Cartoons tend to be pretty well-defined. There’s a series bible full of drawings of how the characters should look from every angle, what the core of their personality is like, what the core of the show is like, and all the important things that have to remain consistent throughout the series.
In this regard, Space Dandy is no different. The characters have one look most of the time, and only really look different when things get weird. The same goes for the general art style and color palette. Even though Dandy gets weird pretty often, there’s a definite sense of what the “core” of Space Dandy is. It’s an amalgamation of comedy and sci-fi tropes and styles, and an experimental fun time for its team of creators.
But at the same time, Space Dandy breaks a lot of rules. It doesn’t try to always have a point, or have a good narrative structure, or make sense–even internally. I always think back to that favorite phrase of college professors–you have to know the rules to break them. At its foundation, Space Dandy is a proper cartoon, yet it also is full with deliberately improper things.
In a way, episode six has two parts. The beginning and the end are about Dandy’s surf boards, while the mid-section is an utterly pointless plot about Dandy and Meow failing to convince two warring aliens to find peace. Leading into the mission, Space Dandy remarks that “the whole thing is indefinite, isn’t it?” I don’t think Space Dandy is indefinite to the core, but it definitely plays with the idea of being undefined. Was this episode funny? Was it action, or comedy, or drama? Really, the whole thing was one big excuse for an awesome scene of Dandy surfing the explosion of a moon to the perfect music. And that, surprisingly, feels pretty okay.
“Whatever I want to do, is what I do. Whatever I don’t want to do, I don’t do.” Space Dandy says this to Adelie in his show’s fifth episode, but the show itself is saying this to the viewer.
Episode five of Space Dandy is a big departure from how the show has been up to that point. There’s no giant alien battle, no giant shaking tits (though Dandy talks about them plenty), and no Gogol empire goons on Dandy’s trail. The plot centers around a super-adorable little girl and Dandy’s simple quest to selflessly reunite her with her grandfather. It couldn’t be more simple or less absurd. Several minutes are dedicated to song montages of Dandy and Adelie just hanging out.
It’d be easy to see fans of Space Dandy get mad about this episode. Those who see Dandy as a throwback to a hyper-masculine, uber-wacky theme that may or may not have ever existed in history might be upset to see an adorable little girl voiced by the hugely popular Hanazawa Kana taking so much screentime. (As a fan of adorable girls and HanaKana, I am not one of those complainers.) I can picture fans crying fowl, calling it a cash-in attempt to appeal to lolicon otaku.
Space Dandy reassures us. He wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. He only does exactly what he wants to do. I’d like to take him at his word.
In its first half, the fourth episode of Space Dandy utilizes an interesting sci-fi conceit. In a universe filled with countless alien species, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a completely new species, and a variant of a discovered one. Machines shouldn’t be able to turn into zombies, but in a universe where anything can happen and many things are inexplainable, it’s hardly surprising when QT becomes one.
However, the episode’s real genius becomes evident only in the second-half twist when, after the Dandy crew are infected, it borrows pages from not only George Romero’s playbook (with a nod to him at the end), but even from the ending of Shaun of the Dead. Dandy’s declaration that “being dead is no different from being alive” says it all really. After a cycle of craving raw meat, watching movies, and being horribly depressed, the crew’s zombie senpai tells them that eating yogurt will make them feel healthier and more energetic. It works, of course.
In a big Romero reference, zombies are somehow drawn to malls. Dandy uses an insurance policy he’d taken on himself to get paid for his own death, after nagging at the insurance company over an ordeal of time. The zombie talk-show scene from Shaun of the Dead is almost exactly recreated, only using the identity-hiding wall that is a trademark of Japanese talk-show parodies. By the end of the episode, the entire world has been zombified, and all that happens is that the Space Dandy universe more than ever resembles the world that we currently live in.
It’s worth noting that just as Space Dandy and his crew are frequently killed and reborn in every episode, the Gogol commander chasing him faces a similar cycle. Nothing ever changes.
