Space Dandy opens with a diatribe about boobs.
I know. Classy, right? Well, I guess there’s no arguing that boobs get your attention. Just the word is kind of distracting. Boobs. You’re distracted, right? I’m using them to distract you from realising this review isn’t nearly as loftily intellectual as I’d like it to be, and Shinichiro Watanabe is possibly using them to distract you from noticing that Space Dandy isn’t nearly as instantly fantastic as his other shows were.
But that’s okay. No-one ever said it had to be, right? I might have once believed it was futile to compare shows by an auteur like Watanabe, but that was a decade ago and I’ve since come to a different conclusion. It’s pointless to try and avoid comparisons, not in order to avoid holding something up to an impossible ideal, but in order to not miss the experience of seeing the director’s body of work for the amazing creative exploration it is. Maybe Space Dandy doesn’t hit the highs we’re used to from Watanabe right off the bat, but it definitely does not disappoint in the creative respect, even with all the boobs.
Dandy and his cheerful robot slave QT supposedly hunt aliens that no one has ever seen before and takes them in to the Alien Registration Centre to get paid – or at least that’s the idea but they don’t seem terribly good at it. During one of these failed foraging missions at his favourite local breastaurant (yep, you heard that right. No, it is not a typo. I wish it were), Dandy picks up the freeloading, Facebooking Betelgeusean Meow, who claims to know where a whole tonne of rare aliens are hiding. Dandy, apparently not realising that Meow’s scungy scuffs and hillbilly dungarees are probably a clue that Meow’s just looking to secure a free meal or five, takes him on board. Meanwhile – and there’s really no other way to introduce this portion of the “plot” except by using “meanwhile” – Dandy is also unknowingly the target of the apparently evil Gogol Empire, who are at perpetual war with the Jaicro Empire and believe Dandy holds the key to their victory. And so starts our crazy adventures.
From the get-go, Dandy isn’t really anything on Cowboy Bebop‘s Spike Spiegel (then again, let’s face it, who is) or even Samurai Champloo‘s Mugen, and the intensely cacophonous crossover of musical and cultural styles that Watanabe is so understandably loved for is not quite as clever here. Instead of the jazzy space-opera of Bebop, or the hip-hop feudalism of Champloo, Watanabe is this time mixing up a fluorescent cocktail of early era space adventure serials, blended with a little psychedelica, a dash of yankii, and perhaps just a smidge of Saturday Night Fever (or in one scene quite obviously Michael Jackson’s Thriller). With Dandy’s pompadour hair-do and his gangster attitude, his sidekicks, mysterious girls, and looming villains, the show’s got all the hallmarks of a decent Watanabe series, but it definitely takes a little while for that to become apparent.
When it does though, hold onto your hats. The colours are riotous and the action is frenetic and utterly fantastic (Exhibit A: matronly bureaucrat Scarlet letting her hair down in a ramen restaurant and kicking ass possibly better than Spike ever did). It also takes at least an episode for the humour to really get up some speed and for the apparent randomness of events, supported by the slightly OCD approach to both style and story, to settle in for the duration.
It’s still not as strong as either of Watanabe’s other shows, but by the tone of the credits we might yet see him do something unexpected and remarkable (all that string theory math can’t be there for no reason, surely!). I think if you can cope with or otherwise ignore the bad boob jokes and the gratuitous crotch shots (or, you know, if that counts as high comedy in your world), you’ll probably find a great deal to like about this show, but you’re probably going to have to give it a little more time than you would have expected, because this is one that might have to grow on you. Sure, everybody always likes the old record better than the new one, but Watanabe still has some serious air-time to and he’s only just begun his tune.
Catch free episodes (both subbed and dubbed) of Space Dandy at Madman.