First Impressions – Space Dandy

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So – is anime saved?  For now, the jury is out and the bag is mixed.

OP: “Viva Namida” (ビバナミダ “Viva Teardrops”) by Yasuyuki Okamura

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There are many unusual things about Space Dandy, but perhaps the weirdest for me is this: it’s definitely the first time I’ve seen a TV anime’s first review in the New York Times.  I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing (I do know it was a mediocre review), and likewise I’m not sure about it premiering on US television (in English) before it premieres in Japan.  Expectations for any new Watanabe Shinichirou series (for BONES yet) were already going to be sky high, and when you add in the likes of Satou Dai, Yamamoto Sato, Okouchi Ichirou, Kanno Youko and even Otomo Katsuhiro on the staff, Space Dandy was always going to have a lot to live up to.

I know this for sure – it’s a shame BONES decided to preview the first half of the premiere episode last week, because the second half was much better.  Between that mediocre ten minutes and the general resistance anime fans have towards series that debut in English, get written about in The Atlantic (don’t worry, the article was full of mistakes) and, quite frankly, any anime that’s overtly trying to appeal to an international audience the blood was in the water after the US premiere.  This was a show a lot of people were waiting to rip apart, and when they saw their chance they took it.  Frankly, going into the opener I was expecting the worst.

Well, thank goodness what I got was definitely not the worst.  In fact, it was pretty good and the second half even better than that – but you have to judge the episode as a whole.  The OP and ED (and BGM) are fantastic and beautifully suit the material (as you’d expect from a Watanabe series) and the second half of the episode is wildly creative, bizarre and legitimately psychedelic.  The series looks fantastic start to finish, and the voice cast is excellent (yes, the Japanese dub is much better than the American dub).  The problem is that the episode in total is wildly uneven, and so is the humor – though there were several moments that made me laugh pretty hard.

This is of course the second series in three months from a big-name director working with probably his most successful writing partner, and the similarities between Space Dandy and Kill la Kill going in were quite striking.  In both cases we have the men involved saying they were going to do a lowbrow, populist show that aims to entertain first, with lots of comedy and fanservice.  With no disrespect to Kill la Kill fans – it’s fine for what it is – my low bar going in was that Space Dandy was going to end up like Kill la Kill, and that would be a disappointment.  I find that show to be pretty unambitious and repetitive, not to mention fairly unimpressive visually.  Better than the average bear, but when a director/writer team like that one – or even more, like this one – steps in, I want something significant because we don’t get that many chances for that in anime.

Visually, at least, it always seemed pretty likely that Space Dandy would escape that fate – a BONES series is going to have a much bigger budget than a Trigger one, and Watanabe is free to indulge his wild imagination without having to use duct tape and CGI.  In fact it’s a BONES hallmark to use very little CG even in action scenes, and so it is here – almost everything is gloriously hand-drawn, and I make no bones (pun intended) about the fact that this scores major points with me.  BONES has also been more aggressive than any studio (especially since the virtual demise of Gonzo) in trying to make anime that appeal to a broad audience beyond the “house of pies” anime fanbase, and that’s pretty apparent in this premiere – the humor is less about anime tropes and more about space opera and American culture (though there are some callbacks to 80’s and 90’s sci-fi anime, for certain).

If it seems I’m not talking about the plot much, well, there is a reason for that – it’s very, very silly.  We have a guy who’s something of a cross between Buck Rodgers, Han Solo and The Big Lebowski in Dandy (a fabulous Suwabe Junichi).  In the company of his outdated robot QT (a very funny Satake Uki) he travels the universe registering new alien species for cash – though his real passion seems to be ladies, and specifically their butts.  However his fondness for the “breastaurant” chain “Boobies” (an obvious Hooters parody – it’s dumb, but “breastaurant” is a good pun) indicates his interests are broader than that.  It at the local Boobies that the pair track down Meow (Yoshino Hiroyuki) a Betelgeusean who may or may not (I was never clear on that) be a new species himself, but who leads Dandy and QT to a planet where he says there are “gentle” species waiting to be registered.

