wouldn’t mind an entire feature-length film of this world and its wonders. It’s these kind of episodes that lift Space Dandy to the top of the season.

    I hope next episode will be good too. Meow’s planet, eh? That could make for an interesting story.

  • March 3, 2014 at 9:19 amLaughingMan

    This episode was a complete acid trip. In a totally cool way of course.

  • March 3, 2014 at 10:28 amPancakes

    Space Dandy, the only anime that makes you feel for the plight of plants.

  • March 3, 2014 at 10:36 amP Ko

    I have no idea what on Earth I watched…

  • March 3, 2014 at 11:10 amTre

    It’s hard to describe in words just how amazing this episode was.

    I especially enjoyed the music that played the moment Dandy arrived on the planet. It was very Metroid-like, and it really gave you a feeling of how bizarre that world is.

  • March 3, 2014 at 2:57 pmMoburo

    I usually dislike this kind of trippy episode as they often go into long and superficial conversation without making much sense, but this one definitely was a home run for me.

    It was a pretty simple yet giving a powerful and strange feeling of sadness and hope.

  • March 3, 2014 at 3:12 pmKurama

    I haven’t caught up on Hunter x Hunter, so this was my favourite anime episode of the year so far. I know that everyone keeps making comparisons to Kaiba, but I actually kept thinking of Samurai Jack when I was watching it. If anyone’s ever seen it, it reminded me of the episode where Jack travels through the dragon’s body, and the one where he chases the rabbit that steals his sandals.

    Also, favourite joke of the episode: “This is NeeNee. She is plant entertainment industry.” *Dandy just stares*

  • March 3, 2014 at 3:14 pmIsabel

    All I kept thinking about when I saw the vivid plant imagery was Botanicula

  • March 3, 2014 at 3:23 pmmac65

    Felt like I was back in the 70′s again…

  • March 3, 2014 at 3:25 pmsealouse

    Man it was like watching Kaiba all over again. Loved it.

  • March 3, 2014 at 7:05 pmZephyr

    I must say I felt quite high while watching this episode.

    • March 4, 2014 at 2:30 amCybersteel

      I hope Stilts doesn’t you know…

  • March 3, 2014 at 10:01 pmIncognito

    This episode was just as surreal as anything done by Studio Shaft, if not more so.

  • March 4, 2014 at 4:01 amorkinlort

    I keep thinking about all the haters prior to Space Dandy’s premiere hating on the show, hating on the boobies, and refusing to give the show a chance without having seen a single episode. I think of those people now, and I laugh at their stupidity and myopia, because good lord is this show GOOD. It’s doing so many damn interesting things, and this episode is one of them. What a TRIP this episode was! I never know what’s going to show up week after week and I LOVE IT. BEST ANIME OF THE WINTER SO FAR.

    • March 4, 2014 at 9:12 amstarss

      Isn’t it odd how Toonami advertised the pervy fanservice into our FACES before its premiere, and now we’re at Episode 9 and there has been barely any since the first 4 episodes!? :D Never judge.

  • March 4, 2014 at 10:32 amkabayongtao

    Dandy was making this stoned face.

  • March 4, 2014 at 6:17 pmJon

    Probably one of the best anime episodes I’ve ever seen. Space Dandy is becoming such a fascinating adventure from Bebop and Champloo. Whereas those two series were fairly grounded in the extents of their universes, Space Dandy has no limits. I’m really curious to see whether or not there will even be a two or three part body of episodes. I know the Gogol empire is looming in the background, but at the moment I don’t see their existence as having the same moral weight that the Syndicate did in Bebop.

    Anyways, as GE said, this episode can’t be articulated with words very well. Simply watch it and experience.

  • March 4, 2014 at 10:23 pmBROOKLYN otaku

    this is turning out to be one of those animes u just keep on your gi-normous tera tera hard drive as an “anime exhibition piece” perhaps something for the uninitiated…call it an intro into anime………………..but without expanding on this let me just say that when i watched this ep I was THOROUGHLY HIGH and it made so much sense….

  • March 5, 2014 at 6:37 amBob

    There’s trapar next ep!

  • March 7, 2014 at 3:40 pmRider

    I will just say three things:
    - it was trippy (in the best way possible)
    - there was fanservice (plantservice?)
    - there was an orgy.

    I’ll left the last two for you to identify. ;3

  • March 11, 2014 at 1:22 amFM

    An episode full of wonder, inspired by Fantastic Planet by Laloux and Topor. Brilliant!

  • April 7, 2014 at 6:53 amNamaewoinai

    I was wondering…What if a cute girl would enter that planet and…oh oh..

    i was think about something like this
    http://randomc.net/image/Genei%20wo%20Kakeru%20Taiyou/Genei%20wo%20Kakeru%20Taiyou%20-%2001%20-%20Large%2025.jpg

    Err…Ooops!

  • April 13, 2014 at 12:41 amJester

    I hate this show. The only redeeming quality is the art.