With an utterly dazzling final salvo, Space Dandy has reached the end of its eclectic journey. I don’t have a lot of time on my hands these days to get drawn into discussions on anime, but I had to make an exception here. Following the path of its other recent top-tier title, Star Driver, BONES have concentrated a staggering well of talent, money and effort into ensuring Dandy’s last step is a remarkable one, and one that is brilliantly animated. But bluntly, they succeeded. I haven’t seen such an intense combination of animation of this caliber from so many vastly different styles packed into 20 minutes since Shinya Ohira directed the animation spectacle that was Azura’s Wrath 11.5! It was an entertaining, climactic rush, but more importantly, I got that feeling again. That visceral, gut feeling of being swept away by animation that isn’t just competent or technically impressive but is also alive with creative energy and spirit.
It kicked off with the furious speed of Hiroyuki Aoyama’s cuts of the Aloha Oe entering the battlefield, spinning and spazzing, really sucked me in with the smooth momentum of Keiichiro Watanabe’s chase scene, pushed higher with the jittery humor and raw drive of Norifumi Kugai’s work and then hit a resounding high-note with truly fantastic animation from arguably the biggest talents in Dandy: Yoshimichi Kameda, Yutaka Nakamura and BahiJD. These people all put the passion for their work on full display this episode, and you could really feel it breathing in every frame. There’s no doubt they were given free reign over their cuts to make them as great as they could.
Keiichiro Watanabe may have achieved his best work to date here with very tricky background animation work and a great sense of movement – I could really see the thrust of a powerful rocket behind the advance of the Aloha Oe. Meanwhile, Norifumi Kugai definitely reached new heights with his efforts here, being a relative newcomer to the industry. The sheer speed and determination of the ship could be felt as it pushed to the top of the tower.
Yoshimichi Kameda contributed a blatant reference to Yoshinori Kanada’s famous fire dragon, but it’s not just a throwaway nod to the animator that inspired him and so many others – it’s a full bow. Of all the allusions that animators have made to that dragon, this is the first time that anyone has come close to matching the original undulating beauty of its twisting, formless movement. Kameda has pushed himself to match the work of his predecessor and has really evoked his spirit in doing so.
Yutaka Nakamura handles the next beat, which is Dandy cutting the the space eels with the sword and then nakedly erupting from his mecha for a final push towards the centre of the weapon. Not to be outdone, he imbues it with his usual effortless gravitas and thrilling choreography. But this episode was also noteworthy for him because, as Bahi explained on his twitter, he was inspired to try drawing some of his raw animation digitally (using a tablet). It’s interesting to see the inter-generational influence going on in places like Bones. Bahi himself animated the final high-note of animation, ending with the awesome zoom-in to Dandy’s eye. His work on Dandy speaks for itself – as a young animator only really just starting in the industry, his achievements are remarkable and his skill undeniable.
Other than the animation, there wasn’t a whole lot going on with this final episode, but that’s the way it should be. As a show that has made no excuse for being almost solely about profiling the visual storytelling skills of a wide swath of the anime industry, there could be no better send-off. Someone gave Shinichiro Watanabe a whole bunch of money with few strings attached, and he did what any great anime director/producer would do and gave as many creatively-charged staff from across the industry a free stage to do what they do best.
As a series overall, Dandy isn’t especially memorable, but as an ode to so many of the talented people that make up the most alive and interesting 2D animation industry in the world, it was worth every second. It’s just a shame that even more people couldn’t have been involved – but uniting all the best anime staff is just a dream, not a possibility.