Brief thoughts on new anime, recent anime, old anime.

So for the past four weeks, every Saturday I’ve been sitting down in front of the TV at 10:30 to watch Space Dandy.

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Below the cut, some thoughts on that, a 2012 anime I’ve been getting back to, and some more thoughts on Dougram.

Space Dandy is a sci-fi action comedy from several of the key folks responsible for one of the most beloved and respected anime shows of the past twenty years, Cowboy BebopBebop was a stylish 1970s crime/bounty hunter drama set against a well realized sci-fi space backdrop with occasional comedic interludes and a well regarded jazz soundtrack. It was so beloved that it’s been reaired on Cartoon Network almost every year since premiering on the cable channel in 2001. The same folks would do a “wandering samurai” series, Samurai Champloo, in 2004 with a similar sense of panache and a hip-hop soundtrack in place of the jazz, to similar though less widespread acclaim. Between these two successes, folks pinned all kinds of hopes on Space Dandy, the first big anime show of 2014.

I don’t think anyone knew what to make of that first episode. It laid out the premise well, at any rate. Space Dandy makes his living seeking out new life forms, capturing them, and having them registered for a beaucoup finder’s fee. He and his funny robot partner QT spend a lot of time at Boobies, an incredibly obvious riff on the Hooters restaurant chain except in space and without the pun that probably doesn’t make any sense to the Japanese anyway. One day they capture an alien that they think is some kind of new species, but it turns out to be a fairly common cat-like creature from Betelgeuse except it was wearing a sticker on its face. (This is the kind of intelligences we’re dealing with.) The cat winds up joining the crew, and Dandy and QT insist on calling him Meow because they just don’t get his real name. Soon they are pursued by the villainous-looking Dr. Gel, whose ship features the head of the Statue of Liberty on its bow wearing a ball gag. Meow fires up the warp drive, we get some trippy animation of Dandy’s ship the Aloha Oe crossing dimensions, and they crash on a planet Meow was telling them about where they can find a new alien. The aliens wind up being monstrous and hostile, and in their attempt to defend themselves, Meow activates a “secret weapon” that blows up the planet, with the crew on it.

Yes, at the end of the first episode the main characters are killed. Nobody saw that coming, and a lot of people seemed bent out of shape over the fact that everything kind of, sort of reset (up to a point) next week with no explanation. Since then we’ve seen one crew member left behind to his certain death but back next time, and (spoilers for last weekend) the entire universe turned into zombies despite the fact that, again, everything’s going to be fine next week. Personally, it doesn’t bother me so long as the show remains interesting, funny, or at least visually exciting — and mostly Space Dandy is the last of the three, full of bizarre and terrifying monsters, flashy direction, cool fight sequences that are reminiscent of Bebop at its best, and crazy acid trip dimension-busting sequences. The humor doesn’t always hit home; Dandy prancing about like a cool guy action hero but being unable to aim his gun worth a damn or even hold onto it is good for a few chuckles, but the cast’s obliviousness is sometimes more grating than amusing. The droll narration, reminiscent of (though not nearly as funny as) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is more reliably worth a laugh, as are the show’s forays into absurdity, like the backstory of the second episode’s kindly old ramen shop owner. (I think that’s still my favorite episode, with one of my two favorite long gags: Dandy and QT keep wondering how Doctor Gel keeps finding them as they travel from ramen shop to ramen shop, not realizing that at each stop Meow is checking in to Space FourSquare. All Gel and his men need to do is monitor Meow’s Space Facebook Page!)

I don’t think Space Dandy does necessarily live up to the unbelievable hype and pedigree of its staff, but I’m still entertained well enough by it, and for me it’s on at just the right time, late enough that I don’t feel like doing much of anything else, and early enough that I can program my own anime block with my DVD collection and streaming options to follow it up with. I can appreciate that folks might not find the show funny — there’s plenty of shows folks seem to dig that I don’t find funny — but it’s nutty to me that something so obviously intended to be a silly bit of nifty-looking fluff is being dismissed for … being a silly bit of nifty-looking fluff. People, man. I don’t get ’em sometimes.

