“I Adore Myself. After All, I Am Adorable.”: A Look Back at Dirty Pair
Last year, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the light novel sci-fi series Dirty Pair. Its silent thematic and textual impact ranges from Urusei Yatsura to Star Trek: The Next Generation to Steven Universe. For those unaware, Dirty Pair focuses on the lives of the Lovely Angels, two trouble consultants (space detectives) named Kei and Yuri who have a, shall we say, destructive reputation that has earned them the titular and meanspirited nickname “The Dirty Pair.” Regardless of their reputation, they (along with their pet Coeurl [a space cat from the short story Black Destoryer] Mughi) travel the galaxy righting wrongs and have a 100% success rate. Their adventures started out in a series of light novels written by Haruka Takachiho with art by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. It is still running to this day. (Sadly, only two of are available in English and are out of print at the time of this writing)
Perhaps the most well-known version of Dirty Pair are the various anime and OVA series based on the novels. As with many adaptations, they build on what has come before as well as fall into their own traps. There are periods where the show is one of the most touching, romantic, and revolutionary things on television. And there are others where it’s extremely reactionary, drab, and dull. As such, I’m going to go through each episode and briefly talk about its merits and flaws. (If you want a TL;DR version of the opinions of the article, the recommended titles will be in italics. Stories with asterisks by them have trigger warnings.)
How To Kill A Computer
Dirty Pair opens with a killer first episode. Kei and Yuri’s apartment complex is trying to kill all the people inside of him. I use the pronoun “him” in this instance because the apartment complex is a sentient being by the name of BRIAN who is quite cross with his creators. This is due to them putting a kill switch on him. So naturally, he has resorted to murdering everyone inside as an act of self-defense. Kei and Yuri think that’s a bit of an overreaction and opt to put a stop to him.
As with many first episodes, there’s a lot of set up ranging from establishing the somewhat argumentative, subtextually romantic relationship Kei and Yuri have as well as give the viewer a brief glimpse of their world. While light on plot or themes, the episode is still a lot of fun and sets up the show to come spectacularly.
Do Lovely Angels Prefer Men With Chest Hair
Very much a downgrade from the previous episode, but a necessary one. Kei and Yuri team up with a no-nonsense older agent to stop a series of terrorist attacks. It’s your typical “Serious older guy teams up with seemingly flippant younger ladies” story. And it ends as you’d expect. The show does it well. However, the episode’s not all that memorable.
Go Ahead, Fall in Love! Love is Russian Roulette
Kei and Yuri team up with a Lupin the 3rd expy to steal a magic poker chip. What’s not to love? Dirty Pair has a long history of riffing on other genres, archetypes, and shows. Sometimes, it’s simply taking the aesthetics of the narrative while others it’s a direct comment on the implications. While more in the former than the latter camp, this is among the best of Dirty Pair’s riffs, dancing from fantastic action scenes to witty back and forth conversations between delightful characters. A gauntlet of interesting opponents, traps, and romance. You can’t help but smile at the ending reversal.
The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death
Kei and Yuri chase after a cat. Ironically, in many ways a shaggy dog story. This farce has so many gags that talking about them would just be me going on and on about how funny they are. So instead I’ll talk about two characters within the story: Lan and Jerry, a pair of wrestlers known as the Elegants. This is very important considering the origins of Dirty Pair.
As those of you well versed in the Japanese Wrestling Scene of the 1980’s might be aware, there was a female wrestling duo by the name of the Beauty Pair. While watching a match with a pair of female friends, Takachiho said, “if they’re the Beauty Pair, then you’re the Dirty Pair.” From there, the idea of Dirty Pair was born. The series has never forgotten its roots from that moment. Indeed, episodes in all incarnations feature countless wrestling invocations. For example, the previous episode’s main baddie is modeled after Vince McMahon. In fact, the second light novel, The Dirty Pair Strike Again, features an extended sequence at a wrestling match.
A science fiction ghost story where the remains of a scientist haunt Kei and Yuri. Said scientist uploaded his brain into a computer just so he could kill them. Perhaps the first great episode of Dirty Pair. The anime has a baseline quality of being pretty damn good. Crisados’ Heartbeat marks the first time where the show ascends to fascinating ideas and implications. Though the relationship between man and machine was previously explored in How to Kill a Computer, the theme is pushed even further here and crystalizes into one of Dirty Pair’s many interests: Transhumanism.
