Name: Space Dandy
Studio: Bones (Soul Eater, Fullmetal Alchemist)
I wouldn’t say there was a lot of hype around Space Dandy as much as there was curiosity. First off, Shinichiro Watanabe’s attached and every time this guy does something the anime fandom collectively loses its mind because we are always looking for a second Cowboy Bebop. It wasn’t too far fetched to compare Space Dandy to Cowboy Bebop. Dandy is a slick hero that has space adventures while looking for rare aliens with his crew, Spike was a slick hero that had space adventures with his crew while nabbing criminals, but other than that, the shows are two totally different animals. Besides, Watanabe was pretty hands off with this show, only working on a few episodes, presumably because he was busy with Zankyou no Terror.
Secondly, Space Dandy aired in the US first on Adult Swim’s Toonami block in English before airing in Japan. Simuldubs aren’t unheard of, but they rarely happen, even for shows everyone knows will do well, so naturally fans were wondering how good Space Dandy would be. I mean, it must be some pretty mind-blowing stuff to be dubbed already without knowing how the English-speaking audience will receive it right? Right?
Space Dandy operates on a very simple premise. The crew of the Aloha Oe is composed of the human Dandy, the dated robot QT, and Meow, a cat like alien from the planet Betelgeuse. Together, the three travel through space, hunting rare aliens for money. Unfortunately, all three of them are idiots, so their missions never go according to plan. They are also being chased by Dr. Gel of the Golgo Empire for unknown reasons, though he’s as incompetent as Dandy and crew, so they’re unaware of his presence. There’s also two recurring characters; the badass Scarlet who works at the Alien Registration Center and the perky Honey, a waitress at Dandy’s favorite restaurant, Boobies (a rip on Hooters).
At first glance, Space Dandy comes off as a mediocre comedy. The humor is crude and juvenile as Dandy is easily distracted by a moving pair of boobs, the characters are one-note, and there’s no overarching story (or so it seems) as in the first string of episodes, Dandy and crew die at the end, only to be resurrected in the next episode with no mention of what came before. However, as we follow our heroes on their journey, it becomes evident that Space Dandy is smarter than it initially appears and there’s a lot more going on than what is actually presented.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the universe of Space Dandy was a blank canvas for the guys at Bones to stretch their abilities as far as possible. In this respect, the episodic, reset format worked as there was no limit to what could happen to Dandy and crew and it did make for a fun watch as I never knew what I was going to get from what episode to the next. Whether our dunderhead trio were unwittingly stuck in a time loop, accidentally turning the entire universe into zombies, or journeying through the land of the dead, every episode kept me fascinated from beginning to end. Certainly there were some duds, moreso in season one than season two, like The War of the Undies and the Vests and sometimes the show would go so far out there that I wasn’t particularly sure what was going on, like I‘m Never Remembering You, but Space Dandy’s highs far outweighed its lows.
Space Dandy could probably stand alone on its plethora of stories, but it lacked nothing in the visual arena. The art style differed so much from episode to episode that sometimes I wondered if I was watching the same show. Space Dandy was a showcase of various techniques, as different storyboard directors were brought on for each episode, adding their own flavor to the Dandy universe. Particular stand-outs include Slow and Steady Wins the Race from Ping Pong director Masaaki Yuasa, The Big Fish is Huge from Kiyotaka Oshiyama, and A World With No Sadness from Yasuhiro Nakura.
Funimation dubs range from decent to great and Space Dandy leans more to the latter. I do think there were some episodes where things got lost in translation, especially in the early episodes, but other than that, it’s easy on the ears and everyone turns in a good performance. Like the rest of the show, Space Dandy‘s soundtrack has a number of contributors like Yoko Kanno, Watanabe’s regular musical partner, Taku Takahashi, OGRE YOU ASSHOLE, and Yasuyuki Okamura, just to name a few. Space Dandy‘s soundtrack is mostly a mix of 80s electropop and disco that really brings out the funky, other world vibe that the show’s going for.
Viva Namida-Yasuyuki Okamura
I know episodic storytelling isn’t for everyone, but I think Space Dandy is worth it. Honestly, that first episode is very, very rough, but it only goes uphill from there. Underneath its low-brow humor, Space Dandy proves to be a fun and clever sci-fi adventure with a bit more than meets the eye. It may not have been the best show last year, but it was certainly the most creative one.