It would probably be fair to say that while the first three episodes of Space Dandy’s second season were generally brilliant, they were a little light on the comedy side of the ledger. This week’s effort from writer “Hayashi Mori” (obviously a fake name, probably for Watanabe Shinichirou himself) and director Wada Takaaki goes a long way towards making up for that with a brilliant parody of… Well, a lot of stuff. Though it benefits from playing certain elements surprisingly straight – a common trait of nearly every great movie and TV parody in recent decades.
There are definitely times when I wonder who the target audience for Space Dandy really is, not just in terms of location but generation as well. It’s hard to name another anime that spoofs such a huge range of subjects, ranging from quite obscure Japanese cultural phenomena to American TV and movies surely from before most of the audience was born. This is one of those episodes that seems earmarked for an American audience more than a Japanese one, though perhaps some of these old chestnuts have more penetration in the Japanese consciousness than I thought.
I would imagine most of the younger set will immediately connect this episode to Glee or High School Musical, and there’s certainly a strong element of that here, but “The Transfer Student is Dandy, Baby” is at least as much a direct homage to Beverly Hills 90210, Fame and Flashdance, with a healthy dash of Footloose, Rocky and even a bit of 21 Jump Street – all filtered through a lens of anime tropes just enough to give it a slightly otaku tint. But there’s also nods to Ghostbusters, The Incredible Hulk, Robocop and Picasso here for starters – which should give you an idea of how wide a net Space Dandy casts for an all-in parody episode like this one.
The setting here is “Baberly Hills High” on Andromeda Academy, where Dandy has transferred in undercover ostensibly to search for a rare “Kliponian” alien (who’s revealed her presence through her “Chwitter” account), but in truth to live the high school experience he never had and try and get with as many nubile chicks as he can (in his mind). At its innermost core this episode is a spoof of the American high school system – as depicted in 80’s movies and more recent TV series. When Dandy is introduced as a transfer student the class immediately lays down a beat for him, for any student at Baberly Hills High is socially ranked on their musical talent – not surprisingly, Dandy fails the test miserably.
We get a musical number almost immediately – a lecture from the “center of the universe” Queen Bee (Nanri Yuuka) about the ironclad school caste system. She’s at the top, naturally, with the next rung being her flunkies and the jocks – one of whom, Isaac (a hilarious KENN) is her boyfriend. This goes on for much longer than you think, gradually getting weirder and weirder as it spoofs a range of styles common to the setting, before her sidekicks finish by singing “Naturally, the otaku are at the bottom”. And naturally that’s where Dandy belongs, along with the janitor. Also on this bottom rung is archetypal plain girl Sobakasu – “Freckles” (a very winning Makino Yui). She’s so plain that even under her plain-girl glasses, her eyes are plain. But naturally, she has a heart of gold.
It isn’t too, too hard to figure out where this is going – Sobakasu is the rare alien, who will reveal her presence when she falls in love with a man and a flower blooms on her head. And she and Dandy will end up going to the prom together
(“No, I couldn’t! I’m so plain and ugly!”
“Yes, you are indeed plain. And also ugly.”
“You aren’t going to deny it?”)
in defiance of the popular kids, after a gloriously absurd training montage set to an equally glorious 80’s training montage power pop ballad riddled with English at the start of every verse. That’s just the appetizer, though, because the main course arrives when the prom begins and Dandy steps up Sobasaku’s defense when Queen Bee insults her by telling her “You’ve got something no one else can beat. And that’s your fantastic… ass!” and then proceeding to drown out the Queen’s “I am all” numbers with a musical salute to asses. If there is a kind of serious message to this comedy-first episode it comes in the form of the song Dandy and Sobakasu sing in response to Queen Bee’s “I am All!” – “All is All”, a kind of paean to the idea that the center of the universe is wherever you are at any given moment. And if you’re a conspiracy theorist, you could even tie that in with the “Hey Everett” ED and the recurring plot that’s been gathering strength as the series has progressed.
In the end, naturally, Dandy, along with Meow and QT (who’ve sneaked in posing as janitors, managing to get in a verse of their own) completely forget why they came to the school in the first place. Dandy nostalgically looks back at the school after graduation and wistfully sighs “It seems so long, but it’s only been three years.” to which Meow replies “Dude – it’s been, like, a week.” Freckles gives Dandy a kiss (which is his first in the series unless I’ve forgotten one) and they leave her behind just as her flower blooms. Sort of a sad ending, really. The lesson of the Spinal Tap/Christopher Guest school of parody has clearly been learned here – you have to play the conceit of the story (in this case, the music) fairly straight and give things a bit of heart if it’s going to work. I’m heartily glad Space Dandy exists to pull stuff like this off, because there’s no other anime out there that’s even going to try.