SPACE DANDY: My final thoughts on season 1:
Wow. That’s pretty much all I can muster up as of now. Having just finished watching the season finale of the first—for ANY anime series—-Japanese produced, animated Tv Series that’s simulcast in the U.S., Korea, India, Europe, Oceania and all across South East Asia, w/ English Audio or Japanese Subtitles, it’s quite an interesting route.
When word got out online that Shinichiro Watanabe, front man for one of the most redeeming efforts in TV animation during the anime boom of the late 90s, the infamous Cowboy Bebop (1998), would return to space with his new series entitled Space Dandy, anime enthusiasts and fans alike rejoiced; Finally, a return to form. With the western success of his follow up project Samurai Champloo, followed by the low-key but brilliantly charming, music-coming-of-age romp Kids On The Slope, Watanbe’s return to the genre that made him famous seemed like “Business-as-usual” to many fans who anticipated Bebop greatness ( Space romp w/ blending mixes of Film Noir, Hong Kong Action movies w/ a different episode dedicated to a different style of music) with this new “space cowboy” known only as Dandy.
Seems like from a fans expectations point of view, the term "abstract" was an understatement. The sides seems split on this show. Space Dandy, to those who are unaware, is a brilliantly produced animated TV comedy series following the adventures of Dandy, an alien bounty hunter and a self-perceived ladies man with 1950’s-style pompadour. The show begs not to be taken too seriously while enforcing a pop-culture sensibility and highly cinematic directing style.
With Watanabe reuniting the entire creative team from Cowboy Bebop, notably screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, all signs pointed to familiar territory. In my opinion, Space Dandy (like Cowboy Bebop) is one of those shows where if you don’t like the first episode, chances are you won’t stick around for the next. It takes a couple episodes to get into the story. One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard quite often about Space Dandy is the lack of a serialized, contiguous story arc; Each episode is self-contained & apparently is an absolute no-no for anime fans and enthusiasts who like their shows in the former format. Fair, but if you go to a backyard BBQ expecting fish eggs & filet mignon, don’t be surprised at your disappointment.
I went into Space Dandy with no expectations, especially when I factored in who it was being made by; A director who thinks outside of the box (even for anime’s standards), who rarely does the same thing twice, also upon hearing from that director in an interview openly stress that every episode will be like CowBoy bebop’s “Mushroom Samba” episode along with the series being “80% comedy and 20% drama.” I learned my lesson w/ expectations & Samurai Champloo. When I decided to appreciate it for what it was, I was rewarded for it. Space Dandy, to me, so far seems to fall under the same category.
As a narrative, Space Dandy’s running theme is about survival. He’s broke every single episode and tries any scheme he can in capturing rare aliens in order to raise money so that he can maintain his space ship costs, food supplies and maintaining enough credits to indulge in his favorite hobby, hanging out at a “breastaurant” called Boobies, where aliens from all over the galaxy show up to have a drink and indulge in the waitresses who are all, not coincidentally, 'MOE' styled ( big eyes, prepubescent cuteness) female characters trend, something Space Dandy is extremely conscious of making fun of if you pay attention.
In recent years, the “MOE” styled approach to characters (apparently driven by Otaku affinity) has been under fire, being accused of catering to the lowest, common denominator of the time of otaku fan service prevalent in most anime today (and arguably responsible for the lack of integrity of anime in general).
The various visual commentaries throughout Space Dandy suggests an attempt to ridicule these visual trends in various ways, as opposed to try and stop the trend altogether.
But rather, as writer Dai Sato suggests a " Counter-approach to the trend…a counter-idea that focuses more on comedy" in an attempt to show alternatives to it.
One could even go as far as to argue that Dandy’s character himself is a commentary on the Otaku itself, as we’re reminded almost every episode that he cannot get enough of Boobies.
Seeing as most of the complaints I’ve heard were centered around the story structure, the most fascinating thing I’ve learned about these complaints, is that if you went strictly by what we air on tv, Americans primarily prefer their shows self contained. Just look at any popular, animated action/adventure/comedy series; Throughout history, almost all of them are self-contained, all of them comedies (looney Tunes, WB animation, Nickeldodeon, cartoon Network). Many argue that It’s much easier to re-watch a comedy series with non-sequitur story structure because everyone’s willing to laugh at the same joke over and over. Further more, the age demo are usually boys 6-11. It’s also easier for networks to syndicate disjointed, self-contained episodes because they don’t have to worry about airing in order, and it’s far easier to re-up ad dollars ratings-wise; people aren’t feeling like they’re missing anything like they would a contiguous storyline, ala, The Legend of Korra.
That being said, I rather like Space Dandy so far, mainly for what it isn’t rather than what I think it should be. The approach is different, it doesn’t take itself seriously so far and its an absolute joy to watch and listen to (The music production is awesome and can’t wait for the soundtrack). From a producer’s POV, the fact that each episode featured a different show director and a different style spoke to an anthology-like enthusiasm about creating TV animation production that American TV animation directors I know could only dream of. If i had to rate this show, it would be an 8/10. Partially because story-wise I’m still not at all sure what the motivations for specific characters are (Dr. Gel, Admiral Perry & The Gogol EMpire’s war w/ the Jaicro Empire and how Dandy’s role is the final piece to the Gogol winning against the Jaicro). And as this season introduces us to our characters and even dedicated enough time to each so that we may better get to know them, I have a feelings, Season 2, in classic Watanbe fashion (ala Bebop/Champloo) the story will hopefully come together in a way that utilizes the random events we’ve witnessed in this season.
I look forward to seeing where this goes when season 2 premieres on Toonami in July!
Season 2 Teaser trailer!!:
See you, Space Dandy….