I think it’s in the very nature of what Space Dandy is trying to do that it’s going to be somewhat hit-and-miss. The series has pretty much dispensed with traditional plot and character development to the point where it effectively hits the reset button at the end of every episode. The show seems to be pretty much free-association, no limit insanity – and when you go that route, some gags are going to work better than others. Of the three episodes we’ve seen so far, only the second really hit every note from start to finish – I’d rank this one about on-par with the second (and far better) half of the first episode in terms of batting average.
One thing you know you’re always going to get here is imagination. Truthfully this is the most genuinely psychedelic anime I’ve seen in years – I’ve seen a lot of shows try and fake it, but it’s something that can’t be faked. You can’t try and be psychedelic – it’s just something that either happens or doesn’t. There’s no put-on here – the weirdness is genuinely weird, the product of what’s obviously a very liberal creative process (at the very least) and an enormously talented staff. This week Watanabe-sensei brought in Steins;Gate director Hamsaki Hiroshi to storyboard and direct, and JoJo Animation Director Akita Manabu.
You get the feeling these folks are relishing the opportunity to cut loose and try stuff they’ve never been able to try before. Again, by its very nature that’s going to lead to some big hits and some big misses, but it’s always going to be interesting. One thing that does puzzle me a bit is why so many insist on comparing Space Dandy to Cowboy Bebop. Sure, Watanabe directed both – but when he did Sakamichi no Apollon in 2012 I didn’t hear it being constantly compared to CB. It’s odd how it almost seems as if the world has forgotten that show even exists, and indeed the intervening decade-plus may just as well have not happened, and Watanabe went straight from the finale of Cowboy Bebop to the premiere of SD. I think he should have been taken at his word that this series was going to be a lunatic, lowbrow comedy and nothing else – because that’s exactly what it seems he’s intent on delivering.
As for this episode itself, it featured the debut of the strange creatures that first appeared in the epic six-minute PV featuring the full version of Okamura Yasayuki’s OP – beings I dubbed “vagina monsters” because, well… I mean – look at them. Funny thing though, they didn’t turn out to be monsters at all (in fact they were even already registered) but good samaritans – they were trying to warn Dandy & Co. that the damsel-in-distress, Mamitas (Taketastu Ayana) they’d encountered was in fact a “Deathgerian”, #1 on the most recent “12 Aliens You Don’t Want to Be Eaten By” annual ranking. Having watched Oreimo I can only say that the casting was spot-on here, but I’m not sure Watanabe was actually going for that on-purpose…
There’s just so much randomness flung at the camera here. QT’s “Buy 1 get 365 free” space food from 10,000 light years away – which is of course expired by 10,000 years (only the “sell by” date though, not the “consume by” date) was sure to play a role later in the episode. Meow revealing that no matter how much he doth protest, he’s basically a cat (and lunch). Searching for the nearest Boobies (Dandy’s point card was about to expire) in the “Galaxy of Mexico”. And best of all, for me, the grand battle between Mamitas – now transformed into a kind of Cthulhu oppai monster (most nipples in the galaxy, surely) doing battle with the “Mini Aloha” – an escape pod from the Aloha Oe that transformed into a mecha wearing a Hawaiian shirt whose name is “Hawaii-Yankee” and who looks eerily like Canti from FLCL (which is probably the last show that was this legitimately psychedelic, though it was also a lot more emotionally resonant). That battle sequence was the highlight of the episode – fantastically drawn and animated.
In truth, my feeling is that this style of series has a certain self-limiting quality to it. When you’re not trying for anything of substance with the recurring plot or characters, the whole ballgame is being hilarious and being great to look at – there’s no net so if you whiff on those, it’s just “splat”. I think the visuals are going to be a constant, and I expect the humor to likely be about what we’ve seen – ranging from intermittently funny to outright brilliant. I love the limitless imagination that’s on display here, and there may even be a certain profundity that occasionally creeps in when it ventures deep into the Jungian realms of the subconscious. Mostly, though, it’s just a strap-in and enjoy the ride kind of thing – and as long as the expectations are in-line with what the ambitions of the show are, I think Space Dandy is going to deliver most of the time.