Friday, July 4, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "Even Vacuum Cleaners Fall in Love, Baby" (from April 4, 2014)

And now it's time for her to burst into a shitty Alan Menken show tune about wanting to see the world.
"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," a two-hour block of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, airs weekdays at 2pm Pacific on AFOS. "'Brokedown Merry-Go-Round' Show of the Week" will return next week with all-new reviews of animated series episodes. From April 4, here's a discussion of Space Dandy's first-season finale. The show's second season debuts tomorrow on Adult Swim.

QT the outdated robot is my favorite character on Space Dandy, mostly because of actress Uki Satake's terrific voice work as this unusually sensitive vacuum cleaner who speaks in a little boy's voice and loves to clean (likewise with Alison Viktorin's voice work as QT in the American dub). There are five ways Space Dandy could have written QT as a comedic robot sidekick: as either a coward (a la C3P0), a machine who takes humans' idioms literally (a la Data or Get Smart's Hymie), a depressed droid (a la Marvin from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), a snob (a la KITT) or a party animal (a la the alcoholic Bender or the much more family-friendly BMO over on Adventure Time). I like the primary comedic characteristic Space Dandy has chosen for QT instead of either of the above: his habit of forgetting to provide Dandy with the most valuable info, particularly when Dandy heads off to an unknown and dangerous planet, is a surprisingly good running gag that never gets old on this show.

Screw the material about parallel universes and incompetent Dr. Gel's mysterious obsession with capturing Dandy. The Space Dandy episode I've been looking forward to the most during the show's first season has been QT's solo adventure (after Dandy was the focus of "A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby," and then Meow got a slightly similar showcase in "There's Always Tomorrow, Baby"), and "Even Vacuum Cleaners Fall in Love, Baby," the QT-centric season finale, doesn't disappoint.

Dandy and Meow barely appear in "Vacuum Cleaners," and when they do, it's either to browse through dating sites or complain about QT's absence from the Aloha Oe, which becomes a pig sty because QT isn't around to clean the ship. The Aloha Oe is stuck without fuel on a planet where dreadlocked humanoids co-exist with intelligent appliances, who make up much of the planet's workforce. QT has wandered off to a coffeehouse in a metropolis called Deathroid City, where he's fallen in love with a friendly coffee-brewing machine named Maker (Aya Hirano) and has gladly volunteered to clean up after her whenever she accidentally spills coffee.

We get an early hint that Maker is actually in love with the coffeehouse's cash register robot (Hiroki Gotou), whose name is, of course, Register, but QT, who's never been in love with someone else before, is too awestruck by Maker's beauty and kindness as a machine to notice her feelings for Register. And who could blame QT? She refers to QT as a high-end robot instead of a vacuum cleaner, compliments him on his cleaning and treats him better than the dickish Dandy does. She also challenges QT to be less buttoned-up, especially when she attempts to get QT to try out her coffee. But despite Maker's best efforts, QT's not interested in drinking coffee because he doesn't drink liquids of any kind. Bender would hate to be around QT.

Maker, who doesn't have wheels like QT does, has never left the coffeehouse and has become curious about the world outside its door, so one night, QT awakes her from her robotic sleep and offers to show her around Deathroid City. The ensuing romantic date features my favorite original Space Dandy song (outside of the opening and closing title themes) so far, a vocoderized ballad sung in both Japanese and English. The smooth tune has been frequently compared by viewers in comments sections to Daft Punk's "Something About Us," but it's actually more along the lines of Zapp & Roger, in keeping with general director Shinichiro Watanabe's mandate that the show's musicians aren't allowed to use any instruments that were invented after 1984. The Zapp & Roger-esque score cues during "Vacuum Cleaners" are making me long for a Space Dandy score album (the only piece of music from Space Dandy that's been released so far is a single of Yasuyuki Okamura's "Viva Namida," the opening title theme for the Japanese version of the show, and by the way, that single can now be heard during "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" and "AFOS Prime" on AFOS).

In Deathroid City, appliances are forbidden from becoming overemotional because it interferes with their effectiveness as appliances, and when their emotions get the best of them, they're taken away by the city's authorities to a landfill called Dream Island. Maker starts to express love for another machine, and to QT's dismay, she gets sent away to Dream Island, along with Register, who's removed from the coffeehouse for "ringing up bills as free." QT follows his crush to this island of misfit robots, where he learns how to dance with Maker at a rave that's being DJ'd by Register ("Is this what's called dancing?") and then discovers that Register and the rest of the ousted appliances are plotting to overthrow the planet, under the leadership of the elderly Toaster (Akio Ohtsuka).

A tearful Maker refuses to join Register in the robot revolution because she doesn't want him to die and she'd hate to see death and destruction ravage the planet, and this is where QT finally realizes that Maker's in love with Register. Instead of resenting Maker for sending him mixed signals and preferring Register over him, QT accepts her choice. QT's dignified reaction to being friend-zoned would definitely please the "Boyle doesn't deserve to hook up with Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine because he's been too creepy and stalker-ish around her" crowd. But QT can't stand to see Maker being so upset about this "age of appliances" that Toaster wants to forcibly bring to the planet, so in the most heroic thing he's ever done on the show so far, he attempts to stop Toaster and his followers from unleashing on Deathroid City their doomsday weapon, a giant robot assembled from junkyard parts.

Episodes in which characters with an inactive love life wind up getting kicked in the butt by love aren't usually my cup of tea. But "Vacuum Cleaners" distinguishes itself, first by giving ample screen time and character growth--both figuratively and literally--to a sidekick character I like way more than the other characters, and then by concluding not with a whimper, but with a bang, and it's something you'd be a fool not to love: a giant robot fight. Right when Toaster's robot starts to attack Deathroid City, Dr. Gel, who's too busy with scientific experiments to be concerned with chasing Dandy in this episode, conducts an experiment with pyonium rays right above the planet and fires a ray from his ship that happens to hit QT. The pyonium energy causes QT to grow in size, which allows him to become powerful enough to take on Toaster's robot by himself.

Episode director Shingo Natsume and the other animators came up with remarkable visuals for the nighttime robot fight sequence, both before and after QT's size change, although the way giant-sized QT defeats Toaster's robot looks confusing. So all QT has to do to cause Toaster's robot to collapse into different pieces is to simply give it a hug? It doesn't make sense, but then again, neither do quite a few other things on this show, which will resume its brand of sci-fi weirdness in July for the beginning of its second--and hopefully equally solid--season.

Stray observations:
* Dandy hits on a waitress who turns out to be a Kuato and immediately loses interest. I'm sure the Penthouse Forum letters in the Penthouse mags lying around the Aloha Oe are full of stories about bedding Kuatos.

Kuato prostitutes are the least popular prostitutes on Mars.

* My favorite discarded appliance on Dream Island has to be the rice cooker robot. Astig.

'NotYourOutdatedVideotapeFormat!,' shouted the Betamax machine.

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