This is review number three hundred and sixty four. This anime is part of the Summer 2014 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is called Space Dandy, and it’s about a dog or something. Eh, let’s just get this one over with.
Space Dandy is a dandy in space.
He is a galaxy-wide alien hunter. In search of fresh alien prey, he lives a life full of adventure foraying into unexplored planets. These are the spectacular tales of these alien hunters.
Taking the Pants Off
I’m in a new lineup, and I realized that Space Dandy is in it. I’ll watch it first so I can just finish it already, and then I’ll move on to the other great shows of the Summer 2014 lineup. There are a lot, so I’m really excited. I remember Space Dandy as really overhyped shows, and I believe I was at the heels of its popularity when I reviewed the first season. I look on back on my review, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t any good. I knock the series back for being associated to Cowboy Bebop and my bias for the anime clearly showed. I really didn’t like the first season of Space Dandy, but I just can’t properly explain why I really hate it. Enough time has passed though, and I realize that I’m being unfair to this show. Despite my opinions on this subpar anime, I want to understand it. Ok, what exactly are we dealing with here? I felt that tackling the second season is a good chance to really understand the anime, and I want a second chance at delivering a good review regarding this overhyped show. For impartialities sake, I want to first understand what the director really had in mind with Space Dandy. Shinichiro Watanabe is considered a big deal now because he gave us Cowboy Bebop. It was the general tone of the anime that really won people over. It’s a westernized anime meant to be enjoyed by the Japanese crowd. They didn’t get it, but the western crowd did. They hailed Cowboy Bebop for its strong western influences and regarded it one of the best anime of all time. See, when I first reviewed Space Dandy, I think I was also swayed by my hatred of Cowboy Bebop. It’s not that great of a show, but hype really swelled its legacy. Anyways, according to his Otakon 2013 interview, he stated that Space Dandy will be his first attempt at a comedy. An article in Toonzone.net covered the director’s interview, and he said “With Space Dandy, 80% of the show is going to be comedic and light-hearted, and the other 20% is going to be a more serious nature. There’s going to be some dramatic stories, some heartwarming stories, and some hardcore sci-fi stories. Think of it as the opposite of Cowboy Bebop.”
With his interview, I really wanted to understand his reasons for giving us Space Dandy. He stated, “I derived a lot of influence from classical sci-fi movies, like Forbidden Planet or John Carpenter’s Dark Star. I’ve been a fan of sci-fi movies for a long time, so I was very happy to take that old school taste and bring it in to this anime with more modern action.” Okay, so this is a westernized anime paying tribute to old school sci-fi. Admittedly, I don’t really know that much sci-fi but I think I do understand where he is coming from. The title animation is reminiscent of a Star Wars poster, and the characters teleport to a planet just like in Star Trek. That’s as far as my knowledge of sci-fi go, and it’s depressing considering I know more about otome anime than Star Wars. He then explained that the characters of Space Dandy will explore a different planet in each episode, and he wanted every planet and it’s creatures to be designed by different artists. It’s a really neat idea to have different people redesign Dandy and the aliens in their own unique way. But, what exactly is the purpose of having a different designer for each episode? It’s a bit too much though considering he didn’t really mention how the story is going to shape up during his interview. He just mentioned the characters and the visuals of the show, and he didn’t really even sound off that “the story is really good.” In the interview, he just mentioned the writer and that’s about it. I think I’m slowly having a general idea of what Shinichiro Watanabe is as a director. But, I wasn’t satisfied with the interview. I fired up google, and I tried reading other people’s take on him and his anime.
This article from The Atlantic kinda gave me good idea of the purpose of Space Dandy. It’s written by someone that doesn’t really understand anime, but I do think the ideas expressed here are pretty solid. It states that anime is seen a low-brow and kiddie entertainment in the West. This is certainly true despite the large influence of anime overseas. It mentions that influential directors have often left a big stamp in history. The writer cites that Hayao Miyazaki’s drawings are now featured in the museums in Paris, and that’s a pretty crazy feat, but notable directors like Daisuke Nishio (Dragon Ball Z) remains unknown outside Japan. The article then argues that Shinichiro Watanabe might bring a new interest in Japanimation thanks to his Space Dandy anime. Long story short, Space Dandy is art. I laugh at that statement, but it does make sense.
