For a convention panel in 2010, I watched a good majority of Sayo Yamamoto’s storyboarding and directing work. Unfortunately, I still haven’t written up a good majority of what I learned about her style. With Yamamoto’s second Space Dandy episode due next weekend, I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a look at her first episode, “Search For the Phantom Space Ramen, Baby” and some of her prevalent themes and motifs within.
The episode begins with an introduction of Scarlet, starting with her legs. Whether the gaze is supposed to be Dandy or not, the use of “male gaze” shots like these in Yamamoto’s work are a probable reason she has been mistaken for a male director. Preventing us from seeing her eyes gives Scarlet a cold and clinical look.
Known to wear a signature pair of sunglasses herself, Sayo Yamamoto characters and episodes are known to wear oversized sunglasses. In this case, Scarlet’s own glasses are retained but the lighting glare renders the lenses opaque. You only see Scarlet’s eyes when she wants you to. An interesting contrast with the more “male gaze” stylized shots above.
These days, Yamamoto typically both storyboards and directs her work, so the scene layouts are always to her design. On the left, Yamamoto playing with light, and on the right, playing with perspective.
Here we see more of Yamamoto’s provocative imagery, with Boobies waitress’ docking used as a scene transition. While Dandy’s gaze focuses on Honey’s wardrobe, Honey directs the plot by telling Dandy where the phantom ramen might be located.
Another Yamamoto signature dating back to at least Samurai Champloo is the introduction of incongruous artstyles within the main animation “world”. Here we have visuals pulled out of comic books, graffiti, VR displays, and manga. They’re mixed in to the standard anime visuals giving brief glimpses into moments of heightened reality.
In seeming contrast to the above images of sexualized women, Yamamoto presents scarlet here as defiant in body language and dialogue. She’s not taking any of Dandy’s shit. Scarlet’s outfit also resembles the stylish wear of Fujiko and Michiko, presenting a stylish, aggressive femininity to contrast with the earlier eroticized visuals. Or does it?
And action! Yamamoto’s heroines physicality extends to a proficience with violence. In these stills, Yamamoto uses Scarlet’s body language to communicate her prowess.
A different sort of male gaze? Yamamoto likes making the camera a focus of the action. Here, you’re in the eyes of Scarlet’s target. She takes a moment to brush her hair back before dispatching her final opponent.
More mixed media? Charcoals, pastels, and pencils give moments of special intensity a standout look.
It’s hard to notice a lot of Yamamoto’s touches- they’re almost subliminal. Blink and you’ll miss it: A transition with Meow’s skull biting at the camera. A surreal tropical vista almost out of Michiko and Hatchin, and occult symbols surrounding the ramen. An incredible amount of detail for things you may never notice.
The mundane in the midst of the extraordinary. Here the use of different color schemes and a collage-like-cut-and-paste aesthetic gives life to another dimension, rather than a moment of passion. In the oasis of the ramen shop, however, the comfort of normal colors and proportions makes us feel cozy.
Light and shadow make the past more dramatic. A view from behind the ramen shop’s proprietor lets us see the bare simplicity of the food stand, without the curtains. Finally, the space ramen returns to the entropy of the universe that birthed it.
More fun with the camera: A Dandy-eye view of returning from the ramen dimension. Finally, QT gets an iris with photoshopped ramen bowls. In both Fujiko and Michiko and Hatchin, Yamamoto enjoyed using manipulated photographic images for eyecatches, a transition between the live action of commercials and the animation within?
Sayo Yamamoto’s next episode, about Space Dandy starting a band, will be this weekend! Don’t miss it.