“More than just a dandy guy in space”
by Louie Johnson
“Space Dandy. He’s a dandy guy in space.” These are the first words in the opening sequence of the show “Space Dandy.” This idiotic statement sets its tone as frivolous and silly. While the show certainly is frivolous, as the viewer gets further into its episodes, it becomes clear that “Space Dandy” is about a lot more than just a dandy guy in space.
What makes the show intriguing is there is no continuity between episodes. This becomes clear at the end of the pilot when all the characters die, only to return in the second episode. The characters die a lot but always return. This discontinuity ends up working greatly in the show’s favor, as it allows freedom in storytelling as episodes can range thematically from goofball comedy to existential journeys.
Some of the plots include: fishing, zombies, a dance competition, a High School Musical parody, the CSI and a journey through purgatory. The lack of continuity within the show gives it total freedom to be as wacky and insane or as dark and philosophical as it wants to be. The discontinuity ends up being the show’s greatest asset.
To add to the spirit of discontinuity, every episode has a different director and writer. Every director brings in his or her own animation style, leading to episodes looking drastically different from one another. Each writer and director also brings in their own style of storytelling, making every episode a unique experience.
The show’s animation budget is also fantastic. It’s clear it’s never squandered. Every episode looks great, blending traditional Japanese anime style with heavy influences of psychedelic art. Visually this show is the lovechild of a Japanese animator with an affinity for ‘70s hippie culture.
The show is the product of renowned anime director Shunichiro Watanabe. He is best known for being the creator of the 1998 anime Cowboy Bebop, a show that many consider to be one of the greatest animes of all time. Bebop is also credited with popularizing anime with western viewers in the early 2000s. However, Watanabe only directs the first and last episodes and leaves the rest of the show to a handful of other writer/directors.
Space Dandy revolves around a group of three incredibly inept alien hunters. The main protagonist is Dandy, an archetypical “cool” anime character. Dandy believes himself to be one of the coolest, smoothest and best alien hunters in the galaxy. In reality he is as incompetent as humanly possible. Dandy’s purpose in life is to visit every restaurant in an intergalactic breasturaunt chain known as Boobies. Yeah, you read that right.
The other characters are QT, an artificial intelligence loaded onto a vacuum cleaner and Meow, a Betelgeusean who very strongly resembles a cat. Both these characters are as useless as they sound. The incompetence of these three is where much of the show’s humor comes from as they constantly find themselves in insane situations completely beyond their abilities.
Space Dandy also has a large amount of obscure references to anime and other pop culture. For example, there are multiple mechas that very strongly resemble the mechas in the Gundam series. One of them looks exactly like the very first Gundam model from the series Mobile Suit Gundam from 1979. There is a side character in one episode named Dolph that strongly resembles Dolph Lundgren. There’s an alien, named Ton Jravolta, who travels from planet to planet; the list is endless.
While comedy is usually dismissed by more serious movie and television viewers, Watanabe uses unique animation styles and discontinuity to create a show that is as condensed and intelligent as some of the most critically-acclaimed anime out there without ever taking it seriously.
Space Dandy is a psychedelic rollercoaster of themes, narratives, character arcs and animation styles that pushes the boundaries of what a television show can do and is definitely one of the most interesting animes to come out in a long time. The first season of the show is available on DVD and Blu-ray. The second season as of now does not have an official release date.