Between less-than-inspired breast jokes and half-baked knocks at the fourth wall, Watanabe’s new space “comedy”, Space☆Dandy, is off to a rather dubious start. It doesn’t help that my first exposure to the show was the typically bland English dub that dared to drop the sweet Okamura-chan opening, and the even sweeter Yakushimaru Etsuko ending.
I mean, I get it–it’s fun to joke about boobies with your mates. We’ve all been in a bar surrounded by salarymen as they wax poetic about the boobs of the various women they’ve touched in The Brothel. Okay, maybe not all of us. Anyway, I’m not saying I’m above low-brow humor–because, lord knows, I’m not–but I think a vet like Watanabe should know better than to go for the lame boob jokes right off the bat. That said, he apparently wrote this first episode, so I guess he doesn’t. I do appreciate how Dandy’s opening spiel on boobies and butts has echos of Spike’s bell peppers and beef rant, though.
Actually, the first episode on the whole has nice echos of past Watanabe works–the smooth and confident tone, the way in which the episode navigates its peaks and valleys–all that good stuff. And after that first half–as many other internet commentators have said–the show goes to really far-out places with its animation. But, that script. Bad jokes, characters that don’t really do anything, and no real central idea driving the whole deal. Actually, I think the episode’s lack of focus is its biggest issue–it’s just kind of a series of events with no underlying thread tying it all together. I understand there’s value in a simple introduction to the world, but there’s also value in making it focused and entertaining, which is something that Space☆Dandy’s opener fails at. One thing it did have going for it was a somewhat compelling light-hearted and absurd atmosphere, but the jokes they put on top that really need to step up their game. Watanabe has a track-record for good first episodes, with both Bebop and Champloo making convincing cases for themselves right off the bat, but Dandy’s opener is kind of half-assed, which just isn’t good enough for your big directorial comeback/American co-pro.
Things do however get better with the ramen-themed second episode headed up by Bebop-vet Satou Dai. As someone who was unsure about whether or not Dandy’s non-human sidekicks would become Stupid Sidekicks, the character dynamics in the second episode are solid. Similar to Bebop, the characters engage in an amusing and realistic love-hate dynamic, except this time around there aren’t any girls aboard to balance out the sausage-fest. The episode still could have used less Hanna-Barbera sound effects, though.
But even if I found the second episode amusing, I wonder how many casual viewers would appreciate an episode about ramen. Or the fact that the alien making the soup was a bousouzoku in his past. Or the fact that the episode parodies Ramen Jiro at one point. What I’m saying is that for the big return of Watanabe in this flash-ass co-pro, I feel as if parts of the show are kind of too Japanese for the average viewer. Like, Dandy himself is more or less an ex-yankii, and Meow is clearly your typical guy from the sticks–like Saitama or Ibaraki–Crocs and all. Maybe I’m over-thinking things?
At this point, the show’s more superficial elements take it a long way. The animators are really going wild, everything moving smoothly, looking great all times and going complete bonkers some of the time–that scene where Dandy and Meow get sucked into that wormhole was far-out. The soundtrack headed up several different accomplished artists bestows the show with a varied and striking audial backdrop for the show to play out against. And to top off, Watanabe’s steady directorial hand ties everything together nice and neatly.
Perhaps the show will find its stride–everyone on board staff-wise is a winner, and maybe they just need to time to ease into doing a comedy? There are twenty-four episodes left, so there’s plenty of time to get better. I am most certainly looking forward to seeing episode three when it drops soon.