Set in a distant future, the show’s plot follows the crew of the Aloha Oe as they make their living hunting down and registering new or rare alien species, all the while unknowingly persued by the villianous Gogol Empire. There’s Dandy, but you can call him Space Dandy, the show’s titular hero, a self-styled wannabe lothario who’s more concerned with chasing down women than aliens, QT, his antiquated robot-sidekick, who does his best to serve as the show’s modulated voice of reason, and Meow, a layabout cat-like alien Betelgeusian who often leads Dandy and crew on rumors concerning rare and undiscovered species.
From the outset Space Dandy is a show that refuses to take itself too seriously, choosing laughs and creativity over plot and structure. Character’s break the fourth wall almost immediately, the narrator glosses over important exposition, and the show’s main antagonist never shares the screen with it’s hero. It’s an episodic series more akin to western animated comedies, where consequences of events have no permanence or relevance between episodes. Characters that may have died in one episode appear in the next without mention, for example. For those looking for an action adventure, this lack of consistency pretty much destroys any of the tension that may appear in any one episode, since there is no (presumembly) overarching narrative thread to take you from one episode to the next.
But for a comedy, Dandy’s unpredictability becomes its greatest strength, as episodes almost never play out the way you expect. In Space Danady, you’ll find restaurants get their sushi delivered via interdimensional gateways, robots worry about love, and learn a simple kahuna can escape the destruction of a planet by sufing on the cosmic waves. While they almost all share the same set-up (alien hunting), none take the same route once they get going. Rarely can a show offer this much variety.
And that’s not just with the story. Space Dandy’s animation also shares in the show’s unpredictability. Art styles change on a dime between frames, giving the show a wide array of visual motifs at it’s disposal. If there is one thing consistent in Space Dandy it’s the quality. This is BONES at the top of their game, hardly a frame appearing on screen that isn’t visually stunning, with an impressive lack of CGi in favor of meticulous hand drawn animation. Characters move fluidly and have artfully expressive faces, and some of the action pieces are truly out of this world.
But how’s the humor? For the most part, Space Dandy gets its laughs from playing up it’s hero’s faux cool with a straight face, the writing and voice work benefiting from the English dub being produced alongside the show. And again, it’s the unpredictability that really sells the humor of show, some of the biggest laughs come not from the dialogue but from one of the countless visual gags throughout. The variety of these keeps the shows pace fresh and kinetic. Rarely does a joke stick around too long to be stretched too thin (save the one episode made entirely of the same joke about a shape-changing alien). It’s frantic speed and changing styles recalled Gainax’s FLCL more than Watanabe’s own Bebop. Where FLCL succeeded though, shows just what Space Dandy is missing. While both shows do their best to ignore their own story, choosing style over substance, FLCL did so to hide a subtle earnestness in it’s tale. Dandy never seems to elevate itself quite to that level.
And while for the most part Space Dandy’s unfettered tone lends to fun and goofy misadventures, the show’s comedy and design can too often falls into a misogynistic and juvenile tone. Dandy is a wannabe lothario who’d rather spend his day’s at Boobies” – the show’s thinly veiled Hooter’s parody that seems to serve equal parts intergalactic hang-out and hostess club. He spends most of the show lamenting in soliloquies about the anatomy of the fairer sex than he does hunting down aliens. Dandy’s adolescent behavior could be funny, he’s equal parts Spike Spiegel and Lupin the 3rd, but Dandy’s embrace of his own adolescence can lead to him feeling flat and unlikable.
And in a way that’s everyone’s problem. The crew of the Aloha Oe (with the exception of QT…sometimes) are all uninformed self-centered buffoons. It’s funny to see the crew try to solve their next problems, but their idiocy makes all the characters seem pretty one-note.
The show also lacks severly in the way of any female characters. Other than the criminally under-used Scarlett, the women of Space Dandy rarely stray far from their traditional anime roles. And for a show with such a diverse cast at their disposal, it seems like a bit of missed opportunity. On the same not most of the aliens shown share same the two arm two leg anatomy of humanity. Thats not to say that the more ambitious alien designs aren’t indeed creative (and gorgeously animated), but many of the show’s background aliens just look to be slight variations on a human.
And while the show’s action is some of the best the industry has to offer, the first episode’s finale could be the new industry standard, Space Dandy is a comedy first, so the action bits few and far between, which again feels like a missed opportunity, especially since when it does show up the action pieces are fluid and inventive.
Another highlight of Space Dandy is the music. Switching between bopping jazz and electronica, and everything in between, the show’s soundtrack brings a ton of personality to this already personable adventure. And the English dub and sound design are all solid as well. The cast will sound familiar to anyone that’s seen a Funimation dub. Dandy’s look and English voice gave me such strong visions of Sweet J.P. from 2009’s Redline, pompadour and all, that I was a bit taken aback when I learned they weren’t the same actor.
Overall, Space Dandy is a show that works. For 13 episodes the crew of the Aloha Oe had me on my side with laughter, in awe of it’s craftsmanship, and often shocked by it’s audacious storytelling. You won’t find many shows like it, and aside from two black sheep, the aformentioned shape-changing alien adventure (which other than being one-note was a fine episode), and another about Dandy transporting an adolescent alien(which should have been left on the cutting room floor), every episode is unique and will keep it’s audience locked in. The Blu-ray/DVD comes with two discs for each, some decorative postcards, and a very convenient marathon play feature that skips the opening and ending between episodes, as well as trailers and audio commentary (though only on 2 episodes!) And the price may seem pretty steep for just the first half of a show (season 2 wrapped up back in September of last year), but few shows can offer you as much in 13 episodes as Space Dandy – after all, he’s a dandy guy … in space.