Monday, April 7, 2014

Space Dandy Season 1

Shinichiro Watanabe is probably not a household name.  But that's only because average American households are bastions of ignorance, who focus far too much on Kardashians than great Japanese cartoons.  However he is easily one of the most acclaimed Japanese directors living today, having created two of the greatest anime series of all time, "Cowboy Bebop" and "Samurai Champloo", and one the best anime movies ever, "Macross Plus", all things average American households are unaware of, tragically.  With a mixture of film genres, musical styles, and comedy intertwined with character drama, Watanabe's stories were some of the finest Japan has ever produced.  Spike Speigel jumping out of an exploding church, Fuu turning gigantically fat after eating several times her body weight, an evil vocaloid taking over planet Earth with the power of music, these were all worlds Watanabe created for our pleasure.  He's currently number 87 on my list of people who I someday need to buy a beer, just behind Sting*.

Unfortunately the last decade since the characters in "Samurai Champloo" found the Samurai that Smelled of Sunflowers has been mostly Shinichiro Watanabe-less.  2012 saw a very low-key coming of age story as a young student learned the power of jazz music in "Kids on the Slope".  That was a story that was extremely personal and heartfelt for its director, a strikingly low-key production about life and relationships.  So naturally I completely ignored it for something incredibly silly and gonzo, "Space Dandy", which is much more my speed.  "Space Dandy" is a comedy anime supervised by Watanabe featuring the adventures of a self-important blowhard with a pompadour, wandering around a 1950s-style pulp SciFi novel, usually getting himself and his friends killed every episode.  Watanabe's job is not taking full creative control of every episode, instead he is effectively the executive producer while each individual episode is directed by other people, giving the series an feeling of random anarchy every week.

"Cowboy Bebop" was a mixture of jazz, SciFi, and old-timey Western plotlines.  If you're expecting something relatively serious, inspired by action films, and incredibly influential in converting millions of Westerners into discovering the magic of anime, you will not find it here in "Space Dandy" which is not a mixture of a film and musical genre.  Its mostly just a mixture of retro SciFi posters and post-modern ridiculousness.  This is the Watanabe that created Radical Edward, not the Watanabe that created Spike Speigel.  This is a show that will jump around, defy continuity, and have its heroes die in some planetary explosion.  Or turn into zombies.  Or get trapped in a "Groundhog Day" loop powered by a possessed calendar.  You know, whatever the director feels like this week.  And average American households will instead be watching something far less interesting, the poor bastards.

"Space Dandy" is notably the first anime in about a decade to premiere in the US before Japan.  I think the last time that happened was the second season of "Big O", which was produced thanks to Cartoon Network's green American money.  It is definitely refreshing to see a fully-produced English dub come out the day before the Japanese release.  For once I do not have to deal with Crunchyroll's pathetic slowness with subtitled simulcasts.  I would like to imagine this is the first step towards a wonderful new future of pan-Pacific cooperation, as Japan and America are linked together in our common fear of the Communist continental Asian states, and thus would see freshly dubbed anime airing on Toonami all the time, rather than years later such as the case with "Black Lagoon".  But I have a feeling "Space Dandy" may be a one-off, a single moment of anime's worldwide market being recognized, and then we will be back to business as usual for the rest of our lives - or until China conquers the Pacific Rim.  Let us enjoy it while it lasts.

Boobies and aliens, that's "Space Dandy" way.
Because of "Space Dandy"'s rather chaotic style, the show is actually pretty hit or miss.  The first episode in particular is a massive let down, probably one of the worst of the thirteen already produced.  Generally Space Dandy, the titular hero who as the narrator helpfully tells us every week "is a dandy guy in space", will catch on to the scent of a weird alien to capture for its bounty reward.  Then he will completely fail to find any rare alien, get himself involved in some crazy adventure, and probably get killed by the end.  Then the narrator will calmly announce the hero's passing, and continue his narrating job next week when Space Dandy has inexplicably come back to life. 

Sometimes the episodes are funny parodies, such as the George Romero episode where a zombie plague conquers the universe - even the robots.  Sometimes they will be exciting action scenes, such as one episode where Space Dandy essentially took part in the race from "Redline", complete with a properly insane ending where Space Dandy jumped through time after more or less having spaceship sex with his pretty-boy rival, and then ended up becoming Buddha in the future.  (Its that kind of show.)  Or the episode will kind of meander around and never get anywhere, its impossible to tell.  You should come harmed with a portable gaming device for "Space Dandy", because when the show misses, you want to be prepared with emergency entertainment to get you through the hour.

It is definitely interesting to see a Japanese show embrace the narrative philosophy of Adult Swim.  "Space Dandy" is probably as close as this human race will ever get to creating an Asian equivalent to "Aqua Teen Hunger Force"**.  Only this version is twice as long, is beautifully animated thanks to a beefy budget, and can be appreciated by people who aren't stoned, unlike most of the native Adult Swim line-up.  Thankfully also "Space Dandy" is not merely focused in screwing with audience expectations or being random nonsense every week, though it does get extremely silly at points.  Dandy and his crew are chased by an ape scientist flying around in a spaceship seemingly built out of the head of the statue of liberty with an SnM gag on Lady Liberty's mouth in some kind of confused reference to "Planet of the Apes", and I could easily see this guy chatting it up with the Mooninites or the Plutonians while the heroes blissfully live their lives without any knowledge of these wacky space creatures chasing them.

