2014
01.26

An understandable reaction to that headline.

Audience reactions to Space Dandy so far appear to either be “wow, this is really fun!” or “what the hell is this shit?” with almost no middle ground. What both groups can seemingly agree on, however, is that it’s incredibly stupid and doesn’t try to be anything more than an explosion of awesome animation and music. And I’m just the tasteless moron to voice my dissenting opinion on the matter.

Now, I’m not saying Space Dandy‘s writing is on the same level as something like Monster or Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and it’s not trying to be; seriously, this isn’t Cowboy Bebop 2. But at the same time, I think it’s actually a lot smarter than outward appearances suggest. On the surface, it’s just some goofy space comedy with idiot protagonists, crazy action, and – of course – boobies. Sure, it’s got a bunch of dumb jokes aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator that aren’t particularly funny, but something’s always seemed “off” about its execution to me. After last night’s fantastic episode, I know exactly what it is: the boob and food gags are a disguise meant to camouflage how highbrow Space Dandy‘s sense of humor really is. Yes, I can hear you groaning right now. Bear with me.

The way this show is written and directed continually gives me the feeling that it’s laughing at the characters behind their backs, and perhaps even at the audience as well. Nearly everything that happens in any given episode is undeniably dumb, but it all feels oddly calculated and a bit cold. Many would argue that this is the mark of a bad comedy, and generally I would agree, but I think there’s more to it here. The universe Space Dandy takes place in is incredibly creative and unique, and the A-list team of writers, directors, animators, and musicians working on it consists of some of the most brilliant talent currently working in the anime industry. This leads me to believe that there is an ulterior motive behind the stupidity that runs rampant throughout each installment.

Let’s start with the first episode. The meta gags about breasts and butts aren’t particularly humorous and get tiresome before too long, but I think they’re also trying to make a point. The fanservice in this installment is tame, unimportant, and not in the least bit titillating, yet every single character (outside of QT) is completely focused on it and nothing else. Even the narrator is more interested in looking at boobs than telling the backstory of the series. This is a recurring theme throughout every episode released to date – even after becoming zombified, all Dandy really cares about in life is T&A. The viewer is not supposed to like Dandy; yes, he’s charismatic and fun to watch, but he’s not a likable character in the least. By all accounts, he’s a self-serving asshole who doesn’t give a damn about his friends and openly admits to enjoying the objectification of women. He even says that very word at the beginning of the first episode: “objectify.” No one uses that word in a positive light, and not unless they know exactly what they’re doing. I think this is a good time to remind everyone that the director and one of the writers of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine – a series which featured an entire episode dedicated to criticizing female objectification in the media – worked on this show.

Indeed, many have been quick to point out that Dandy’s unhealthy obsession with breasts is annoying. It’s supposed to be. Especially with all the bland meta gags packed into the show’s initial ten minutes, I feel like the writers are actually trying to point out to the audience just how obnoxious unnecessary fanservice shots are. It also rather cynically plays up the whole Boobies angle with Meow taking “creepshots” (don’t ask) of the waitresses in his first appearance – perhaps meant as a criticism of similar real life restaurants, such as the Hooters chain, and their customers. Then, in episode 3, the show uses boobs for a moment of grotesque body horror when the monster reveals its true form. The impact of this is lessened in the Toonami airing (where all the nipples are blurred out), but the scene’s intention remains the same; Space Dandy is subtly playing with the viewer’s expectations, laughing at them for enjoying cleavage and dumb jokes about said cleavage. Of course, some may argue that the women in this show are presented almost exclusively as vapid morons, but it’s important to remember that the men are too. In fact, the only recurring character with any modicum of intelligence is Scarlet, a woman.

