“Space Dandy is a dandy in space. He is a galaxy-wide alien hunter. On a journey of adventure to new worlds, he searches for unknown extraterrestrials. These are the spectacular tales of these alien hunters!”
Hey you. Yeah, you, the person staring at the computer screen. You might have heard of Space Dandy, a recent high-profile project by beloved (at least in the West) director Shinichiro Watanabe. You might even have been excited for what looked like another series in the tradition of Watanabe’s earlier successes, Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. But after those first few episodes, you dismissed Space Dandy, didn’t you? After the humor in the first episode was more hit than miss, after lukewarm coverage in the New York Times and AV Club, after you realized Watanabe really wasn’t kidding when he said it would be twenty-six episodes of “Mushroom Samba.” So I wouldn’t be surprised if you moved on from the series after the first couple of episodes, saying that you’d come back “when it got better.”
Actually, the second season of Space Dandy has been far more consistent than the first – in fact, its best episodes include some of the best animation of the year hands-down. But more than anything I think it’s become clear exactly what kind of show Space Dandy is, and that it may have been mis-marketed in the United States from the start. Dandy is not the second coming of Dandy or Champloo. In fact, it’s not really a Watanabe show at all: in the end it’s Shingo Natsume who directed the series proper, while Watanabe used his talent and connections to recruit a myriad of artists, musicians and animators. What Space Dandy is, in the music-inflected parlance of Watanabe, is a jam session, where each episode is created by an entirely different set of staff. The cast remains constant, there are light touches of mythology regarding parallel universes and constant deaths, but for the most part Dandy is a radically different show each week.
The good news is that since each episode is made by an entirely different staff, and since there is very little continuity to speak of, you, lapsed Dandy viewer, can effectively watch any episode of the series you want without missing anything. As someone with only a very basic knowledge of animation and production, I can’t purport to give you the kind of info you’d find at a great site like AniPages, which has been blogging Space Dandy each week. What I can do is give you, the reader, a taste of some of the episodes I’d recommend to someone looking for a full picture of the series.
We’re starting with the first season because choosing episodes from the second season over others would be like killing my children. Here we go!
Episode 2: “The Search for the Phantom Space Ramen, Baby”
- Episode Director: Sayo Yamamoto
- Written By: Dai Sato
- Animation Supervisor: Hiroyuki Aoyama
- Storyboards: Sayo Yamamoto
I picked the second episode of the series over the first for a couple of reasons. The first is that Sayo Yamamoto’s direction just feels much more confident overall than Shingo Natsume’s, which had some great moments of animation near the end but was otherwise very hit-or-miss in terms of humor and pacing. The second is that if the first episode introduces you to Dandy, Meow and QT, the second goes quite a ways towards actually making them likable as people, providing the series for the first time with a vestige of an emotional core (even if a very silly one!) There’s a handful of super-cool sci-fi ideas here (interdimensional ramen stands!) and a kickass fight scene in which Dandy’s boss Scarlett goes to town on a bunch of bad guys, as Yamamoto is wont to do. This was the episode where I thought “hey, this Dandy thing might be pretty decent after all.”
Episode 4: “Sometimes You Can’t Live with Dying, Baby”
- Episode Director: Ikuro Sato
- Written By: Kimiko Ueno
- Animation Supervisor: Tomohisa Shimoyama
- Storyboards: Namimi Sanjo (Hitoshi Namba)
This is a comedy episode of Dandy notable for how far it takes its premise. A zombie apocalypse besets the Dandy universe, and Dandy and his friends are quickly swept up in it. But while most zombie stories end with the deaths of the protagonists, Sato and co. go far, far beyond that, imagining how society would evolve if every thinking being was a member of the living dead. The end of the episode proves that not only does the series thumb its nose at continuity, but that episodes could end anywhere and in any way imaginable. Writer Kimiko Ueno makes an appearance here after first writing the third episode of the series; she goes on to become one of Dandy‘s most reliable writers of comedy.
Episode 5: “A Merry Companion is a Wagon in Space, Baby”
- Episode Director: Akemi Hayashi
- Written By: Ichirō Ōkouchi
- Animation Supervisor: Tomohiro Kishi
- Storyboards: Akemi Hayashi
Akemi Hayashi directs a characteristically thoughtful and empathetic story of Dandy going on a road trip with a young girl in order to find her parents. This episode isn’t particularly high-concept but it is unique in how it chooses to characterize Dandy as a good-natured soul instead of the over-the-top sci-fi parody he comes off as in earlier episodes. This is the episode where a lot of people stood up and suddenly started paying attention, likely because of its focus on character interaction over flashy animation. Personally I love Hayashi’s work so this episode’s one of my favorites, even if it’s likely been eclipsed by later, far more ambitious episodes. There’s also a stuffed alien penguin if you’re into that kind of thing.
Episode 6: “The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby”
- Episode Director: Michio Mihara
- Written By: Michio Mihara (story), Dai Sato (screenplay)
- Animation Supervisor: Michio Mihara
- Storyboards: Michiro Mihara
This is a pretty funny episode of Space Dandy, but look at that – episode direction, animation supervision, storyboards and the plot of the episode itself were all done by the same guy! One of the best things about Space Dandy is how it gives creators an avenue to make something unique and personal with very little outside supervision. This isn’t necessarily an all-time great episode of the show but it is enjoyable, with a very silly central concept and a great sequence at the end in which Dandy breaks out a Chekhov’s Surfboard and rides some waves. This is an excellent example of Space Dandy at default speed, with the added benefit of being the vision of a single person.
