Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I'm back baby!: Space Dandy (2014)

(I know a long absence, Japan and some unstable work stuff had all but halted my ability to do much else. I'd do the former again anytime, the later not so much...)

Egads I love that opening.
If you have been reading these typings for a while you will notice that I have certain predilections for genres, genre mashing and a distaste for the fan obsession with canon in fiction. It probably also would not surprise you that one of my favorite shows of all time (Not fave anime, fave show) is Cowboy Bebop. Currently I have my doubts that a better genre fusion show has been written in the east or the west to this date. The man behind Bebop was Shinichiro Watanabe , a giant of anime also responsible for Macross: Plus and one of the segments of the Animatrix. So Watanabe's newest project, Space Dandy, naturally peaked my interest.

The one thing that you need to know about Space Dandy, because I can hear you all clicking back on your browser reading this, is that is much smarter than its surface appearance and whacky name implies. Space Dandy is a genre satire of anime and genre fiction in general, hiding behind a mask of a female obsessed Elvis clone named Dandy.
The series outline is very simple; Space Dandy is a Dandy in Space. He is an elite alien hunter who tracks down unknown new aliens to catalog. He explores the galaxy in a ship called the Aloha Oi with his crew; a robotic vacuum cleaner named QT and a Betalgeusian named Meow due to his resemblance to a cat. (Something that annoys Meow no end, despite all the feline habits he constantly exhibits)
Now Dandy is a simple creature, he hopes to capture an ultra rare alien and hand it into the alien registration center for money to visit his favorite restaurant; a chain known as "Boobies". (A thinly veiled Hooters, complete with a Koala instead of an Owl, could be a language pun) Each episode usually follows this quest for money so that one day Dandy can visit all of the Boobies outlets in the universe. All the way he is pursued by the mysterious Dr Gel and the forces of the Gogol Empire for reasons that are utterly unknown.
How does this make for a show? The premise is simply an excuse to propel the clueless Dandy and his crew into genre bending adventures with no heed to inter-episode continuity or ongoing plot. The series in unapologeticaly episodic and has a visual style that hearkens back to pulp sci fi of the 1950s, all rocket ships and ray guns. In this way it pokes fun at the usual pattern of Anime, the trend towards shows being mysteries that the cover uncover whilst building towards a world shattering conclusion. Dandy has none of that, he is pursued by mysterious forces he is not aware of, and remains unaware of because they always fail due to dumb fortune. There is no grand plan, characters die only to reset back into place at the start of the next episode, the same waitress (Honey) seems to work at every Boobies in the Universe in a nod to Nurse Joy from Pokemon. (or is he visiting the same outlet constantly, that is the question) 
It is in fact very refreshing that each episode you watch is a self contained whole, the first episode is probably the only one the you could want to watch in order as it introduces the characters but really there isn't much additional information there other than why and how Meow is on board. In many ways the series seems like a deliberate stick in the eye of all the anime tropes coming out of Hideaki Anno's "Neon Genesis Evangelion"; the original puzzlebox anime. (I am going to write an article about "Captain Earth" soon, a show that manifests all the best and worst of the post Anno Anime) 
Helping along the gleeful reset button based comedy is a different animation director every episode, so outside the core cast the animation style of each episode varies dramatically. From straight forward conventional (and very high quality) anime style in episodes like ""A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby" to wildly surrealistic episodes like ""Plants Are Living Things, Too, Baby". (Yes all the episode titles end in Baby, just like all the Bebop episode titles were music references) 
The comedy is combination of schoolboy like J-humor tinged with many satirical references to other show or genre fiction. Surprisingly for an show whose main character is obsessed with women it has little "Fan Service" outside probably the first two episode, which even then is tame compared to most anime. In fact Dandy is a perennial letch like so many anime leads, but he never seems to actually want to do anything beyond ogle boobs and asses. He never even seems to consider that there is more that can be done than look at women.. (A social comment maybe?) 
The space stuff in the show is great, often bizarrely designed and in many cases function-less other than being a normal appliance "In Space". There are dozens of weird and bizarre alien designs every episode. But the treatment of technology is ultimately very contemporary, with Meow using space versions of Twitter and Instagram constantly and all of the high tech being about as reliable as modern computers. Space Dandy is very aware of it being a cipher for our modern times rather than a futurist prediction. 

Should you watch Space Dandy? Yes, absolutely. Some episodes fall a little flat but the majority are funny and clever chaos. It is rare to see a show in this day and age that actually is as freeform and whimsical as Dandy, even animated shows in the west seem to need a more serious edge to them to succeed. (Adventure Time or Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy the only in production western show I can think of that come close)
So if you want perhaps the funkiest show about at the moment, give it a try.