And I think Shinichiro Watanabe wanted people to appreciate it as such. Ok, fine, I get it now. All of that nonsense and bullsh*t is there just so you can claim that your anime is art. I don’t really know what to feel, because I do understand his approach now. People appreciate art, and Space Dandy’s goal is to convince people that there is beauty in Japanese animation. While I do understand his grand vision, I do have one minor, rather irritating, thing that I don’t quite understand. If your goal is for your show to be considered art, then why didn’t you direct the show yourself? I believe Watanabe is putting a big gamble on this anime. He went for broke by having a lot of character designers employed to create the world of Space Dandy. His ultimate goal is to marry his love of Sc-fi and his vision of “art” in the anime. Why didn’t he direct the entire thing though? A lot of directors would never let others handle their works, because they know that only they can make it a beautiful masterpiece. They’re the only one that understands their vision, and it’s logical to let the painter paint his piece. So, why didn’t Shinichiro Watanabe direct his grand anime? I do understand that he served as a “general director” and there’s even an overall director below him. In the Otakon 2013 interview, he mentions that “I am the general director. Shingo Natsume is going to be directing the anime with me. Although he is young, I think he is an up-and-coming director who’s going to be very famous in a few years.” So Space Dandy has two directors overseeing the project, and there are also different directors in each episode. Wait, what?
If there’s one thing I know that makes Hayao Miyazaki a really respectable entity in the anime industry, and in film making in general, it’s because he is an old school director with the discipline of the past ingrained in his very existence. When Miyazaki directs an anime, his love for nature and incredible attention to detail makes the experience really incredible. This is something uniquely his own, and it’s his way of presenting his “art”. For gawdsakes, it doesn’t have to be pretentious. A lot of directors pour their all to make sure their style of directing is presented in the final product. Makoto Shinkai, Satoshi Kon, Akiyuki Shinbo, Ryousuke Nakamura and Hiroyuki Imaishi all have their own directorial style that captures the artistic integrity of their pieces. When you watch it, you just know the director’s influence is all over the show and it’s something I personally love about anime. I get to be up close and personal with the director leading me to fully appreciate his vision. I guess this is what really stumped me when I was watching Space Dandy, why didn’t Shinichiro Watanabe allow his own directorial style to speak for his vision and the artistic integrity he wanted Space Dandy to have? He needed to have another director look over his work, and I think that’s enough to tell you what kind of director Watanabe is.
They went to the trouble of hiring different directors though, so clearly they must be all incredible people in their own right. I’m about to go over the directors one by one and, damn it, I’m only doing this because I really want to understand Space Dandy. In the second season, there’s Masahiro Mukai. He directed Choujigen Game Neptune, an anime about female versions of popular game consoles. Ok, damn. How about Toshiaki Kokidoro? He’s mostly an episode director. How about Takaaki Wada? He’s a notable key animator. Kiyotaka Oshiyama? Another key animator. Hiroshi Shimizu? Another notable key animator. What the hell is going on here? Instead of just directing the damn show yourself, you thought it’d be great to have relatively unknown directors direct your vision of “art”? It doesn’t make sense. As I keep reading on the list of guest directors though, I feel like the entire thing is meant to be a reference thing where people from the industry are taking part in an anime project that’ll be presented to the rest of the world. It’s like an inside joke for people in the anime industry, but what about your audience? You give them random crap each episode, you didn’t build up your characters, there’s no consistency, there’s no format for them to follow and every episode is like a shallow experience that’d be forgotten as soon as the next episode airs. It is “art” though, so maybe I just don’t understand. It does beg the question though, is Shinichiro Watanabe a good director to begin with? What is even his style as a director?
I guess Shinichiro Watanabe loves music and western stuff. In Cowboy Bebop, he got sci fi western and jazz to create an anime that hipsters will worship. Samurai Champloo had urban hip hop and a lot of western things littered all over feudal Japan. In Sakamichi Apollon, a manga adaptation, he had jazz in the Shouwa era. In terms of directorial style, I guess you can say he prefers style over substance. He doesn’t take things that seriously, including his own show, and he mostly just try to make sure everything is flashy as hell. When you argue that Cowboy Bebop’s story is good, I’m sorry but that isn’t Watanabe’s doing. Keiko Nobumoto’s incredible writing actually gave life to the Cowboy Bebop franchise, and I bet everything you love about it is done by this amazing woman. She gave the show the serious tone that made the boring scenes actually really gripping to watch. Her influence is so great that it even permeates in Tokyo Godfather. As for the music of Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe didn’t do much to it as well. The pumped up opening song and the stylistic insert music are all done by Yoko Kano. She had such a good idea of jazz that it really blended well with Keiko’s writing making Cowboy Bebop a really immersive experience and their strong influences resonated with fans heralding the franchise as gawd. So what exactly did Watanabe did? He is given so much credit for Cowboy Bebop, and he even claim to be a really precise musical director, so he must’ve done some big things for the anime, right? As far as I can tell, he was really just Sunrise’s randomly chosen director to direct an original screenplay conceived by Hajime Yatate. They gave the ball to a first time director and Watanabe did run with it, to his credit. He developed the characters and the story with his flashy style of storytelling.
