Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #8: Terror of No Resonance

So Space Dandy was easily one of my favorite anime of the year. It had its ups and downs, but the ups were extremely high and the downs were still rather good compared to most other anime. Shinichiro Watanabe had yet to make a bad show as far as I was concerned, so when Terror in Resonance was announced for the summer, of course I was hyped. Everyone was hyped. The show had high production values, music by Yoko Kanno, and had the potential for a strong politically-charged message. So what did we get? “These are no ordinary terrorists. These terrorists have something to say!”

JemEricHeadbang

Maybe it’s because as a American who’s spent most of his life living in a post-9/11 world, but if you’re going to have a show be about terrorism, I expect it to say more than just “terrorists have something to say!” Because all terrorists have something to say. In fact, the entire point of terrorism is to use extreme measures to get a message across. 9 and 12, the boring teenage genius protagonists of Terror in Resonance, are no different from other terrorists. The show wants to be critical of Japanese society’s treatment of children, but all it gives us is a cliche child experiment plot with no actual critical analysis to speak of. 9 and 12 are not interesting or developed characters. The show goes out of its way to make them as moe as possible and refuses to give them any darkness or humanity. They blow up buildings and airplanes, but no one gets hurt or killed! 12 falls in love with a girl who’s there just to be kidnapped a lot. The show introduces American villains to give us more reason to root for 9 and 12. The show ends with 9 and 12 being gunned down by Americans just so we can feel sad. Terror in Resonance is more concerned with us liking its protagonists than it is with giving us anything to critically think about. By having the Americans act as villains, the show shoots itself in the foot. It does what many post-World War II Japanese movies and TV shows have done: shift the blame to the American government, not the nationalist Japanese government.

The growing nationalist sentiment in the Japanese government has been terrifying. This year, we got two different anime with the potential to criticize the nationalist movement, but ultimately they both backed down from saying anything truly critical. The Wind Rises originally was going to end with Jiro’s death and with more remorse for his involvement in World War II, but was changed to a happier ending with him living. Terror in Resonance might have been more effective had it cut out the Americans entirely and focused more on the Japanese government’s involvement in 9 and 12’s development, but ultimately holds off saying anything that would piss them off. As a result, Terror in Resonance is limp and ineffectual.

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Eric’s 12 Days of Anime #2: I’m All About That Dandy

It’s been a busy year for fans of master director Shinichiro Watanabe. Not only are we getting treated to a blu-ray release of Cowboy Bebop this month (I just ordered it at the time of this writing), we saw two brand new shows directed by Watanabe this year. As usually expected of the acclaimed director, both were highly ambitious anime with high production values and great music, but my opinions on the two shows could not be any more different. Terror in Resonance, my biggest disappointment of the year for anime, will get covered in a separate post, but since I’m riding high on the wave of praise from my Kill la Kill, let’s talk Space Dandy.

When Space Dandy was first announced, everyone was calling it the second coming of Cowboy Bebop. It reunited Shinichiro Watanabe with the screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, Studio Bones was producing the animation, it was about bounty hunters in space, and it held infinite possibilities with its episodic content. They even share the same currency of woolongs. There are parallels to be found between Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy, but to fixate on that connection is to overlook what makes Space Dandy special. Comparing the scripts, Dandy comes ups short. The plots are often flimsy excuses for jokes about dimensional travel and wicked-cool animation unrivaled by anything else that came out this year. Cowboy Bebop is an animator’s wet dream, functioning as a playhouse where an animator can do whatever they want and not have to worry about continuity. The titular Dandy and his crew die in the first episode in a blaze of glory, and continue on their adventures in the next episode like nothing happened. Eventually there is an explanation for the continuity resets, and while it makes for some cool sci-fi, American audiences are already so used to episodic animated comedies like The Simpsons that we could deal with no explanation. It’s still neat that Dandy went the extra mile, and rather than being a boring exposition dump of science mumbo-jumbo, it becomes a statement for what the show is all about; infinite possibilities in infinite universes. Space Dandy is a goofy argument for why animation should exist, and I could not be happier about that.

