Space Dandy – 02

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It finally feels as if the anime season has started, thanks to this week’s Space Dandy.

We finally have the “wow” premiere that I’ve been waiting for since this carbuncle of an anime season started – except it wasn’t a premiere.  I’ll reiterate what a shame it was that BONES chose the first half of the first episode as the teaser for Space Dandy, because so far it’s been the only segment that hasn’t been very funny.  It was my hope that the second half of the premiere was going to be representative of what the series will be, but so far it’s not – this episode was way better even than that.

Here’s the weird thing though – there was probably just as much “Japan specific” humor in this episode as there was in the premiere of Hoozuki no Reitetsu.  Ironic, considering the scorn being heaped on BONES for pandering to an American audience with this series.  I mean, the entire joke with the old alien with the “other-dimensional flavor” ramen was built around the fact that it was actually Ramen Jiro.  In fact that old dude’s whole story was pretty much an affectionate satire on Japanese TV do-ramas about “ronin” in the 60’s and 70’s.  How in the world does all that play on Cartoon Network?

Well…  Fortunately, this episode had plenty of stuff that should appeal in any language, to anyone who loves animation.  Animation, to start with – sakuga animation out the ying-yang, in fact, from the glorious alien ramen porn to the fight scenes in the ramen-ya to being sucked into other dimensions.  It also had a red-hot femme fatale, Scarlett (the legendary Kuwashima Houko).  She’s the broad from the alien registration office who blasts Dandy and Meow into space when they prove uninteresting, and she shows up later when Dr. Gel’s stormtroopers arrive at the “Ramen Galaxy” – itself a parody of Ramen Street at Tokyo Station – to kick some alien ass in glorious fashion.  I’m certain we’ll be seeing more of her.

The whole ramen setup was pure win for me, because I fully understand the quasi-religious quest for the “other-dimensional” bowl.  The sorts of ramen collectives that Tokyo Ramen Street pioneered are starting to show up around Japan now, as ramen has become hip among more than college students and drunk salarymen.  Nominally Dandy and the gang are searching ramen-ya (including the hilariously-named “-men in Black”) because Meow has dangled the prospect of an unregistered alien being behind the unusual flavor, but it’s really just an excuse to portray the ramen experience and keep our heroes on the move as Dr. Gel chases them down.

The notion of Dandy being chased by a gorilla space-pimp who travels the universe in a bondage-gear Statue of Liberty who works for “Admiral Perry” is wild enough as is, but you have to love the fact that Gel uses “Gogol Street View” to try and find him – and fails utterly.  It’s Bee who actually tracks the trio down, because Meow is using his smartphone to tag all the locations of the selfies he’s tweeting his followers.  All this eventually leads to the aforementioned Ramen Jiro – though it’s renamed Ramen Saboru for legal reasons – and the old alien (Nagai Ichirou, Netero himself) who’s the secret behind it all.

As I said, a little – well a lot – of insider knowledge would seem to really give this sequence more firepower.  Jiro is legendary here, a love/hate iconclast in the world of ramen (true devotees like to say “It’s not ramen – it’s Jiro!”).  The “stale noodles, garlic, grease and heaps of vegetables” Dandy describes is very much the experience in a nutshell – I call it the “waterfall purification ramen” because I feel like I need to go to a Buddhist retreat to cleanse myself after eating it.  And yes, there is an original – in the hinterlands of Mita at the southern tip of Tokyo, where the old gent who started it all still runs the original Jiro ramen-ya (complete with the yellow awning, which all his knock-offs – licensed and otherwise – also sport).  The alien ojii-san’s story is actually almost emotional, and right down to his tears being the secret ingredient, it’s as if taken from a story about a delinquent in the Shouwa Era who got on the wrong side of the law and now lives a lonely life, carrying the weight of his past on his back.  But how the heck anyone watching this on Adult Swim is supposed to know that, I’m not sure – hopefully all of this is universal enough that it works anyway.

As to why everyone is alive after the ending of the premiere?  I guess it’s just Watanabe’s way of telling us this isn’t the sort of show that cares about stuff like that – clearly, we’re in for an episodic ride here, with the reset button being hit more or less every time.  Frankly if Space Dandy is as wildly entertaining as it was this week I couldn’t care a whit – this episode (Yamamoto Sayo directed and Satou Dai wrote) fired on all cylinders, delivering the visually stunning and hilarious overload of insanity I hoped we’d get when the first previews started airing.  It’s taken a little longer than I hoped it would, but I finally have a new series to be excited about this season, and it was the one I expected all along – and it’s damn straight better late than never.