That is indeed a giant robot in a Hawaiian suit and a pompadour fighting a giant alien. I love anime.
"Space Dandy" is the kind of show where one episode the show will barely have a story at all, simply having Dandy hang around sentient plants who carry him across beautiful landscapes of singing flora, but then the next will manage to grip down into the more emotional core of its characters.  There was one episode where Dandy had to escort a little alien girl to find her grandfather, while avoiding two goons trying to kidnap her.  It was a great character episode, letting Dandy do something other than obsess over boobies, and it really showed more humanity by having him open up to this child and protect her.  Then there was the "Groundhog Day" episode where the crew was trapped on the home planet of the resident perverted talking cat, appropriately named Meow, for months of a single repeating day.  This forced Meow to come to terms with his relationship with his father and his high school sweetheart.  As interesting as the craziness is, such as traveling to another dimension to taste the ultimate ramen flavor, the slower more dramatic episodes are the highlight of the series.

My personal favorite episode so far has to be the one that just aired, an episode focused on QT, the talking robotic vacuum cleaner.  True to QT's design as an appliance, is constantly cleaning up after Dandy and keeping the spaceship running.  However, this episode he abandoned his duties for a more personal mission.  QT visits a coffee shop and finds a pretty AI coffee maker, and despite his soulless machine body, falls in love with her.  Then the episode turns into a pastiche on "The Brave Little Toaster", as the robots who have fallen in love are sent off to the scrapheap, as an appliance infected by passion does not do its job very well.  Finally "Space Dandy" puts its own personal touch on the idea of living objects by having the items rebel against humanity and turn into a giant killer robot out to destroy the world in the name of love.

While "Bebop" and "Champloo" managed to gather together epic running storylines behind the one-shot episodes, and ended with huge finales, I'm not sure if "Space Dandy" is going to move in that direction.  There has been no indication of a larger storyline behind the scenes, as much as I'd like to see one eventually.  There is a rumor floating around that all of the deaths of the main characters is actually a hint to a larger multiverse, perhaps related to the ape scientist and the evil empire chasing Dandy, but whether that will add up to anything is another question.  One minor recurring character is Scarlette, the foxy red-haired lady who pays Dandy his bounties for his aliens.  In an early episode she let her hair fall down and showed off some impressive Bruce Lee moves.  I'd like to see her come back again, but who knows?  Maybe there is some grand conspiracy behind the scenes that Dandy must eventually defeat.  Or more likely, he will continue to lounge around the universe and lust after boobies, and the show will simply end one day.

With only half of "Space Dandy" released, it is difficult to come up with much of a conclusion.  The show is currently in hiatus and will return in the summer to finish out its run.  I can say that the show so far, though not exactly the greatest anime ever made, has managed to create some very impressive episodes, and "Space Dandy" is definitely worth your time as a viewer.  If you love retro space designs, wacky alien forms, and a show with a sense of humor that can actually be funny, "Space Dandy" will be your ticket to a happy half hour of entertaining.  Just do not expect "Macross Plus" every week.

* The vast majority of the Top 100 are actors who appeared in the 1984's "Dune".  I... um... really like "Dune".

** This coming around the same time as "Teen Titans Go!", the kid-friendly version of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force", also on Cartoon Network.  And just to upset people, I will publicly admit that "Teen Titans Go!" is currently Cartoon Network's best show, beating out "Adventure Time" and "Regular Show".  Get mad, give me traffic, HAHAHAHAHA!!!


  1. The only reason why Teen Titans Go! isn't more popular is because it derails nearly every character whenever it comes on. I liked the original cartoon, but Teen Titans Go! is hilarious, and doesn't take itself seriously or otherwise recycle plots or focus too much on one supporting character.

  2. I personally hate the living daylights out of Teen Titans GO!, but I don't mind if anyone else likes it. Adventure Time and Regular Show are awesome, but what really makes the icing on the cake is Steven Universe. SO FREAKIN' ADORABLE.

  3. Kinda off topic, but could you do a review of Xenogears whenever you get a chance? Ive played maybe a third of it, but i like hearing peoples opinions on things

    1. When a dry week comes up for my Freelancin' posts, I'm planning on doing a special on all the JRPGs I've ditched over the last four years of this blog. Xenogears, TWEWY, Radiant Historia, etc.

    2. Oh my god does that mean you would finish Xenoblade Chronicles !!!!!!
      Pretty please :) :) ???
      I have wanted you to finish that game forever, its what I consider the best JPRG of the past Generation
      Sword Of Primus

  4. So, did you get a chance to watch the Smash Bros Nintendo Direct? What did you think?

  5. The Narrator might just be my favorite character in the show.

  6. *Gasp* Blue! How dare you say Teen Titans Go is better then Adventure Time?!?!?! Granted I do find it funny, but it can never compare to the awesomeness of Adventure Time! I am sorry, but I will have to quit this blog. I hope you respect my decision.