Meanwhile there’s a war between two great empires for control of the galaxy going on, and Dandy is somehow (we get no clue how) involved to the point where the Gogol Empire wants him captured (or dead).  Their hit man is Dr. Gel (Ishizuka Unshou), whose henchman is Bea (Hatekayama Kosuke, Nitorin from Hourou Musko and Ginkaku from Uchouten Kazuku).  They travel in a space ship shaped (that’s fun to say) like the Statue of Liberty’s head in bondage (subtle, not) and Gel himself looks like Buddy the Gorilla dressed as a pimp.  When Meow triggers Dandy’s faulty warp drive all hell breaks loose, and that’s when the episode gets really good.  It’s utterly bizarre and packs a relentless energy that totally works for me.  The end of the episode is Dandy using a self-destruct hidden in a surfer doll to blow up the planet, his ship, himself and crew.  The end.  What?

Like I said – the jury is definitely still out, here.  As a whole the premiere was certainly about on par with that of Kill la Kill – which is to say uneven but pretty good (and pretty sexist).  In fact I might lean towards saying KlK’s was better, but even then I wondered if that premise had legs.  Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I feel as if the enormous potential for Space Dandy showed through in the second half.  There’s so much talent on display here – the cast is fantastic and the ability to deliver a truly surreal experience in animation is one few directors possess.  And some of the comedy in that second half really flew, too – like the reference to the “Tochigi Galaxy” and the world’s slowest transporter on Dandy’s ship (it did everything but say “Buffering”).  And next week’s ep is going to be about space ramen – how can you go wrong, there?  I have enormous faith in Watanabe-sensei for the simple reason that he’s earned it, and with reportedly 26 episodes (there’s some conflicting information on this) to work with I think there’s a good chance he’ll find the sweet spot and deliver something really funny, sexy and visually spectacular.  But for now, I’m taking most of that on faith.

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ED: “Welcome to the X Dimension” by Etsuko Yakushimaru

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  1. C

    I deleted it after 5 mins or so. If all we have is Gurren Lagann graphics and T&A jokes, I'll go rewatch GL while downloading Noragami and waiting for Inari Konkon.

  2. How would you know whether it's all we have or not if you only watched five minutes?

  3. C

    That 5 minutes was enough to tell me (and the review above confirms) that the sexism is a dominant theme here. I have better things to do with my time than support that, even secondhand.

  4. C

    I'm a girl and the sexism doesn't bother me. It is not made to be taken seriously.
    Although will agree with you Noragami is the best of the Winter 2014 anime and beats Space Dandy. Hiroshi Kamiya gves a powerful performance of drifter God Yato and the animation is really cool-looking.

    Though Space Dandy is pretty good with its wacky comedy and funny scifi animation.

  5. H

    Meow isn't a new species, they thought he might be because of the "marking" on his cheek but that just turned out to be the sticker from the restaurant (the dub made that clear at least 😛 )

  6. s

    No mention about the terminator 2 reference with the red robot….that was good comedy amidst all that brilliant yutaka nakamura sakuga…seriously nobody draws fantastical action sequences quite like he does.

    Overall while I am a bit nervous about this series I enjoyed it quite thoroughly…again there is something about the BONES (and watanabe) type of presentation that's just fun to immerse urself with

    In regards to the Japan dub being betr than the American…hmmm I don't know about that…I feel like both can stand next to each other equally..both Ian Sinclair's and junichi sawabe's performances had their strengths and something that one did betr than the other. I would give the jap dub the slighter edge only for the performance regarding Q-T…uki satake has a much betr grasp of the role and betr comedic delivery than Alison viktorin (which doesn't surprise as Alison is a fairly average VA in my opinion)

    Overall, a super fun premiere brimming with potential and I can't wait to see where it goes

  7. i

    Yeah, the over sexualized and dumb woman characters were very distasteful to me, but over all the first episode was OK. Did not hate it.
    And not to drag over a conversation over from RC (sorry) but The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has a better English dub right? RIGHT?

  8. s

    To me personally, both of the dubs excel in different areas (and that goes to show how well the dub did its job) I think Crispin Freeman nails Kyon to a tee and his performance in the disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was great (seriously, it's a great movie. Ive seen it change non-haruhi believers into believers. I wasnt invested in this series much until the disappearance movie). Now im purely basing my evaluation of the eng dub on the movie since it's the last hallmark in the Haruhi animated franchise and a reflection of the growth of the actors in their roles. Both the seiyuu and the eng dub cast have their strengths within the roles they play, and some things that they do better than the other. But that's the beauty of it; it makes for an overall package that you dont have to sit down and have a long debate about which one is better. The english script is also very faithful to the japanese one, making for a dub that doesnt feel alien to the original version. The eng dub is equally as good as the jap dub from an analytical standpoint. At this point, it really is just a matter of preference as to which one you'd rather watch.