In each episode of Space Dandy, the evil conglomerate Gogol tries to capture and/or kill the titular character. They consider him the most dangerous force in the universe, and claim that as long as they can capture him, they can conquer the universe once and for all. Near as we can tell, Space Dandy should have no reason to be so important, given that he’s just a loser bounty hunter who goes on random adventures; but when we consider that “Space Dandy” is also the title of the show itself, it becomes apparent that Gogol’s desire to eliminate Space Dandy is actually an allegory.
What Space Dandy represents as a series is unrepressed, boundless creativity. It’s a production wherein a massive number of creative minds have been given free reign to express themselves on Shinichiro Watanabe’s space canvas. In an anime industry that overpoweringly caters to its fanbase, with few original ideas managing to break the mold, Space Dandy is one of the few places where the creators still rule.
Gogol’s space ship is a giant Statue of Liberty head with a ball gag in its mouth. It represents the repression of free speech, which is exactly what Space Dandy stands for. In the first episode, Space Dandy’s crew is killed in an explosion, yet all of them are alive again in the next episode. The timeline of events necessitates that the first episode is indeed the first, and not the last, in the timeline, as if to show that no matter what, Space Dandy can never truly be killed. Creativity will always live on.
In Space Dandy, there’s a seemingly-evil, seemingly-controlling force known as Gogol. They try to track down Space Dandy using the Galactic Street View. It certainly isn’t a stretch to imagine that this is a parody of Google, and how their company is taking over the world. My friends and I have been joking forever that Google is a villainous corporation hell-bent on bringing the world into a dystopian future where they control everything, and in Space Dandy, it seems to have happened.
It certainly works with the fact that Meow is running an Android OS on his phone, even though the build looks like an iPhone 4. The Gogol member’s phone looks like an iPhone too, but I assume Google has simple overtaken Apple at this point. Twitter, apparently, is around too, seeing as how Meow keeps posting selfies.
The way Gogol tracks the Space Dandy crew’s movement using Meow’s Twitter posts is the kind of modern idea that you’d expect to see used in police procedurals that want to seem hip to the tech age, but considering this show takes place in a far-future sci-fi universe, it serves as yet another anachronistic joke in itself. It’s almost as if Space Dandy is somehow nostalgic for the present.
This show contains a ton of short moments of unique key animation, obviously meaning that they’ve brought in countless key animators and allowed them all to go nuts with their own style. I’m sure some deep-diving could get into a detailed who’s-who. For now, the action scene in this episode looks almost directly ripped out of Birdy the Mighty Decode, which is one of the shows that Watanabe did a little bit of work on, likely by invitation of Akane Kazuki, whom he’d worked with since their Sunrise days. I won’t be surprised if I find the fight animators from that show worked on this one.
When a sci-fi series in any medium tries to invent all kinds of everyday-use technology, it invariably ends up dating itself. A future filled with CRT monitors and gigantic cell phones is always going to mark itself as pre-flatscreens and smartphones, for instance.
Space Dandy, however, is atemporal. In its desire to be at once a futuristic sci-fi series, but also a throwback to the style of sci-fi pulp stories from the Space Adventure Cobra days, it elects to throw technology from different eras into a blender and create something that transcends time.
Dandy’s robot, QT, runs like an old, hunky PC, with limited battery life, outdated software, and printed-out punchcards. Meow uses a smartphone to take pervy pictures of the ladies in the Boobies bar, that seems to be running on a totally modern Android OS. Dandy’s ship can warp through space, but the teleporter is an “old model,” that takes about as much time to transfer people from one place to another as a camera did to take a picture in the 1800s.
The entire show is an anachronism. It’s digitally drawn, but Dandy looks like he walked out of the 70s. Aliens range from looking like menacing, planet-burrrowing space worms, to resembling adorable Pokemon. For that matter, it’s aspacial as well, with simultaneous releases in the US and Japan, each with their own dubs, so that it can’t be said where the show first aired. It’s an anime series which transcends space-time to occupy a totally unique plane of existence.
Now to watch episode two.