So I’ve heard some other peoples less critical opinions of Space Dandy since I posted my first reaction to it. They highlighted it great animation at key scenes, western appeal and sense of fun, which I failed to give much credit before. So, going into episode 5 now, it’s time to give this show another look.
I expect episode 5 will go down as the oddball of the series, but not in the same way “Mushroom Samba” was for Cowboy Bebop. Mushroom Samba was about the writers taking a show where everything had purpose, and say “What the hell, let’s just have the kid and the dog star in this one, and everyone else gets high.” Episode 5 of Space Dandy, titled “A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby”, is quite the opposite; taking a show where every writing decision has been a “What the hell, let’s just do it”, and instead trying to nit together some drama. And god bless them for trying, but maybe they’re just not cut out for it.
In the episode Dandy captures (or just somehow has; I don’t think we ever actually see how he finds and catches her) a young humanoid alien girl named Adelie, who has the power to put peoples minds into the body of an inanimate, yellow, hexnocular penguin she carries around. However, when he brings her back to where the Aloha Oe was parked, he learns that the ship was towed and the crew can’t afford to get it back. So he has to take Adelie to the registration center by train, which will take a few days.
During that time Dandy learns more about Adelie, and the not-so-happy life she’s lead thus far. She apparently doesn’t like grown-up, except for her grandfather who’s the only family she has, and she hopes to find and live with him. In a mostly unsurprising twist (I’ll say ‘mostly’ for reasons I’ll explain later), Dandy decides to help find her grandfather rather than turning her in for the reward. She no longer hates grown-ups, or at least Dandy, as much, and it’s all really touching and cheesy. Doesn’t really sound like a Space Dandy episode, does it?
All right, this article will be mostly focused on episode because it’s really the only part of Space Dandy that there’s much interesting to say, but I’ll sum up some up episode two through 4, and my current thoughts on the show as a whole, first.
Episode 2 was actually pretty good, and might serve as the best indicator for the series so far. The villains get a fair amount of screen time but still no explanation, so I think it’s safe to say they are just idiot comic relief baddies, at least for the most part. A new character get introduced, who’s sort of like Faye Valentine without at the Prince Peach-isms of getting kidnapped and being more bitchy than tough; that is to say, she’s cool and I hope she gets to be a major, well developed character soon. And the plot of the episode was a nonsensical route to a rather sympathetic ramen salesman.
Episode 3 was not so good, being predictable, unfunny, fan service overload. Suffice to say, if you crash on a planet with nothing but a race of scary looking aliens and one pretty girl, and that pretty girl can’t immediately explain what the hell she’s doing there, then don’t invite her onto your ship. In reality this would be stupid enough, but in fiction, where you know the writers want to have the “shocking” twist wherein it turns out the scary things are good and the pretty thing is evil, it’s terribly predictable. Then again, this episode did give us a Hawaiian shirt wearing giant robot with a pompadour, so I guess it’s not all bad.
Episode 4 was where I started thinking the show could still be pretty good. It’s a well-paced subversion of zombie… well, everything. Zombie films, games, comic books, ect., that seriously examines the realities of a zombie outbreak in a dry, realistic, yet incredibly entertaining way. Also, the fact that “Zombie-sama” is now a real line that’s actually been said in a context that makes sense is a great achievement in and of itself.
In general, fan service has been pushed to the background more; animation is more balance though still with its flaws (eg: at one point in episode 5 Adelie leaves her penguin behind when she’s dragged off screen, but when we cut back to her it’s still in her arms); characters are deepening without yet moving; and the stupid robot still has no purpose. Okay, onto episode 5!
As alluded to earlier, this is a much more serious episode for Dandy, and I don’t think the show was ready for it. It had some issues with pacing, plot and tone that really brought it down, however I doubt they were avoidable at this point.
First of all, the pacing. Obviously in a dramatic episode we should either already know and care about the character subject to the drama, or have some time at the beginning of the episode to get to know them. But we get neither here; Adelie is new to this episode, and we’re expected to care about her right away. Since that’s just not how story-telling works, none of the drama manages to work well, and her entire character comes off more like the focal point for emotional manipulation rather than a person. It’s a shame because, I expect that’s all a lot of people will think this was, and criticize the studio for it, when I doubt that was anyone at Bones’ intention at all. The episode was a lot denser than most, and they have time restraints, so they just couldn’t fit in a proper introduction for Adelie. It makes me wonder if some of the current practices with the way anime are produced are outdated, but that’s for another time (and potentially another article).
A show established on action isn’t going to get away with an empathetic episode like this, at least, not this early on. So, in order to appease the fans, another little conflict is thrown in near the end. It’s based on an out-of-left-field misunderstanding, where Dandy fails to explain himself quickly enough and Adelie swaps his mind into the penguin. Then, to keep it going, we have more characters wedged in without any foreshadowing. And it’s resolved without anyone learning anything; the same affect could have easily been achieved without it. I can’t say it’s anything other than a poor excuse to get a little action in, and it wasn’t even exciting action.
Earlier I mentioned that the twist where Dandy decides to help Adelie instead of himself was mostly unsurprising. That’s because the show hasn’t set itself up for drama. When the first episode ended with all the main characters dead, and the fourth with them undead, it’s hard to believe it when the show does try to be serious. One reason the drama wasn’t engaging was because the show has conditioned me to expect that Dandy would end up turning Adelie in for the money in the end anyway, and that’d be the last we see of her. Again, this problem really was unavoidable.
Despite these problems though, I think this isn’t a bad direction for the show. I don’t want it to be a simple action/comedy like Panty and Stocking or Johnny Bravo (actually, Johnny and Dandy have a lot in common). I stand by what I said before; this is Studio Bones, their work shouldn’t be good for a laugh but otherwise forgettable. Unfortunately, after this episode, I’m not sure the show can turn into something memorable in its later acts. I still recommend Space Dandy as it is, I just hope it gets much better.