Space Dandy – 01

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Solaris author Stanislaw Lem wrote: “We don’t want other worlds, we want mirrors.” We long for a distant future in which we travel the stars, but the creepy unknowns that await us out in space must be tempered with the familiar trappings of life on our planet, like restaurants stocked with hot waitresses. Space Dandy dwells in that tasty world between the comforts of the familiar and the thrills of the truly alien. This is no hard science fiction; it gleefully mocks stodgier archetypes of the genre, like Gundam. This is Science Comedy; It’s a circus mirror, and it’s an absolute gas from start to finish.

While taking place in a bafflingly vast and complex universe, Space Dandy’s underlying story is blissfully simple: Space Dandy travels the cosmos with his robot pal QT, hunting for new aliens to register; wacky adventures ensue.  Oh sure, interstellar wars between huge empires are waged, but far in the background. Space Dandy has a great head of hair, passable fashion sense, and a penchant for surprisingly deep monologues, while preferring asses to boobs. At the end of the day, he’s a bit of a boob himself, surrounding himself with obsolete or substandard technology (which is still pretty cool to us) and goes wherever the tides of fate take him, which is a fancy way of saying he just goes wherever.

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There’s a lot of Star Wars influence in the sheer diversity of aliens we encounter, but packs a pulse and joie de vivre Coruscant’s streets were sorely lacking. One alien they pick up is Meow, who looks like a cat but is really from Betelgeuse, who they thought was an unknown because of the sticker on his cheek. Meow wouldn’t look out of place in a Chuck Jones cartoon, nor would the rocky landscape he and Dandy find themselves clambering around after a quick succession of decisions that send Dandy’s ship screaming in and out of normal spacetime and into the middle of a menagerie of gargantuan alien baddies.

In keeping with the episode’s cheeky attitude, in the end Dandy has QT activate an explosive device that obliterates the ship, the planet, and him, leaving us with the narrator proclaiming “No one will ever forget your gallant, appropriate actions…probably.” We like a show that’s not afraid to blow everyone and everything up in the first episode and start off fresh next week with a different observation of the human (and not-so-human) experience through the lens of a super-weird, ultra-colorful, manic universe where anything can happen and even the narrator doesn’t bother fully explaining everything. A great start to the Winter 2014 season.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 18

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Satoru reports to the joint committee heads that the Giant Hornets were completely annihilated by the Robber Flys. In light of very strange evidence, Shisei forms the theory that a human with a cantus destroyed the army. Tomiko refutes it’s either Akizuki Maria or Itou Mamoru, as she confirmed they were dead. At the summer festival, the Robber Flys, condemned to destruction, launch a surprise attack on the village, but Shisei eliminates them, removing his mask in the process. Tomiko vows to give Yakomaru a slow death.

The point when they queerats turn on their own gods came much more rapidly than we expected, and Yakomaru is almost certainly behind it all. There was always something about that rat’s eyes and in his weaselly words that we found unsettling. While he most certainly knows the surprise attack will fail, it is nevertheless a complex multi-layered assault full of feints and gambits designed to create maximum anxiety in the people, who had been previously enjoying their summer festival. Queerat infiltrators even disguised themselves as “monsters” (part of the festival) and handed out samples of poisoned sake.

Their assault may have been thwarted – and then some – by the awesome destructive power of the four-irised(!) Shisei, but the villagers are afraid, and that’s just what Yakomaru wants. Two committee heads are also dead: the most bombastic and overconfident head (who was playing a drum with his cantus when he was taken out by a queerat sniper) and the one head who called for the postponement of the festival until the Robber Flys were dealt with. Turns out that was a good call. Meanwhile, on this night when the dead return from the underworld, Saki has visions of her friends, whom Tomiko is positive they’re dead. But are they really?


Rating: 8 (Great)

Sakamichi no Apollon – 01

It’s 1966, and Nishimi Kaoru has move to Kyushu to live with his aunt while his dad is away at work. He is a shy and asocial kid who manages high grades and plays the piano, but makes a prime target for bullies. The most notorious is Kawabuchi Sentaro, who actually takes an odd liking to him after fighting three seniors over the key to the roof. Kaoru also quickly makes friends with class rep Mukae Ritsuko, Sentaro’s childhood friend, whose family owns a record store with a practice room in the basement. Kaoru is inspired when he hears Sentaro play jazz on the drums.

It’s series like this that make us feel like we’re seriously wasting our time on drivel like Shining Hearts or unfocused dreck like Dusk Maiden, shows we’ll gladly drop to spend more time on something like this. First of all, when we learned both Shinichiro Wantanabe and Yoko Kanno were working on this, a light went on in our head; it’s doubtful this would be a dud. This whole episodes swings, and has a really nice lived-in feel to it. None of the characters are over-pretty or over-huge; though Sentaro looks a bit like Archie.

Most importantly, everyone is likeable, from the kind and friendly Ritsuko to Kaoru himself, who may be a bit angsty but at least has a reason to be. Sentaro is a big, lovable goof, who can handle himself in a fight and lay it down at the drums. The animation of his drumwork (both on drums and with twigs earlier on, before we even meet him) are a highlight of the episode, as is the promise of more excellent jazz to accompany the series. We’ve already got a nice nucleus of friends, and it looks like Kaoru is going to be just fine judging from the way he jaunts down the hill with Ritsuko by episode’s end.


Rating: 9 (Superior)