Shifting gears, the most recent episode is pretty brilliant, even in terms of its surface level presentation. While the first half was more of what anyone would expect from the series up until now, the latter portion was perhaps the most original and creative take on zombie comedy I’ve ever seen. It also contains some shockingly smart social commentary that ended up acting as the catalyst for me reading more into everything else I discuss in this piece. Underneath all the jokes about life insurance and eating yogurt lies a severely depressing statement about human (and alien) nature: absolute peace can only be attained once everyone in the universe is incapable of anything but the most basic thoughts and actions. Essentially, zombies are more civilized than the normal living, and until all people everywhere are a hive mind without humanity, there can never be universal peace. That’s pretty heavy, but also hard to refute. Everyone is different, after all, and there’s really no way to prevent just one bad apple from spoiling the entire bunch.

This can then be related back to another scene from the third episode, in which the inhabitants of the planet Dandy and co. land on only intend to offer them help, but he automatically fears the worst because of how they look, and attacks them. Even though he has an alien translation device (which he forgets about), he doesn’t even try to reason with them. His first instinct is that they look scary and different, so they must be hostile. I thought nothing of it at the time, but this is almost certainly another piece of social commentary. Yes, it’s played entirely for comedy, but it also functions as a statement about profiling and prejudice. Normally I wouldn’t read so much into something like this, but because this series has a habit of presenting its protagonists (specifically Dandy and Meow) as bad people and punishing them for it, I don’t really feel like this conclusion is too huge of a leap. And hell, even if it’s not meant as a critique on human nature, the entire moral of the episode in general is that appearances can be deceiving.

As previously mentioned, Space Dandy loves reveling in the failures of its main characters. It builds them up as stupid and inconsiderate jerks, then quite literally kills them because of it. In the span of only four episodes, Dandy has died twice, and Meow three times. They’re not likable people, but they’re fun to watch because they still manage to be funny and charismatic and the same time. There are also many subtle sight gags portraying them as less cool than they think they are (such as when Dandy accidentally tosses away his gun in the first episode). Because of this, the audience can enjoy their adventures, but they also have no emotional attachment to them and will always laugh when they get killed off. This is entirely intentional, and functions much like how the titular character of Johnny Bravo was lovable in spite of being a sexist asshole. He was fun to watch, but while the viewer inevitably grew to like him for his charisma, they were always secretly waiting for him to get his comeuppance in the end. This is what made that show great, and also part of what makes Space Dandy great as well.

And yet, the lack of continuity in this show seemed ready to deflate my entire argument… until I remembered one very important scene from the first episode. About 15 minutes in, Dandy and his crew end up in an inter-dimensional rift, and escape from it by pulling on a large chain. However, before doing this, QT warns him that it’s “a cosmic string,” and that pulling on it may cause “space-time [to] distort.” It seemingly works out okay for them, and is never brought up again. However, the ending credits sequence (which, unfortunately, is only present in the Japanese airing) features cryptic images of multiple Dandies floating out of cubes at the same time. This leads me to believe that, when they pulled on the cosmic string, it created countless alternate universes spread out across different points in space and time. This would be an excellent way to explain why none of the episodes have anything to do with each other, and I’m hoping it’ll become a plot point later on in the series.

When it’s all said and done, I’m not sitting here in my velvet bathrobe cackling maniacally about how much smarter I am than everyone else while sipping an expensive chardonnay. All of what I just wrote may be complete bunk, and in the end, what I enjoy most about this show is still the beautiful animation and music. Maybe Space Dandy is just a lowbrow episodic comedy about boobs and aliens. But, given the pedigree of the people who worked on it, and the feeling I get from watching certain scenes, I truly believe it’s more intelligent than it appears to be. Only time will tell.

4 comments so far

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  1. Dude…no…just no…this is apologist talk, please read this again now and I’m certain you’ll realise that you were trying to justify all that time wasted watching this anime.

    • Even if I wasn’t overthinking this stuff (it probably is just a dumb anthology show), I would still have greatly enjoyed it and not felt like I’d wasted my time at all. Sorry you didn’t like it, Dubya.

  2. Pretty much right on the head as it has played out, these concepts have only solidified with the season. Sorry you don’t enjoy anime that doesn’t take itself too seriously W, I’m sure there’s another gory episode of attack on titan you can cheer for with all the other mindless american murderporn lovers 😛

    • Thank you for your comment! I’m surprised to see someone actually enjoyed my post, but I’m glad you did. 🙂