The beginning of Space Dandy’s opening credits truly tells you all you need to know: “Space Dandy is a dandy guy in space.”
Yes, he’s a bounty hunter.
And yes, he has a robot sidekick named QT, and a malformed cat creature (a Betelgeusian, to be exact) named Meow working alongside him, but all of that is inconsequential.
This series is much more interested in having ridiculous, acrobatic space fun while grabbing your arms and swinging you around for the ride.
From the get-go, the anime never takes itself too seriously, it largely being seen as seasoned pro, Shinichiro Watanabe’s (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) momentous return to not only anime, but space westerns in general. However, while past efforts like Cowboy Bebop took a more dramatic slant with sprinklings of comedy, now he’s armed with a laser sharp, genre-skewing, fourth wall-demolishing eye that’s concentrated on satire and pushing all of this to the extreme…in space.
Right from its very construction, this anime is different than others. Watanabe went to great lengths to chisel out the unique perspective in place here, as well as assuring his team that this show would be different. For instance, Watanabe hired his primary writing partner on the show, Keiko Nobumoto, because she had never seen Star Wars before, and knew that she’d be bringing fresh space stories to the table, rather than inevitably drawing from an overused space well. While Watanabe heavily drew from Moroccan culture when building Cowboy Bebop, Space Dandy on the other hand has a Rio de Janeiro infusion.
The series also has a strict, rigid time period in place that while never stated within the show, is constantly present. In spite of Space Dandy clearly taking place in the future, the world seems perpetually stuck in the year 1984. For instance, all the music in the show is played off of audiocassettes, with CDs never making an appearance. And the addition of other ‘80s relics in the background (such as a Nintendo Famicom) is consistent with the timeline. Throwing all of these elements together creates an incredibly different, hard-to-put-your-finger-on atmosphere that is only part of what makes the series so special.
Some anime come with an impressive reputation and pedigree behind them, but actually tracking them down, let alone a localized version, can be enough to discourage viewers from the show entirely. Space Dandy is part of an interesting experiment where it is simulcast in English and Japanese at the same time. While new episodes are airing on Tokyo MX in Japan, Adult Swim simultaneously is providing the English dub for North American viewers. And if that wasn’t enough, the first season is already available for your consumption via Hulu. Never before has an anime been so easy to stay on top of!
Not only that but people are taking to Space Dandy like Space Dandy takes to space. The series premiere on Adult Swim was the first in its timeslot for men 18-24, and 18-34. The series earned a 1.0 share, more specifically, 1.41 million viewers, with the other programming on Adult Swim that night averaging a 0.6. This trend only continued in the following weeks where it further proved it was a top performer by improving its ratings and even outperforming The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. Shouldn’t you too be checking out what is gaining such growing attention?
Space Dandy’s score is another reason you should be checking out this absurd space adventure (in space). Right from the series’ infectious theme song, Viva Namida, all the way down to the plunky, catchy music in each episode, you’ll be hooked. Keeping with Watanabe’s “1984” rule, no instruments past ’84 are used in any of the composition of the show’s music, providing a surreal, indefinable magic to it all. The show’s first soundtrack, the appropriately insanely named, “Space Dandy O.S.T.1 Best Hit BBP,” was the top selling album in Japan when it debuted at the end of March this year. Before you know it, you’ll be snapping your fingers along with these tunes like they’re old favorites.
The music of Space Dandy is a clear selling point, but it’s really the animation style that pushes this show to the highest reaches of space. Without a doubt this is one of the most gorgeous, fluidly animated shows currently on television. Episodes that have taken the crew to a planet fully inhabited by plants, or pitting themselves in a vicious space race are some of the stand out installments that really push the limits to what this show is capable of, presenting you with unusual, ambitious stuff.
Beyond just being beautiful, the anime goes one step further by Watanabe hiring a different animation director for the construction of each planet (along with their alien race). This promises the audience that each planet in space will absolutely have a distinct look from one another; with the aliens having no crossover at all, and really achieving the idea of a rich, diverse universe. The series even safeguards who the animation directors are ahead of time—treating them like celebrities—guaranteeing a surprise from the viewer, and showing the amount of respect that the animators are being given.
