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Space Dandy – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Considering the rather insular nature of the contemporary anime industry in terms of bringing about distinguishable anime series with merit, Space Dandy offers a rather distinct foray into the realm of the equally bizarre as well as comedically absurd. With its origins stemming from Masafumi Harada’s manga of the same name, and with Shinichiro Watanabe at the helm of the animated adaptation (alongside Shingo Natsume), the perceivably high prospect of Space Dandy being a series that is notable amongst others is certainly suggestive based upon the credible talent residing behind its production alone. But despite these elements, the series is one that is unafraid to be different in regards to practically every aspect of its outrageously creative presentation, an approach that fortunately generates some refreshing spiritedness within the medium of anime and is one that often succeeds more so than it does not.

Viewed especially as a work in whom the admirable Shinichiro Watanabe is attached to, Space Dandy is highly incongruous to many of his previous works, which may come at a surprise to those going into viewing it expecting the next Cowboy Bebop (1998). While it does share some aspects with that of the aforementioned series, Space Dandy is quite attuned to presenting a primarily comical narrative that rarely, if ever, takes itself completely seriously, even for the sake of advancing its narrative in the traditional sense. The episodic nature of the series plays upon this very approach quite well, with each proceeding episode being distinctively separate from that of the preceding one, often times furthering the eccentric atmosphere of the series as a whole. This is coupled with the lack of any real sense of continuity to be found within Space Dandy, with there being some abstract reasoning encompassing various elements surrounding that of the space time continuum to explain such an approach, but alas, such proposals do not actually interfere with the developmental process of the series’narrative as whole, instead being only a vague reminder in which we can better contemplate the absolute zaniness of the entire series.

But based upon the actual characters themselves, Space Dandy does not lend itself to being serious from the very opening episode. Following the likes of Dandy, a pompadour sporting alien hunter, and his pals Meow and QT, a cat-like alien and cleaning robot respectively, the narrative plays upon the conventional “space explorers hunting aliens”trope with insightful glee, taking comical precedence at any available chance to poke fun at the intricacies of such a concept. Given the vast spacial landscape of universe itself, the opportunity for the series to be creative in terms of the alien species and worldly panoramas that Dandy, Meow, and QT interact with within each episode is highly utilized by Watanabe and company. This aspect of the series is where we truly see it shine as a creatively immersive viewing experience, with each individual episode bringing about a visual array of colorful characters, unworldly environments, and nonsensical but humorous conflicts arising between them all. The homage to science fiction entertainment of the 1960’s-70’s is prevalent throughout the series as well, from laser guns to galactic starship battles, it is all here and delightfully captivating as an ode an era ripe with space travel galore.

But if Space Dandy does solidify its bearing as a visually appealing viewing experience, the episodic nature of the series is where it slightly stumbles. Similar to other series that subscribe to the concept of being episodic in narrative structure, there are bound to be significantly more impressive episodes over that of mundane ones, which does unfortunately transpire within Space Dandy as well. The variety found within each episode does garner an appreciation for Studio Bones, Watanabe, Natsume, and the writing staff, but since the continuity of series is untended at best, with have an assortment of interspersed episodes that are uneventful and uninteresting in relation to others. This balance ultimately makes the series feel lopsided at times, appearing as a mishmash of genre-specific adherences that diminish the overall quality of the series. One may even speculate that certain episodes may turn off some viewers completely, unwilling to endure the leisurely paced or seemingly non important structure of the episodes themselves.

Another detrimental aspect of the series – and this really depends on who you ask – is the personality of titular character of Dandy himself. Here we have an individual that is undoubtedly comical through his very essence, but his rather abrasively prepubescent behavior is not going to go over well with some viewers. The series does delegate a rather substantial portion of its time towards Dandy’s – and to be fair, other characters as well – affixation with that of the opposite sex and their physical attributes. Now, considering that the source material is a seinen manga series that was first published within Young Gangan, a magazine curtailed to a younger, male demographic, this should not be a complete surprise. What such an approach ultimately does though is make Dandy appear as though that is sole reasoning for existing, which presents his character as appropriately shallow as well as rather superficial in temperament, which could be understandable if it was a sporadic element of his character, but not when it constantly arises throughout practically every episode in one form or another. There is fan service aplenty throughout the series a whole as well, which to many viewers, dilutes much of the functionality of what the series can attain from a universal perspective. With humor that often borderlines on being explicitly sexist in nature, it is an element that hurts the series more than it helps it.

Regardless of some of these characterization and narrative hindrances though, Space Dandy still retains a level of experimental charm that is rarely seen in many other anime series of today. While the highlighted impediments explored above do bring about a somewhat flawed viewing experience, Watanabe and company have ultimately crafted a strikingly alluring series that is difficult to deny its imaginative prowess. There is a certain disregard for the conventional here, which is enjoyable to view, with it only being stunted by some rather lackluster episodes and directorial decisions. While perhaps too strangely idiosyncratic for some viewers, Space Dandy is a series that courageously battles against our own expectations of what an anime series should entail, and for that alone makes it one of the craziest, illogical, and invigorating viewing experiences to come about in quite awhile.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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