Kimiko Ueno is a writer to watch. She's responsible for two of Space Dandy's funniest episodes, "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby," a frenetic half-hour that's grown on me since its airing in July, and last season's "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby," a riff on the zombie genre that features the show's most sublime use of its Douglas Adams-style narrator (his matter-of-fact narration is an element of Space Dandy that plays better in subtitled Japanese than in English because matter-of-fact foreign narration, whether it's delivered by a Japanese announcer or a British documentarian, is just funnier, and not for xenophobic reasons).
In "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby," the pulling of "cosmic pubes" caused Dandy, Meow and QT to ping-pong back and forth between other dimensions. In those other realities, they had awkward and often argumentative encounters with their parallel counterparts, who were completely different from all the other much more identical parallel counterparts we saw in previous and subsequent episodes, that is if Space Dandy viewers' theory that each episode takes place in a different reality is a correct one (the counterparts Dandy, Meow and QT met in "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby" more closely resembled the stars of animated shows that are way more popular in Japan than Space Dandy, which has failed to catch on with the Japanese public and is a more popular show over here in America). For instance, in one reality, Meow was a sexy woman in a dance leotard instead of a male cat, while in a much more emo reality, he was a terrifying-looking cyborg with a frozen smile who spoke only in creepy-sounding electronic meows that would constantly drive his morose shipmate Emo Dandy to want to kill himself. And like "Sometimes You Can't Live with Dying, Baby," "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby" made sublime use of the narrator at one point and had him bickering with his parallel counterparts as well.
Ueno also wrote "Rock 'n' Roll Dandy, Baby," a Behind the Music-like rockumentary parody where would-be rocker Dandy spent more time bickering with his bandmate over what to name their band and how their merch should look than actually creating music. "Lovers Are Trendy, Baby"--in which Scarlet (Houko Kuwashima), the prim Alien Registration Center clerk who always rejects the unregisterable creatures that Dandy brings to her, pays the pompadoured alien hunter to pose as her boyfriend in order to ward off her stalker ex-boyfriend Dolph (Kazuya Nakai)--isn't quite as funny as those three previous Ueno episodes, but it reteams Ueno with director Masahiro Mukai, who helmed the chaos of "I Can't Be the Only One, Baby."
Mukai brings much of his visual panache from the cosmic pubes episode to this one as well, especially in any scene involving the machine gun-wielding silver and red mecha from the show's opening titles, which finally makes an appearance here and turns out to be piloted by Dolph. Because this is a sci-fi comedy show full of spaceships and giant mechs, instead of stalking Scarlet in a tourist disguise or in a Spider-Man costume, Dolph spies on her from the cockpit of his floating mecha, the winner of the least conspicuous stalker vehicle of the year.
You keep expecting Mukai to stage a battle between Dolph's mecha and Dandy's Hawaii Yankee, a Hawaiian shirt-wearing mecha that's been absent this season, but they never get to the fireworks factory, and "Lovers Are Trendy, Baby" is the lesser for it. However, "Lovers Are Trendy, Baby" scores points for getting a man and a woman who's constantly repulsed by him to bond over the film and TV work of Chuck Norris, action genre veteran, famously wooden actor, ubiquitous Internet meme and right-wing nutjob.
For most of the episode, Dandy and Scarlet have nothing in common, and Dandy is constantly at his worst behavior during their pretend dates on the romantic getaway planet known as Trendy. He spits game at some other hottie in the middle of his beach date with Scarlet, which sends her unleashing her fury at him, while my favorite running gag has Scarlet frequently apologizing to little kids for Dandy snatching their belongings from them and making them cry.
But then Dandy unearths Scarlet's DVD copy of Missing in Action from the mess he's made of her house after he tries to protect her from a man-faced spider straight out of John Carpenter's The Thing (if that house is a vacation rental, I can't wait to see the discussion she'll have with the constantly broke Dandy over how to cover the damages), and their adoration of the Missing in Action star begins to bring them closer together and raises the possibility that this fake couple could turn into a real one. Dandy and Scarlet also out themselves as fans of the short-lived Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos, an actual kids' cartoon and one of many inspirations for Adult Swim's upcoming '80s cartoon spoof Mike Tyson Mysteries, which will star the voices of Mike Tyson and Norm Macdonald.
For some reason, I'm having flashbacks to Chris Rock's old "Terry Armstrong" bit about athletes who always refer to themselves in the third person. Chuck Norris' intro for Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos makes Chuck Norris' show look like a fake Chuck Norris cartoon from Robert Smigel, but it's not a Smigel TV Funhouse segment about the Chuck Norris-ness of Chuck Norris. Karate Kommandos was an actual half-hour piece of shit from Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! creators Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, whose Ruby-Spears studio also produced the inexplicable Rambo cartoon, which was a 30-minute commercial for a Rambo action figure line, and the occasional TV Funhouse target Mister T, which starred the A-Team scene-stealer as the coach of a multiracial team of mystery-solving gymnast kids (Mister T makes the Brady Kids Saturday morning cartoon look like Shakespeare).
If Dandy and Scarlet bonded over the much more revered Bruce Lee, whom Spike Spiegel idolized and emulated during Space Dandy general director Shinichiro Watanabe's more serious Cowboy Bebop (and is far less problematic to Asian Americans as a martial arts hero than his white Way of the Dragon nemesis), it wouldn't be as amusing. Because Dandy the bumbling lout and Scarlet the lonely office drone are kitschy Watanabe characters, as opposed to badass Watanabe characters like Spike and his femme fatale love interest Julia (although Scarlet has a badass side that she expresses in her Jeet Kune Do skills), it makes more comedic sense for Scarlet and Dandy, who's delusional about his prowess with the ladies, to idolize the similarly delusional Norris than to idolize Bruce. The star of both Karate Kommandos and the frequently ridiculed Walker, Texas Ranger was under the delusion that America would take seriously his warning that re-electing President Obama would bring about "1,000 years of darkness." (Dandy's also delusional about being an intergalactic celebrity, just like how Peter Quill thinks "Star-Lord" is a name everyone in space is familiar with during Guardians of the Galaxy. Junichi Suwabe, the Chris Parnell-esque voice of Dandy in Japan, is great at portraying this delusional and self-absorbed side of Dandy, so it's fitting that Suwabe was chosen to dub for Chris Pratt in the Japanese release of Guardians that's opening over there tomorrow.)
The references to a real-life obscure cartoon instead of a made-up one with a dumb-sounding and unconvincing fake title are a nice touch in Ueno's script, as are Scarlet's evident fetish for '80s action stars (it's not surprising that one of her exes is a blond jerk named after Dolph Lundgren) and the episode's open ending, which was clearly influenced by Watanabe's love of ambiguity. For anybody in the audience who might be a shipper of Dandy and Scarlet (and I keep coming back to this, but God, the word--and very concept of--"shippers" make me wish they never existed), the ending is pure torture, but for the rest of us, it's one of many reasons why Watanabe, whose work has proven that he's as far from the dark ages of Ruby-Spears as one can get, makes several of the best animated shows to come out of Japan.
|According to Space Dandy's alien alphabet, the logo on Scarlet's bikini says "Elle."|