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.
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 His misfit crew consists of QT (Alison Viktorin), a fussy, outdated robot; and the Betelgeusian Meow (Joel McDonald), a feline alien who’s none too bright (holograms fascinate him the way laser pointers intrigue house cats).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. [
Atkin Downes, Peter Onorati, Kevin Conroy and “Weird Al” Yankovic as Dollmaker. The Blu-ray version ($24.98) offers exclusive featurettes Gotham City’s Secret: The Mythic Court of Owls and The Talons of the Owls, as well as audio commentary and four bonus cartoons from the DC vault.
Both BD and DVD have a sneak peek at the upcoming Justice League: Gods and Monsters.
[Release date: April 14] Ray Mysterio, CM Punk, Undertaker and Mr. McMahon.
Directed by The Looney Tunes Show duo Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone, this Stone Age spectacle offers plenty of laughs and is accompanied on DVD and BD by The Superstars of Fred Flintstone Entertainment, and How to Be a Stone Age Superstar featurettes and two bonus cartoons.
[Release date: March 10] Earth, but that involves destroying everything that currently exists. A young Gaia Coalition soldier infiltrates Harlock’s ship, but soon discovers things are not as they seem. The DVD includes the original Japanese film and English dub, which is voiced by David Matranga, Emily Neves and Rob Mungle.
[Release date: March 31] “Daddy’s Little Monster,” “Joshua and Margaret Investigations,” “Davey,” “The Pit,” “Freak City,” “Memories of Boom Boom Mountain,” “James,” “Time Sandwich,” “Apple Thief” and “Thanks for the Crabapples, Giuseppe!”
[Release date: March 3]