Apr 16 2014
Space Dandy is the latest anime from legendary director Shinichiro Watanabe, creator of the gold-standard series Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. The show is a sci-fi, action, adventure, comedy mishmash that, to quote Bender, “transcends genres even as it reinvents them.” Borrowing trappings from every anime stereotype imaginable as well as Western cultural artifacts like 70s cop dramas or Elvis’s beach movies from the 50s, Space Dandy proves itself a satisfying romp through the cosmos, albeit with little message or consequence. And that’s just fine with me.
A proverbial “show about nothing” in the tradition of Seinfeld or the film The Big Lebowski, Space Dandy is all about having fun with a cast of quirky reprobates. The episodic nature of the show often throws continuity out the window; the plots run the gamut from thrilling to disposable, and they never advance past one episode despite the inclusion of the iconic tsuzuku message before the credits (which translates roughly as “To be continued…”).
In Space Dandy, though, nothing ever does continue. Each episode starts off on the same footing, and even if the eponymous hero is blown up in a planet-engulfing fireball, he’ll be back next week with no explanation needed. Thus, in Space Dandy‘s universe, death is a meaningless setback between episodes. The audience is challenged to forget their notions of causality and sit back and have some fun.
And that’s what I like most about this show: it’s dedication to showing viewers a good time. The production values are top-notch, with eye-popping colors, designs, and setpieces that showcase the cutting edge of 2D animation technology (with some cel-shaded 3D models thrown in for good measure). Depending on the mood of the writers or animators, you could be subjected to a roller-coaster of increasingly large neon alien/monsters, or a documentary about how when zombies eat yogurt they live healthier lifestyles because of lactic acid bacteria. The message is obvious: “Sit back and enjoy this, but don’t try to think too hard about it,” an attitude the Onion A.V. Club ingeniously dubbed “proudly frivolous.”
The series’ plot follows the pompadour-sporting titular hero, Space Dandy, as he journeys throughout the universe hunting strange new forms of alien life. In a twist on the classic bounty hunter character, though, instead of shooting his quarry, Dandy must capture them and bring them back to an alien registration center. This light-hearted take on gritty space dramas colors the series’ tone and prevents the stakes from ever getting too high.
Traveling with Dandy are his loyal companions, the nanny-esque but naïve robot QT, and the slothful cat-alien Meow. QT typically chides Dandy for reckless behavior, or advances the plot with helpful (but not always accurate) knowledge. Meow provides the opposite role: he gives spotty misinformation and often appeals to Dandy’s desire to goof off. Meow is also obsessed with his smartphone, sometimes leaking the crew’s whereabouts through a series of Instagram photos. These two fill out the cast with extremely familiar but uncomplicated personality types.
The inscrutable villains are also perpetually within a stone’s throw of Dandy. The primary antagonist, Dr. Gel, is a sentient gorilla who wears a powdered wig and flies around in a spaceship that has the Statue of Liberty’s head bound with a ball gag on the front. I love the fact that I am able to write that previous sentence and it is completely true.
Dr. Gel and his adorable, cucumber-headed assistant Bee are pursuing Dandy because, um… **rewatches entire first season** …because they are. No explanation is ever given as to why they want to capture Dandy other than the fact that it evokes classic “chase” cartoons like Inspector Gadget or Tom and Jerry.
Each week, Gel concocts some plan to seize Dandy that only results in hilarious failure. As the series continues, the villains become aware of their incompetence and increasingly disinterested of their task. This offers ample room for meta-comedy by subverting expectations of villainous empires.
As for the plots, most begin with Space Dandy and Meow contriving a reason to go to their favorite theme restaurant “Boobies,” which the narrator dutifully informs us is a chain of “breastaurants” with busty, bubbly waitresses. It’s basically a Hooters… but in space. A space Hooters shaped like a pair of giant boobs.
Typically, Dandy goes there and finds a lead as to the whereabouts of some new species (or, in the case of one episode, becomes jealous of a famous space racer who’s hogging all the Boobies waitresses’ attention and decides to become a racer himself). Dandy’s missions often have little importance to anyone but himself and his crew, and usually only serve the purpose of generating more funds to spend at – you guessed it – Boobies.
In addition to the show’s irreverent tone, the visuals deserve mention. As noted before, the animation shows off what a modern studio can do with a large budget. The ship and environment designs amaze the senses. The frame-rate increases sometimes to smooth out Dandy’s “slick” dance moves. Also, a different character artist designed each alien in order to showcase an impressive amount of variety.
Watanabe wanted to evoke a positive and imaginative future in the vein of Star Trek. The show certainly succeeds in creating this sort of universe; watching episodes you get the sense that there are so many worlds within it that you could never cover all the bases in one lifetime. The sheer creativity dazzles the mind and invites musings on what it’d be like to live in the world of Space Dandy.
With all this frolicking stimulation, the show becomes an antidote to those suffering from the brooding, dark, or bleak dramas such as Game of Thrones and Attack on Titan. While these shows bring out the inner survivalist in all of us, it’s good to occasionally watch something that emphasizes feeling happy and watching shiny, vivid images for balance.
As such, Space Dandy serves as a non-chemical alternative to the acid trip; it clears the mind of baggage and let’s you enjoy some colors and crazy-looking aliens while doing so. The plots don’t always hit the mark (and when they do they don’t go anywhere), but when it comes to loafing about in the future, Space Dandy is the perfect choice to blast out the mental cobwebs and enjoy yourself. It’s bombastic imagery, stock characters, and juvenile humor might not be for everyone (especially considering the questionable gender politics), but I’d recommend it to any fan of quality animation looking to turn their brain off and simply be entertained.
Space Dandy is available on Hulu in Japanese with subtitles (highly recommended) or it can be seen dubbed in English on Adult Swim, Saturdays at 11:30.
4.5 out of 5 stars
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