Episode 8: “The Lonely Pooch Planet, Baby”
- Episode Director: Hiroshi Shimizu
- Written By: Keiko Nobumoto
- Animation Supervisor: Hiroshi Shimizu
- Storyboards: Hiroshi Shimizu
Dogs in peril are one of the things in this world that make me cry, so you can expect this episode of Space Dandy (which, without spoiling anything, involves a dog in peril) made me TEAR UP, DAMN YOU SPACE DANDY. I actually have mixed feelings about this episode, since while the first half is quite touching the second feels disconnected, as if two different premises for an episode were mashed together. Either way I’m recommending this one due to a very sneaky Cowboy Bebop reference in the first half. Keiko Nobumoto writes this episode – her work is generally more rooted in ideas and seriousness than Kimiko Ueno’s, though I’ve found her work on the series to be significantly more mixed.
Episode 9: “Plants are Living Things Too, Baby”
- Episode Director: Eunyoung Choi
- Written By: Eunyoung Choi (story), Shinichiro Watanabe (screenplay)
- Animation Supervisor: Kiyotaka Oshiyama
- Storyboards: Eunyoung Choi
Aspiring sakuga fans might see the stylized, surreal art in this episode and immediately think of Masaaki Yuasa, but actually it’s done by his friend and compatriot Eunyoung Choi (who directed some of the best episodes in this year’s Ping Pong.) This is easily one of the most surreal episodes of the show thus far, featuring Dandy adrift in a world of talking and thinking plants. It’s also total catnip for anyone interested in animation as an art-form rather than animation as a delivery device for storytelling. If you’re working your way through the episodes on this list but long for something more off-the-wall, check this out and have your mind blown by Choi’s distinctive style. Let’s all pray for more work from her in the future, now that she’s founded a studio together with Masaaki Yuasa~
Episode 10: “There’s Always Tomorrow, Baby”
- Episode Director: Masayuki Miyaji
- Written By: Kimiko Ueno
- Animation Supervisor: Seiichi Hashimoto, Hiroyuki Aoyama
- Storyboards: Masayuki Miyaji
This is a character-based episode in the vein of the fifth, except with more of a surrealistic tinge rather than Hayashi’s sensitivity. Essentially, this is the Groundhog’s Day episode of Space Dandy, with the cast first too dumb to realize they’re trapped inside of a time loop and only after many, many tries discovering a way to break out of it. But the focus is not on the high-concept but instead on Meow’s relationship with his family, and how the time loop device becomes a metaphor for anyone trapped in their parent’s house and longing to go outside (only to realize when they leave what they’ve left behind!) Both one of the better “weird” episodes of Space Dandy as well as one of the better dramatic ones, this joins with episodes 9 and 11 for the strongest run of episodes in the first season.
Episode 11: “I’m Never Remembering You, Baby”
- Episode Director: Hiroyuki Okuno
- Written By: Toh EnJoe
- Animation Supervisor: Hiroyuki Okuno, Hisashi Mori (mechanical design)
- Storyboards: Atsushi Takahashi
This is hands-down the weirdest (and arguably best) episode of Space Dandy up to this point, and in both concept and execution is unique for not just the series as a whole, but anime in general. Written by award-winning sci-fi writer Toh EnJoe, the episode begins with a logistical puzzle (how do Dandy and co. know the box they hold contains a rare alien when they don’t remember what is inside of it?) and ends with Space Dandy‘s sporadic continuity coming apart at the seams. This is a gloriously trippy episode, in black and white, where the fact that the cast act “out of character” is entirely negated by EnJoe’s idiosyncratic writing. Also notable for single-handedly justifying the existence of Dr. Gel, the “villain” of Space Dandy who is given very little to do elsewhere but is amazing here. If it sounds like I’m really biased in favor of this episode that is because this is one of my favorite anime episodes ever. That said I would recommend (as with episode 9) watching more down-to-earth episodes of the show first in order to put exactly how off-beat this episode is into context.
Other Episodes Include:
- Episode 1, “Live with the Flow, Baby”: This is actually one of the weaker Space Dandy episodes, with a mostly flat first half. That said, the second more than makes up for the price of admission
- Episode 3, “Occasionally Even the Deceiver is Deceived, Baby”: Hiroshi Hamasaki directs a hardcore sci-fi horror episode of Space Dandy, which should be amazing but ends up as merely fairly entertaining instead. The action scene at the end has a cool twist I won’t spoil
- Episode 7, “A Race in Space is Dangerous, Baby”: Space Dandy does Redline. Like the first episode, the ending is worth the price of admission
- My great Space Dandy shame is that I have not yet seen episodes 12 or 13. That said from what I’ve heard the two of them are more conventional episodes in the series – 12 is a really solid piece of entertainment while 13 is the QT episode and has some cuts of animation weirdly reminiscent of Evangelion. I’d say it’s definitely worth checking them out, but they don’t necessarily exceed any of the episodes on the list above.