We’re on familiar (you might even say hallowed) ground with this episode of Space Dandy, both in general and series-specific terms. Parody is the bread and butter of this series, and there can’t be many subjects that have been parodied as often as rock n’ roll, nor that have been parodied as definitively – some would argue that Spinal Tap is one of the foremost parodies of any type in movie history (and the more straight-up That Thing You Do is also superb). But there’s a reason for that, and that’s the bloated, ego-driven fuel that powers the business of rock, which is in fact one of the things we love most about it. That makes it a perfect subject for parody, except that it often crosses the line into self-parody without realizing it.
If there is something that’s been parodied almost as often as rock it’s zombies, and my reaction on seeing the zombie episode (S1E04) was amazement that it could find so much “fresh” in the topic. Therefore it’s no surprise to me that both that ep and this one were written by Ueno Kimiko, who’s written some of the best episodes of Space Dandy over its two-season run, tending towards the comedic. The episode director is Yamamoto Sayo, the veteran animator who’s directorial work has often been on the ecchi side. But she stays very much within the comfort zone of the subject here, the episode feeling less like an auteur statement and more like a respectful homage.
We haven’t heard much from the Jaicro Empire in a long time, but they’re still out there dreaming of wiping out the Gogol Empire. Apparently the Jaicro (I haven’t quite figured out what’s being satirized by them) is made up of two factions, meek and cautious mushrooms and hot-headed and combative robots. The robots want to use the occasion of the Gogol Empire putting out their ultimate C.O.R.E. weapon out for inspection and replacing it temporarily with a plywood dummy (a spy in the Gogol Empire is conspicuously mentioned here) to attack them – the mushrooms want to think it over (presumably forever). And caught in-between is their young Commander-in-Chief, Johnny (Kamiya Hiroshi).
Thing is, Johnny is living a double-life – he’s also a struggling musician trying to make it big in rock n’ roll. After hearing Dandy humming a tune while taking a leak (Dandy, that is – Johnny is taking a dump) the two get into a bar brawl which turns into a troubled bromance, and eventually a declaration that they’re going to form a band and become the #1 rock stars in the galaxy. This is, again, very familiar ground – the early stages are pretty much ripped from the annals of every high-school garage band ever formed. They “practice” by arguing about band names, the bass player and the drummer (it’s who you’d expect) can’t play their instruments and they don’t have a single song.
That turns out to be a particular problem when Meow (by the way, I keep forgetting to mention that I love the way he drinks like a cat drying to drink out of a mug – also, his beer had a claw in it) gets them a live at a tiny club, and Johnny climbs to the top of the slide at the playground waiting for inspiration to find him. What finds him is the Galaga theme and “The Flea Waltz” (which is known in Japan as “I Stepped on the Cat”), but eventually a fortuitous tofu seller’s whistle leads to a guitar riff, which leads to a song (whose “Hey Lady!” intro sounds suspiciously like a Jerry Lewis parody), which the band (which has been named “DROPKIX” at Honey’s suggestion) plays over and over for two hours at their gig, which leads to an assault from one of the two customers, which leads to the second customer Instagram-ing the brawl, which leads to the gig becoming legendary enough for a label president (Mitsuya Yuji) offering DROPKIX a contract and a chance to debut at Space Budokan – Johnny’s dream.
I won’t say there’s a lot that’s really new here, but it’s executed with such reckless abandon that it works pretty splendidly. Yes, the lead guitarist always fights with the frontman for attention, but the format and the medium allow Space Dandy to take it to comic extremes previously unseen in rock parody. And I loved the narrator’s description of their struggles, especially when he says “The fought over drugs” and we see Dandy and Johnny squabbling outside a drugstore. Eventually Johnny has to choose between attacking the Gogol Empire and making DROPKIX’ debut gig on the same day – eventually he chooses the latter, meaning Dandy and Co. prevented a war – and despite Johnny making one of the great entrances of all time (after Dandy has been forced to try to placate the crowd with “voice guitar”), the gig ends up being a memorable disaster. Another one-hit wonder to join the annals of rock history, but quite unlike any we’ve seen before. And that’s a hell of an accomplishment for Space Dandy.
ED: “Misunderstanding Lonely Night” by DROPKIX (Suwabe Junichi lead vocal)