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One of the shows I’ve been using to program my own anime block is 2012’s Bodacious Space Pirates, a show I watched about half of via streaming as it aired before just sorta trailing off on it. Normally a show with this many schoolgirls with funny-colored hair would set off all kinds of warning bells that it’s not for me, but the premise and all the neat space stuff in it overrode those warnings. That premise is that schoolgirl Marika discovers, following her father’s death, that he was a space pirate, and that in order for his ship, the Bentenmaru, to continue sailing the seas of space she has to decide to follow in his footsteps. The concept is defanged to an extent by the fact that space piracy has become a heavily regulated bit of pageantry, largely based around “attacking” space luxury liners for the amusement of bored rich people who can afford to lose a few gems and jewels, but despite this Marika does decide on a few occasions to genuinely step outside the bounds to do what she thinks is right. It’s a nice looking show with some neat ship designs, and I managed to score the blu rays of it for reasonably cheap during this past year’s holiday sale at RightStuf.com, so I picked up more or less where I left off.

So the regular crew of the ship has come down with a highly infectious but mostly annoying space bug, and that leaves Marika in need of a crew in order to maintain her pirating credentials. She enlists the aid of her friends in her school space yacht club, the girls in the image above. There’s a couple of episodes of them getting the hang of things, taking part in the pageantry of space piracy, and then Marika finds out that Lynn, the club president, has been making secret communications with somebody over the radio. Turns out the person she’s been radioing is the former club president, Jenny Dolittle, who’s looking to escape from an arranged marriage so that she can fulfill her ambitions as head of her own shipping company. She wants the Bentenmaru to rescue her. Her family, however, is not so keen on her doing her own thing; they want this marriage so that it can further their existing business interests.

Two things about this that I found interesting: Lynn’s the character in the picture above with the sort of “anime hero” haircut. It’s been pretty obvious that the show’s been suggesting that she’s sort of a stereotypical masculine lesbian character up to the moment of Jenny’s rescue. They went so far as to put her in a French Royal Guard outfit during the pirate raid, reminiscent of cross-dressing Lady Oscar from Rose of Versailles. She’s still wearing it when Jenny arrives aboard the ship, dressed in her wedding gown. When Jenny and Lynn are reunited, there’s a remarkably passionate kiss between the elegantly dressed couple — and Marika gets this look on her face like, “Hold on, WHAT?!” I’ll be honest, I was shocked that the show played that card at that moment; the whole thing had been played so coy up to that point that I really didn’t see this show doing it.

What’s funny is that it’s from that moment that the situation becomes serious; love and livelihood are on the line, and whatever gets in their way will have to be dealt with at any cost. And indeed, that second thing I found interesting was just how serious things got at the last point I watched, with ships from Jenny’s family business closing in and firing on the Bentenmaru and the ship making a narrow escape into hyperspace. The push and pull between mundane schoolgirl stuff and outer space derring do reminds me in a way of one of my favorite elements of ROBOTECH, the contrast between everyday life in the city, whether it be Macross or Monument, and the drama of near-daily robot clashes with alien invaders. Bodacious Space Pirates doesn’t go as far in the danger or drama departments, but the cast of characters is charming enough and the stakes are just high enough that they remain engaging.

On the other end of the drama and danger spectrum, I’ve slowed down on my Dougram intake, but one of the last two episodes I watched provided this image.

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The camera pans away, and you hear a gunshot. Cut to an overhead shot of the man, face-down in a pool of blood. Later in the same episode we watch a man with a rifle run, screaming, into oncoming gunfire from, oh, five or six enemy soldiers. We don’t see blood flying everywhere, but as he falls we see he’s full of holes.

This, after I’d said things had already gotten pretty damn dark.

I’m always surprised to see depictions of suicide like this in media that’s ostensibly for children from years past. There’s a Tom Baker Doctor Who, “The Image of the Fendahl,” where a man has doomed himself by looking into the eyes of a cosmic entity. The Doctor tells him that he’s doomed. The man asks for a gun that’s across the room. The Doctor tells him it’ll do no good against the baddie, but the man tells him that’s not who it’s for. “Oh,” the Doctor says quietly and solemnly, getting the picture. He goes and fetches it, and then offers a brief apology. As the Doctor leaves the scene you hear the gunshot. It’s a chilling moment, mostly because it’s unexpected in that context; the jovial, jellybaby loving Doctor has just helped a man commit suicide rather than let him be transformed into some sort of space slug. Likewise, even as grim as Dougram had gotten, I didn’t think this man, stripped of his position and watching his city be taken away from its people by power-hungry opportunists, was going to give into his despair in this way.

At least, not until he pulled open that desk drawer. Isn’t that how it always is with guys like this? They’ve always got the gun in the desk drawer at the ready. I think that’s the lesson here: if you’re in a high stress job, like the mayor of a major city on a planet in the midst of a rebellion, don’t keep a gun in your desk drawer. You’re just asking for a messy end.

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