US Distributor: Funimation
Production Studio: Bones
Was this provided by the publisher? Yes
More Info: Anime News Network
When news broke that Shinichiro Watanabe was working on a new series, called Space Dandy, my interest was piqued. Watanabe is an acclaimed director, whose resume is dotted with beloved shows like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. Could this accomplished director make lightning strike with this new series? Could he once again hit the highs of his previous works?
The answer, in a word, is “no.”
Space Dandy tells the story of a bounty hunter named Dandy and the crew of his spaceship, the Aloha Oe. His job, so to speak, is to scour the cosmos for undiscovered alien races so they can be catalogued with a central governing bureaucracy. All the while, an intergalactic war between the mighty Gogol and Jaicro Empires. Dandy, himself seems to be a figure of interest as the Gogol Empire is in hot pursuit, albeit always a step behind.
But, really, none of that matters.
One of Watanabe’s major themes in his shows is that the destination doesn’t matter.The journey is king, and never is that more on display than in Space Dandy. If there are any lingering doubts by the end of the first episode, the series drives the point home as Dandy and his crew are killed and the Aloha Oe is destroyed.
We start right back from the start in the next episode, as if the events of the previous installment never happened.
Now, granted, we are given a loose explanation at the end of the show as to how this is able to happen, and why the Gogol Empire is constantly pursuing Dandy and company. Still, the plot fails to be coherent, even with the added exposition. Rather, Space Dandy is more a collection of random stories. And, like most episodic anime, some episodes are better than others. Several episodes really stand out, and show a raw and genuine sense of soul within them, such as episode 5, “A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby”. In this episode, Dandy finds himself targeting a child alien. Rather than finish the job, though, Dandy ends up helping the child its last remaining relative. The entire episode helped to portray Dandy as a generally good guy, who can take responsibility for someone other than himself.
Similarly, episode 8, “The Lonely Pooch Planet, Baby”, highlighted Dandy as a lover of animals, as the crew comes upon a dog that’s implied to be from one of the early space explorations. As expected, Dandy bonds with the pooch very quickly.
My major issue with Space Dandy is that the show lacks a real unified theme. Watanabe’s previous titles had a style of music associated with them, as well as a bit more of a grounding in reality. Space Dandy didn’t really have either of these. The opening narration seems to indicate that the series will be an over-the-top comedy. While Space Dandy does have a sense of humor, it never quite reaches that implied level of zaniness.
That’s not to say that Space Dandy is a bad show. Personally, I found it to be mostly enjoyable, and usually got a laugh or two from each episode. The animation was nothing short of spectacular, and even if I didn’t enjoy an episode story wise, it was always visually interesting.
Granted, there were a few episodes in which things got a bit too philosophical for my liking, or just too weird to follow. The poster child for this is episode 9: “Plants Are Living Things, Too? Baby.” In this episode, Dandy finds himself on a strange planet, where the inhabitants are evolved plant aliens. One thing leads to another, and Dandy finds himself wrapped up in a strange plot that revolves around why the plants gained sentience in the first place. That being said, the episode suffers from an unconventional art style which made it hard to follow the action. Furthermore, the stilted, clinical tone of the plant creatures’ dialogue made it easy to tune out many of the major plot points and exposition.
The music, though missing the theme to it that tied Watanabe’s previous shows together, was decent if somewhat disappointing.
Funimation’s release is loaded with special features, including commentaries on episodes 1, 10, 19, & 26, clean open and closing videos for all the various themes, and an impressive collection of promotional videos, commercials, and trailers for Space Dandy both domestic and international.
While all of this serves to impart the feeling of how special the series should be, it really just highlights how disappointing it really was.
In short, Space Dandy isn’t a bad show, but it kept trying to sell the idea that it was stronger than it actually was. If you’ve never seen a Watanabe anime before, this wouldn’t be a bad choice. Personally, though, I’d say that you’d be better served watching Cowboy Bebop instead.