Space Dandy 2 – 04

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Space Dandy is the anime embodiment of Heraclitus’ saying, “You can never set foot in the same river twice.”

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.

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  1. g

    Yeah, parody of all these cheese movies was glorious. I want to add Grease musical too. I mean Dandy himself is very similar to young John Travolta and him with the girl at the prom have looked so similar to main pair form Grease (clothes and moves). Link to picture:

    But at last somebody is so old to remember all these older musicals movies and not compare to High School Musical. I've felt sooo old on the other forums LOL.

  2. I feel ya, Gramps. That's why I say I wonder sometimes who the target audience is. I see lots of posters trying to figure out which anime all the stuff in this episode is a spoof of, never mind not getting that there's an American pop culture mythos here than predates Glee and HSM by many decades.

  3. g

    I went to the MAL and I think half of people didn't understand what a homage and a parody means. With all the mehs, "boring", "the worst episode" & "cringe worthy" it seems they took the episode too seriously.

  4. j

    MAL is the worst. They don't read the thread/build off each other's ideas, and end up posting the same generic comments for 10 pages.

  5. F

    For me, it is pretty clear that Space Dandy doesn't really aim for a «target audience». The simple fact that the show is airing in Japan and America at the same time suggests that it is going for a large audience. Or maybe I am just giving an easy answer

  6. j

    Viva All! Viva, viva, viva, viva all!

    Damn is that tune catchy.

    You're right Enzo in that his episode brought a focus back to the comedy. Previous episodes seem to focus in Dark Humor. The best example that I can think of is the one in episode 3 with the fish dying while his planet is burning to a crisp. I mean, he was abandoned by his girlfriend, his planet going in flames and nobody listening to his warnings. I mean is a suicide in desperation and all but still I couldn't avoid to think that it was darkly funny.

    But with this episode the balance is somehow restored (Even Gel and Bea Survived!). Don't get me wrong, this season of Dandy seems to direct us to a downer, or at the very least a melancholic, ending but with these kind of episodes the situation doesn't seem so grim anymore.

    And don't worry gilraen_tinuviel, you aren't the only one feeling old by recognizing the old movies here. As a matter of fact let me add that the way Dandy is dressing seems to me more like a combination of Grease, as you mentioned, and of Saturday Night Fever (Pink Dress shirt, Grease, White Jacket and pants, SNF).

    Something that really caught my attention, and maybe somebody can clarify, is how at the end in the scene where Freckles flower blooms her ears seem to turn red (by embarrassment I guess) and grow practically to the same size of the Queen Bee (there were a lot of aliens with "elf ears" in this episode but none with the size of the Queen Bee). I mean, I guess the whole flower blooming seems to be an analogy how she finally "blooms" to adulthood, could that mean that her body physically changed too? Or could be the ear growing just a sign of embarrassment?

    Oh and I am surprised that, by the end, Dandy's fantasy of being the Big Man in Campus came true. Pity that it had to include guys too!

  7. b

    Hayashi Mori is, in fact, a real person and a playwright.

    Also, a couple other references:

  8. b

    Those are dub only jokes btw, not sure if you watch that too.

  9. Well, the name itself is a gag, really – it means "Forest Woods". I don't think any Japanese parent named Mori is going to name their son Hayashi, so I'm still going with pseudonym even if it's someone other than Watanabe.

  10. w

    Don't know if it's a good idea to bring up this debate again, but this episode really highlighted differences between the dubbed and subbed. Credit where it's due, the script for the dub was absolutely fantastic. It managed to sneak in even more references and shout-outs, from Dirty Dancing to Glee to even The Twilight Zone. Of course the price to pay is that the actual musical numbers were very much inferior, sometimes sounding quite awkward and forced. This is the first time in a while I've felt there's a notable difference between the two versions.

  11. s

    You bring up a very good point; i thought the script in the dub was hilarious. My only nitpick would be about the musical numbers as well. I'll disagree with you slightly that the music itself was inferior because i personally thought that the female singers they brought on for the eng dub were great vocally (you can tell that the voice-actor they brought for the blonde stuck-up chick for the eng dub was primarily because she could sing because her actual voice acting was just passable). I was actually surprised by how well they sang, especially the eng VA for freckles. My nitpick mostly has to do with the fact that the lip syncing was obviously made for the jap dub and so there are plenty of times when the dubbing of the musical comes off as awkward; but the singing was still good so i let it go (funimation but a lot of effort than usual into the musical ill tell ya that).

    On a side note, i got to give it to Yutaka Nakamura for brilliantly drawing that dance number Dandy had with freckles when the robot crashed into the building and they were enveloped in the spot light. This is exactly why Yutak Nakumara is one of my favorite key animators in the anime business, right there in my top three; he's just so precise and meticulous

  12. I don't see any big deal – people are free to watch whichever version floats their boat. The dub here is first up, so obviously it's quite a different creative process than with a traditional anime dub. I just happen to prefer the sub, and I actually enjoy not being hit in the head with the jokes but having to figure them out a little (the way satire was meant to be).

  13. w

    Don't worry Enzo, it wasn't you I was afraid of! Just always nervous that the 'dub vs sub' argument never died down (it seems to have here, thankfully) and mentioning it might end up inciting flame wars in the comments. I also wouldn't say either hit you over the head with jokes. It is still satire, but there were a couple of cute little additions here and there ("Nobody puts Dandy in a corner!" and "Is that a UFO" became "There's a gremlin outside the window!") that were just nice to hear.

    Sonic, I think the actual singing ability was about on-par in both versions. Musical numbers are probably the hardest thing to translate into a dub, and Funi did a very good job here. I actually thought the same thing about Blondies actress (and was most surprised by Dandys singing). But there is just a little bit of verve lost in translation. Partially due to the lip synching, but it also sounded less confident. Less power behind the words. You can tell it's something they struggled to get right.

    That last dance number was really good! It kinda reminded me of when Yamakan was still choreographing dance scenes, there was a bit of 'Hare Hare Yuki' flair about it.

  14. I thought Suwabe Junichi sang quite well – he "got" the style he was representing. He seems to be in a lot of musically themed series so maybe he has some background there.

  15. s

    @whemleh..never be afraid to speak your mind no matter what others have to say just as long as you are being respectful, cordial, and constructive, you're guilty of nothing…well that's how i roll anyway. Oh and i agree that the eng dub does a great job balancing its satire just as much as the jap dub does so i see no problems there. Ive always thought both dubs have their strengths and weaknesses and both are enjoyable as hell to watch either way. It's just that I feel that if there is a group of people who only watches the eng dub (and there probably is), this is one of the eps that begs that you watch both versions to truly get the experience of this wacky ep because both versions just have so much to them that makes them both stand out

    And yes, Suwabe held his own in that dance number and he did it in a way that sort of fit range the range we'd come to expect of a character like dandy if that makes any sense.

  16. d

    Ahhh this is spectacular. I had to go watch both audio versions. I'm glad the English dub is up to par.

    Both versions have their own style AND deliver. Gloooooorious! Viva all!

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