Every once in a while a rare and truly special episode comes along that wraps you up in it like a warm, thick blanket on a cold winter’s night. It’s not the kind of episode an anime, even Space Dandy, can or should do every week, as it would then cease to be rare and special. But when it does come around, it’s a wonderful thing.
This episode is oozing with highly refined whimsical trippy goodness right from the start, as the camera pulls back from the Aloha Oe’s pinup to show her crashed on a planet with plants growing out of her, followed by a kind of Norse funeral, with a long-haired Dandy as the honored dead. The show often makes fun of blowing up its world and characters only to hit the reset button, but there’s a much more serious tone here.
Then Dandy wakes up in his viking boat, which crumbles away to dust, and starts wandering a utterly alien and yet immediately comforting world of lush, gorgeous imagery and a similarly lush, immersive soundtrack to match. There are enough visual and musical cues to make this identifiable as a Dandy episode, and Dandy remains the same old Dandy, but there’s a heightened dreaminess to everything around him. Compared with his usual alien milieu, it all feels a lot more human here.
Everything has this lovely, fantastical, trippy “off” quality to it (reminding me of everything from Ghibli and Bosch and Pink Floyd to Schim Schimmel and Alice in Wonderland), but as I said, not in a threatening way. As it turns out, this is Planet Limbo, a world without sadness, which also means a world without joy, as you can’t have one without having experienced the other. Any world that lacks one or the other is not a world Dandy, or any human can live in happily.
None of the colorful characters Dandy meets cast reflections in the water, meaning they’re ghosts who are caught between the worlds of the living and dead, and are neither as long as they’re there. Dandy’s not done living yet, so he elects to board one of the awesome trams strung along the sky piloted by a strange white girl, a girl who has a brief monologue in the beginning of the episode but otherwise wordlessly watches Dandy from afar.
This girl is Limbo, the avatar of the planet itself, the only living thing left on a world whose civilization destroyed itself long ago. Now that another living thing, Dandy, is there, she has fallen in love. But loving him, she is willing to let him return to the living world he treasures, even sacrificing the planet’s remaining energy to send him back. As it turns out, Dandy hit his head on a lever in the Oe during a choppy ride through a dark nebula.
When QT and Meow see him passed out over the lever, they assume he’s sleeping and leave him be, and he returns to Limbo on the same Tram he left on. It’s a very sudden and bizarre but strangely sweet twist, because it means Limbo will be reunited with her love, suggesting that maybe, with at least some life among all the dead, there can be joy in limbo after all.
It seems unfair to call this just another anime episode. This was a 24-minute psychedelic cinematic masterpiece: an offbeat exploration of life, death, and in-between; soaring vistas; a wealth of memorable images; a simple little love story for good measure; and an absorbing, truly inspired and score that complements the visuals and themes perfectly (if you enjoy DSotM, you’ll dig this music too). The only downside to this episode I can see is that its greatness will cast a long shadow over the show’s five remaining outings.