Friday, August 1, 2014

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: Space Dandy, "The Transfer Student Is Dandy, Baby"

'I'm Cosmo Kramer, the Assman!'
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.

Musical episodes aren't my cup of tea. Usually, they're the kind of episode that's way more fun for the actors involved than for the viewer, especially a viewer like me who doesn't care for musical theater (and prefers musicals only when they're strictly satirical, like South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut or Community's "Regional Holiday Music"). But "The Transfer Student Is Dandy, Baby," Space Dandy's musical episode, is a rare case where it's vice versa. It helps that the songs aren't too awful. In most musical episodes, the enjoyment the actors must have had from reliving performing arts summer camp (or channeling it) while they worked on the episode just doesn't translate for viewers like me, whereas "The Transfer Student Is Dandy, Baby," penned by special guest writer Hayashi Mori, a playwright and J-drama writer, soars on the basis of Mori's solid writing, fanciful animation and a climactic musical number that contains lyrics like "Ass, ass, ass, ass, ass, ass! Come on, ass!"

Dandy, a middle school dropout, gets to experience high school when he pretends to be a transfer student at famous Baberly Hills High, "the setting for a lot of dramas," in order to track down a rare Category-A "Cliponian" alien and bring her to the Alien Registration Center (Cliponians are distinctive for transforming from plain-looking to attractive when they find their mates). The high school setting gives Mori and the animators a chance to reference all kinds of works. Your response to whatever past high school movies or shows are referenced during "The Transfer Student Is Dandy, Baby" gives away how old you are. If your thoughts during the episode were "This is an awful lot like Grease" or "Dandy's prom suit mashes up Travolta's suits from Grease and Saturday Night Fever," you were a '70s kid. If your response was either "I'm having flashbacks to Galaxy High School," "This training montage is straight out of Better Off Dead and the Rocky sequels (okay, Rocky's not exactly the high school genre, but whatever)" or "Dandy's giving off a creepy Wooderson vibe in these early scenes," you were an '80s kid like me. If you immediately exclaimed either "Glee!," "High School Musical!" or "A non-violent Kill la Kill!" and said something along those lines on Twitter, you're a zygote.

Speaking of age, Dandy may be in his 20s or 30s, but unlike many of the student characters in the two 21 Jump Street movies (which poked fun at how the undercover cops on the original Jump Street were too easily accepted as high-schoolers by civilians and criminals), no one at Baberly Hills cares that Dandy looks too old to be a student. Instead of Dandy's looks, what Queen Bee Sofia (Yuuka Nanri) and the other popular kids at this singing and dancing school are more concerned with is Dandy's singing and dancing skills. His musical ability doesn't compare to Sofia's, so the mean girl relegates him to the bottom of the social totem pole and designates him an "otaku," along with a mousy-looking alien girl in glasses named Hanahana (Yui Makino) and a couple of other supposed losers. Will Dandy and Hanahana be able to upgrade themselves in time for prom night? Will Dandy find the Cliponian and finally get that bounty he's yearning for? Will Dr. Gel finally be face-to-face with the pompadoured alien hunter he's yearning to capture?

If questions two and three ended in "yes," the series would be over (we have a lot more episodes to go). As for prom night, Dandy and Hanahana make like Donna Summer and work hard for the money in an '80s training montage parody that, frankly, was done to better effect in Wet Hot American Summer and on South Park, and together, all the otakus manage to bring an end to the school's evil caste system in a prom night number that immediately won me over with lyrics like a refrain that's "Ass is all!" in Japanese (FUNimation's English dub modifies it to "Booty is all!").

Notice how her eyes look like sideways butt cheeks, which foreshadows her 'healthy young butt cheeks' in the climax.

Even Sofia is won over by the "Viva All!" number as well, and she ends up joining the otakus in abandoning the caste system. Part of why "The Transfer Student Is Dandy, Baby" stands out as a musical episode is its brief length--it's over before you know it, and fortunately, it doesn't drone on for 42 minutes or more--but it's also a standout because of the way it delivers its pro-underdog message, not through any speechifying, which proliferated all the preachy American animated shows that dominated the decade that much of the episode is an homage to, but through irreverent lines like "Ass is all!"

Stray observations:
* In addition to a sight gag involving the teleportation device from the David Cronenberg version of The Fly and a jock whose character design is modeled after E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Slimer makes a cameo during Sofia's expositiony caste system number and is seen wearing a hat that resembles--but isn't quite exactly--the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's hat.

Hey! Keep it in. Cut it out. Kick it out. Oh, oh, Onionhead.

* The shot of the school's Sentinel-like security guard robot stopping the merged jock bullies from Hulking out at the prom is my favorite example of how striking this musical episode looks.

Pacific Rim: The Lean Years

* Was an entire subplot about a long-suffering janitor and his two-timing wife cut out of the episode? The duet between the janitor, who doesn't speak elsewhere, and his wife, who sings about an affair with some other alien, during the "Viva All!" number is all that remains of this obviously deleted subplot.

* Feminist viewers probably won't care for Dandy objectifying Hanahana to boost her self-esteem during the climactic number. But it'd be boring if Dandy were enlightened Alan Alda in space instead of the Johnny Bravo-ish jerk who frequently gets his comeuppance, and he gets that here when he fails to put two and two together and notice that Hanahana is the Cliponian who's been "chweeting" anonymously about her Cliponian heritage.

* Why hasn't anybody told me a Space Dandy score album was released in March? I'm crazy about the original music on this show, especially the Japanese duo LUVRAW & BTB's Zapp & Roger-inspired "Anatato" from "Even Vacuum Cleaners Fall in Love, Baby," and I'd love to include more of it in AFOS' "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" playlist.

I still think Dandy looks like the extremely punchable Jeffrey Wells from Hollywood Elsewhere.
A Space Dandy cosplayer at last week's San Diego Comic-Con (Photo source: Fuck Yeah Space Dandy)

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