Friday, August 8, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby"

'Next time on Fishing with John here on the Independent Film Channel...'
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

Story-wise, "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby" is one of the most straightforward episodes in Space Dandy's run. The plot can be easily summarized in just 15 words or less (Dandy and a bunch of fishermen try to catch a highly prized big fish); Dandy-chasing Dr. Gel never shows up to try to complicate things; and the settings are confined to just the lake in both the cold open and the conclusion, the Aloha Oe and the pre-industrial fishermen's planet of Kayu, so there are no cutaways to Dr. Gel's ship, the Boobies restaurant, the Alien Registration Center or some other wacky dimension.

The simplicity and relaxed nature of this redundantly titled episode initially takes some getting used to. But once the episode starts rolling an enjoyable montage of mostly inanimate stills of Dandy's various fishing trips with his little girl sidekick Erssime (Seiran Kobayashi) to nab the elusive Munagi, which appears once every 3600 years, "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby" sets its hooks in you, no pun intended. It's also perhaps the least sci-fi-inflected Space Dandy episode, save for the twist of Kayu's giant fish turning out to have been inhabitants of a comet that returns to pick them up and presumably drop them off on some other planet, where they'll hopefully devour the entire cast of Hillbilly Handfishin'.

Dandy spends the entire episode fishing in a thong. Somewhere, some crazy fuck's putting together an AMV of clips from this episode mixed with 'Thong Song' by Sisqo.
After several high-concept outings--like the season premiere's chaotic collision of parallel Dandys, which was basically an excuse for the animators to do a "Don't Touch That Dial"-esque spoof of a bunch of anime franchises that are way more popular than Space Dandy currently is in Japan, or last week's singing-and-dancing installment--it's nice to get to relax a little and be subjected to an idyllic and less narratively busy Dandy adventure. And I can't believe it's taken me 18 episodes to realize this, but all the shots of Dandy getting drenched in mud or floating around in the air or sea during "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby" made me notice that Dandy, who sometimes resembles the extremely punchable Jeffrey Wells, is more of a dead ringer for the greaser in Schoolhouse Rock's "A Victim of Gravity" short.

At times, the laid-back feel of "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby" is reminiscent of the "Ed gets reunited with her long-lost dad" episode of Cowboy Bebop, Space Dandy general director Shinichiro Watanabe's earlier show. But the odd beauty of both Kayu's muddy and overcast landscapes and the episode itself is unmistakably Studio Ghibli-esque. It's no surprise that the special guest director of "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby" is Kiyotaka Oshiyama, who did key animation for the Ghibli films The Secret World of Arrietty and The Wind Rises (he also designed the mecha in "Even Vacuum Cleaners Fall in Love, Baby").

Ghibli is known for taking things like mud and grime and making them look beauteous and remarkable, which is what "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby" does as well. The studio has also been in the news lately because of rumors that it will stop producing animation following Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki's recent retirement, and the heartbreak over Ghibli's possible demise casts a bit of a grim pall over "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby." It's like hearing that Titmouse Inc. suddenly decided to call it a day or receiving news that Pixar will close up shop. A world without Ghibli is like a world without any fish to catch, which is what happens to Kayu at the end of "The Big Fish Is Huge, Baby." What is the world to do now?

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