A Dandy of a Let­down

Ir­rev­er­ent new se­ries from Shinichiro Watan­abe lacks the depth of char­ac­ter he brought to the likes of Cow­boy Be­bop. By Charles Solomon.

Animation Magazine - - Anime -

It was prob­a­bly in­evitable that Shinichiro Watan­abe’s Space Dandy (2014) would dis­ap­point some fans. The premise of an anti-hero/ bounty hunter in space feels a bit too close to his cel­e­brated Cow­boy Be­bop (1998). Although it sounds sim­i­lar in out­line, Space Dandy is very dif­fer­ent from Be­bop — and Watan­abe’s other works — in look, style and con­tent. The show is an odd amal­gam of fan ser­vice jig­gle shots, off­beat ad­ven­tures and slap­stick com­edy, de­void of the brood­ing film noir tone of the ear­lier se­ries.

Like Spike Spiegel in Be­bop, Space Dandy (Ian Sin­clair) is a per­pet­u­ally broke loner, trav­el­ing through space in a small, ram­shackle ship, the Aloha Oé. But he’s a much car­toonier fig­ure, with strange plat­form boots and an out­sized pom­padour a ’50s pop star would envy. His mis­fit crew con­sists of QT (Ali­son Vik­torin), a fussy, out­dated ro­bot; and the Betel­geu­sian Meow (Joel McDon­ald), a fe­line alien who’s none too bright (holo­grams fas­ci­nate him the way laser point­ers in­trigue house cats). When they can get the ship’s equip­ment to work, they visit dis­tant star sys­tems, hunt­ing un­known alien species for the boun­ties. But Dandy prefers to spend his time at Boo­bies, a chain of “breas­t­au­rants” fea­tur­ing pneu­mat­i­cally over-en­dowed wait­resses.

There’s no sus­tained story line, just ran­dom mini-ad­ven­tures that have noth­ing to do with each other. Episode one ends with Dandy and his crew be­ing va­por­ized by an ex­plo­sive doll he’s kept as a last re­sort weapon. In episode four, the crew of the Aloha Oé — and the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of the uni­verse — are turned into zom­bies. This usu­ally grisly trans­for­ma­tion cre­ates a sur­pris­ingly tran­quil ex­is­tence for ev­ery- one: Zom­bies move slowly and when they con­sume yogurt, they turn un­ex­pect­edly gen­tle. Dandy and Meow visit a planet of in­tel­li­gent, mo­bile plants in the oddly touch­ing episode nine, which Watan­abe wrote. Dandy’s in­tel­lec­tual host re­al­izes his peo­ple have evolved in Cow­boy Be­bop cre­ator Shinichiro Watan­abe goes for overly ran­dom and of­ten off- the- mark hu­mor in his new sci- fi ac­tion se­ries, Space Dandy. ways they were never meant to: He re­v­erses the process and re­turns them all to their orig­i­nal, non-sen­tient forms.

The bril­liant, sat­u­rated col­ors and of­ten car­toony de­signs sug­gest one of the nut­tier episodes of FLCL or Gur­ren La­gann re-imag­ined by the artists who cre­ated Yel­low Sub­ma­rine — or vice versa. Space Dandy makes a shelf of Easter Peeps look down­right drab.

Dandy lacks the com­pelling char­ac­ters that have al­ways been Watan­abe’s trade­mark. He’s cre­ated dy­namic ac­tion se­quences in sev­eral se­ries, but what made them mem­o­rable was his tal­ent for show­ing the man be­hind the ac­tion. Spike’s face-off with Vis­cious at the end of Be­bop is more than a gun­fight: It’s a duel be­tween a for­mi­da­ble rene­gade and a mur­der­ous boss with rad­i­cally dif­fer­ing world views. If Sen­taro in Kids on the Slope is the school bad boy, it’s be­cause so­ci­ety has re­jected him as the prod­uct of a then-scan­dalous re­la­tion­ship be­tween his Amer­i­can G.I. fa­ther and Ja­panese mother.

Watan­abe has of­ten mixed anachro­nis­tic el­e­ments into an out­ra­geous but seam­less whole: Mu­gen’s blend of mar­tial arts and hiphop moves or the Toku­gawa home­boys who tag Hiroshima Castle to the de­light of an Andy Warhol car­i­ca­ture in Samu­rai Cham­ploo. The cast of Be­bop watches a daily TV show where a cow­boy/cow­girl team an­nounce the latest boun­ties on crim­i­nals.

Dandy is ir­rev­er­ent, im­petu­ous and a wouldbe wom­an­izer. But he’s shal­low and su­per­fi­cial. He lacks the core that gives depth to hot-tem­pered char­ac­ters like Mu­gen or Sen­taro. Although it’s of­ten funny, this weak­ness at the cen­ter of the se­ries keeps Space Dandy from be­ing mem­o­rable in the way so much of Watan­abe’s pre­vi­ous work has been. [

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