Last week, I published a lengthy article about why you should binge Cowboy Bebop – a show that I proclaimed as my favorite anime of all time – as a way of keeping yourself occupied during this time of the global pandemic. Since then, I have gone down the rabbit hole of watching other shows directed by Shinichirō Watanabe. It began with 2014’s Terror in Resonance, a psychological thriller about domestic terrorism set in modern Tokyo. I concluded with a comic science-fiction anime that aired the same year. The best way to describe it is Cowboy Bebop’s demented cousin.
Whereas Bebop was a space western about laid-back bounty hunters, Space Dandy is a flat-out space opera as it follows the misadventures of Dandy, an alien hunter who is “a dandy guy in space”. He is in search of undiscovered and rare aliens with his robot assistant QT and his feline-like friend named Meow. Throughout the show’s twenty-six episodes, Dandy and his small crew of his spaceship the Aloha Oe try their best with their occupation, much to their incompetence. All the while – and unbeknownst to Dandy – he is being pursued by Dr. Gel, a gorilla-like scientist working for the Gogol Empire.
On a side note, upon reading this article, you’ll notice the numerous mentions to Bebop, and that’s because without that show, we wouldn’t have Dandy. What Space Dandy does is take the elements of Bebop and turn them up to eleven, so that you have a funky space comedy. From the first episode alone, Dandy sets up its wacky tone and characters. This includes the eponymous alien hunter, who is all about making money, just so he can continuously dine at his favorite breastaurant, BooBies. During a job of alien hunting, things get out-of-hand, resulting in the deaths of our three unlikely heroes at the end of the episode. However, in the next episode, Dandy and his crew are alive and well, with no knowledge of what happened previously and they just move on to the next adventure.
Unlike Cowboy Bebop, which is a show that slowly develops with each new episode, everything you need to know about Space Dandy is in its initial episode. If you’re not on board with the main protagonist’s shallow nature, the fan service (in anime terms) or indeed the wacky comedy where the animation can be loose, Dandy is just not for you. If you wish to continue Dandy’s antics, you will be plunged into a space odyssey where every misadventure becomes its own genre, not just sci-fi and comedy.
The majority of Watanabe’s shows are very much rooted in the media that the director loves, whether it is older sci-fi, mecha anime, or even zombie movies. Another key signature of Watanabe’s shows is being musically-orientated. Space Dandy – having a predominately electronic soundtrack by multiple artists – has two episodes devoted to rock ‘n’ roll and musical theater. Although there is a misconception that anime is a genre, it is more a format to tell many different kinds of stories. If you are on board the Aloha Oe, you will find a favorite episode that speaks to you on a personal level, proving that this show and anime in general can be universal.
Although you can see Watanabe’s traits throughout as the show’s chief director, that doesn’t negate Space Dandy forging its own identity. This comes down to the other crew members, not least director Shingo Natsume, who would go on to direct the stellar first season of One Punch Man. Although there is a consistency when it comes to the principal character designs, every episode also features new worlds, a variety of inventive alien designs and crazy sci-fi ideas. The show feels more like an anthology for new animators to experiment in their craft. The standout in this case would be the twenty-first episode “A World with No Sadness, Baby”. It is not only a departure from the show’s comedic tone, as well as subtly setting up the finale, but a great and recent example of how beautiful hand-drawn animation can be in the world of anime.
For some reason, some of Watanabe’s shows have the best English dub recordings in anime history. For me, the voices of Dandy, QT and Meow will always be Ian Sinclair, Alison Viktorin and Joel McDonald (the latter of which was one of the two ADR voice directors for the dub). As juvenile as the humor can be, there is hilarious dialogue that would rival the quotes of classic Simpsons. As for the characters themselves, this is another Bebop similarity where the crew don’t change by the end of an episode, though there is still room for characterization. Despite the humorous interactions they have with each other, there are moments of drama that give you a better understanding of where their hearts lie that makes them good people. Even Dandy himself, a man who is a slave to female booty, pretty much loves everyone and surprisingly shows tenderness towards those who need a helping hand.
What is initially inconsistent on a narrative level, is answered in a finale that makes you want to re-watch the whole show and find all the little details. It may lack the elegance of Cowboy Bebop, but likes its predecessor, Space Dandy is a cosmic ride that not only will make you laugh, but also think and feel.
“Stay Dandy, Baby!”