Shinichiro Watanabe’s three episodic adventure shows–Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Space Dandy–are mostly known for their memorable and lovable casts of lead characters. I think what makes Watanabe’s leads work so well is that all of them manage to be at once immensely cool, as well as immensely lame. They’re always guys who do whatever they want, kick tons of ass, and look cool doing it, but they’re also always down on their luck, destitute, and lonely. Watanabe seems to have at once a big appreciation for the masculine ideas of being a cool guy, but also recognizes how stupid and corny it is to want to be that kind of guy. His characters are like the anti-James Bond. As Film Crit Hulk writes in his epic analysis series on the franchise, James Bond represents the macho ideal of just getting everything you want all the time; being every kind of cool without any kind of fault. Watanabe’s characters, meanwhile, get all of the swagger, and none of the benefit. His characters are not glamorous in any way. They get to be cool at the cost of being happy.
With Space Dandy being Watanabe’s first straight-up comedy series, it doesn’t quite allow Dandy himself to hit the badass highs, nor the bottomed-out lows that the likes of Spike Spiegel or Mugen often did. Space Dandy certainly looks cool, and he gets to be cool at times like when he’s surfing a planet explosion–but nothing in his life is massively dramatic. He manages to get killed or go hungry a lot, but none of it seems to faze him all that much. That’s the funny thing about Space Dandy–even though he’s this ridiculous character in this ridiculous world, he also is stunningly normal.
Just look at the things he cares about, or gets invested in. He’s at his most serious when he’s trying to help a cute little girl reunite with her family, and when he experiences the death of an adorable dog. His biggest concern is getting to spend time in the Boobies restaurant. That’s literally the highlight of his life! He goes out to capture aliens and make money just so he can go back to Boobies. He doesn’t have any big goals or aspirations, nor does he have any real drama in his life. He’s just a normal guy.
Space Dandy isn’t really heroic, nor is he really bad. He only wins about half the time, and usually just because his opponents are even more lame than he is. By episode eight, the flaming-skull-headed leader of the enemy forces turns out to be just some cheapskate boss; and the Gorilla man chasing Dandy across the universe is constantly undercut by his nerdy sidekick. They lose to Dandy without Dandy even realizing they exist.
Everything in Space Dandy’s world is at once a colorful, amazing explosion of adventure, and yet also lame, broken, silly, and strange. Even the storylines aren’t written to be dramatically gratifying, but instead usually turn out to be something totally different from what the viewer first expects. Yet somehow, this is exactly what makes Space Dandy so fun to watch. It’s precisely the fact that it’s taken all the coolest things in the universe and made them totally normal, lame, and ridiculous, that it manages to hit the viewer in a more relatable and “real” way.