I’m having a hard time looking at Space Dandy as the same straightforward free-association comedy I once thought it was. There’s no question that themes have started to emerge over the last several episodes, coming together under the general umbrella of reality not being quite as it seems. That was always the course the ED suggested we might take, but to see it play out so definitively is still enough to change the way I look at the series – especially an episode like this one.
It’s been confirmed that the second season of Space Dandy will air this Summer, which means Watanabe-sensei will have two shows running simultaneously (the other being Zankyou no Terror for Mappa and NoitaminA) for the first time ever. I’d guess Space Dandy is pretty far advanced in production, though, and Watanabe has clearly fostered the relentlessly dynamic nature of the series by giving the episode directors and writers more than the usual freedom. The writer this week was Ueno Kimiko (who’s written five eps, including the superb #4 and #10) and the director Saga Satoshi. It was also storyboarded by no less than Hirata Toshio, the 75 year-old legend who has directing credits all the way back to the mid-1960’s.
Make no mistake, there was plenty of comedy this week, and much of it involved QT. He’s been my favorite among the main cast since the beginning even as he usually stayed in a supporting role, but it looks like next week’s season finale will feature a robot romance – and this week gave us QT spearheading the major comic initiatives. The premise surrounds attempts to capture a Chameleonian – an alien worth a staggering 100 million Woolongs (whereas the last one the BBP crew brought in was worth two Woolongs). Naturally Dandy and Meow get the wrong end of the stick here and start fishing for it as if it were a real chameleon – first by going to “The Planet That Looks Like it Has Chameleons” and then by using fishing poles with bugs as bait – and no amount of explaining by QT can set them right.
As has increasingly been the case of late, though, there’s more to this madcap nonsense than meets the eye. The first twist seems to be played straight for laughs (successfully) – QT becoming enamored of fishing and ending up turning into a stereotypical sportsman sporting sunglasses and a baseball cap, spouting indecipherable angler lingo and getting everyone up at 4 AM to fish. But the funny thing is, Dandy’s screwy notion actually works – a Chamelonian is reeled in. The only problem is, nobody knows it – because the reason this alien is worth so much is that it can disguise itself as anything it wants (initially, this is as the black Tsuchinoko wriggling at the end of QT’s line).
As you’d expect given recent history though, things turn surreal and a little metaphysical pretty quickly. Stylistically the episode comes off as something of a cross between a Warner Brothers cartoon and Doctor Who, but there’s a lot happening beneath the surface. Initially we meet the Chameleonian as a balding middle-aged guy in a golf shirt (I’m not sure I get the specific joke there, if there is one) but he then proceeds to impersonate pretty much everyone in the main cast starting with Meow, right through to Scarlet and Dr. Gel. What’s clear here is that this alien has a sense of humor and really throws himself into the part – in fact, the Narrator (who’s increasingly becoming interwoven into the story – in fact his scat singing Kikkawa Kouji’s “Be my Baby” over the preview last week was actually the Chameleonian impersonating an old-school cassette boombox) tells us that the Chameleonian gets so wrapped up in its impersonations that it sometimes forgets it’s not who it’s pretending to be. The payoff is courtesy of QT again – when the alien poses as Dandy he decides to hold a “Millionaire” style “Dandy Quiz” (“Is that your final Dandy?”) to ferret out the fake, but this fake is as Dandy as the real thing.
The gist of all this seems to be that we – all of us – may not be who we think we are. Dandy reasons it out as simply as can be – if there’s two of me, if I’m the fake me – as long as I don’t know, what’s the difference? This is too much for the cerebral (and luckless)l Dr. Gel, who has a “Gestalterfall” when the Dandy he captures with his new HMH (hyperdimensional magic hand) turns out to be the Chameleonian, who promptly becomes more Dr. Gel than Dr. Gel. Maybe the Narrator has really been the Chameleonian all the time? Maybe Dandy has? I don’t know – but the theme for this season at least is that reality is a flexible concept, and one we shouldn’t get too attached to. I keenly look forward not just to QT’s moment in the spotlight, but to seeing how Watanabe and Satou Dai decide to wrap all this up next week. Will we see a second cour continue this same broad theme, or start fresh?