Friday, February 21, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "A Race in Space Is Dangerous, Baby"

Fan service for the segment of the audience that's into pancake asses
Every Friday in "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week," I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS.

There's an interesting theory I saw on a Space Dandy subreddit regarding the various deaths the three Aloha Oe crew members have experienced on the show. It's that we're actually not watching one reality where Dandy, QT and Meow die repeatedly like the Super Mario Bros. or if you never were a gamer, Lola in Run Lola Run.

We're actually watching many different parallel realities, so one week, we're visiting the reality where Meow got eaten by a giant tittie monster and a forgetful Dandy never went back to save him, and then next week, we're visiting the reality where the crew--and the show's narrator--turned into zombies. (The Japanese lyrics in the show's end title theme, "Welcome to the X Dimension," which are about physicist Hugh Everett's theory of parallel universes, could be a hint that this will be a plot point in future episodes. Perhaps the series finale will be about Dandy finally confronting Dr. Gel, the gorilla scientist who tries and fails to capture Dandy each week and whose existence the clueless Dandy is never aware of, and maybe like the Fringe series finale or the 13 Doctors banding together to protect Gallifrey from the Daleks in "The Day of the Doctor," Dandy somehow gets backup from his parallel counterparts--who were whisked away by some benevolent entity to join Dandy Prime before they die in their own universes--when the time comes to fight Dr. Gel.) This slapstick show doesn't really need an explanation for why the crew always resurfaces after dying the previous week, just like how it's never explained why MacGruber reappears 15 minutes later on SNL after dying in an explosion, but if you want to treat Space Dandy like it's serious sci-fi, it would be a terrific explanation.

Ben and Kate fans would refer to this as a 'guitar face.'
Why would you want to take Space Dandy so seriously anyway, especially when it concludes a story about an interplanetary Grand Prix with accidental anal sex between two cruiser ships, and the sex is apparently so good that the male racer at the receiving end has some sort of sparkly mental orgasm? That's exactly what happens at the end of "A Race in Space Is Dangerous, Baby," the latest round of Space Dandy weirdness. "A Race in Space," which was penned by Kimiko Ueno, the writer behind both the tittie monster episode and the zombie episode (still the show's funniest and best half-hour so far), takes a break from Dandy's usual schemes involving unregistered aliens and centers on the 82,342nd Magellanic Nebulae Grand Prix. Dandy enters the Grand Prix to beat a famous racing champion named Prince (Yuuki Kaji) because he's jealous of the attention Prince receives from Honey (Yurin), Dandy's favorite Boobies waitress, and the other Boobies employees.

Basically, "A Race in Space" is Redline on a TV budget. Though the visuals aren't as mind-blowing as Redline's, they're still remarkable and well-done for an animated TV show, especially when you compare them to something like the battles on Kill la Kill, which attempts to stage action on a similar scale each week, but with animation that's often as choppy as the animation on that wack early '90s MC Hammer cartoon that makes Clutch Cargo look like, well, Redline.

This spaceship was designed by Carrie from Sex and the City.
Every Space Dandy episode has been a triumph in character and ship design, and the standout design elements in "A Race in Space" are the cruiser that's shaped like a high heel and is piloted by the "comet-sent child" Crusher Girl (Akeno Watanabe) and the mechas piloted by Dandy and a pair of twin brother aliens with brains for heads. The Hawaii Yankee, Dandy's little cruiser that can transform into a Hawaiian shirt-wearing mecha, makes a return appearance in "A Race in Space" after serving as the action highlight of the tittie monster episode. The brief confrontation between the Hawaii Yankee and the twin racers' vintage-looking mechas proves once again that no one stages robot battles better than anime directors like So Toyama, the director of "A Race in Space," and Shinichiro Watanabe, the show's general director, do. Sit down, Michael Bay.

It's a very busy episode, with Dandy fighting off racers (and obstacles like gunfire from hostile alien bystanders) to reach the finish line and ignoring the nervous and skeptical QT's shotgun-seat advice by attempting all sorts of dangerous piloting tricks ("This is another secret attack, 'Moonsault Scrambled Life Intersection!'"), while Dr. Gel (Unshou Ishizuka) illegally enters the race and tries once again to capture Dandy, who, of course, pays no attention to the gorilla in the powdered wig and royal cape who's obsessed with capturing him. Dandy's attention is completely focused on besting Prince, who's the antithesis of Dandy: he's exceedingly polite while Dandy's rude (even to his own robot pal, whom he ejects from the Hawaii Yankee without his permission to lighten the cruiser's load towards the end of the race), and like another celebrity named Prince, he's effeminate while Dandy's aggressively macho.

