The Best Animated Series-es of 2014: Space Dandy

Space Dandy1Or スペース☆ダンディ if you’re into both reading Katakana and putting stars in the middle of names. begins with a tautology. The very first sentence of its introduction gets translated as “Space Dandy is a dandy guy, in space!” or just “Space Dandy is a space dandy!”2The former is from the dubbed version of the show, which aired on Cartoon Network, while the latter is from the subtitled version, which can be found on Hulu and elsewhere. Having sampled both, I would say that although the dubbing effort is admirable, and certainly above average for an anime comedy, I still prefer to watch with subtitles. While the latter might seem to be the result of a translator throwing up their arms in despair, I would say that it more accurately captures the spirit of the show. The show follows the adventures of Space Dandy, a pompadour-sporting, massively unsuccessful space bounty hunter, whose tumultuous travels across the galaxy are unimpeded by such minor considerations as death, bankruptcy, or logic.

This utter disregard for continuity or consistency is one of the series greatest strengths. It is used as license to tell a wildly diverse set of stories, from lazy psychedelic quests to teen musicals to genuinely moving personal dramas. The animation also changes wildly to match the different stories being told — the show’s 26 episodes were storyboarded by more than 20 different artists, giving it an anthology-like feel. I can’t imagine the amount of effort it took to produce, given that in nearly every episode there are new backgrounds, wildly off-model character designs3In one episode, Dandy is visited by dozens of alternate versions of himself from parallel dimensions. My jaw was on the floor., and a crazy array of new and bizarre aliens4And that’s not even mentioning the musical episodes, the integrated CGI sequences, and the wild hand-painted interstellar vistas..

Space Dandy was not precisely what I expected, given that it was hyped as Watanabe Shinichiro’s return to science fiction fifteen years after his now-classic Cowboy Bebop. Aside from the general design of the protagonist and the very idea of a “space bounty hunter”, there’s very little in Space Dandy that resembles the operatic melodrama of Bebop. Instead, in its lighter episodes Space Dandy proudly flaunts its sophomoric sense of humor5Some might justifiably find this offensive. Others might find it amusing. In general, I found it easy to take the show’s humor in the lighthearted way it seemed to be intended.. It took me a few tries to get onto Dandy‘s wavelength, but once I did I realized that the show is a celebration of the wild power of animation and imagination when unleashed in tandem.

A drunken and lonely night at the end of the universe.

In the show’s final episode, Dandy, for once in his manifold existence not botching things, has to choose between an opportunity at unimaginable power and just being who he is. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that he reaffirms the claim made in the introduction. Space Dandy is just… Space Dandy. This a show that pairs incredible technical ambition with a protagonist who has nearly no ambition whatsoever, and still manages to tie all of the show’s insane “plot” elements together in its own, laconic kind of way. Space Dandy succeeds at expanding the possibilities of animation in a half dozen directions, and looks pretty cool while doing it.

Next on the list: just runnin’ around, a hundred days, a hundred times, dot com…

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1. Or スペース☆ダンディ if you’re into both reading Katakana and putting stars in the middle of names.
2. The former is from the dubbed version of the show, which aired on Cartoon Network, while the latter is from the subtitled version, which can be found on Hulu and elsewhere. Having sampled both, I would say that although the dubbing effort is admirable, and certainly above average for an anime comedy, I still prefer to watch with subtitles.
3. In one episode, Dandy is visited by dozens of alternate versions of himself from parallel dimensions. My jaw was on the floor.
4. And that’s not even mentioning the musical episodes, the integrated CGI sequences, and the wild hand-painted interstellar vistas.
5. Some might justifiably find this offensive. Others might find it amusing. In general, I found it easy to take the show’s humor in the lighthearted way it seemed to be intended.

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