Come On In, the Water’s Fine Baby!
As with most of Shinichiro Watanabe’s stuff, I down Space Dandy like cola. I would bide my time between episodes during its initial run, eyes attuned to my own internal countdown to the next episode to see what Watanabe and friends had in store for this week’s adventures with our pompadoured protag and crew. Give or take a year or so into the future, the show dubbed and licensed, I manage to nab the Blu-Rays for myself as soon as it was announced as being in stock at my local Best Buy and immediately consumed 12 episodes in one night. So yes, needless to say, the show had a fairly large impact on my then-budding taste in anime, to say nothing on how Watanabe’s other stuff has had a tradition of keeping young me up late keeping me up too late watching Toonami reruns.
Of course, this is to say nothing of how Space Dandy has had a larger impact on the larger otaku-hive mind on how anime is consumed, known for being one of the most visible direct JP to US simulcast and marketed fairly well as such by Funimation at the time. Warp a couple years into the future and we all know how that shot sounded.
The show itself embodies an incredible taste for distinctive creative voices and communicates it through loud, distinctive visuals and masterful tonal and thematic shifts, and I never get tired of seeing new things every viewing. So, in my own sort of dorky indulgence, I’m here to look back on it all and marvel and share my experience with you peeps, focusing more on newcomers. A secondary goal of this is to have some sort of audience interaction, so I’m also gonna post two or three questions at the end of these (not real discussion questions, mainly about stuff that I thought was intriguing about the episode). If it’s your first time running through the show, that makes it all the better occasion to load up some FUNimation and hop in with us! So, without further lilly-guilding, I invite you to join me on yet another adventure on the Aloha Hoy!
Episode One: Live With The Flow, Baby
The first voice you hear after our somewhat disassociated narrator drooling on about the wonders of the vast universe that humanity has begun to explore is QT, our adorably incompetent sidekick/Dandy companion. He’s panicking about how much time they’re wasting breaking the fourth wall when they could be hunting aliens. And so naturally they’re off to Dandy’s favorite flesh buffet “boobies” in search of rare and exotic booty seekers to take to the agency. There, they meet Meow and he comes on board the Aloha Hoy (despite some near bone-breakage when being chased by Dandy) because what else is he going to do with his day. Dandy initially tries to sell out Meow to the alien collection agency, but they reject the crew in marvelous fashion. Thus the adventure is off to the races (complete with a busy-ass space-chase in the end. Where they all immediately die. That’s not a spoiler).
One immediate thing that I do appreciate about the show is how much of Dandy’s initial characterization is set up on being an earnest, non-derivative parody of the classic Sci-Fi pulp in the style of Galactic Patrol and other such works while still making him feel like a relatively fleshed out individual, especially towards later episodes. Also, for a show that’s set up around a platform shoes and pompadour of a very attention grabbing character, this episode reveals strikingly little about Dandy himself. Even for a 25 some episode series. That is to say there’s an intentional bit of ambiguity that is important to later plot events.
The show certainly wants your attention during this first episode, and that’s seen both in how it serves as a sort of tonal contrast, even compared to the second episode (I’ll get to that in a moment), and the immediate introduction balls to the wall animation. And, of course, the introduction of Dr. Gel (of course he’s voiced by J. Michael Tatum, because who else), our purple-pimp suit, powdered wig donning antagonist is a memorable aspect of the series.
The action is set up as steadily going crescendo throughout the episode, eventually culminating in one of the most visually stunning three or so minutes of animation, distinctive in techniques and style, packed into a pure compendium of energy and chase.
And then they all die. Because Dandy is dumb. Behold our hero.
Episode Two: The Search For the Phantom Space Ramen, Baby.
Dandy is hungry and Meow is an asshole who decided to eat all of the ships’ ramen supply, so it’s time for the crew to follow their stomachs in search for some new noodles. However, Dandy and Co seem to find themselves getting awfully popular with some kind of weird military force (they’re Dr. Gel’s, after they became interested in the crew last episode). Of course, it winds up being Meow’s fault, and they only get the hounds off the trail when Scarlet, that lady from the alien collection agency kicks some ass and soars off in all her marvelous controlled iciness. Before your mind can really shift gears, they return to their search for the phantom ramen, which winds up bearing more than expected, emotionally, for the crew.
There’s quite a bit going on with this episode. In fact, unlike the majority of the series, it’s separated into two different stories. What makes this episode particularly strong, I’d say, is making up for a relative lack of plot cohesiveness for a strong tonal clarity that binds together the two “halves” fairly well. This winds up throwing you on a loop after how the first episode set the tone for everything, especially towards the end. This can be attributed to the strong directional decisions of Dai Sato, who also happened to have directed some of my favorite episodes of Wolf’s Rain. I honestly never get tired of seeing some of his visuals and coloring in this episode (the ramen one being particularly strong). So, yeah, there’s definitely some odd narrative stuff going on during this second episode, and I think we all have a general grasp on what it can be attributed to.
Anyway, as with most things, Dandy’s special knack for being in the right place in the right time, combined with sheer incompetence, winds up being his saving grace (or… maybe less so this time). He becomes a huge threat to the Gogol Empire because the entire fleet was crushed under Scarlet’s heels.
Also, something important to notice during this episode is how Dandy changes his moral positioning on boobs and butts. It’s blink and you miss it, but everyone thinks it’s kind of odd.
So, how do you think our first two directors strutted their stuff in these first episodes? What were some of your favorite visuals? Talk about it in the comments!