Well, Cowboy Bebop fans should certainly get off Watanabe-sensei’s case now. Not only has he given them an episode that had a complete Bebop feel (#5) but now he’s referenced the show directly by including the refrigerator from the “Toys in the Attic” episode – complete with a blue mold monster inside (which Meow promptly eats – surprisingly with no consequences). It’s fitting given that Bebop’s head writer Nobumoto Keiko wrote this episode of Space Dandy – the other big-name guest is Animation Director Shimizu Hiroshi, a Gainax veteran who’s also worked on shows like Monster and Lupin III: Fujiko Mine.
This episode was quite unlike any previous Dandy effort in that it was really two episodes in one, though they were connected via a pair of “Machinians”, the Le Flea Brothers – a kind of space flea played by the always superb Koyama Rikiya. This is a clever linking device, though some may find the tonal shift between the two halves of the episode a little jarring. Both worked pretty well for me, while not reaching the heights the series has during its best moments.
The first chapter finds the Aloha Oe landing on a planet that appears to be a garbage dump for old space parts, led there by a supposed map of unregistered aliens Meow has procured. QT is in seventh heaven among space junk even older than he is, but it seems less than promising for actual aliens and thus Dandy is in a sour mood. That is, until a dog shows up out of nowhere and Dandy reveals himself to be both weak for and knowledgeable of dogs. What follows is certainly the most earnest chapter of the series so far, along with the Adelie episode mentioned above.
I should have known as soon as QT identified the pooch as a “Laika Husky” where this was headed, but I didn’t catch on until the narrator clued me in at the end of the chapter. There’s some good comedy here – like when Dandy’s translator initially translates the dog’s barks as “Wan, wan!” – bot mostly this is played straight. The pooch (named P.U.P. by Dandy) has been desperately lonely, and Meow is quite hurt by the fact that Dandy treats her so much more kindly than he treats him. Eventually the translator starts working and P.U.P. unspools her life story in the voice of Han Keiko. It’s strongly implied – though not explicitly stated – that P.U.P. is Laika, the dog the Soviets sent into space on-board Sputnik, which supposedly died when the ship burned up on re-entry. Having had her moment to run and play again, P.U.P. promptly expires (seemingly of natural causes) and Dandy constructs a coffin and QT a rocket so her remains can be sent to the “Great Beyond”.
We’ve seen Dandy get serious, obviously, but this is certainly the most emotionally significant interaction between the three crew members (especially given that Meow and QT were largely absent from Episode 5). Things turn on a dime, though, with the arrival of the Le Flea Brothers. Having lost their last host in P.U.P., they hitch a ride on the Aloha Oe looking for a new place to settle – starting out on a rather stinky Meow (no bath for three weeks). Eventually they end up in Dandy’s hair, where the elder brother is sent to the Great Beyond himself by hair gel and a comb, and the younger takes over QT in a attempt at revenge. The really strange twist here is that the Le Flea turn out to be “machine manipulators” who’ve been holding the planet together, and when the other one gets stepped on, it collapses into itself and forms a black hole.
For a change, the heroes escape unscathed this time via an unusually straightforward warp, though Dr. Gel and Bea aren’t so lucky. They’re fast establishing themselves as Space Dandy’s Team Rocket, and their appearances are getting weirder and weirder (which is saying something for characters who travel through space in a bondage Statue of Liberty head). This time around Bea builds a hip-hop tracking system out of used parts (or perhaps just buys it second-hand) which launches missiles when turntablism is applied, and Dr. Gel talks back to the Admiral in slang. I’m still not sure what role these two play in the larger plot suggested by the ED (we haven’t even been told why they’re chasing Dandy) but I suspect when that part of the story is revealed, these two and the Gogol Empire are going to be deeply involved.