‘Space Dandy! He’s a dandy guy… in space.’
Searching for rare aliens in the vastness of space, on his spaceship the Aloha Oe, the cooler than cool Dandy and his two sidekicks Meow the Betelgeusian (“I am not a cat.”) and quirky robot QT somehow manage to avoid the evil clutches of Dr Gel on every mission without even realizing that they’re his target. With his extravagant pompadour and slouching, laid-back walk that evokes memories of another of series director Shinichiro Watanabe’s legendary heroes, Spike from Cowboy Bebop, Dandy is back for another thirteen psychedelically picaresque adventures. So our (not so) intrepid space adventurers go from Planet Pushy Boyfriend to Planet Girlfriend, go fishing on Planet Kaiyu, zoom to Planet C’est La Vie in the hope of free food, and maybe, as Dandy finds himself on Planet Limbo, even shuffle off their mortal coil. A teleporting flashlight, cosmic strings, mechas, encounters with all kinds of dimensions… We discover more about Honey, the cute waitress at Dandy’s favourite Boobies joint in space – so much more. And is romance in the air for Dandy, roped in by the strict Scarlet to masquerade as her new boyfriend and convince her stalker ex-boyfriend at the resort planet Planet Trendy that their relationship is over? After many multicoloured space shenanigans, some ludicrous, some philosophically deep, run-ins with the Jaicro and Gogol Empires, and seemingly endless alternate universes, everything builds up to a spectacular final universe-shattering showdown. Because… it’s that kind of show.
Chief Director Shinichiro Watanabe and Director Shingo Natsume lined up another starry cast of directors, writers, musicians and designers for this project, so it’s not just the visual style that varies significantly from episode to episode.
Music has always played a significant role in Shinichiro Watanabe’s projects and that is still very much the case in Space Dandy, although, rather than give one composer overall responsibility, many singers and groups were involved. Three episodes stand out in this respect: #17 ‘The Transfer Student is Dandy, Baby’ set at an intergalactic high school where the ability to sing and dance is highly prized among the coolest kids (cue a Glee tribute), #20 ‘Rock’N’Roll Dandy, Baby’ and #22 ‘We’re All Fools, So Let’s All Dance, Baby’ (set on Planet Grease and involving a legendary dance contest). The music here is not just part of the whole animated package; it’s fundamental to the plot. In the Glee episode it doesn’t quite come off…but it’s a nice idea and you have to applaud the team for trying. But in Episode 20 the collision between high space opera and the creation of the rock band DROPKIX, with its Warhol-style stills, screen tone and all, somehow comes together very satisfyingly. When Dandy and pink-haired Johnny (his real job is Commander-in-Chief of the Jaicro Empire forces) happen to meet, two massive egos collide, clash… and then bond over forming a rock band. Of course, Johnny fails to mention that his nation is planning to attack the Gogol Empire, but such mundane things should never be allowed to come before a rock musician’s burning need to express himself… Up until now the Closing Theme has remained the same as in Season 1 – but with this episode a succession of new Closing Themes kicks off, starting with the only song DROPKIX ever manage to produce: the catchy (or should that be repetitive?) ‘Kanchigai Lonely Night’.
Perhaps the most striking story is Dandy’s trip to what may well be the world of the dead in Episode 21 ‘A World with No Sadness, Baby’ (written by Watanabe) which, veering between moments of grotesque humour and profound utterances, poses some deep philosophical questions. The artwork and the animation are both deeply weird and stunningly beautiful.
Douglas Adams (probably) started the trend in humorous, mind-bending science fiction that makes you laugh and then ponder the deep mysteries of life (42). Then along came TV sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf. More recently, Matt Groening brought us animated and wickedly funny SF in the endlessly inventive Futurama… So Space Dandy, although very much its own thing, has honourable antecedents and it’s impossible not to be reminded of these earlier shows when watching. Parodies, affectionate (and cheeky) references to other series and science-fictional tropes abound. There’s never a dull moment. But there isn’t much of an overarching plot.
I started watching Space Dandy in the US dubbed version from the get-go, so those voices are the ones that I’ve come to associate with the characters. R. Bruce Elliott is ideal as the dry, slightly world-weary Narrator and Ian Sinclair makes a perfect Dandy. In fact, the whole US cast (and the clever, pitch-perfect US scripts) do a great job. But this is a purely personal preference and the original (excellent) Japanese cast is also available here with subs.
This handsome R2 Blu-ray issue from Anime Limited is a Collector’s Edition, including 20 art cards using all the cover art (front and back) from Space Dandy in Japan and a 148-page art book (not seen). Extras comprise: Clean Opening and Closing themes (all of them!), a trailer collection and digital art gallery. Navigation is straightforward – and the only point that’s worth noting is that this set numbers the episodes as 14-26, whereas these are often numbered elsewhere as #1-13 (presumably in the context of this being a complete second season).
Space Dandy Season 2 is still something of a mixed bag of delights – some episodes sparkle, others, not so much. But you have to love Shinichiro Watanabe and his creative team for putting this project together in the first place, because when it works, it works really well. The inspired mixture of silliness and deep philosophy, transmitted through dazzling animated imagery makes this a must-see for anyone who appreciates imaginative animation.
Space Dandy ain’t perfect, Baby, but even the episodes that miss the mark are worth your time; it’s a bold, imaginative venture.