Space Dandy – Season 1 (2014)

Space Dandy is a dandy in space!

Fifteen years after his work on the mega-hit Cowboy Bebop (1998) — which is still classified as an anime classic in both Japan and the United States today — director Shinichirô Watanabe returns to the science fiction genre with Space Dandy, a surreal throwback to the bygone days of sci-fi, reminiscent of Flash Gordon (1980), the original Tron (1982) or the Silver Age of Star Trek. Simulcast in English — on Adult Swim — and Japan — on Tokyo MX — almost simultaneously, a rarity within the medium, Space Dandy stands as a wildly inventive, extremely ambitious and incredibly surprising follow up to Watanabe’s immensely popular Cowboy Bebop.

Everything's just dandy!
Everything’s just dandy!

Produced by Bones — the studio responsible for two of the most critically acclaimed anime shows of the last decade, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009) and Soul Eater (2008) — and directed by Shingo Natsume, Hori-san to Miyamura-kun OVA (2012), with Shinichirô Watanabe serving as general director, Space Dandy essentially follows the misadventures of Dandy, an alien hunter who is ‘a dandy guy in space.’ In search of undiscovered or rare life forms, Dandy scours the universe with his robot sidekick QT and an abnormal cat-like creature — a Betelgeusian to be exact — named Meow, capturing unregistered aliens in exchange for Woolong — space cash — in order to maintain his disordered spaceship, the Aloha Oe, and generate enough credits to indulge in his favorite hobby; hanging out at a ‘breastaurant’ named Boobies, a ‘space hooters,’ chain of bars. Though our heroes generally act with the best of intentions, the dim-witted group are next to useless, unaware that Dr. Gel of the Gogol Empire is constantly pursuing Dandy and his crew.

From the get-go, Space Dandy never takes itself too seriously, gleefully delighting in its own juvenile sense of humor whilst sneering at the very idea of an ongoing storyline, casually killing off, then resurrecting, its key players on multiple occasions. Furthermore, each one-off escapade is significantly unique, making it more-or-less impossible to predict what’s up next for Dandy and the gang. Shifting between earnest to ironic, Space Dandy presents us with an array of unusual accounts, one episode tries to explain the back-story behind Laika, the first dog in space, while another spends half its running time contemplating whether or not the universe would be a better off place if everyone were a zombie. There’s even a mid-season showdown which pits an ‘Undie’ wearing alien against a ‘Vestian,’ a creature who only sports a vest, and another where the crew of the Aloha Oe enter a galactic Grand Prix, intent on beating its glamorous reigning champion Prince, along with his state-of-the-art robot, and dour rat-like alien lawyer, Squeak.

Japan's answer to Elvis
Japan’s answer to Elvis

Despite the fact that Space Dandy is predominantly a comedy, given its anarchic and irreverent tone, some episodes are crushingly depressing — the season finale, where QT learns how to appreciate coffee in 23 days certainly comes to mind — while others are thought-provoking or philosophical, with episode 11, ‘I’m Never Remembering You, Baby,’ being a great example of this, serving as a prologue to a secret intergalactic war which has apparently been waging between video and computer storage devices. Regardless of its nature, each episode of Space Dandy shines, nailing its overall aesthetic, tone and approach. With season two promising to commence with a rip-roaring alternate universe epic, it’s clear that we’ve only seen the tip of this already-insane iceberg given the show’s endless narrative possibilities.

Beyond its mayhem, Space Dandy is one of the most beautifully, fluidly and vibrantly animated shows on television. One could almost go as far as labeling the show a tremendous success simply due to its flamboyant visuals. To achieve this astoundingly diverse and arresting universe, Watanabe hired different animation directors for the creation and construction of each specific planet, along with its prevalent alien race, and results are visually outstanding. From the psychedelic landscapes of Planta — a planet inhabited solely by sentient plants — to the disgusting design of the Deathgerian — a large and powerful monster that devours every living organism it comes across — Watanabe truly succeeds in presenting us with a rich array of vast alien encounters. Equally, the music of Space Dandy is also a winner. Right from its infectious theme song, ‘Viva Namida’ performed by Yasuyuki Okamura, all the way to its groovy retro beats, the score adds an indefinable magic to an already first-rate production. It’s no wonder that its first soundtrack, ‘Space Dandy O.S.T.1 Best Hit BBP,’ was the top selling album in Japan when it debuted in March 2014.

Service with a smile
Service with a smile

Although the series may sound overly messy or complicated, Space Dandy possesses the simplest premise out there as we follow Dandy and his squad around, from planet to planet, in search of new alien life forms to register. Heck, even the narrator shies away from the opportunity to give viewers a proper introduction into Dandy’s past, opting for a brief history lesson on the ‘Boobies’ restaurant-chain instead. While the lack of a serialized, contiguous story arc is an apparent no-no for avid anime fans and enthusiasts, Space Dandy is one of the most accessible anime series out there, particularly for those who have never given the medium a try or just outright haven’t been able to connect with it for some reason. Even resident baddie, Dr. Gel, Dandy’s antagonist, is given minimal motives, serving as a arbitrary threat from time to time, ultimately fitting the show’s non sequitur story structure — perhaps his motivations will become clearer in the next season.

In addition, Space Dandy isn’t deeply entrenched in niche Japanese customs or traditions; it’s more concerned with nostalgic references and space culture opposed to anything else, just count its various homage’s, from the Forbidden Planet (1956) to the Nintendo Famicon, simply naming a few. What’s more, the characters are fairly Westernized, with Honey — the bubbly, skimpily dressed, blond Boobies waitress — and Scarlet — a stunning inspector who works at the Registration Center overseeing Dandy’s findings — being specific favorites; even Dandy himself could be regarded as somewhat of a satire on the contemporary Otaku, seeing as his love for the finer parts of the female anatomy is repeatedly alluded to.

These are the spectacular adventures of Space Dandy and his brave space crew. In space.
These are the spectacular adventures of Space Dandy and his brave space crew. In space.

Bottom line, Space Dandy deserves to be seen, the animation is strong enough to sustain the show’s bizarre vibe while the vast number of jokes crammed into each episode is equally as impressive; even when the narratives don’t necessarily work, Space Dandy is constantly fun to look at. In the midst of its over-the-top voice performances and delicious eye-candy, one might sometimes forget that Space Dandy is in fact an anime. With Studio Bones and Watanabe coming off a nearly untarnished record of excellence, hopes were initially set high for Space Dandy, and although not as theatrical or dramatic as Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe’s Space Dandy pushes the envelope within its own distinctive set of boundaries, jamming it up with a zany style of funk!

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Space Dandy is released through Madman Entertainment Australia