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  1. A

    Agree with you on pretty much all points; I liked the premiere but this was the stronger episode much more consistent. I think it's interesting that Bones by far are producing the two best shows of the season, for me- It's nice to have them back after a few off-seasons.

  2. Yes, it's not entirely surprising though. BONES has their misses, for sure – but they never get called out on strikes. Even when they fail they're always at least trying to do something interesting, and in a season this weak that alone is enough to give them a huge leg-up. That both their shows look to be succeeding just seals the deal.

  3. M

    I wouldn't say Noragami is trying to be interesting – but that's for another blog post.

    This episode felt like it had good direction and progressed smoothly, however I only got mild silly amusement from the writing (which isn't as funny as it seems to think it is). References are shortcuts to humour AFAIC.
    Scarlett got far less involvement than I'd hoped – but I'm sold on her. Unfortunately the main duo remains as one of the weaker components. Having said that, I do like the prospect of a wide universe for these characters to play in.

  4. w

    You actually sound so happy in this review. At least seven premieres younger. I'm glad you finally have a series you can really be excited about!
    Also, the Google Empire? I think we may get some really good satire out of this yet.

  5. I was going to say "Space Dandy saved anime after all!" because after this week, that's what it felt like – but that would be asking for trouble, I suppose.

  6. s

    Hey as far as im concerned, after this week, it might as well have. There people out there saying that this was the best ep of spring 2014 out of the shows premiering this season so i think others feel your sentiment.

    In regards to some of the content in this ep being slightly too-japanese, again i feel like this series is suppose to be a bridge between those who dont watch anime or have knowledge about japan-centric things and those who do. For example, the naming of the gogol empire is most likely a shout-out to Gogol Bordello,hence why Dr.Gel's spaceship has a statue of liberty head with a gag in its mouth (sounds funny every time i say that) since New York is were Gogol Bordello formed. But im pretty sure plenty of Japanese viewers would not have caught that reference while many american viewers might have. There's a little bit for everybody it seems

  7. Heh, I love Gogol Bordello, but I think you might be giving Watanabe too much credit here. I think he just dropped one of the "O"s from Google.

  8. And let me add, I'd be surprised if more than 10% of the American SD audience know who Gogol Bordello is. I hope I'm wrong – they're great. Being the music lover he is I'm sure Watanabe does though, so who knows.

  9. T

    We will find out if it is a Gogol Bordelo if the gorilla pimps…starts wearing purple.

  10. A

    That was a great fun episode. If the rest of the show is as good as this episode, it'll be one of the best shows of the season.

    I guess the biggest hurdle this show's had to overcome is the more rabid sectors of the fandom who hyped it up to high heaven before so much as a trailer had shown, and are now damning it to hell for failing to live up to their own deliriously unrealistic expectations. More fools them, I guess.

  11. S

    Wow, lots of this stuff completely flew over my head – I guess I would have found the episode much funnier had I known. I still found hilarious the whole Gogol empire using Galactic Street View (by the way, could the Jaicro empire be referencing something else in the web-sphere? Maybe something Japanese?), and Meow revealing their location by means of his selfies (it reminded me of DBZ Abridged's Space Twitter joke XD). Also, is it just me, or is the monkey general and his Liberty Statue starship a big shout out to both Planet of Apes and Spaceballs?

    But yeah, the episode was definitely more memorable, even though I still remember better comedy from Watanabe. If in this series he manages to top the hilarity that I got from the baseball episode in Samurai Champloo I'll be totally sold.

  12. l

    I loved the satire – how useless Google Street View really is when you really need to find a place, how we can forget about privacy once we've started social networking, etc.

    That bit where the ramen guy accidentally murdered his girlfriend – I actually laughed out loud in front of the computer. Been a long time since that's happened to me.

  13. s

    This….this right here….is what im talking about. Regardless of what other viewers opinion was on the first ep, i thought it was a solid introduction to this series and a nice peak into what kind of insurmountable energy this series would provide for us. I see BONES and the Space dandy production team's vision for this anime and I am behind it 100%. They just want to make a very fun, psychedelic anime, that is just an assault on the senses, yet at the end of the day, they just dont want it to be about nothing. They want the viewers to take something away from all the comedy and zaniness and this ep proved that (giving us a little bit of pathos towards the end with the raman shop keeper).