From what I can tell, Watanabe is a “concept” kind of director but he needs crutches to fully reach his potential. He need people guiding him to help make his vision come to fruition, and he wanted to challenge himself with Space Dandy. He seems to do the exact opposite of Cowboy Bebop with more comedy, less character development and a very loose story. Just like Cowboy Bebop, it was designed to fail but Watanabe was very confident in himself, since he did find lightning in a bottle before. So to recap: Space Dandy is an ode to sci fi, an art piece backing up Japanese animation, and it’s Watanabe challenging himself as a director by having other directors direct his sh*t. It has too many directors, too many character designers, and too many writers. Simply put, Space Dandy is a great practice at celebrating the concept of a “clusterf*ck”, and we all ate up the hype.
The reason for the long winded introduction is mainly because the second season is really just a continuation of the anime. I think the show has twenty six episodes, and they decided to split it to two seasons. Both seasons have the same OP and ED songs, and it doesn’t really matter if they split it to two seasons because the anime itself doesn’t care about continuity. It just functions on the main premise of our main characters going to planet to hunt aliens, they get caught in whatever trouble is in there and the episode ends with the conflict resolved. The show then resets in the next episode as if the previous one didn’t happen. This is apparent in the first episode of Season 1 where our main characters die. That basically set the tone for the entire series. Since it’s entirely the same anime, I won’t cover the same points I discussed in my first review. I just don’t want to do it again, even though I can and I should. I just really want to understand this anime and why it was made.
Anyways, for the second season, there is one main thing being done here. The show is building the characters. It’s not character development, because you can’t do that when the anime resets to the same thing after an episode ends. I think the show shot itself in the foot with this decision though, because it’s trying to establish character relationships but failing at it hard. I learned from the first season to not take this anime seriously. It’s a dumb ride with nothing much to gain from. The second season is trying to get Dandy to connect with some side characters though. The ladies in the series particularly have a bigger role in the second season. The show hints that they might actually like Dandy, and it honestly would’ve worked if you had continuity in your story. Why bother making them fall in love with Dandy when it won’t matter in the next episode? With no character development, why should we care about their blossoming relationship? They all just feel contrived and heartless when you watch it, because the show established clearly on that there’ll be little effort put on the overall story. Everything happens in that episode alone, and none of them actually connect. I can’t invest if I don’t see an actual pay off for it. Some episodes are dedicated entirely on Dandy being nice with Scarlet, and that hot girl from Boobies is now actually showing some positives feelings for Dandy. In the show, the hot girl is really just this dumb blonde that’s working at a place where she needed to treat the customer right. In the second season, her role takes her out of the restaurant to do something for the series. Again, it doesn’t really matter because this anime doesn’t care for character development.
I know the reason for this contrived relationship building though, and I honestly saw it from miles away. After watching so many Original Screenplays, Space Dandy is exhibiting a familiar trait that these original works all possess. This anime is struggling to find an ending for the series. I don’t really understand the big problem, but the anime is really doing its best to make the final episode matter. The role of Scarlet and the hot girl is emphasized, and the role of the villain is given more time to build up as well. Yes, the monkey and the eggplant had some great scenes in the second season. The show explains in the final episode why they are after Dandy, and so the monkey and the eggplant needed to be a constant presence in every other episode. Again, I don’t understand why they’re suddenly putting effort. They can just end it again with Dandy dying, and I honestly would’ve loved it. Sadly, this Original Screenplay is suddenly trying to justify its story. Seriously, the final episodes are now concerned on a story regarding Dandy being a special individual that the villains want to capture. It is contrived as hell, and it’s absolutely insulting for Watanabe to suddenly care for a story when he was the one writing for the episode. Well, yeah, it’s his show but a good director can actually tell a story and be artsy as well. Do I really have to bring up Miyazaki again? He wasted a lot of time on an over ambitious idea, and then he suddenly decided that this anime needed an ending. It has no introduction, no rising action, no conflict, no exposition, no falling action, and no resolution but it absolute needs an ending. Quick Shingo Natsume! Let’s combine our wonder rings and write up a forced and dumb ending for this anime. It’s for the art, damn it.
