Space Dandy – 12

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The comedy is back in a big way this week, but…

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?

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  1. j

    Leave it to space Dandy to present deep themes in a silly way. I really hope that this pays off in the end instead of just fizzing away.

    So they are ending with a QT episode. I don't know. I would prefer it an episode about the big picture of the show. Even if its only teasing. Maybe they could include some of it in the next one?

    With the second cour coming I'm in a kind of dilemma. I would certainly enjoy of Dandy keeping things as they are now, I've certainly enjoyed the ride so far, but a more conventional cour with an ongoing theme is very tempting.

    I just hope that having two shows in the same season doesn't affect the quality (yes I just said that) of Space Dandy.

  2. A

    The whole double thing has been done so many times, but never as silly. While 'Millionaire' parodies have been done, I did find QT's delivery of "Is that your final Dandy" just cracked me up.
    QT's fishing segment was also pure genius. When QT came out with some fishing jargon, and neither Dandy nor Meow had any idea what he was saying, that was just completely on the money.
    I hope the show doesn't change. The whole thing seems to be some big sandbox, where they give the writers the characters to play with, and they can do whatever they like with them. That's just great. I love the fact that from one week to the next you never really know what to expect. It's really what sets this show apart from all the other anime.

  3. I'm torn on whether I want it to change or not. I've come to love these weekly transformations, and they more often than not work for me. Still, I'm very intrigued by the Everett story they've developed and I'd rather like to see it explored more deeply in the second cour.

  4. M

    First off, this isn't a bash – if you do enjoy Space Dandy or whatever, congratulations. But I see people praising this peculiar dish as masterpiece on the back of people's "misguided expectations" and have to wonder who's kidding who?

    When a show initially promises to be a comedy but strives to deliver no more than few "payoffs" in one given episode, I think it's safe to say it lives short of that expectation. Instead the writers are repeatedly caught up in a cycle of peddling nostalgia in novel ways, but not a whole lot more.

    The irony is, while Dandy on paper dreams up all sorts of exceptional ideas and influences, the final product is staggeringly mediocre. Even with the knowledge that I'm supposedly witnessing the work of legends I don't ever go away feeling as such.

    I think TMB phrase it best:

  5. j

    I think the whole argument between space dandy vs. whatever is all just pointless bickering. Media in general is not better or worse, just for different people. Some people dislike it, make a fuss, then people in turn make a fuss over other poeple making a fuss.

    What makes Space Dandy so "staggeringly mediocre" to you anyways? I think its ability to incorporate a multitude of concepts (quite well, in fact. They feel natural to the plot for a comedy) into the show is it's appeal, not its character development. Aside from their own dedicated episodes, they are pretty 2 dimensional, but I can only see that as a conscious decision on part by the writers, even the narrator describes them as very simple minded.

    Maybe you don't like these concepts used in the show, but the way I see it, Space Dandy is something that fits perfectly into the tastes of the Adult Swim crowd, rather than the anime-only crowd. I think it's smart and has merit in it's own way, though not a masterpiece, which is fine by me. I went into it expecting a "good saturday morning cartoon" not because of nostalgia, as many seem to assume, but because that narrative structure just works sometimes.

  6. G

    Another week, another utterly crazy episode of Space Dandy. I have to say, I enjoyed every episode of it. The whole reality-bending concept just works for me.

    It's been so long since I've come across a show that could make me laugh AND think so consistently. What I like about it is that it's far from mindless humour that plays off tropes, but a genuine (and for the most part, successful) attempt to fuse comedy with philosophy, symbolism and geeky references. And can we just talk about how fantastically stylish this show has been?

    Not every episode is a masterpiece, but we have a few that, in my opinion, deserve the title. Watch Space Dandy every week is like opening a present without a clue what's inside.

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