  9. Not enough of a fan to care, really. I get the draw but find it pretty overrated.

  10. m

    Can someone explain to me how a show with no plot/depth/char development could ever be considered brilliant? The episode was very entertaining, and even had parts that made me laugh pretty hard, (which is rare for Japanese humor, I've laughed at shows before but never like with American TV/Movies/Stand Up) but I can't imagine any way this could be an all time great without changing the whole show. Also for that matter while better drawn less CGI shows always look nicer, I don't think that adds much to the overall value of a show. How does starting with a higher budget make your show more skilled and profound than another show? Im all for low brow humor and gratuitous action, but I wont pretend that that stuff is groundbreaking in any way shape or form. I'm looking forward to watching the series each week but I think its crazy to expect too much more than awesome mindless entertainment. BTW I didn't hate the eng dub. There's no denying the Jap dub was better (and 99% always are better), but there's an inherent ceiling on how much you can like something u have to pay attention to subs vs understanding the words that are said. FMA might not have been better skilled in the ENG dub but the fact that it was done that well in a language I understand (to me) makes it more enjoyable than the original version.

  11. s

    Simple, execution is (of course this is debatable) carries more weight than plot or depth; If something with an especially intriguing plot is executed poorly, enjoyment suffers extremely where as something with great execution but minimal plot relevance can still be brilliant for its execution alone. A lot of the time, the way something is executed is what truly affects are enjoyment of something.

    In regards to eng dubs and subs (with the eng and jap dubs of space dandy airing right next to each other, this topic was bound to be discussed one way or the other), being able to discern and make accurate judgments of voice acting capabilities in an a language that you do not understand (or fully understand) is a very impeding thing. I can guarantee that most anime fans who prefer subs cant even inherently tell you why they believe that the subbed version of an anime was superior to the dub (sure they can tell you that they just like the voices better, but i dont know if that's a case you can truly bring to the court) .

    Language is a very psychological monster, and trying to listen to a foreign language and make accurate judgments of how well someone is acting with their voice, when you urself are not familiar with the language is almost impossible. To make a comparison, take music for example; people have to have extremely trained ears to discern certain notes, keys, and sequences as well as being able to accurately judge whether certain notes are missing, or to properly judge pitch, intonation, etc. Language operates on similar cognitive principles, and while music is more universal than language, those two follow similar principles. What i have noticed with anime fans who prefer subs (that is if english is their dominant language or if japanese is not their first language), is that because they can actually detect bad voice acting in an eng dub, they'll tend to gravitate to the jap dub where they cant really tell and just let their ears be appeased by a foreign language.

    Now there three components, in my opinion, that make a good eng dub. 1. Very competent voice actors of course 2. The english script and 3. How the synergy of both the voice actors and the eng script carry the original intent of the series. If all this is done very well, you have yourself a really good dub. Im on the side that i could care less whether its jap dub or eng dub. I love my jap seiyuus as much as i love my eng voice actors and as long as those three conditions are met, i wont have a problem with neither (but at the end of the day, i guess that's what opinions are for). One thing i am very surprised about though is how there hasnt been any fighting (at least that i know off) between dub and sub lovers in regards to this series. It's good to be able to converse about this stuff as civilized mature ppl without the need for things to go out of hand.

  12. I'm a bit irked at how much of the discussion for this series has centered on dubs, but for the record I don't think it's nearly impossible or even terribly difficult to assess acting just because the words spoken aren't in a language you understand, certainly not if you have subtitles. Language itself is only one component of communication – and with subs, the brain can make the connection almost instantaneously.

    As to the "brilliant" question – is that intended more as a general question or as it relates to Space Dandy? Because I don't see many people referring to the first ep as brilliant. But I certainly don't think ground needs to be broken or deep philosophical issues pondered for something to be brilliant. Blazing Saddles is brilliant. Sleeper is brilliant. Bad Santa is brilliant. The list goes on and on…

  13. s

    "and with subs, the brain can make the connection almost instantaneously."

    That's not necessarily true because even with subs, the brain cannot make these connections almost instantaneously. There are far more process involved that makes an almost instantaneous connection difficult and within my time of studying language and observing people, ive never seen that almost instantaneous connection. But you are right that subs do help; making those connections with subs do get better over time and the more you are exposed to it, like any other thing, the better you get at discerning those nuances.