Despite having a restaurant called "Boobies." Dandy is definitely all about dat booty.

Despite having a restaurant called “Boobies.” Dandy is definitely all about dat booty.

Okay, so I guess I’ll reference Cowboy Bebop again here, even if Space Dandy deserves to stand on its own merits and totally does. Anime fans love to talk about their favorite episodes of their favorite anime, but I find that really hard to do with a medium that I remember more for its collective themes and developing character arcs rather than specific episodes. Cowboy Bebop and Space Dandy, by nature of having adventures that wrap up in single episodes with changing genre and visual styles, practically begs viewers to pick favorite episodes. For Cowboy Bebop, my favorite episodes are the “Jupiter Jazz” sessions, the two-parter story that serves as the second act of the Spike vs Vicious story at the center of the show. Space Dandy is even more episodic than Cowboy Bebop due to its alternate-dimensions gimmick, and has more of a focus on comedy rather than Bebop’s bleak neo-noir drama. When I think of favorite Space Dandy episodes, I think of which episodes were the funniest or featured the most unique art style and animation. The Redline homage “A Race in Space is Dangerous, Baby” was the first episode I can recall where I was totally drawn in by both the humor and animation. The episode was written by Kimiko Ueno, who wrote most of the episodes for the show and could be considered the defining voice of Dandy next to Watanabe. She’s great at embracing the show’s absurdity, writing the best jokes while letting the animators do as they please. Any episode that ends with a metaphor for gay sex and becoming Space Buddha is a good episode in my book.

Space Dandy: deep allegory for Buddhism? Nah, I'm in it for the booty.

Space Dandy: deep allegory for Buddhism? Nah, I’m in it for the booty.

To be honest, one of the few disappointments I can say I have with Space Dandy is Keiko Nobumoto’s episodes. She brings her trademark bleakness to episodes like “The Lonely Pooch Planet, Baby” and “There’s Music in Darkness, Baby,” but they play out more like weaker versions of her previous stories in Cowboy Bebop and Wolf’s Rain. But she did write “We’re All Fools, So Let’s All Dance, Baby,” the Saturday Night Fever parody featuring a dancing disco alien named Ton Jravolta. While not the only episode based around music and dancing (“Rock n’ Roll Dandy, Baby” is another favorite of mine, written by Kimiko Ueno and directed by “needs to direct more shows” Sayo Yamomoto), it’s easily the most fun. The dancing animation is so much fun to watch, and as dumb as his name is, Ton Jravolta’s one of my favorite alien designs in the whole series. Any episode that ends with dancing cat sperm is a good episode in my book.

The joy of Space Dandy was all in seeing what new thing would be thrown at me next. Not all the episodes were winners, but even a bad episode of Space Dandy was ten times more interesting and enriching than your average anime. Well, okay, I didn’t really care for “A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby,” but maybe I just don’t like cutesy stories about needy kids. For fans of animation auteurs like Masaaki Yuasa and his protégé Eunyoung Choi, we were treated to two different episodes from them that, well, look like they were made by Yuasa and Choi. Yuasa’s loose-and-runny style doesn’t appeal to everyone, but in a series as committed to being something different every episode, it’s perfect for Space Dandy.

Had I been blogging during the show’s run, I would have loved to do a weekly blog on the series. Space Dandy isn’t a narrative masterpiece, but it’s less about narrative and more about a team of artists experimenting to their heart’s content without a committee telling them what to do. Anime is a medium with potential to break artistic boundaries, but is rarely allowed to do so because of the market’s demands. That Space Dandy was allowed to even exist is cause to celebrate. That Space Dandy is as excellent and unique as I hoped is cause to be hopeful for the future of anime.

Day 3 preview: ORAORAORAORAORAORAORAORA! *vogues*

space dandy jojo posing