Space Dandy is managing to do something pretty rare in anime, and that’s not repeat itself. Part of that comes from the HEIII/reset button format (though Meow actually snuck a little continuity into the mix this week just for a nano) but it goes deeper than that – each episode has been quite radically different in style. The comedic sensibilities have shifted all over the map – and one episode didn’t have much comedy at all. The steady influx of writers and animation directors is clearly having an impact here.
The downside to that, of course, is that every ep is going to be pretty much a crapshoot as to how well it works. They mostly have worked for me, to various degrees, both because for all its variety the humor has tended to remain pretty cleverly done, and partly because every episode is a surrealistic pillow of visual delights. This was certainly no exception, offering some of the finest animation and art of the series – I’d go so far as to call it the most “Gainax” episode of the bunch, which is fitting as Imaishi Hiroyuki helped with the mecha design. This episode was a who’s who of sci-fi anime history: Taniguchi Goro (director of Infinite Ryvius, Planetes and Code Geass) provided the storyboards, and Nakada Eiji (I’m not even going to list all of them) was the Animation Director.
Nakada in fact provides one very appropriate link, as he was also the A.D. for one of my favorite shows, Outlaw Star. The Outlaw Star influence has been obvious frequently in Space Dandy but never more than here. Newer anime fans may take this ep as having similarities to Redline and they wouldn’t be wrong, but it’s actually a lot closer to (among other things) the “Space Race” arc of Outlaw Star, and the scene where Dandy uses a “grappling hook” (in his case basically a jumper cable) to latch onto a competitor’s ship is a clear tribute to that classic series.
The race scenario comes about because Dandy has a jealous snit when legendary space racer The Prince (Kaji Yuuki, who usually sounds silly when he’s trying to be serious and is thus perfect casting here) waltzes into Boobies and proves a much bigger draw among the local babe-age than Dandy himself. This being Space Dandy all of the practicalities are pretty much dispensed with and we jump straight to the start of the race (my favorite part of this sequence is that QT is preparing the recyclable trash as the race begins). The competitors include Honey in her Oppai-ship, alien Gundam-wannabees “The Twins” and the garble-speaking Crusher Girl (Watanabe Akeno, a long way from Yuuki Rito here).
This is definitely an episode of Dandy where atmosphere is everything – the hyper-cool visuals and the sheer lunacy of the event are definitely the draw. The TV host (who talks in a mix of gaijin-accented Japanese and American catch phrases) is clearly a riff on one of those late night TV-advertised “Dancing Flower Pots”. Dandy keeps pulling a new “last resort” out of his ass, and QT (definitely now my favorite among the regulars) keeps reacting hilariously when they go wrong. Bea and Dr. Gel – clearly this series’ Team Rocket at this point – show up after Bea spots Dandy on TV by pure chance as usual, get caught up in the thrill of the race, and die. Meow is the “Little Aloha” one-cat pit crew, while Prince has a full staff of lego-mecha under the command of the sleazy lawyer-rat (heh) Squeak (Tatsuta Naoki, a name from your anime history books). Dandy has a David Bowman-like experience in a 2001-styled star gate (we get a lot of 2001 references in this series, but that might just be the most referenced movie ever).
Mostly, though, this is about the Dandy-Prince fated rivalry – where GAR turns to bromance turns to… Prince finds himself becoming oddly transfixed by the bumbling Dandy (maybe it was when he gave Prince the finger that did it), who lucks his way into challenging for the lead as the race approaches the final gate. Dandy has jettisoned the “luggage” – which includes poor QT (yes, that is mean, QT), prompting Prince to do the same with his own advanced robot Z (Noto Mamiko), and Squeak has set off the bomb he’d planted under the Aloha Oe just in case. Between that, the bento that Meow put in the Aloha’s fuel tank and the cosmic forces of shounen-ai, there’s magic in the air – and for Prince, it all comes to a head when Dandy “plows into him from behind”.
Let’s just say Prince is never the same – as witness the ending. Dandy actually survives this time – though he outlives everyone else, as the Yaoi-pocalypse has sent him 5.75 billion years into the future. What does he find there? Himself, of course – reimagined as a Bodhisattva of divine serenity, no doubt created by his adoring Prince. And his final word gives meaning to those annoying eyecatch voice-overs that kept popping up every minute or two during the episode. It’s certainly best not to take any of this too seriously, of course, but the sheer weirdness of that final moment was the highlight of the episode for me – the proof that Watanbe and the folks behind Space Dandy are operating under that same credo.