(Originally written Feb 20 2015)
Disclaimer: These are basically just episodic notes written after I finished the entire show. So, once again, I apologise for the structural differences compared to my usual stuff. Also, SPOILERS.
This is where I stop trying to be informative and just gush about how much I liked Space Dandy, because I honestly think it’s too difficult to make generalised statements about a show as episodic as this one. Kuuchuu Buranko is episodic as well, yes, but all the episodes follow a common theme and formula. In Space Dandy, the only constant is the characters and their personalities. Actually, that’s not strictly true either, because Dandy’s personality is quite multifaceted, and different episodes emphasise different parts of his personality.
But enough about Dandy. The whole overarching plot about him being “The Chosen One” never really interested me, and I don’t really like the macho part of his personality. Let’s talk individual episodes instead. Before I start, I’d like to quickly note that I watched the first 8 episodes of Season 1 while it was airing, so I don’t remember much about them.
So, Episode 9 of the first season was the planet with all the plants. I knew that Season 2 had an episode directed by Masaaki Yuasa, so I was surprised to see that this episode was so close to something he’d make. After looking up some stuff this became less surprising, because apparently the director of this episode, Eunyoung Choi, has worked with Yuasa in the past, mainly on Kaiba. Which probably explains why everything about this episode, including the music, screamed “Kaiba” to me. And I mean this in a good way. I found Kaiba pretty boring back when I watched it, but it had some excellent episodes, and this episode reminded me of those episodes.
Episode 10 was the time loop episode on Meow’s planet. The time loop itself was pretty enjoyable in a funny way, but it was the art in this episode that really blew me away. In a show where emphasis is put on making the aliens and environments look distinct, here was an episode that looked like it took place in a regular Japanese suburb/countryside, and it looked great. It was so familiar, so comforting, so relaxing. Not that the family-related themes were unworthy of note, though. In one episode, I got all the Meow backstory that I ever wanted.
The next episode that I really liked was the final episode of the first season, Episode 13. By a stroke of minor coincidence, I watched this love story on Valentine’s Day, and I was surprised by how uncharacteristically non-wacky it was. Formulaic and cheesy, yes, but sincere nonetheless. And the punchline at the end of the episode was actually pretty funny. Oh, and for seemingly no good reason, there was an absolutely awesome mecha battle. I guess that’s what I got when I watched this show: More than I ever expected.
And that was just after the first season. Season 2 ramped everything up. It used all the tricks in its bag, all the aces up its sleeve. Episode 1 had a ton of references in the form of a classic “alternate universes come together” episode, and it ended on a hilariously bizarre note. I wasn’t the biggest fan of this episode, to be honest, but it was still a really solid sci-fi episode.
Episode 2, on the other hand, felt much less “out there”, which I feel is a weird thing to say about an episode featuring a creature that seems inspired by mythology and a literal river of time. In terms of mood, this episode reminded me of the plant episode in Season 1. There was an air of quiet sadness surrounding the story, which was reflected by the fact that the episode didn’t have any really crazy moments, apart from the bit at the end(which I thought was beautiful, by the way). Also, there was a completely unnecessary bit of insight into Dr. Gel’s background, but I thought it was a nice bonus.
Episode 3 was, well, it was definitely an episode directed by Masaaki Yuasa. The talking fish, the disembodied head of Dandy, the planet hollowed out by a huge plant(another Kaiba reference, maybe?) and, of course, the signature art style. Funnily enough, while I was looking forward to this episode the most, it ended up having my least favourite joke, which was the part about Meow’s hunger. Aside from that, though, I loved the sheer craziness of this episode.
Ok, I’m running out of inspiration, so I’ll just recap the rest of the episodes quickly. Episode 4, High School Musical. The musical bits fell way short, but the idea itself was very entertaining(also, the girl was really cute). Episode 5, fishing with style. Another episode with an interesting art style, though story-wise it bored me. Episode 6, laugh-track providing aliens. Not impressed by either the story or the visuals this time, but the goofy jokes did work for me. Episode 7, Hiroshi Kamiya plays an aspiring rock star. Yeah, his voice basically carried the episode. Interesting that he would become a recurring character later on.
I feel like I should slow down a bit for Episode 8, A World with No Sadness, though. This was probably my favourite “artsy” episode. The themes, story and world were all very interesting, but I found the dialogue itself(the girl, the “forced” romance, the overexplanations) pretty hard to take seriously. Surprisingly, this episode also had musical elements that I actually liked. The weird Hattifattener-like aliens singing barbershop-style songs about the meaning of death was probably the most surreal element of the show so far, but I think the execution was spot-on, which is more than I can say about the actual musical episode.
Ok, back to quick-fire mode. Episode 9 was another episode with lacklustre(in the lyrics department) musical elements, but luckily the episode offered a visual feast instead. I particularly liked the art style with the faux aspect ratio change. Episode 10, the “honeymoon” episode. Surprises all around. Dandy being competent at catching aliens, Scarlet being more than one-dimensional, and another surprisingly solid love story ending. As for Episode 11, I can’t actually remember much. The physicist in me was much too occupied with the idea of a 2D universe in a 3D universe to even remember the general direction of the dialogue. But it’s always fun to see science-related stories in anime.
The final 2 episodes were the first case of actual continuity between consecutive episodes in this show. The courtroom drama story in Episode 12, while hilarious, was not at all relevant to Episode 13, though. But that didn’t really matter, because the fact that the premise of the final episode was presented in the penultimate episode meant that the finale had more time to use on awesomeness. Which it naturally delivered, like most of the episodes before it. This episode was basically a 10-course visual feast. The animation was consistently superb, and not in the usual floaty and fluid kind of way. The movements felt like they obeyed the conservation of momentum, the impacts felt like they had weight behind them, and the explosions felt properly destructive. I could not have asked for a better finale to the show. Sure, it did end with a full reset, but Dandy’s reaction to this was in line with his personality, and as I said, I didn’t really care about the “overarching story” anyway, so I didn’t mind the reset.
Well , what can I really say after that? I guess I can note that giving this show a rating will be extremely difficult. Some episodes were amazing, others were mostly a miss. I could use an average, but that would require rating each episode individually(26 individual ratings, 8 of which for episodes I watched a year ago) and even if I did that, any information about the individual episodes would be irretrievably lost to anyone else at the moment of the averaging. So, I guess I’ll leave that for another day.