    I can only imagine that this is how the series is going to be from here on out and if that's the case, we are going to get a highly successful anime series in the west in such a long time (Toonami sure loves it and the 11:30pm timeslot is definitely helping to pull viewers in). The fact that adultswim actually creates promos for this series for every ep as if it was one of their own tailor-made shows surprises me in a good way and i cant wait to continue following this series (next week…a mech wearing a hawaii shirt……what??? hahaha)

  14. Z

    "(next week…a mech wearing a hawaii shirt……what??? hahaha)"

    One Piece would like a word.

  15. B

    After watching pretty much everything, i can say that this show has the best ending (i give witch craft works the 2nd place). Fun fact you could tell that people from Cowboy Bebop are involved in this just by watching Scarlet.

  16. A

    In other words, Space Dandy saved 2014 winter season.

    :) Each episode transports me back to an earlier era of anime where scifi was the default genre, not a rarity, and a madcap, laissez faire animation style was the rule of the day, not some odd deviation from moe fetish.

    Moar plz.

  17. M

    "In other words, Space Dandy saved 2014 winter season."

    Nope, but Nobunagun might just do that. Ep2 was based as fuck.

  18. J

    Odd man out, but I find Mr. Dandy off-putting. If you're going to have an arrogant jackass as a MC, it would be good if he had some self-awareness. Or maybe a second character to knock him down a bit. I was hoping the space cat would be that character, but it's not looking good. And it's not that I don't get the jokes, I but much prefer the cool delivery of Hoozuki no Reitetsu. To me, the show is just a frenetic mess. Maybe it's better in Japanese. As always, YMMV.

  19. S

    The problem with Dandy is there, true. He's a jerk and he's got no one to really put him in his place. The robot is a bit of a deadpan snarker, but still, Dandy has it his way too much. Nothing to do with either Mugen and Jin or Spike, who were excellent protagonists for their respective shows. It's not enough to make it completely despicable to me, but it's annoying, yes.

  20. m

    I don't why people would bash BONES for targeting American viewers. Even if that were the case, which you listed a great many reasons why it would seem it's not, what would be so bad about that? You make one show trying to get American viewers to take a bigger interest in anime and somehow that's a bad thing? Why are so many anime viewers so arrogant about stuff like that? Its very pathetic, this attitude of "anime is only for me and ppl like me" that Japanese otaku/many American anime fans have. I get that when ppl get shit on for having a particular interest that they don't like ppl who don't get made fun of liking what they use to identify themselves as unique, but that's not how it works.

  21. Z

    I wish they would cater to Western tastes more often because, let's be honest, the tastes of the core group of Japanese consumers have become rather insular over the past decade. In effect saving them from themselves.

  22. Maverick, look at the rage against KyoAni for daring to make a mindless moefest aimed at fujoshi rather than male otaku. KyoAni did what they should have, laughed at them and cashed the checks. I hope BONES does the same – and that there are a few checks to cash.

  23. l

    That's the main issue. Cashing-in. Easiest way to cash-in is to cater to the lowest common denominator. Moe-blob anime sells because most otaku males are closet pedophiles. Space Dandy will fail because the women in it are legal and full-on. Male otaku don't get any pleasure fantasizing about those types. They want tsundere underaged schoolgirls to step on them.

  24. s

    Wow. Take it down a notch, will you? You can critique trends in anime without totally bashing a demographic…

  25. e

    The alien Jiro in disguise and his magical Tear O'Taste was quite moving really ;_;. And Scarlet *is* pretty hot – while also NOT sporting absurd rocket boobs and perpetually puckere nipples like the Honey gal – Regardless of the latter details hinting at the not fully human nature of their female(?) blond carrier that counts like a plus in my book. Go Scarlet. May you return soon and often. Because unfortunatey I'm still not liking much the alien feline and Mr. Dandy per se…
    Anyway the ramen+ former delinquent tale + a much more palatable female character alternative + the smartphone addiction (even one of the pimped gorilla's men was taking snapshots of his boss…) + street view satire = the humour and themes themselves were much more up my alley this week and executed well. I do wonder and hope next episodes will be more in the vein of this one rather than episode #1…

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