Words cannot possibly do justice to the sheer creativity that goes into Space Dandy.
It feels as if Space Dandy has never been away, really, except that it starts its second season much more strongly than it did the first. There were some ups and downs in the first season, though more ups than downs (especially as the series progressed) but what was never absent was the amazing inventiveness and the visuals that brought it to life. There’s so much imagination and cultural literacy attached to this show, and it’s really a shame it seems to be taken for granted by so many anime fans. But for some being popular on American TV is a sin that can’t be forgiven.
As Space Dandy has progressed, the notion that the themes of Hugh Everett III’s “many-worlds interpretation” that powers the series ED were intruding on the plot itself has become stronger and stronger. No anime in recent vintage can do meta quite as adroitly as this one, and we get a mighty big dose of it right out of the gate courtesy of a hair that’s growing out of Dandy’s forehead. After being lectured by Scarlett about what failures they air as alien hunters and why they should look for a new day job (I really think she meant well), the three heroes are each musing about how glorious life would be if their two partners were so useless (it looks something like Star Wars) when Meow notices a stray hair sticking out of Dandy’s pompadour. But when Dandy tugs on it, it immediately becomes clear that this is no hair.
What follows is something like “The Bizarro Jerry” on steroids run through a geek culture filter about a hundred times. That hair is a cosmic string, and it sucks Dandy, Meow and QT into another universe – one where they meet another trio with the same names. But these hunters are badass and efficient – the same, but different – and they pledge to take the newcomers to the Alien Registration Center as their prize. It’s at this point that Meow tells QT “Hey – you’ve got a pube growing out of your forehead!” and lickity-split, one quick tug and it’s another universe. You can probably see where this is going.
The sheer volume of parodies Watanabe-sensei and Natsume-sensei manage to shoehorn in here is matched only by the ensuing hilarity. Among others we get a mini “Manga Dandy” who looks and acts something like a cross between Michael Jackson and Goku, a Titan Dandy, Trucker Dandy, Gundam Dandy, Space Ninja Dandy, Space Investigator Dandy (slightly Bebop-ish), She-Dandy, the utterly bizarre Triangle Dandy, and “Smart Dandy” – an onion-head bozu who looks a bit like Death the Kid and has already figured out who the newcomers in his universe are (it’s he who suggests pulling all the universes together). And of course each Dandy has a correspondingly twisted QT and Meow – like Naruto QT and Pig Meow, with my favorite being Smart Dandy’s “Schrodinger” (you have to open the box to see if he’s alive or dead). Given the themes of the series and the ED, it doesn’t get much more meta than that.
It doesn’t stop there, though, because all this is building to the arrival of Emo Dandy – who sits on a rock sipping nutrition drinks and says “I want to die”. His companions are an old man wearing a fishbowl who insists he’s a robot, and a terrifying cyborg who only says “Myah” menacingly.
“What would you guess that Meow is carrying under his arm?”
“Huh? Isn’t it a helmet?”
“You’d think so, right? But I’ve never once seen him put it on.”
There were many times over the course of Space Dandy S1 where I said “you really have to see it to do it justice”, and that’s equally true here – this stuff is just gold. Of course all of the alternate Dandies, QTs and Meows are brilliantly played by Suwabe Junichi, Satake Uki and Yoshino Hiroyuki – and things get really crazy when the alternate narrators start arguing with each other about what’s really really going on. Once the universes are gathered together strange contradictions start appearing – “cold hot coffee“, “Post no bills” bills posted, beef-flavored chicken, jobs with 7 days off per week, precise and specific bullshit… It’s only when Boobies is populated with muscle-dudes that Dandy declares something must be done, and decides to light the cosmic strings on fire. The result? Space Dandy will continue next week – but with the Emo Dandy crew in charge. That actually sounds pretty damn entertaining to me…
An episode like this one really makes me wonder if Space Dandy isn’t slipping perfectly in-between the two quite starkly different potential audiences it could aim for, and striking neither – I mean really, how many Toonami viewers are getting even a fraction of the cultural references in this episode, and how many people who would have already dismissed the show as insufficiently pure because it airs in America first and aims for a broad audience? Yet, miraculously, it’s found great success on Cartoon Network so perhaps I’m not giving that demographic enough credit – or perhaps the series simply works well enough even without the meta-humor to be entertaining. In any event Space Dandy is unbelievably smart, funny, creative and daring – and for God’s sake, why wouldn’t you want as many anime like that as you could get? If the premiere is any indication, this season is going to be an even bigger treat than the first.