Space Dandy: There’s Music in the Darkness, Baby Review

Space Dandy takes a meditative approach as a psychotic predator searches the universe for the perfect smile. Plus, Dr. Gel backstory!

This Space Dandy review contains spoilers.

“So come on Dandy. Give us a smile.”

“There’s Music in the Darkness, Baby” is exactly the sort of bizarre story I’ve come to expect from Space Dandy that you’ll arguably never see anywhere else. Right from the gently creepy, serial killer-esque intro that highlights Ukulele Man, a “smile aficionado,” in all of his uncomfortable glory, you can feel that this is going to be a fascinating detour for the series.

This story, boiled down, is about a sad, broken alien (whose species is born utterly alone, with their destiny already dead) that loves to laugh, but his metallic mask of a face means that people can never see his smile. With a twisted backstory that feels right out of a horror film, people never know when he’s laughing, or happy. The scene where Dandy is constantly misinterpreting his emotions is an episode highlight accordingly. As a result, Ukulele Man has consistently been searching for the best smile in the universe to make his own. Enter Dandy and his winning pearly whites, and suddenly Ukulele Man is convinced that he’s found the best smile that the galaxy has to offer.

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Honestly, not enough can be said about Ukulele Man and how great of a guest character he is. Every moment the creature is on screen he’s enigmatic as hell, and the less is more approach is the right angle to take with the character. The glimpses we’re shown of his Texas Chainsaw Massacre-ish house and his garden/graveyard of lost souls–dozens of frozen bodies turned into statues, permanently plastering ear-to-ear grins on their faces, as he tries to erect a family of petrified friends around himself (friends that he even goes into and inhabits)–are appropriately chilling. When all of this escalates to more or less a hostage situation where a skeleton robot alien is threatening and forcing a guy to smile (this may be the first case of attempted smile raping), it really reaches a special place.

From how I’ve spoken about this episode so far, you wouldn’t think that much is going on with the rest of the cast, but it’s actually one of the busiest episodes of the show, with three plots going on, which certainly isn’t the norm here. Meow and QT have a delightful romp as they wax on about “Shack Attack’s” latest hit, and try to reap the rewards from the “Mr. Misunderstanding Grand Prix,” which is naturally a misunderstanding competition. This is entertaining all the way through, starting with the trippy tie-dye warp field they go through, building to the infinite egg creatures they find themselves invading and subsequently being chased by, and ultimately the same thing happening to them with some fairly adorable wig creatures (Wigians, of course).

While Dandy is always steeped in gorgeous artwork and character designs, the aliens this week really feel extra special, with the above mentioned ones being no exception. Whether it’s the elephant beast playing guitar at Boobies, the anteater-type monster that approaches Dandy, or the capybara guards (who have a penchant for spaceship munching) that are on Ukulele Man’s planet, all of these are a lot of fun. It’s nice to see more of a unifying theme brought to the species this week, in this case being alterations on animals, rather than just freeform awesomeness.

And on the topic of alien/animal hybrids, our favorite shrouded in mystery gorilla villain actually gets some of that shroud cleared up this episode. Apparently, Dr. Gel’s mother has been largely responsible for the man (simian) he is today and the guy is feeling a little more familial than usual. Matters don’t exactly end positively for him though, and it’s safe to say a family reunion isn’t in the cards any time soon.

The focal piece that ties all these disparate threads together is the River of Time, the latest fancy space/time complicator that the gang encounters this week. This is a pretty well developed concept in fact, where this time river is sometimes plagued by something known as the “Pororoga Phenomenon” which causes the river to flow backwards. This of course causes the past to repeat itself. This allows Gel contact with his lost mother for instance, or in the Ukulele Man’s case, access to desperately pulling a Dandy out of time that is smiling, since the present one refuses to. An act that will retroactively destroy the present Dandy as his past-self is yanked into existence.

There’s some truly beautiful stuff going on as the big conclusion to the episode sees everyone navigating the River of Time. The river acts as another animation highlight in an already strong episode as Dandy surfs the time waves in search of a happy ending (Hey, that surfboard accessory that Dandy has never mentioned and has never come up before finally gets used!). The best stuff here though is surely watching the physics of the Pororoga Phenomenon play out. Scenes that show ducks and butterflies getting splashed by the waves, only to regress to chicks and larvae, and then eventually eggs (or even Dr. Gel’s spaceship getting submerged in the water and re-surfacing as a pirate ship) are really, really smart. It’s nice to see some sharp, brilliant jokes going on here in addition to all of the predator creepiness. It’s worth mentioning that this is also an episode where characters outright talk and respond to the Narrator, so we’re definitely getting even weirder as this show goes on.

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Said predator creepiness is resolved in the best and only way that it should have been: Ukulele Man slowly burns to death, his body being destroyed, but as he leaves this world (and I pray that there’s a way for this character to return somehow, although that seems beyond unlikely), he finally manages a smile on his broken face. “Is it a good smile?” he asks Dandy. “Good? No, that’s a great smile you’ve got there.”

The victimizer explodes.

Dandy plays some “Shack Attack” on the corpse’s ukulele, and we call it a day.

This is an expertly handled, confident installment of Space Dandy that isn’t afraid to introduce some weirder, more unsettling elements to its universe, but it feels like the three plots that are occurring simultaneously could have probably been simplified. The Dr. Gel development is long overdue, but it pretty much ends as abruptly as it starts and I’m sure we’ll never hear about his mother again (and seeing him River of Time himself into a young chimp would have been nice). The QT and Meow stuff gets wrapped up pretty quickly too, but with everything intersecting at the River of Time, it’s not really distracting or a real concern. Just another glimpse of the Mr. Misunderstanding Contest, or the two of them commenting on being turned into statues would have been nice, but it’s not detrimental. If losing this meant getting more Ukulele Man, than I don’t mind at all. I think we can all agree that this world needs more creepy smile aficionados.

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4 out of 5