Turns out last week’s trip to relative normalcy was a short-lived one for Space Dandy, which is squarely back in surrealist mode this week. Episode 5 was certainly a pleasant interlude and the positive response (though rather Pavlovian) not underserved. But that clearly isn’t what this show is or is going to be, at least most of the time – and while the other episodes of Space Dandy have been more diverse both in style and tone than its detractors would have you believe, there’s no question in looking at the body of work so far which ep is the outlier.
To my tastes this may just have been the strangest episode so far, or at least the most anachronistic in the context of anime in 2014. While certainly bizarre, this was less abjectly comic than the first four episodes (though the second half of the second episode had some sincere moments). Rather, I thought this ep was very much in the mold of a 1970’s sci-fi film – or rather, several 1970’s sci-fi films. This was an era when camp and surrealism was used to satirize the perceived failing of modern society, and the more outlandish the imagery the more pointed the social commentary.
The most obvious 70’s sci-fi allusions here are of course to the most famous of all 70’s (and indeed, probably all – period) sci-fi films, Star Wars. Star Wars is definitely cut from a different cloth than the other films which this episode stylistically homages – movies like A Boy and His Dog (adapted from a Harlan Ellison novella) and Dark Star (one of John Carpenter’s early works, from which this ep clearly borrowed its ending). The arrival of the “Vesties” and “Undies” aliens was clearly a tribute to the Tusken Raiders (“Sand People”) who captured Luke early in the first Star Wars film, and their electronically-translated speech had a distinctly Yoda-like quality to it.
Of course, most folks will pick up Star Wars references. How many people are really going to spot Dark Star – which was obscure even at the time it was released, never mind 40 years later? It’s clear evidence that anything goes with Space Dandy, and that Watanabe-sensei has given his parade of big-name guest creators freedom to do what they want. Indeed, I think the goal here is for the overall vibe and mood to work whether you get the (sub) cultural humor or not – it generally is for me, though that’s something every viewer will have to answer for themselves.
Story-wise, this ep actually put me in mind of Doctor Who – but the old, campy series, not the reboot. Specifically the classic Tom Baker episode “Genesis of the Daleks” (likewise a mid-70’s piece) which featured two races which had been battling for thousands of years and were basically down to a parody of a war which started for reasons neither could remember. The hook in Space Dandy is that one race only wears underpants, the other only vests – and this leads to Meow and Dandy (who’ve crash-landed on the moon which is all that’s left of the original “Eden” world, searching for aliens to register) being paired off with their respective counterparts, last of their races and set off against each other in sympathetic support of their new friends.
The satire here is certainly not as subtle as the meta-humor, but I personally found the whole premise – and the delivery of the dialogue – pretty darn funny. The ending is hardly sentimental (last week’s ep deeply in the rear-view mirror). QT arranges a peace conference in an attempt to get both sides to stop fighting so they can be registered, but it goes bad when neither can stomach putting on the other’s garments (and seriously – can you blame them?). It ends with both of them fatally wounding themselves by dropping boulders on their own heads, then setting off the “Dr. Strangelove” doomsday devices they’ve rigged to ensure final victory. The apotheosis, though, is the glorious finale. First, QT abandons the others with a Christian/Buddhist prayer (just as Dandy abandoned QT and Meow at the zombie hospital) – but not before ejecting “Shubee” Dandy’s surfboard, which he and Meow use to surf the debris ejected in the death-throes of the moon, to the strains of the 70’s-style groove of “Pipeline of Stardust”. They still die, but at least they do it in style (turns out Dandy wasn’t a shubee after all). It’s a masterpiece of art and animation, simultaneously funny and strangely tragic.
It’s all pretty out there, no doubt about it – though I’m becoming more and more convinced that the MWI angle from the ED (speaking of surreal, they played the extended version of “Hey, Everett” while I was in the supermarket on Sunday – try listening to that while browsing cup ramen) is going to come into play over the final episodes. As well, I find the chemistry between the three Aloha Oe crew members is really starting to click. I love their banter, and more and more it’s QT I’m getting the biggest laughs out of. He’s the oddball, the most responsible and earnest person (bot) in the cast, and his futile efforts to maintain order with so much bakayaroucity in the air are frequently hilarious. Satake Uki – a full-time idol – has only worked in two anime (though given that the other is Hunter X Hunter, her standard is remarkably high) but she’s doing a terrific job here.