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Review: “Space Dandy: Season One Aloha Oe Edition” Goes With the Flow, Baby

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Space DandyIn the depths of space lies the man with the to-die-for pompadour. His name is Space Dandy; he’s a dandy in space. As an alien hunter, Dandy scans the far reaches of the galaxy to capture exotic, unknown species for registry in exchange for money. But as determined as he is, Dandy would rather relax and hang out in his favorite “breastaurant,” BooBies. Accompanying him on this monumental task are Meow, a lazy freeloading cat-like Betelgeusian and QT, an outdated vacuum cleaner robot whose rationality means he has to put up with the other two. Unbeknownst to the trio, they’re constantly pursued by the Gogol Armada led by Dr. Gel and his assistant Bea. Thus sets the stage for Shinichiro Watanabe’s latest brainchild, Space Dandy.

I initially approached Space Dandy with the assumption that it’d be a lighthearted take on Cowboy Bebop. Outside of sharing the same creator, Space Dandy’s basic premise takes a lot of cues from its predecessor. Like Bebop, it, too stars a gang of misfits on numerous space operatic adventures as they struggle to make ends meet, discover a little about themselves, and occasionally survive through dumb luck. Any pretense I had after were completely skewered in the first five minutes of the show where it shatters the fourth wall by having the protagonists acknowledge their self-awareness as characters in a TV show. It only gets wackier from there.

Space DandySpace Dandy is off-the-walls insane, fusing Ray Gun Gothic with disco to create an eclectic offering of chaos. Dandy’s crew encounters zombies, shapeshifters, sentient plants, talking library books, and tiny cyborg men. Plots range from a Wacky Racers-ish grand prix, giant robot battles fueled by the power of love, and a war between two aliens to settle the most important debate of all time: vest or underwear. It’s a viciously demented piece of black comedy, squeezing out in-jokes, satires, lampshades, and slapstick in rapid succession. It loudly applies Looney Tunes logic so that funny dictates over grounded reality, and daft surrealism is a common occurrence. Characters die gruesomely, only to revert to status quo the next episode, none the worse for wear. Dandy’s crew is as likely to be apathetic to their current misgivings as they are to prone to violent reactions. No problem is so big that it can’t be solved by breaking certain laws of physics. My personal favorite can’t-ever-forget-this-moment involves Dandy surfing on an exploding planet. The main villain is a space gorilla in a gaudy white suit who works for an equally dolled-up skeleton man. The fanservice is so hideously over the top that a pair of jiggling breasts is a mandatory requirement, often followed by a butt shot. Its stories frequently zip off course, either playing it straight, taking it in a different direction, or giving up altogether and sticking a Dadaist ending just because it can. There’s always something fresh in every episode. Space Dandy doesn’t do subtle: it takes subtlety and punts it out a window. It’s as if Studio Bones hired the child-adult duo from Axe Cop, locked them in a room, and told them they couldn’t come out until they cranked out a sci-fi. The only thing missing is a space dinosaur and I’m pretty there’s one hovering in the background somewhere.

Space DandyThe madcap unpredictability extends to the animation, creating an experimental mix of trippy backgrounds and aliens. Space Dandy hosts a number of strange, memorable locations and its changing visuals often represent the current mood that’s happening. Wormholes are shown to be psychedelic acid-trips leading to alternate dimensions filled with floating ramen noodles. One planet uses pastel watercolors to indicate whimsy while another evokes monochrome charcoal to portray order. Each episode is supposedly hemmed by a different art director and it shows, since the results are intricately expressive and completely unique.

It’s ridiculous, but it’s the best kind of ridiculous. Space Dandy works because it isn’t trying to be anything other than what’s on the surface. The only rule of Space Dandy is that it isn’t limited by the rules: whatever sounds good on paper is good enough to air. The show is pure Id, brimming with enough imagination and flexibility to take any element and craft a story behind it. You can hop in at any point because that “any point” can range from giant monster hunts to bishonen pretty boys. This isn’t as disjointed as it sounds, since the show has a certain level of consistency with its humorous tone to balance out the crazy.

Space DandyIt’s all the more shocking when it does get serious. The humor is never absent, but a few episodes reduce the buffoonery long enough to tell a story about a lonely dog or a lost little alien girl. These moments serve to expand the primary cast, revealing more to their lives that what we usually see. Dandy is far more entertaining as an egotistical manchild, but he occasionally reveals a kinder, nobler side that, like the rest of the show, is thoroughly unexpected. Sometimes they reach such an astonishing level of sophisticated profoundness that it almost feels like a completely different series. As always, that seems to be the point of Space Dandy’s fluctuating narrative. It neatly avoids dramatic angst and pretentious philosophizing so the heartfelt moments genuinely come off as sincere. When it doubt, it manages to sneak in a couple of jokes to assure the audience it’s still a comedy.

The English dubbing for Space Dandy is superb. The casting is varied and distinct, brandishing a charisma of unique voices that play off each other beautifully. Ian Sinclair provides an alluring baritone to Dandy that oozes sexiness while Alison Viktorin lends QT an infectiously cute voice. R Bruce Elliot gives off a distinct radio voice that appropriately sounds like the kind of announcer introducing retro space programs. In comparison, Joel McDonald’s Meow isn’t quite as distinct, but he provides a decent slacker resonance to the character.

Space DandyFUNimation went the extra mile with the home media release, producing four different editions. A standard version serves as the bare minimum by hosting both the Blu-ray and DVD of the first thirteen episodes. Extras on the disc include trailers — both Japanese and American — promotional videos, commercials for the Blu-ray/DVD, a teaser trailer for the Volume 1 release, and textless opening and closing credits. Commentaries for episodes 1 and 10 are provided by the English voice acting crew and production. Additionally, Dandy Guy in Space: Part 1 is a half-hour feature interviewing the dub actors, ADV directors, and writers of the show. None of the bonus features delve too deeply, mostly spending their time with the crew reminiscing about their work and overall views of the show. It’s understandable given they weren’t directly involved in the conceptualization of Space Dandy.

A limited edition run has everything from the standard version plus five promotional art cards. Those willing to dip further can purchase the premium sets: the BooBies set or the Amazon exclusive Aloha Oe set. I have the latter which comes packaged with the Blu-ray/DVD, a trucker’s cap and decal of the Aloha Oe logo; and replicas of Dandy’s necklace and belt buckle. The latter is so stylish I’m tempted to wear it for the rest of my life.

Space Dandy is an overwhelming experience. In less capable hands, this would be the dumbest thing ever produced. Instead it takes that “dumb” into expressive, creative directions that honest-to-God puts a goofy smile on my face. Space Dandy is a solidly entertaining and consistently funny anime. It’s gloriously over-the-top and relishes in its recklessness so much that it transcends any limits placed on it. The show beautifully embodies Dandy’s chief philosophy by going with the flow. Space Dandy knows it’s stupid, but it doesn’t care. The show is having fun and it wants you to have fun with it and that’s the way it should be, baby.

Screencaps are from the DVD edition. Make sure to check out Chad Bonin’s review of the Space Dandy BooBies edition, too.

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