Shinichiro Watanabe returns to the small screen once again with his likely most anticipated, over-the-top, and silly anime yet: Space Dandy. Actually premiering in the US before Japan, Space Dandy has had quite a buildup and fandom about it over the last couple of months, but is this series about a galaxy-hopping, womanizing, typical bumbling alien hunter worth your time and attention? Well, yes and no.
Space Dandy is essentially a show that has very little connecting one episode from the other, and there’s often an understanding that the series will ‘reset’ every episode. Little that happens in each episode carries over, and that for me at least, is a bit of a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I love a ton of Adult Swim shows that follow this idea (Aqua Teen Hunger Force is the first to pop up there) but after 7 weeks, it’s still hard to get in to the idea that whatever trouble Dandy and his crew get involved in will not be represented next week. If they were slightly small, more self-contained 11-minute episodes, I could wrap my mind around it, but as full 22-minute episodes, it doesn’t work for me. Of course, there could be the time when I finally do wrap my mind around the idea, and just as I do, Watanabe finally sticks to an overarching structure, thus making me more infuriated!
That’s not to say some of the stories found in Space Dandy aren’t worth your time. There are a few that are memorable and I recommend, just a forewarning that you should take them with a grain of salt. First up, the ramen episode: “The Search for the Phantom Space Ramen, Baby.” In this fun episode the crew get the tip there’s an epic ramen unlike any they’ve ever had, so Dandy takes them on a wild chase to find it. It’s full of wacky antics and almost sitcom-esque moments, but when they do find the ramen maker, we get a touching, albeit brief, story about the ramen maker’s life and how he turned to making ramen. It’s neither the most incredible idea nor story, but it’s a good example of how this show can indeed do drama and excel at good writing.
My second recommended episode is “Sometimes You Can’t Live with Dying, Baby,” also known as the zombie episode. Now, I for one, hate zombies. The tropes are tired and they have just been practically reduced to fodder in most mediums. But Watanabe and his crew did a flurry of fun pokes and homages to various zombie related films and shows in the episode, so it was actually charming. I won’t ruin the multitude of jokes found within, but my personal favorite involves an assassin whose job is to hunt down anyone who has faked their death and living off of their life insurance. Seriously, that’s a thing that happens in the Space Dandy world.
Finally, we have probably the most touching episode of the series thus far, “A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby.” This, like the ramen story, is a touching idea and shows how Space Dandy can have some heart. An orphan girl, Adélie, has the ability to transfer people’s minds into her puppets, but aside from the wacky antics found there, there’s a deeper story under the surface about Adélie’s grandfather. Avoiding too many details, this particular episode shows Dandy’s heart, and that he’s not as selfish as he appears at first. Despite that though, it’s not showing us anything new or too-praise worthy with its execution. It’s a paper-thin idea that we’ve all seen before, perhaps done better, but it works for this series early on.
As for the audio side of the series, I’m watching the subbed version, so I can’t comment on the dubbing, but I’ve yet to hear any major objections from fans, so it’s safe to assume Funimation are doing a good job. The music, however, is a bit of a disappointment. It’s not that any of it is overly good or bad, but so far, nothing’s stood out and become an instantly memorable piece. Every piece fits the scene and mood, but nothing I’ve heard stands out as a piece that would be added to my iPod and listened to over the next few years. It has only been seven episodes, so there’s still time for the composers to knock it out of the park, but it’s bewildering that a Watanabe production hasn’t has its killer music for me yet.
All of that taken in to account, Space Dandy is a fun little show, but I’ve yet to determine if this is a single cour (13-episode season) or if it will be two cours. If it’s to be a one cour show, the next 6 episodes need to start transitioning to an overall endpoint, or Space Dandy may lose some of its luster. If it’s to be 26 episodes I can forgive Dandy’s erratic pacing and direction, but if we’re already building to the finale, this will have been a fun ride I wouldn’t ride again for a long while. Six more episodes in this cour, perhaps Watanabe and his team can turn it around, but I’m hesitant. I’ll follow the series to the end, but aside from pretty animation and graphics, there’s little here to recommend but to the hardest of hard Watanabe fans. You can watch Space Dandy at a variety of places, but the Funimation’s site hosts new episodes Sundays at 9AM Eastern, and Toonami/Cartoon Network premieres new episodes every Saturday evening at 11:30AM EST.