There are some episodes that I absolutely loved. The first one is Episode Three where the characters talked to a fish and then ate him in the end of the episode. It’s dark and playful, and it reminds me of Masaaki Yuasa’s style. He loves doing surreal things with a kid’s view of the world passed through a kaleidoscope, and it’s absolutely fun to watch. Oh wait, Masaaki Yuasa directed and wrote the entire episode. What was Watanabe doing during this point? This is the problem I have with Watanabe. It feels like he is detached with his anime. Masaaki’s style completely overpowers his presence, and it honestly never really permeated in his own anime. The other directors seem to have more input in HIS anime, and this creates a big disconnect with the overall experience. Remember when Masaaki Yuasa directed an episode of Adventure Time. I absolutely foamed in the mouth when I learned that, but the episode is so bizarre. It didn’t fit with the rest of Adventure Time and it feels like a separate show. The feeling I had with Masaaki’s episode of Adventure Time is exactly the same feeling I had with Space Dandy. The anime experience isn’t that meaningful, because there is no cohesion and there is always a feeling of disconnect among the episodes. I think Watanabe’s job is to actually bring all these loose thoughts together, but I think the guy can’t do something that complex. Animatrix are all separate things as well, but there is actually a great cohesion in them that people love. Aoi Bungaku is an anime about literary classics directed by different people, but they all still feel cohesive despite that. Watanabe is supposed to add cohesion to his gawd damn anime.
Oh, but every episode is supposed to be different. You’re missing the point. Shut up. It’s art, so you wouldn’t understand.
I seriously had that conversation when someone defended Space Dandy. You know what? A great director is supposed to make us care about his work. I believe that’s what makes a great director. He can give us the most dialogue heavy anime ever, and the audience will hang onto every word. He can do an anime without any dialogue, and it’ll shine. There’s a f*cking three minute anime out there that absolutely made me cry. A great director should know how to f*cking make his show work. Space Dandy is actually like Panty and Stockings, in some way. Every episode resets the status quo, and they’re both disgustingly westernized. I can say though, and I’ll make bullet points if you want, that Panty and Stockings is much better. Why? Cohesion. Hiroyuki Imaishi created a bunch of episodes that had no story, no character development, and most are directed by other people but they all still come together to create one great anime. Space Dandy did not, and it’s mainly because Watanabe is honestly not that great of a director. I understand that now.
I am really just ranting in this review, huh? I apologize. Anyways, another episode I liked is Episode Five where Dandy is trying to catch a legendary fish. In terms of “art”, I think I love this episode because it’s reminiscent of Princess Mononoke. I have never seen the movie itself, but I just knew they were going for something Miyazaki-esque here. The constant shot of nature, the homage to his character design and the art style being as close as a Ghibli visual. Kiyotaka Oshiyama both wrote and directed the episode, and I think he wanted to send some love to Hayao Miyazaki. I love his directing style, because he is really trying to reach a Miyazaki style that doesn’t come off as a rip-off but rather a love letter to the great director.
Another episode I love is Episode Eight. This episode is about death, and the story is pretty nonsensical. I love it though, because there is a feeling of uncertainty and dread in the episode. It builds up and nags you without the show ever acknowledging it, and it’s like a wonderful metaphor for death. Death is unsettling and a bit surreal, and the anime wanted to portray that in the most vivid manner. The atmosphere of the episode being depressing, the characters talking in weird cryptic sentences and the music being so gloomy is just storytelling at its peak. It also had a bunch of aliens literally preaching a gospel while listening to another alien talking about death. The subtle details and symbolic images in this episode is just a treat to watch. I seriously recommend this episode alone, because it’s just amazing. The episode is directed by Yasuhiro Nakamura, and this guy is just an artist in the very sense of the word. Someone hire him and make him do his own anime. I guarantee he’ll wow the rest of the world easily.