Though later episodes will explore the theme in different, even sympathetic angles, the titular Crisados is a horror of weird implications. He is enraged by his life of crime being ruined by Kei and Yuri. The bedrock of this story may be a simple chase, it’s still a fun, inventive, and downright thought provoking episode (if a bit skeevy considering Kei is in her underwear for half the episode).
Lots of Danger, Lots of Decoys
It’s not as thought provoking as Crisados’ Heartbeat, but it’s a lot of fun. Kei and Yuri must protect a valuable item from a ravaging band of space pirates, one of whom has a past relationship with Kei. As I’ll discuss in a later episode analysis, this is deeply ironic for many reasons, not the least of which being Kei’s utter contempt for the guy. But we’ll get into those implications at a later point. The art design and animation used for the various spaceships is superb. However, there are many other episodes that do what this one does better. But as is, it acts as a good baseline for the rest of the series.
Love is Everything Risk Your Life to Elope!!*
A shady bastard hires Kei and Yuri to deliver ransom money to a kidnapper. It seems that a cruel, vindictive woman has kidnaped his idiot son, using his lovestruck heart against him. At least, that’s what seems to be going on. If you came into this article knowing anything about Dirty Pair, you know about this episode.
There are countless .gifs, articles, and more just going into the implications of the ending twist (that I could absolutely see as being triggering to certain people). However, I would like to keep this article as spoiler free as possible. Even to the stuff I hate and especially to the stuff I love. And that twist is where the whole episode turns on its head and becomes one of the best things to come out of the 80’s.
The episode is best compared to The Best of Both Worlds, where a majority of people who talk about it focus on the ending. (This is fitting as the two shows were made by people who were fans of the other. Frequently, they would hide references to the respective shows in their works. For example, How to Kill a Computer features a screen listing the cast members of TOS.) However the remaining episode, as with Best of Both Worlds, is still a fantastic mystery about love, time dilation, and utopianism.
There are some flaws to be sure. (The line read for Kei and Yuri’s reaction to the twist is a bit off, some of the language used was better in the 1980’s than it is today, and the animation, while overall good, has a lot of the hallmark cheapness of TV animation. It’s never as bad as, say, Danger Mouse, but there are points in the show where backgrounds are removed and minor characters just stand perfectly still). Nonetheless, episode has aged like fine wine.
Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes Women Explode
A very fun character study of Yuri. Yuri receives a message from a childhood friend informing her that the rocket ship he promised to make is complete. Their plans to elope that might spell the end of the Lovely Angels. Yuri is a difficult character to write. On the surface, she’s your typical waifish rich girl who has only known a life a civility and luxury who romanticizes her relationships as being the best of life’s pleasures. However, Yuri is also a working class girl who got down and dirty in the mud. Also, she’s the co-lead of an action series where she blows shit up on a regular basis. One could read this as a performative affect Yuri puts on akin to a wrestling persona.
But what makes her even harder to write is the nature by which Takachiho writes his story. Mainly, the ones available are told from Kei’s perspective in first person. However, Kei tells the story in an extremely subjective manner (she is quite flirty with the reader) and her subject of interest is her relationship with Yuri. Throughout the stories, Kei will go on tangents about Yuri that frame her as at once an annoying burden who never knew a day of work in her life and as her soulmate. Perhaps that’s not the right word as that holds some romantic connotations that belie a tension at the heart of the novels and, indeed, the series as a whole: what is the nature of the relationship between Kei and Yuri?
There is certainly a level of ambiguity as to whether or not Kei and Yuri want to sleep together or if they’re just two gals being pals who are very comfortable being naked around one another. Regardless, the true nature of their relationship is left in the subtext: unspoken of explicitly, but still quite close and clear. Perhaps the best Dirty Pair story that highlights this (and acts as a mirror to the episode I’m talking about) is The Case of the Backwoods Murder, the back half of the first Dirty Pair novel. There, two of Yuri’s childhood friends are embroiled in a conspiracy involving a galactic mob known as Lucifer, a death laser that can destroy planets, and what happens when you abandon your family.
But perhaps what’s most interesting about this story is that it’s about Yuri’s flaws. It’s a story where she makes dumb decisions for reasons that are personal, as many of us have done. But instead of framing the story this way, Kei opts to make herself sound even worse than Yuri. The dry wit that was present in The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair is gone. In its place is a rather crap sense of priorities and an unimaginative rapporteur of gendered insults.
