15 December 2014

12 Days of Anime: A Dandy Guy…in Space

I didn’t want to back-to-back my experiences in 2014, but while looking over my list of things to write about, my eyes kept being drawn to today’s topic. And the silly idea that my year ended much like it had began- with a collaboration that would give me pause to reflect. Hopefully, I won’t wax too much, or let tangents guide me through this until it turns into one, long ramble. Or maybe I will. Sue me. 

Right after the New Year dawned, I found myself in Vegas. After narrowly escaping a blizzard from hell on the East Coast, I had a massive culture shock as I wandered around the lights and glitz of the strip, where coffee costs $6 A CUP and porn is handed out in trading card form. Really classy, family-oriented stuff. But I wasn’t there on pleasure per se, I had been tapped to present at Otakon Vegas, which to this day still surprises me. I had never been to Vegas before, and likely never will again, but THE CON got me there, as it will be getting me to Texas and Michigan early next year. But I digress...

See, I'm already letting my mind wander...
One of the highlights of Otakon Vegas was the WORLD PREMIERE of the Watanabe feature, Space Dandy. I recall some buzz around this project when he announced it in 2013, and given that it was viewed by so many as the potential spiritual successor to Cowboy Bebop...I knew I would probably never watch it. Or at least make a half-assed attempt to see a few episodes, then promptly forget it existed. (You read my last article, didn’t you? THIS IS NOTHING NEW FOR ME.) Needless to say, I did not attend the actual premiere, but rather watched half of the first episode on Adult Swim Saturday night with the staff and Mike Toole, who were definitely more into the show than I was.

It took me three weeks to finally sit down and watch it, with AJ, in her basement. See, while I was busy with cons and forgetting who I was, AJ, god bless her, had been following the show, and making damn sure I was in the know about it. So it only made sense that we watch it together. In a trend that will become common by the end of this special series, it usually takes two-three episodes before I an hooked, and that is exactly what happened. Those early instances of “what?” and “huh?” that I kept saying over and over during those first episodes were gradually replaced by laughter and anticipation for the next episode. 

Space Dandy is an excellent example of the throwback- a contemporary series, which appeals wonderfully to fans of “classic” shows, in this case the “classic” being COWBOY-F**KING-BEBOP. Seriously, there will NEVER be another Cowboy Bebop, and Space Dandy doesn’t even try for that. Like I wrote above, the best it can be is a spiritual successor, and that’s exactly why the show works. Rather than duplicate the success and genre-defying experimentation that made Cowboy Bebop such a landmark in anime, Space Dandy takes some of the irreverence, tosses in a few token references to the series that “spawned it” (and now we know what happened to that rotten rock lobster), and then proceeds to make love to EVERY OTHER CLASSIC GENRE it can lay its animated hands on. It’s like Kill la Kill, just not as serious, and with maybe 90% fewer boobs 
Boobies scenes notwithstanding

Which is why it always confuses me that this show doesn’t seem to be as popular as it should be. Call me a jaded old man, but at every con I went to this year (some 24, if anyone’s interested), I saw a few pictures, a cosplayer here and there, but reactions for that Dandy guy in Space tend to split right down the middle: viewers either loved the show and its many references to classic anime and storytelling, or have no opinion at all (+/- 2% who have expressed hate for the showseriously, how can you hate Dandy?). Whenever I would bring up Space Dandy to an attendee, replies of “I’ve never heard of that” or “yeah, didn’t really watch it” were the usual first responses. Which is something of a shame, given how well-done the series was, and how it strove for a universal appeal by copiously borrowing from so many shows, genres, and trends. Following the live-Tweet sessions during the final few episodes, browsing the Tumblr links, and snorting with friends at the in-jokes and campy episodic nature of the series (thanks, Monica, for helping me form those thoughts) was part of the experience, which hearkens me a bit further back to the "old days" of group viewings and in-person commentary, which have faded away in my life now. 

Maybe I am getting older, but sometimes I miss the anime that mixed meta in with memorable. Shows that can make fun of themselves, or call attention to their inspirations. Shows that remind me why I started watching anime in the first place. Kids on the Slope blew my mind because it spoke to something deeper, and kindled a powerful emotion based around music and storytelling. Space Dandy, on the other hand, made me laugh, made me cry, and reminded me of how crazy a lot of older anime were. Dandy wasn’t aiming for serious drama or deep storytelling, it was a love letter to the same fans who got into anime when the medium was a figurative mess- no rules, minimal genre markers, and an industry in flux. A medium before internet dominance would blur all the lines and meme the hell out of whatever caught its attention. And it channeled that as nostalgia for the most part, reminding this old fan of what he first laid eyes on in the late 90s. 

That’s how I felt while watching Space Dandy- like a kid again, being introduced to anime for the first time, and loving the hell out of it. I’ve been a fan for 17 years now, and while sometimes my mind can wander and latch onto other things, I always manage to return. Space Dandy was one of those calls back, one I’m really glad I answered.

On the second day of anime...I reconnected with an old friend, both mentally and emotionally. 

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