Warning: Spoilers for the plot of Space Dandy 1.1 ahead
It’s hard to think of anything harder to review than a media product made in Japan. On one hand, you need to give the show/game/whatever some slack, because it’s usually aimed at an audience that has vastly different tastes than the average American/British/other audience. On the other, some of this stuff has very, very, very creepy, disturbing, or offensive subtexts.
Thankfully, Space Dandy is not your average anime.
What we have in Space Dandy is a comedic throwback to pulp-era space opera directed/showrun by Shinichiro Watanabe and written by a staff that includes a man who rates Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon as his Game of the Year for 2013. Watanabe might be best known for directing and showrunning Cowboy Bebop, a 26 episode series about bounty hunters in space Adult Swim reran from 2001 until partway through 2013.
This isn’t really important beyond these facts: 1) Watanabe makes shows that work for mainstream Japanese and non-Japanese audiences, 2) his works are more popular in the west than Japan, and 3) Space Dandy is premiering on Adult Swim’s Toonami block, meaning a Japanese show is world premiering in English for the first time ever (I will be reviewing this version, not the original Japanese).
Space Dandy revolves around the adventures of Dandy (Ian Sinclair), a dickish alien hunter searching for new, undiscovered species to catalog in order to get paid and desires to own future space Hookers, aka Boobies (the single most groan worthy element in the episode). QT (Alison Viktorin), is Dandy’s long suffering robot companion, whose firmware is so outdated that she has to use an alien encyclopedia book to figure out if a species is or is not new. Both characters are aware of the narrator (R Bruce Elliot) and acknowledge his presence in the first five minutes, setting the tone of this show – this is an absurd parody, if Dandy philosophizing women’s breasts and buttocks didn’t tip you off.
That said, the episode flounders a bit because it’s setting up a bunch of things at once. Dandy, QT, and the narrator are all introduced and established upfront, so we get a great taste of Dandy and QT’s chemistry, but most of the other characters don’t get much to work with.
Meow, a cat looking alien from Betelgeuse and one-time voyeur, manages to be somewhat likable thanks to Joel McDonald’s performance and some good one-liners in the back half of the episode. Honey (Alexis Tipton) and Dr. Gel (J. Michael Tatum) get a few lines as Dandy’s love interest and pursuer, respectively, but they’re not important… yet.
It should be noted that Honey is a victim of a strange localization change – she had a line of dialogue changed from “You’re an ass?” to “Asteroid Belt?” for some reason, making her look like an idiot. I wouldn’t have even been aware of this if a Tumblr post by one of the animators wasn’t circulating Twitter, but it’s worth mentioning for future viewers because of the rushed nature of this dub. It’s a bizarre blemish on a pretty solid dubbing and localization job, one that needs to be fixed before the show gets released on Blu-Ray and DVD (although it’s too late for all the people who bought the digital copies of the episode).
The animation is top notch, although I worry about whether or not it’ll hold up later on – anime studios tend to pump tons of money into the first few episodes to hook viewers and cheap out on later episodes. Hopefully Adult Swim’s investment in the series will keep the show looking great, as the hordes of aliens attacking Meow and Dandy toward the end of the episode was one of the high points of the show. The bright color palette might irk people, but it fits the retro scifi vibe perfectly and is a welcome break from the desaturation theory tidal wave that’s drowning global media.
In all honesty, Live With the Flow, Baby is a lot like a lot of other scifi series premieres – appreciated for establishing the characters, universe, and story, but not one that will rank high on the list of fan favorites. It’s most memorable element is killing the crew in a spectacular fashion at the end of the episode – but even if Space Dandy wasn’t a comedy, it would be pretty clear the show wouldn’t end there. With a “get out of jail free” card already set up earlier in the episode, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out Dandy and crew are going to continue their alien hunting antics. The question is how, and that’s worth keeping up with one of the few new space adventures on TV.
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