Ask anyone who watches anime what they think about Space Dandy and you might get a wildly different answer. That it’s as divisive as it is speaks loudly of its wild ambition, roping in a bunch of heavy-hitting creators, each with their own distinct voice and artistic style. Now that it’s reached its end, though, we can finally look back at the full project and get a sense of whether or not they accomplished their goal. If said goal was to create an immensely entertaining, imaginative, and colorful journey through space, then the answer is a resounding affirmative.
One of the many wonderful things about Space Dandy is that there’s an episode for most any type of viewer. Of course, the standard prerequisite of digging time- and space-hopping adventure comedies applies, but there’s a lot of variety within the show’s 26 episodes. It also benefits from literally jumping all over the place in its narrative, putting the spotlight on a bunch of standalone stories that let the creative teams behind them shine.
Throughout my time watching Space Dandy via Hulu, I made sure to note episodes I found particularly strong. I might have fallen off duty a bit near the end, especially as it built to the explosive finale that managed to string together some interesting aspects of the run, but I stand by the ones I singled out.
While I was feeling Space Dandy from the start, especially once it started to hit its stride after a couple weeks, it was episode 6, “The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby,” that really convinced me. Yes, I know the title alone makes that statement seem especially ridiculous, but it’s a great example of the wide-open possibilities the show presents. It’s anything goes as Dandy and Meow end up on opposite sides of an alien war between one faction that only wears pants and one that only wears vests. Each side abhors the other, and at this point they only consist of one pathetically stubborn alien a piece.
Undies and Vests has Michio Mihara (animation director on A Wind Named Amnesia, The Tatami Galaxy, and more) all over it—from direction to story, animation supervision, and storyboards—with Dai Sato (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Cowboy Bebop, Eureka Seven) handling the screenplay. In typical Dandy fashion, the episode ends with an absolutely stunning animated sequence, this time featuring Dandy as he surfs across space debris. It’s one of many moments that reminded me why I got into anime in the first place: You know… animation.
Just a few episodes later I was struck by “Plants Are Living Things, Too, Baby,” which features direction, story, and storyboards by Eunyoung Choi—who worked on an episode of The Tatami Galaxy, did key animation on Black Lagoon and Gargantia, and more—with a screenplay by chief director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Kids on the Slope). Here we have an episode that puts the different styles of Space Dandy on full display, as a colorful alien planet ruled by plant life that’s evolved to be sentient pulsates, spewing vivid color from increasingly far-out designs.
My first instinct was that this was Masaaki Yuasa’s episode, but that doesn’t come until episode 16, “Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby.” Prior to that, I noted the excellence of season 2 opener “I Can’t Be the Only One, Baby,” directed by Masahiro Mukai (Hyperdimension Neptunia, episodes of The Book of Bantorra, Madoka Magica, and more) and written by Kimiko Ueno (Kuromajyo-san ga Tōru). Norbert covered that in his review of the show’s return to Toonami, though, so we’ll coast along.
Ah, Masaaki Yuasa. He’s been delighting The Cool Kids for a while now, but this has really been his prime three-sixty-five all around. He got to do an episode of Adventure Time, Kick-Heart was a success, and Ping Pong the Animation is up there with the best shows of 2014 (be sure to read our review!). As you might expect, Yuasa’s name goes straight across the board in the credits of his Space Dandy episode: Episode director (check), writer (check), animation supervisor (check), storyboards (check).
The story finds Dandy’s crew incensed that our mostly idiotic hero spent the last of their money on a flashlight that instantly teleports anything that falls within its beam of light. Once said beam hits Dandy’s head, he finds himself transported, sans the rest of his body, to a planet where he encounters a fish named Carpaccio. Before you know it both Dandy and Meow are racing to escape a world that’s about to be charred black by the sun. It’s fun, weird, and another visually memorable episode that could have only come from Yuasa.
And then, right after that, we end up smack dab in Space Dandy‘s take on something like Glee or High School Musical. In an attempt to nab another rare alien, Dandy masquerades as a transfer student at a school where class hierarchy depends on one’s ability to bust out a song and dance routine at the drop of a hat. There’s even a quick cameo by Slimer of Ghostbusters fame, so you know it’s a special slice of Dandy.
In a show that’s notable for its animation, “The Transfer Student is Dandy, Baby” still manages to stand out. They animated the hell out of this one, and it’s among the most front-to-back enjoyable episodes of the entire series. This one features direction and storyboards by Takaaki Wada, who has a great deal on his résumé, from directing episodes of tsuritama and Gatchaman Crowds to working as animation director on Brave Story and Samurai Flamenco. Most of Space Dandy comes off as the cast and crew having a blast, but this one goes above and beyond in that regard.
Even while going off my notes I keep thinking of more standout episodes. Episode 18, “The Big Fish is Huge, Baby,” is gorgeous work from Kiyotaka Oshiyama, who also did key animation on The Secret World of Arrietty, A Letter to Momo, and Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, among others. “Rock ‘n Roll Dandy, Baby” another jam by Sayo Yamamoto (Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, Michiko & Hatchin), is an absolutely ridiculous Behind the Music on Dandy as a layabout rocker who forms a band with the Commander-in-Chief of the Jaicro Empire’s army. “A World with No Sadness, Baby,” written by Watanabe, with direction and storyboards by Yasuhiro Nakura (animation director on Angel’s Egg, key animation on Castle in the Sky and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence), is hands down the weirdest episode.
The list goes on and on, but unlike Dandy himself, the show must come to an end. Director Shingo Natsume posted a message along with a special illustration via the official Twitter account, thanking viewers and expressing hopes for a sequel. It’s a nice note to close on and, as Space Dandy tends to be, is loaded with its own yokai-style referential weight.
— スペース☆ダンディ (@space_dandy) October 6, 2014
Thankfully you needn’t be an anime scholar neck-deep in a library’s worth of obscure knowledge to appreciate Space Dandy. It’s icing on the cake, sure, but you don’t need to know that, say, a random freeze frame in one of the later episodes serves as an homage to the style of dirty manga master Man Gataro. There are layers of fun for everyone here, and hopefully we’ll see Dandy’s shining return at some point in the future.
In the meantime, just sit down and watch the whole thing, baby.
Read our print story on Space Dandy in the December 2014 issue of Otaku USA Magazine. On sale now, it also includes in-depth coverage of Sword Art Online II, Diabolik Lovers, Terror in Resonance, and more of your favorite anime, manga, and games.
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– Patrick Seitz: The Space Dandy Interview
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