If there’s one thing that absolutely grew on me while watching the first season, it’d be Dandy’s crew. The cat that has a twitter account and constantly fiddles with an Iphone, and the robot that has to handle Dandy’s crap 24/7 are characters that I always rely on to deliver great scenes in an episode. Dandy can be too overbearing sometimes, but the cat and the robot balances things out. The second season decided to lessen their roles. They didn’t really do anything special in the second season, and Dandy is mostly the only character visiting a planet and getting caught in trouble. This made some episodes unbearable, because Dandy is an “I don’t care” character not reacting normally to the events of the story. The cat and the robot does those things for him, and with them gone, Dandy’s unbearable personality becomes a bit tougher to tolerate. I personally love the robot’s voice, and it’s really a damn shame he didn’t have a stronger role this time around.
That’s really all I have to say about this anime. As you can see, the review itself isn’t that long but I padded it with nonsense about Watanabe’s role as a director. He sucks, and people need to stop putting him on a gawd damn pedestal. Again, I do understand the importance of this anime. If you’re a western audience and you want to be introduced to Japanese cartoons, then Space Dandy is great gateway anime. It doesn’t alienate people, and it’s easy enough to enjoy because it isn’t that serious. It’s cool and hip, and I guess some people will gravitate to that. Studio Bones really gambled with Watanabe on this shw, and ‘m not sure if it paid off. Let’s wait a couple of years, and maybe a new group of people will appreciate this show for something else. You can’t really call it a failure, because it was the very first anime that had a worldwide release. It’s also not a success though, because a lot of people considered the anime underwhelming despite the initial hype. I say give it ten years to age though, because even Hitchcock’s classics aren’t that loved at first as well. Cowboy Bebop itself didn’t do well until time passed, so I have a feeling Space Dandy’s legacy will stand the test of time. I hate the show, but I do acknowledge its unfortunate contributions to the world. As for Shingo Natsume, I didn’t really feel his style in the show as well. Just like Watanabe, the guy really just did something that didn’t have much influence in the anime. He is just one director in a vast sea of directors in this anime. If credit should be given to a director, then the episode directors really did more legwork in making the anime special. I’m sure Watanabe did something, but I’m not really what exactly. I think he let the success of Cowboy Bebop got to his head, and I’m really annoyed by it. He’s not that great of a director, since his style isn’t really that developed yet. He understands the role of music in his work, but so what? Miyazaki does too, but the man still had a distinct style that makes him a legend. Miyazaki’s style even emerged in his first directorial work, Lupin The Third Castle of Cagliostro, and he was still a really inexperience director there. His discipline and style is prominent though, and it ultimately led him to make Studio Ghibli an animation Titan. Watanabe doesn’t have a distinct style, and he should really stop for a second and discover it. He can’t rely on Cowboy Bebop’s success for his entire life. Let the damn thing go, that’s like eighteen years ago. It’s ancient sh*t.
Sight and Sound
I already covered this section in my first review. They’re the same style as well. Some episodes have strong and clean lines while others have a softer line to them. The visuals are given great detail in the anime though, and I only noticed it now. Some designs are reminiscent of some kind of art style, and I’m not really that well versed to really point it out. I just know that a great deal is put in the character design, and it’s one of the best elements of the show. Some are constructed firmly with great proportions and dimensions while others have a more loose design that doesn’t conform to anything. The animation as well is pretty distinct. Each episode has a different animation style, and it adds to the experience each episode have. They’re all nicely animated though, and you can tell Bones isn’t cutting any corners delivering Watanabe’s flashy vision. The animation is nicely detailed, and every character has their own unique quirk captured by the animation. The freaky doll in the second episode is a good example, as the animation really captured how much of a freaky bastard he is. The aliens really look unique in this anime, and the sci-fi elements are prominent along with the “art” direction each director is aiming for. In terms of technical aspects, I think this anime really nailed it hard and the execution is absolutely flawless here. Bones did marvelous work here.
Since the anime OP and ED is the same, then I won’t cover the soundtrack in detail as well. I’m done with this anime. Get me out of here.
7/10 “Some episodes are great, but the overall experience is really shallow with two directors that doesn’t really understand what the hell they wanted to happen with this anime.”
I highly recommend episode 3, 5 and 8 of the second season. They’re all incredible and they’re all delivered by directors that absolutely know what they want in their show. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the anime. It’s a dumb ride that’s actually entertaining, and it’s a simple show to enjoy without any effort, but it doesn’t really have that strong of an impact to viewers. It’s forgettable, and it’s a shame considering the amount of effort put into making this show.