A new anime series premiered last night on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block: Space Dandy. Space Dandy is the latest series from Shinichiro Watanabe (which is how it got my attention, it also didn’t hurt that Toonami used a Misfits song in the TV spots leading up the premier), best known for being the director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. I never got into Samurai Champloo (never really tried to, either), but I love Cowboy Bebop and consider it the finest anime series I’ve ever experienced. Granted, my experiences with anime have decreased in volume over the years. As a kid and teen I took in quite a bit. I’m familiar with pretty much all of the big ones from the 80’s and 90’s such as Akira, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dragonball, Fist of the North Star, and so on. Like any medium, there are good and bad representatives. There are also common threads amongst the various programs. Most anime certainly shares similarities in look and appearance. There are also certain tricks that have become cliché since, like the screaming hero jumping through the air, still frames with nothing but a mouth moving, mouths going from being really small to really large, etc. Even so, it’s not fair to generalize and say that anime is either good or bad, or that someone is an anime fan or non fan. Anyone with an open mind can find anime they like and don’t like, just as they can with live-action movies and television shows.
All of that was a long-winded way of saying that the success Watanabe has had in the past has little baring on Space Dandy. Cowboy Bebop is among the greats, and holding Space Dandy up to that standard seems unfair, and yet they invite comparisons due to the Watanabe connection. They also share other similarities. For one, Space Dandy takes place in space (big shocker there) and the main character, Dandy, is an alien hunter. That is quite similar to the space bounty hunter profession of the Bebop crew. And like the Bebop crew, Dandy doesn’t appear to be very good at his job. He’s alone on his space ship when the episode begins accompanied only by his robot assistant QT. We soon learn QT is out-dated and becoming obsolete and the spaceship is in need of some repair as well. Dandy’s occupation as a space hunter is to apprehend unclassified aliens, and then turn them in for profit. I presume they need to be alive, but I’m not positive.
That’s the basic premise. Where Space Dandy seeks to differentiate itself from prior Watanabe programs is with its look and humor. Space Dandy is riddled with sophomoric humor. The first episode opens with Dandy debating the merits of ass-men and boob-men before going to his favorite hang-out, the Hooters parody simply known as BooBies. The show is accompanied by a narrator, who informs us that Dandy hopes to one day own his very own BooBies. This narrator is really a third character, and the other characters in the show break the fourth wall more than once to acknowledge him. The narrator is forgetful and provides updates throughout the show and fills in some of the back story, which in the first episode, almost seems irrelevant.
Dandy himself is rather dim-witted and perverted. He’s a slow thinker, though he’s not obviously dumb like a Homer Simpson or Peter Griffen. He’s also really self-absorbed and appears to have an obsession with his own hair. He’s also a pretty lousy shot and poor judge of situations. He’s not mean-spirited though, which makes him likable. QT is similarly incompetent at its job, some of that due to the fact that its obsolete. QT, despite being a robot, also doesn’t seem to mind being lazy. Other characters introduced in the first episode include an alien from Betelgeuse with an unpronounceable name (he looks like some kind of space cat, so Dandy dubs him Meow against his will) and a mysterious ape-like scientist named Dr. Gel. Dr. Gel is an ominous figure in the debut episode who is pursuing Dandy as he is the key to a war raging on. Gel answers to a strange monarch-like figure with a flaming skull for a head and pilots a spaceship that contains the head of the Statue of Liberty with a ball-gag in its mouth. Clearly it’s a reference to Planet of the Apes though I do wonder if it will have any relevance beyond that or if it’s just a visual gag (no pun intended).
The main goal of the show appears to be to induce laughter. The tone is very silly and the neon colors and up-beat electronic music add to the feeling. The plot of the first episode mostly exists to introduce the characters and then show us just how bad Dandy is in action. It ends on an apocalyptic note, and I wonder how the second episode will open. It’s possible there will be an absence of continuity from one episode to another though I personally doubt that. It’s impossible to judge a series based on one episode, but Space Dandy did not make an overly strong impression on me. It seems fun enough, but I do wonder if it will have much staying power. It may prove too silly for my taste, but I am comforted by the fact that it took a few episodes for Cowboy Bebop to hook me so it’s possible Space Dandy will require the same. To make myself stick with it, I’ve programmed my DVR to record it each week. Maybe I’ll have reason to revisit this topic in a few months.