What the fuck am I doing?
The entirety of Space Dandy came and went in 2014, getting all kinds of buzz for all the right reasons. It was even fairly historical given that it premiered on Adult Swim in America before it even aired in Japan, with the English dub and everything. This was the beginning of the era of simulcasting and simuldubbing This show was a big deal.
Maybe about a year or two later I got the blu-ray of the complete series. And like any rational person who got a Blu-ray of a show, I watched a few episodes and then didn’t finish it until 2020… Seriously what the fu-
With Shinichiro Watanabe as Chief Director and Shingo Natsume as director, Space Dandy was a high-point for Studio Bones that despite the praise seems strangely absent from conversations about classics in the medium in recent years. It has the kind of recognition that assures that it will be referred to fondly, yet I feel like after watching, the expectation greatly differs from the actual product.
Dandy is a man of simple pleasures. An ass-man at heart, but who nevertheless has a nebulous appreciation of the female form that defies understanding. Along with Meow, a cat-like alien, and QT, an old vacuum robot, he “combs the galaxy like his pompadour,” hunting rare aliens for cash.
Oh and there’s also a galactic war going on between the Gogol Empire and the Jaircro Empire. The show undersells the importance of such a struggle as quickly as it brings it up in one of the most hilarious recurring gags. However, the evil Dr. Gel and his assistant Bea are constantly hunting Dandy for reasons unknown.
The show is entirely episodic, following Dandy’s many failed attempts to capture rare aliens and register them. His failures put a dent in his wallet and simultaneously frustrate the fiery receptionist, Scarlett, who often witnesses these failures first-hand at the registration office.
For a long time, I wondered what a spiritual successor to Cowboy Bebop might look like. I figured that to successfully capture a similar heart and soul without feeling like a cash-in, you’d need to make something that looks completely different. Similar to how Diebuster looked drastically different from Gunbuster. It wasn’t until I started watching Dandy that I realized this was kinda that successor.
Bebop was an episodic show about bounty hunters who were rarely successful, save for the times they caught a break. Here, Dandy’s track record is even less successful to the point that any successes that would logically allow him to continue living are done off-screen.
In the same vein as Bebop, those failures are either a result of chaos and insanity ensuing from the adventure or because Dandy becomes embroiled in a story much larger than the reward. Dandy is a loud and fairly instinct-driven character, but his heart is often in the right place and he can’t help but get wrapped up in other people’s stories.
From the outset, Space Dandy seems like the perfect kind of show for Adult Swim, and the marketing capitalized on the qualities that supported that notion. Borrowing from absurdist comedies of the like, the episodic stories sometimes end with characters dying or lost forever only for the next episode to carry on as if nothing happened.
However, it’s not some laugh-a-minute comedy like other Adult Swim classics. One of the biggest surprises to me was that Space Dandy is something of a slow burn. Some of my favorite episodes were the slower ones, with radically different art styles and guest directors coming in.
Through Space Dandy, I see two distinct trademarks of its directors. From Shingo Natsume, I see the absurdism and over-the-top art direction that would later immortalize his 2015 adaptation of One Punch Man. From Watanabe, I see a tendency to tell stories that are more than just comedy. Bebop was known for its many episodes that hyper-focused on a character’s emotional state and Dandy does that kind of thing all the time.
There will be episodes about Meow’s family life back on his home planet, or QT falling in love, or Dandy… falling in love (there’s lots of love in this show). These episodes won’t always leave you laughing, but they will certainly leave an impression. Aiding in this effect is the outstanding production of the show, which in retrospect feels very familiar.
Space Dandy is the proto-One Punch Man and even more so, the proto-Mob Psycho. Every couple of years, a show like Dandy comes out, and more and more it is becoming apparent that this happens because we need shows like this. A lot of money will be thrown at projects that seem to attracts directors and artists from all over for no other objective than to have as much fun as possible.
This is a show that is important not simply because of the show itself, but because of how it was made. It’s amazing to look at and listen to for the same reasons One Punch Man and Mob Psycho would be afterward and why Diebuster, Star Driver, and FLCL were beforehand.
Though unlike quite a few of the shows I listed above that share a similarly dazzling production team, Dandy’s early episodes can be hit or miss. The end of season one and season two are where it picks up considerably. Although, I would argue that maybe I gradually came to love the show more because I adjusted to the show’s storytelling and curbed my expectations. Going in with the right expectations can help considerably.
As a matter of fact, the appeal that draws you to watch this show should be one of curiosity. The story is just that: a curiosity. An occasionally psychedelic journey across the universe that constantly battles your expectations and usually leaves a smile on your face by the end. Your mileage may vary on how much the stories connect with you, though.
There are tons of unique and beautiful episodes that are carried by the strength of the artwork and the music by Kensuke Ushio. If artistic abstraction doesn’t quite strike your fancy though, the more arthouse episodes may not connect with you.
Space Dandy is a slow burn, but one that burns brightly. By the end, it burns so gloriously as to make GAINAX veterans nod in approval. I would say that I’ve been spoiled with good endings lately, but I think I’m just experiencing more than ever what good endings should make me feel.
Space Dandy traverses so many possibilities of storytelling as to transcend genres and it never felt like it needed to explain why it goes to so many different places or why the more ridiculous narrative conceits happen. And yet, it miraculously does so anyway. It finds a canonical reason to take the entire show and explain what the show says about Dandy and conversely what Dandy’s philosophy on life is. All the while, the show puts its best foot forward in terms of animation, as if we’d expect any less.
Funimation certainly put a lot of work into this show as well. The dub is great and filled with their best actors. Ian Sinclair does an excellent job as Dandy. I think the only place where the dub faltered was in the musical episode, but even then Brina Palencia’s work on the English versions made what could have been terrible into something fitting of the weirdness of Dandy. Also, casting Johnny Yong Bosch as the character Johnny is the best decision they have ever made.
Space Dandy revels in exploring the cosmos and the many portraits of life therein. By the end of it, I was happy that no matter how much time goes by, we keep getting shows like this. And though it’s been about six years since it came out, I feel it’s even more important to remember it and the kinds of creativity that comes from these projects.
Space Dandy is available for legal streaming through Hulu and FunimationNow. It’s also available on Blu-ray through Funimation.
What did you think of Space Dandy? Have fond memories? Is it still on your watchlist? Leave a comment below and while you’re at it, what other shows do you think are notable for the sheer creativity of their productions?
Thanks for reading and as always, I’ll see you next week!