    I think me saying it was almost impossible to make those judgments was too strong of a statement and made my overall thought not come out as clear. i should have said "it's not that easy to do". There are things in voice acting that are universal and can be picked up on regardless of familiarity to language so that helps in at least making some judgments (especially if its live action, but then again live-action is not reliant on voice so that's a completely different beast). But trying to discern the deeper nuances in the voice acting requires a bit more familiarity (at least a little above average) to make crucial judgments.

    But yea I just wanted to clarify this topic a bit more. Either way, Space Dandy is looking dandy so far. Cant wait for the introduction of Scarlett. I thought this was a solid premiere and i can see exactly why this is airing in the states alongside the japanese dub release. It really is just suppose to be a series that you can get into whether you like anime or not, sort or like an animated sitcom that anyone (who is reasonable age) can get sit down and watch and i think that in and of itself is brilliant. Is it supposed to save anime? I dont think that's really the goal; it's more of just trying to get a wider audience of people to have fun with a really fun series

  14. m

    Because English and Japanese put the subject/object/etc of sentences at different places you can't connect it immediately. Yeah you can easily pick up the tone and emotion behind an actor and its clear that JapDubs are always better in terms of acting quality, I just meant that if you get a Engdub that is close to the same level as its Japanese original (which is less than 1%) it works better for English viewers. It's not as if there aren't enough talented actors who don't have steady income that they couldn't hire them to do the voices and stop making them sound so strange.

    I agree that there are comedy/action movies and shows that I've seen countless times and would prefer to watch over other "award winning" ones, but it doesn't make them anything more than mindless entertainment (which is def not bad at all) but I kept reading about how Space Dandy was going to be the next big thing, and it didn't seem to be in terms of just entertainment value. Happy Gilmore will always make me laugh, but I'd never try to compare it to something like The Godfather, if that makes any sense.

    Sonic I do agree that execution can make up for other aspects, but why don't pure action/comedy movies ever win best picture? It's b/c story always trumps all else. Substance always beats surface. Yes you can lower the quality with poor animation, but I guess for me (bc like you said its 100% debatable) seeing great visuals is nice, but far less of a component to how much I enjoy a show. I absolutely hated Cross Game's (and all other Adachi manga as well) drawings, but it still is one of my all time favorites bc the material was done so well.

  15. If you equate every comedy with Happy Gilmore and think they can be nothing more than mindless entertainment, you're really missing out on a vast galaxy of possibilities…

  16. s

    Space Dandy was meant to be a bridge almost between those who love anime and those who arent so acclimated with it; that was what the big deal was about. I dont think it was meant to be emmy-nominated material like some people thought for some reason, but an action-comedy that would appeal to a wide range of audiences and have a bit of pathos to it at the end of the day. I strongly believe that this is what the creators had in mind and not what the hype made it out to be (which i knew would happen).

    Again, there is more to understanding language than just syntax and semantics. Yes, we can usually get by with the universal emotions and tones we hear in language but there are certain nuances in voice acting from a foreign language that are harder to grasp when one is not that familiarized with the language, which can impede our ability to make crucial judgments (that can be solved with continual listening sessions but still). Either way getting in depth with that entire subject would be the size of a lengthy ass paper and as I have already done that throughout my college journey, let's forget all that noise shall we hahaha : D.

    And in regards to movies winning best picture, its a combination of both story and execution that allows it to be the awe-inspiring award winning movie it becomes; Its not just the story but i definitely see what you are trying to say and on some level, i agree with you.

  17. m

    I love the EngDub autotune voice of QT.

  18. M

    It had some okay moments – the thing I dig the most is the strong 70s psychedelic disco influence.

    QT (Weebo's long lost sibling) has some potential, but unfortunately Dandy comes across as a lesser imitation of Sweet JP from Redline. He wasn't distinctively dandy either, and I'm not buying any irony there. I also worry about that Honey character.

    Visuals were great even to the point of being superfluous near the end, although the minor use of CG stood out to me as distraction considering 95% of the time the art was committed to hand drawn. And like most I didn't care much for the first half, but the music and visuals did most of the talking later on. Great ED song too.


  19. d

    I think the second half of this episode was better than Noragami, though the first half put Noragami as the better show of the day for me.