While the show’s aesthetics are a crucial point of what makes it so important, what’s actually going on in the episodes, and the near impossibility to predict what you’re going to see, may be even more crucial to its significance. Every episode of Space Dandy is absolutely different. Sure, the crew’s mission is to identify unknown aliens, but that’s really not dictating much here. There’s a story that simply chronicles a lonely ramen master’s solitude, and it’s the second episode of the show. Another effort is about how QT learns in 23 days how to appreciate coffee (and by proxy, love). Another more or less tries to explain the backstory behind Laika, the first dog in space rather than focusing on our core cast. There’s even a mind-erasing episode that ends up being all prologue for a giant intergalactic war between the video and computer storage devices (that naturally goes unrecorded)
These are all incredibly unusual stories, where there’s no requirement to feature all, or even any, of the cast. What’s being meticulously created here is almost like the anime equivalent of Louie. Some episodes revel in their hilarity, while others are crushingly depressing detours, or thought provoking philosophical mind pieces. Regardless of which Space Dandy you’re getting, it does what it is doing well, and part of the fun is not knowing which iteration you’re going to get. Space is big and mysterious, and so this show should be, too. And there seems to be no signs of this approach slowing down any time soon, with the second season’s premiere being a huge love letter to alternate universe stories; if anything, we’ve only seen the tip of the crazy space iceberg (…in space).
If each episode’s plot being a crazy grab bag wasn’t enough, Space Dandy isn’t afraid to take these ideas and barrel down with them as far as they can possibly go. In an episode dealing with zombies, the entire universe is transformed into undead beings before the midway point; in another dealing with time loops, the crew goes through 108 rotations of the same day before they’re able to move on. This ambition pushes the anime into a wonderful space, but the lucid, elastic rules that are in place help define this even further. This is a series where the entire cast can die by the end of an episode or the status quo can be shifted terribly. With no real rules in place, the way in which episodes end and stories conclude is as unpredictable as possible. There’s no norm to return to, so anything goes.
It may sound as if Space Dandy is overly complicated and convoluted, but this couldn’t be further from the case. The series has nearly the most threadbare of premises and minimal stakes in place, and is almost Star Trek-ian in the sense that it’s just the crew hopping from planet to planet with the hopes of finding new species. Dr. Gel, the series resident villain and antagonist to Dandy and the Aloha Oe, has a minimal presence and motivations that have never even been attempted to be explained. He’s just an arbitrary, ridiculous obstacle that appears when he needs to (which can be infrequently; he’s absent from many episodes at a time, in fact). Minor building blocks are in place here, but the rest is up for grabs, leaving you with something that doesn’t need to rely on plotting or exposition too heavily as a crutch (the Narrator even outright shuts down the opportunity to explain the series and give Dandy and crew some context, instead opting to talk about the history behind the Hooters-esque restaurant chain, Boobies; Dandy’s biggest weakness).
Lastly, this is the least anime feeling anime out there, and is more than accessible to people who have never given the medium a try, or even outright hated it. Space Dandy doesn’t feel entrenched in Japanese culture and wordplay like some anime do. In fact, it seems more concerned with “space” as a culture than anything else. The bottom line here is that it’s a funny show; terribly so, even, and wonderfully sharp, witty, and absurd. The series deserves to be seen just for the quantity of jokes they’ll cram into an episode, their unique twists on tired ideas, and the strong, confident comedic voice it’s pushing out. But being a fan of anime isn’t going to hurt either.
So next time you’re mindlessly flipping through channels late at night, looking for something new and different to take you away, challenge your sensibilities, or just make you devolve into a snickering mess, why not try giving Dandy and company a chance? You’ll have such a different experience you’ll forget you were even watching an anime.
Make sure to check back for our weekly Space Dandy reviews, which you can read here.