Americans either love or hate anime. Most people take one look at the big-eyed characters and the squeaky voices prevalent in so many Japanese-exported cartoons and tune right out. Even among those dedicated otaku who love anime, there’s a lot of specialization. Some fans only watch shows in which the main characters are cute young females in schoolgirl skirts. (Fortunately those people have a lot to choose from.) Others stick exclusively to any show with robots. But there’s one thing nearly everyone, fan of anime or not, tends to agree on: “Cowboy Bebop” was the shit.
Shinichiro Watanabe’s highly regarded 1998 series combined film noir, Westerns, jazz and space opera into one uniquely addictive package. To this day, the series (consisting of a mere 26 episodes and one feature film) is considered a gateway drug for anime in general. Now the legendary animator has pulled back the curtain on his latest effort, the nutty comedy “Space Dandy”—a show so anticipated that it’s actually being simulcast on American television at the same time it’s showing on Japanese TV.
The series, part of Cartoon Network’s all-night Toonami block, centers on the crazed adventures of intergalactic “alien hunter” Space Dandy. The cocky, pompadoured captain flies around the galaxy in his frequently broken, tiki-themed space ship, the Aloha Oe. His job is, ostensibly, to capture and catalogue unknown species. This most often consists of him heading to the nearest “Boobies” restaurant and ogling waitresses until something interesting happens (a jokey nod, perhaps, to typical anime “fan service”). Our man Dandy’s joined in his “adventures” by an obsolete robot called QT and a rather dimwitted catlike alien named Meow. Also, for some as-yet-unknown reason, there’s a bizarre mad scientist by the name of Dr. Gel hunting Dandy in a spaceship that appears to be made from the head of the Statue of Liberty (complete with ball gag).
To say that “Space Dandy” is odd would be selling it short. Very short. The series is far goofier than anything Watanabe’s ever done before. It deals in the sort of madcap, anything-goes slapstick that Monkey Punch’s classic manga/anime “Lupin III” loved to scamper around in. Characters frequently break the fourth wall (directly referring to it as “the fourth wall”). The narrator is often distracted from his job. There is a hint of a continuing storyline (something about the ruler of the Gorgol Empire believing Space Dandy is the key to the future of the universe). But mostly it’s just Dandy and his crew stumbling from one inadvertent adventure to the next. Spaceships explode, giant monsters fight, and everybody dies at the end of the first episode (only to show up again in the next). There’s little rhyme or reason to any of it, but it’s hard not to be intrigued—especially if you grew up on space-spanning ’70s adventures like “Star Blazers” or “Battle of the Planets.”
Frequently ridiculous, occasionally raunchy, “Space Dandy” isn’t likely to be confused for the cross-genre high-water mark that was “Cowboy Bebop.” But between the psychedelic imagery and the didn’t-