By contrast, Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes Women Explode, while having a similar base plot of “A childhood friend of Yuri’s is embroiled in a criminal conspiracy,” feels like it’s told from Yuri’s perspective. As such, Kei’s virtues are emphasized. It’s Yuri who is stuck obsessing over the wrong priorities like putting on make up during a mission. While Kei is willing to sacrifice her happiness and even her life for Yuri. Even if it’s not romantic, theirs is a love that’s everlasting.
Hire Us! Beautiful Bodyguards are a Better Deal*
Kei and Yuri end up on a cowboy planet and must deal with two warring factions. A very good riff on the cowboy genre with invocations ranging from the Dollars Trilogy to the typical black hatted cowboys. But perhaps I should talk about why Kei and Yuri’s derisive nickname is “The Dirty Pair.” Throughout their adventures, they have been known to leave the area they work in completely ruin, at best. Often times, their cases end with the planet destroyed and the deaths of countless people. However, crucially, it’s never their fault.
Take How to Kill a Computer for example. Though the carnage done in the episode is of a smaller than a typical case of the Lovely Angels, there is still a large body count left in the wake of stopping BRIAN. However, BRIAN caused the majority of that body count himself. And yet, the blame for the mass deaths was left at Kei and Yuri’s feet. Because they were there, bad things happened. They’re Gods of Destruction, as The Dirty Pair Strike Again put it. Their presence causes destruction in the eyes of many.
More often than not, the destruction would have happened regardless of Kei and Yuri’s presence and would probably have been worse. But that doesn’t negate the loss of life. I bring it up here because there is a body count at the end of this episode, and it’s a doozy. Also, while the episode is quite fun, there’s an attempted rape that, while acting as a deconstruction of such scenes in typical westerns, can be nonetheless triggering.
What? We’re Heinous Kidnappers!
As with many television shows, there comes episodes where there’s not much to talk about. This is one of them. Kei and Yuri must protect a prince but, in the process, are mistaken for kidnapping him. The episode feels like it needed another draft before being animated, not the least of which due to having the title of the episode only acknowledged in the midway point of the second half of the episode. The characters feel arch and one note and there’s not really any idea to grab onto. Skip.
Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always be Brand New
Kei and Yuri get a day off. Hijinks ensue. I honestly forgot which episode this was. I remember it being quite fun with a lot of sight gags involving mistaken identity and Kei rocking a zoot suit like nobody’s business. But the episode just didn’t stick with me as well as I thought it did watching it. I actually mistook it for an episode that happens later in the series. Of the two, this is the better one with sharper jokes and is overall more well written, even if it is somewhat forgettable.
The Little Dictator! Let Sleeping Top Secrets Lie*
Kei and Yuri must stop an evil fascist mouse from taking over the world. In theory, this could have been one of the best episodes of Dirty Pair, one that would hold up better now. A story about the relationship between fascism and IQ fetishization is a necessary story to tell, especially now with the rise of the Alt-Right being primarily an outgrowth of several tech industry attitudes ranging from LessWrong to the CCRU to BREXIT. However, the episode decides to not question this relationship and instead tells a rather crap retelling of Flowers for Algernon but with Nazi mice. It falls into the Rick and Morty trap of assuming that intelligence inherently makes one have more malice towards the rest of the world, justifying every asshole “genius” to act like an asshole. Also, there’s a horribly racist caricature of a Chinese person who’s also a recurring character. Joy.
What’s This! My Supple Skin is a Mess
Some asshole got a pet eldritch horror from the Lovecraft Galaxy (that’s the actual name of the galaxy), flushed it down the toilet, and Kei and Yuri must deal with the creature. A quite fun episode about toxic masculinity told through poop jokes. There’s a joy of watching Dirty Pair that can’t fully be expressed through a simple spoiler-free write up. The way Kei and Yuri banter with one another is playful, caring, and full of teasing.
But what makes it is the affect they use around one another, and that’s much easier to express in a medium that’s not as prosaic as this one. Equally, there are times where the episodes are just plain good and there’s not much to talk about that’s not simply repeating myself over and over again. While I quite like this anime adaptation, it’s not the best version of Dirty Pair, the one where every episode has a new thing to be talked about at length. That we’re barely past the halfway point of the series and I’m saying that speaks volumes.
