‘Space Dandy’ Is Somewhat Dandy, Mostly Spacey … In Space
Eight episodes into its 13-episode run, I keep wanting to like Cartoon Network’s big anime series Space Dandy a lot more than I do. You’d expect a new series from Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo creator Shinichiro Watanabe to be brilliant, and lord knows it looks great, from its retro-’70s logo to its extravagantly weird aliens.
Oh, but the writing…is mostly just not all that good. Translation problems? Maybe — there’s no shortage of arguments on Reddit about the fidelity of the translated dialogue, but that doesn’t account for the larger problems like the dumb plots or inane, predictable characters. Consider the pompadoured main character: Space Dandy, who’s “a dandy guy…in space.” Just to underline that, the opening narration tells us that these are the adventures of Dandy “and his brave space crew… in space.” It’s a cute joke, and in the right mood, just the title of the series is good for a giggle. Space Dandy himself is a shallow doofus alien hunter (with great hair) whose ship, the Aloha Oe, is a spacegoing dorm room, strewn with junk food and perpetually out of order; like the hapless bounty hunters of Cowboy Bebop, Dandy is always falling just short of the big score. But unlike the skilled but luckless Bebop crew, Dandy is mostly just incompetent, and self-absorbed, and just plain not very bright. His crew consists of QT, a robot whose operating system is several generations out of date, and Meow, a catlike alien slacker who’s mostly there so Dandy can have someone to punch for comic effect. Meow gets punched a lot.
I get that Watanabe & company aren’t trying to do Cowboy Bebop all over again, but in trying to avoid territory that series went over, Space Dandy mostly just becomes an endless series of boob jokes and chases. And then some more boob jokes. Dandy’s favorite place in the galaxy is Boobies, a chain “breastaurant” with locations in every star system. And the space-station restaurants are shaped like boobs!
Haw-haw, it is Hooters in space! With waitresses in little tiny outfits! That show their boobs! That is the whole entire joke. It’s like a 14-year-old was tasked with coming up with gags.
And sure, the excess itself is supposed to be the point, and sometimes, as sheer hyper-absurdity, it works, but a lot of the time it feels more like trying too hard than actual cleverness, like one of those people who announces, “Yeah, I’m a pretty out-there character, I’m just NUTS.” It doesn’t help that other anime series have done this kind of 4th-wall-breaking genre parody already, and far better. Space Dandy’s first episode ends with all the main characters getting vaporized, and then in the next episode, everything’s fine again, although they do have to comment on the ending of the previous episode, and underline that commentary. Yes, we get it. You have a reset button — but that gag was done over ten years ago in Excel Saga, where in the first few minutes of the series, (and several times afterward) the main character dies, but is brought back by the “Great Will of the Macrocosm,” since with the main character dead, there’s no show. There’s deliberately no plot continuity in Space Dandy, which would be fine if the series did something more with that flexibility than to send Dandy back to visit Boobies one more time.
And yet there are things about Space Dandy that don’t suck — the animation looks fantastic, and there are little touches that are awfully fun, like QT the robot (whose vocoder-modulated voice is pleasantly reminiscent of the turrets in Portal) being basically an overgrown canister vacuum, or Meow’s frustration with a holographic coupon card — he’s sentient, and knows he should be above it, but he’s driven batty by the fact that he just has to swat at the little laser image. An episode where Meow and Dandy go in search of transcendent interdimensional ramen — and find it — is also strangely sweet. There are episodes where you almost think the show is going to settle down and not just be about boob jokes, such as the clichéd but still affecting episode “A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby” featuring Dandy on a road trip where he connects emotionally with — what else — an orphaned girl who’s also an alien he could turn in for a big bonus, and despite the seen-it-a-million-times premise, the episode still manages to get you right in the feels. But then that was followed by an episode where the last two inhabitants of a planet are fighting the endgame of a 10,000-year war over underpants. I am not making this up.
Space Dandy has the potential to be a good show, maybe. Even a clueless buffoon can be an engaging main character — see The Tick, for instance. It’s just frustrating that so much of the series is spent going for laughs by making boob jokes, and then announcing “I made a boob joke!” This is not the sort of thing we want to encourage.
And yet, of course, I’ll keep watching.
On a scale of Applejack to Princess Luna, Space Dandy is Pinkie Pie, and most often on a Rule 34 fanart site.