  20. w

    I must say I really liked this premier. Even the first half. I don't think I need to defend the second which was excellent (and hilarious) An awful lot of the gags early on really worked for me. I burst out laughing at "Yes! Thank you, Boobies!" and Dandy and QT dubbing Meow a 'Space cat'. While it was a little (or more) lowbrow I'd still put it well above the likes of Kill la Kill (though the sexism there only got stronger after episode one). I think the way it portrays its fanservice comes across with a tinge more class than KLK, and that as opposed to the series being sexist as it was there, I think it's just Dandy's character here that is (and Meow, the perv).
    All in all, I very much enjoyed this, great music, great animation and very funny. Very little plot, but isn't that usually the case with Watanabe? He's always seemed to prefer making more episodic series. Granted, he doesn't usually kill off his cast at the end of the episode.. Definitely looking forward to next week!

    Also, hello Enzo. I've been a big fan this blog for a year now and think it's finally time I started regularly commenting on it. (info not really important, but introductions are) Anyway looking forward to another great year and hearing your future thoughts on this series and others to come 🙂

  21. Welcome to the commenting community, whemleh! We're getting a lot of lurkers de-cloaking all of a sudden – I like it.

  22. w

    Cheers for the warm welcome!
    Well, I felt the need to at the very least thank you for the stellar job you've done with this blog the year past. Always been a good read, and opened my eyes to so many series I originally skipped over.
    As for my fellow emerging lurkers, I dunno – new years resolutions?

  23. i

    No review on the Nobunaga for girls and the Nobunaga for boys (typically in anime with the former featuring a near complete male cast and the latter the opposite) or Saki 3. I think I lasted a combined 10 minutes in them all but the Nobunaga for girls has Miyanocchi so I'll probably check it out later.

    To be fair to what Space Dandy has shown so far and not considering its potential, Bones or Watanabe (all of which are a much better class than the equivalents for KlK) I think it's easy to see why it got ripped. The non-boobies part of the show was a lot better than the boobies part of the show so I hope we do get more non-boobies parts because the boobies part was pretty boring, save for the robot jokes (i just wanted to say boobies a lot). Hiroyuki Yoshino as a squirrelcat was funny.

  24. I

    Coming from a random person on the internet with no particular claim to credibility, definitely finish off Nobunagun. I won't fault anyone for not liking it if they don't like it, but it's got to be one of the best-executed first episodes I've seen in ages.

    Nobuna the Fool bored me to tears in minutes, but Nobunagun should at least get some attention after that first episode. It's been too long since an anime had me scrambling around the floor looking for where I dropped my jaw.

  25. M

    I second the claim about Nobunagun being great (and Fool the opposite, for that matter). Dat ending.

  26. i

    Ill hold you to it having a great ending but with my lack of time, unless GE makes a post about it I probably won't bother.

  27. M

    I hope you're not implying that any show not worth Enzo's time, won't be worth yours.

  28. i

    Essentially yes. Of all the bloggers, I trust his input the most. With the exception of sequels to shows I like, I think there's only been 1 show per year that Enzo ignored completely and I ended up liking since I began following LiA. I very much doubt that Nobunagun will be that 1 show this year. No pressure GE!

  29. K

    why does most of this article read like a randomc post?
    whos ripping off who?

  30. I

    Enzo wrote both. So… he's ripping off himself I guess? ^_^

  31. How many times has this comment been made, in one form or another? Are sigs really that hard to read?

  32. B

    yeah that first was really bad but the second was great.Also dandy's mistakes are hilarious, it reminds me of super agent 86 (did i get the number right?). The soundtrack during the alien fight was great and both the OP and ED work for me, i had my doubts but i 'll keep watching this.

  33. Yes, Maxwell Smart was Agent 86. Not a bad comparison actually, especially given that there was a bit of Mel Brooks to the second half of this episode. I think that's the upside for Space Dandy, realistically.

  34. U

    Actually I found the American dub much better the the Japanese.

  35. F

    While I agree with Dandy that the ass is where it's at, I won't be joining my alien-hunting brother on a weekly basis. Something about this season gives me the impression that I'll be able to make my drops this winter after the first episode . . .

    Artistically fun, like KlK, but just not very interesting beyond that (I've had enough of the "Bumbling Space Jockey" trope), also like KlK.

  36. Z

    Gee whiz bang visuals aside (minus still frame transitioning to CG ship at 0:44) a pretty ho hum first outing.

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