The Shakespeare ruffle collar signifies that Squeak is a rat who prefers the finer things in life, like wine, the theater and murdering your boss' rival.
Dandy's rival even comes complete with his own robot pal and sneaky animal sidekick: the floating robot Z (Mamiko Noto), who snarks about QT's outdatedness and unlike the boyish-sounding QT, speaks in a grown woman's voice, and a rat named Squeak (Naoki Tatsuta). I wish "A Race in Space" gave QT and Meow more scenes with Z and Squeak because I like the one scene where they do interact, and of course, it's not a friendly exchange (Meow refers to rats as lame, and Squeak's response is "It's alien discrimination! Why don't you go and shove your face in some canned food, you retarded cat bastard?"). Squeak is also Prince's underhanded attorney, and as far as underhanded attorneys go, this surly-looking take on Mickey Mouse outdoes even Saul Goodman during his minimal amount of screen time in "A Race in Space." Saul would never get his hands dirty and crawl under an enemy's car to plant a bomb, which Squeak does to stop Dandy from winning the race.

Piloting ships may be the one thing Dandy's genuinely good at (outside of surfing or getting killed), but the animal sidekicks fuck up Dandy's chance to win the race. Dandy breaks cosmic velocity records to surge past Prince, but thanks to a combination of Squeak's bomb detonating, the unstable forms of fuel that a confused Meow crammed into Dandy's fuel tank (they include Japanese beer, a bento box and steamed dumplings) and a third factor, increased magnetic flux density, Dandy winds up going so fast that he collides into Prince's cruiser--sending Prince, who's suddenly developed romantic feelings for Dandy, into that aforementioned orgasm--and then disappears and misses the finish line. The hyperspeed propels Dandy and his cruiser 5.67 billion years into the future, where, in the show's most random and weird final scene so far, Dandy encounters a Buddha-like giant statue of himself. His accidental achievements in hyperspeed apparently made him a god.

Is that Jeffrey Wells? Your town sucks donkey balls if it worships the writing of Jeffrey Wells.
While I find "A Race in Space" to be more satisfying visually than comedically, what other animated show has ended a racing competition with gay sex between spaceships and 2001-style psychedelic surrealism? I can't name one. And if Reddit is right, and this universe where hyperspeed can be achieved with the help of fuel made from booze and dumplings is one of many parallel universes that Space Dandy is visiting, then we're in for a treat: the world's first alternate-universe-of-the-week show since Sliders. Mmm... sliders.

Stray observations/other memorable quotes:
* This is the first Space Dandy episode since the premiere to not conclude with the meaningless "To be continued" title card. This time, the title card actually says "The End."

* Crusher Girl's alien gibberish in the subtitles is actually English phrases spelled backwards, so "Trevrep gib uoy! Kcid nettor!" is "You big pervert! Rotten dick!"

* The racing scenes are loaded with references, but I was only able to spot three: the 2001 stargate sequence shout-out, a Death Race 2000 reference when the flower alien announcer describes the Grand Prix as a death race and one possible reference that involves Prince being surrounded by sparkles wherever he goes. I've never seen any of Robert Pattinson's movies, but I'm familiar with jokes about Pattinson being covered in sparkles, so I assume Prince's sparkles are a riff on Edward from Twilight. My knowledge of anime doesn't extend beyond Watanabe shows, Lupin the Third and a few feature films, so anime nerds who are way more knowledgeable than me spotted a few other references in the racing scenes.

It's also a reference to your bowels at a Guy Fieri restaurant.

Outlaw Star? Wasn't Outlaw Star that country singer competition show USA Network used to air?

They're making a Wacky Races movie? Fucking why?

I wouldn't be surprised if Uwe Boll, the Akira Kurosawa of our generation, tries to make a movie out of this game.

Really? I thought they were channeling David Carradine's Kung Fu opening credits.

* "Master Prince, I haven't seen a robot this old in a while."

* "Anigav obob gnihton s'ti." = "It's nothing bobo vagina." Bobo Vagina? Oh yeah, I remember them. I liked a couple of B-sides they did back in the riot grrrl era.

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