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.|
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.|
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.
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!!!