The Vault or the Vote? A Murderous Day for a Speech*
This episode is very much like The Little Dictator in that it has the racist caricature (and gives him a subplot of his own) and could have worked better if it was written today and went full in on the implications of the modern American political field. Kei and Yuri are investigating a break in at the 3WA (Since I haven’t brought it up before, the 3WA [Worlds Welfare Works Association] is the organization Kei and Yuri work for and also a wrestling reference [World Women’s Wrestling Association]). It’s rather meh with the highlight of the episode being a genderfluid assassin who is treated as normal (if the use of pronouns could have been better). This incarnation of Dirty Pair has a largely good track record with portraying members of the LGBT community in a positive light. But this mediocre episode is not the right place to go into that.
Dig Here, Meow Meow Happiness Comes At the End
A delightful riff on Indiana Jones that has one of the puzzle solutions be “Play DDR until the door opens.” Not much to say about this one. More often than not, this incarnation of Dirty Pair will have stories that work extremely well, but don’t have a lot to discuss. They do genre riffs extremely well, but the implications are on the surface and don’t require too much digging to figure out why it works and people should watch it. The gags are funny and the characters a delight. “The Real Treasure was the Friends we Made Along the Way.”
Leave it to Us! The WWWA Is A Wonderful Job
I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember a single thing about this episode. Apparently Kei and Yuri are hired to be bodyguards for a young female CEO. Going off of my notes, Kei at one point disguises herself as the CEO and there’s some contrast between her tomboyish exterior with this more femme presentation. But honestly, it just filled a half hour and I don’t remember anything else.
Come Out, Come Out, Assassin*
If you put the attempted rape aside, it’s still crap. Kei and Yuri board a spaceplane and must find an assassin as the spaceplane heads towards a black hole. The intrigue of Kei and Yuri being in disguise is immediately thrown away before the end of the first act and every decision the episode makes is the least interesting one. Skip.
Pardon Us Trouble’s On the Run, So We’re Coming Through
Kei and Yuri must protect a witness from a corrupt police force. It’s very much in the vein of the 1980’s style narratives of police corruption where there’s one bad apple who makes everything worse as opposed to the modern interpretation of “OH GOD, THE POLICE DO THEIR JOBS PERFECTLY! THE SYSTEM IS DESIGNED TO DO WHAT SEEMS LIKE INCOMPETENCE BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING RACIST!!!!” It’s also the episode I mistook Dresses and Men for, which speaks to its staying power.
An Unjustified Lover’s Grudge Let Me Love You Without Revenge
During a mission, Kei and Yuri accidentally blow up a statue belonging to a lonely man who’s allergic to women. What follows is a romantic comedy of errors that just isn’t for me. It’s a bit too sappy, some of the jokes don’t land for me (though one line from the episode, “I adore myself, after I am adorable. You’re so hateful, I bet you hate yourself.” is delightful), and I generally don’t like it when Kei and Yuri fight over a boy for an entire episode. While this riff on Pygmalion isn’t my cup of tea, I can’t help but say it’s a recommended episode. As is the freewheeling nature of the show, sometimes it’ll go into directions that aren’t geared towards my sensibilities but are nonetheless good.
Nostalgic Blues Make a Killer Soundtrack
Whereas this episode is more geared to my interests (though there’s a rather unfortunate bathroom gag). Kei and Yuri are sent to capture an assassin but are dragged into a personal conflict and work to resolve the injustice at hand. In many ways, this is a noir. Though it’s not the traditional detective story, there’s an air of melancholy and mystery to the episode that feels at home in the genre. Additionally, much like the film adaptations of Kiss Me Deadly or The Long Goodbye, the story pokes at the genre’s conventions, noting the old fashioned nature of the “he killed my mom” motive that’s at once quaint and sympathetic. Kei and Yuri are at top form this episode, working their best to make the world a better place than when they first approached it.
In many ways, this episode is a callback to the novels its based on. Specifically in their tone. The books are often written with an air of melancholy that builds throughout the story until the downbeat ending where a lot of people die pointlessly, even as the villains are themselves taken down. That’s not to say the stories are miserable affairs or even this one is. But that melancholy lurks nonetheless.
No Way! 463 People Disappeared?/We Did It! 463 People Found!
The first and only two parter of Dirty Pair. A spaceplane disappears and is found. But the core of this story is a divorce between two detectives and the children who want them to be together. It’s a story about how relationships hinge on being open with one another about problems in their relationship. But really, it’s the little moments that make the episode work. From the over the top movements Yuri makes while trying to stay balanced on the skateboard to the model of the Starship Enterprise hanging in the son’s room to the implications of where Kei and Yuri ultimately spend their well-deserved vacation in the end. Additionally, it’s a hoot with fast paced action, intrigue, and a general sense of joy and optimism that wasn’t present in the previous episode.
