Masayuki Miyaji’s directorial style is highly recursive. Storyboards seem copypasted with different characters and/or backgrounds. Actions always seem predicated by a similar action before it. They all appear the same, and at first glance it’s easy to argue that they actually are the same, but a story always changes as it progresses. Pasting a similar frame in a new time adds new meaning through comparing multiple near-identical storyboards to one another. It emphasizes the importance of context by echoing the storyboard’s previous meaning on top of a new meaning.
So it’s fitting that his episode of Space Dandy is about being stuck in a time loop.
Meow’s dad is easy-going and a bit dopey. He owns a metalworking factory and makes parts for some sort of appliance on weekdays. Once work is over, he heads to the bar for a pleasant time and a good drink. He then comes home, sleeps, and does the same thing the next day. Rise, eat, work, drink, sleep, and repeat. It’s pretty boring by our standards, but Meow’s planet barely has anything to do besides loitering around the Jal-Mart that has probably ground their local economy into dust (because that’s what Wal-Marts do to small businesses). So his dad has no choice but to thrive in the tedium of his daily life.
This daily routine is mostly unaffected when the day suddenly repeats itself indefinitely, trapping Dandy and his crew on the planet since their ship can only be repaired the next day. It annoys Meow because this is precisely why he left the planet in the first place: everything is the same each day. He wants something different. If he wants it, then he has to leave. Meow isn’t misguided in his reasoning; it’s certainly far more exciting and interesting to be traveling in space than to tinker with metal all day for every single day. What he is misguided about is the value of what his dad does. No matter how unexciting or unwanted the job is, being a metalworker takes skill. No matter how unappealing the lifestyle is, it takes a certain mental fortitude to not only bear the tedium but also approach each day as a new one. No day is a perfect copy of another.
It’s not really that Meow doesn’t respect his dad and the work he does. Rather, he hadn’t thought about the amount of hard work and dedication that makes a daily routine seem perfectly uniform.
Eventually the gang finds the cause of the loop: a tear-off calendar whose pages fused together, preventing the day’s page from tearing off. Brute force proves fruitless. Rocket launchers, laser pistols, and chainsaws don’t even leave marks. However, if they were to use precision, they know a certain person. A person who hones their skill with each progressive day.
The first time we’re shown this shot, we had little idea of what kind of person Meow’s dad was. He looks off a bit distractedly but addresses both Meow and his guests with respect. Since then, we learn that he’s skilled at metalwork, treats everyone with kindness, loves his son, and more importantly loves boobies. Knowing that, and with the knowledge that he holds the key to breaking the time loop, this shot is given new meaning, enhanced because of the shot that inspired it. To find new meaning in repetition, and to utilize that meaning to enact material change, is what I enjoy the most of this director’s style.
- Masayuki Miyaji is responsible for directing Xam’d: Lost Memories, which is not only one of my favorite anime of all time but also the only TV anime he’s ever directed. To see him become an episode director among a select few on Space Dandy’s list of prominent creators was surprising but not unwarranted.