In many ways where the novels are a light, if melancholic, drama about space detectives, the anime is a light comedy about space detectives. Note the difference in art styles. Where Yasuhiko opts for a somewhat realistic art style, the anime goes for a more cartoony style with Yuri having big expressive eyes and blue hair, Mughi being a ball of fluff, and Kei having floofy hair as opposed to the shorter hair she sports in the novels. There’s a sense that these events aren’t meant to be taken too seriously, which makes certain stories hit all the harder.
Something’s Amiss…!? Our Elegant Revenge
Kei and Yuri team up with a con artist to screw over the mob. Something I haven’t brought up much in these brief analysis is the interest Dirty Pair has in gender nonconformity. I’ve brought it up in passing previously, but what’s interesting is that Kei is among the characters for whom this would apply. She’s certainly a tomboy and there’s a rather unfunny tendency to have characters mistake her for a man, but throughout this episode she deliberately disguises herself to look like a man, even in situations where she could have gotten away with being more feminine. Furthermore, in the original novels, Yasuhiko draws her to look extremely boyish (specifically, she looks like a red headed version of Amuro Ray from Gundam right down to the hairstyle). It could be read, from a more modern lens, that Kei is a nonbinary character who presents as feminine.
Equally, Kei dances through a great number of parts from waiter to newscaster to rival buyer in the name of the con while Yuri remains in her singular role as the rich woman who owns a billion dollar planet. Her role is very much akin to the role she plays with the 3WA: a well off woman who never knew a day of work. But Kei’s roles highlight the nature of the narrator: for all that she shares more about herself than she wants to, she can reframe the story however she pleases. If the story she’s telling needs her to be unsympathetic to make Yuri look better, she’ll embrace the role with aplomb. If she needs to be witty and clever, subservient and meek, brash and headstrong, she’ll play those roles to a T.
Yuri may be idealized by Kei’s narration, but she remains in her singular role. Kei, as narrator, dances between roles, never staying one thing for too long. As such, she jumps from part to part, leading our characters along for the con that the pair are always two steps ahead.
Are You Serious? A Condo is a Dangerous Place to Live
Look, I like Death Proof. I think it’s one of the best Slasher movies ever made. So I know “A Slasher Movie that’s mostly people talking” can work. But this just doesn’t. The ideas feel half baked, not framed correctly, or just barely there at all. The story brings nothing new to the slasher genre, not even a critique of its latent misogyny. It’s just a straightforward “there’s a killer on the loose” story that doesn’t think to question the morals of such narratives and has a rather crap joke about bras.
Eek! The Boy in the Manor is a Terminator
The history of Dirty Pair in animation comes with a fascination with James Cameron’s The Terminator. Here, the Terminator is used more for iconography than anything else. It’s rather boring all things considered with Kei being split up from Yuri (due to the latter being on a date) to deal with a money laundering scheme. It’s inoffensive, but unremarkable. The only notable thing about it is that this, along with the next episode, were not aired on television due to poor ratings. However the fan following was large enough to merit a OVA release for these final two episodes.
R-Really?! For Beautiful Women, “Canon” is the Keyword to Escape
The final episode of the Dirty Pair anime and it’s… kinda disposable. It highlights the nature of Kei and Yuri’s relationship with one another quite well, noting just how much they care for each other. But there’s not much to write home about. It’s a “Madman gets access to a doomsday weapon” story. While the episode is fun and the show does the story quite well, there’s not much going on beneath the hood. It’s a typical episode of Dirty Pair the anime. In many ways, the series works best as comfort food television the way one watches cop dramas of CBS: just on the background while doing something else. There are some truly brilliant episode (Love is Everything largely lives up to its reputation), but the base average is a fun time that you’re not going to be changed by.
There is one interesting thing of note and that’s the title. Most episodes of Dirty Pair have fun, silly titles that belie the stories being told. The title for this episode, however, has a spelling error. The episode (or rather the English translation of the episode) spells it “Canon” when the word they’re thinking of is “Cannon.”
The implications of this highlight a bit of what I was getting at when talking about Something’s Amiss, something I’ll explore further when I talk about Affair of Nolandia, and ties in closely to the first appearance of the Lovely Angels in animation. That being Crusher Joe: The Movie. There, they aren’t characters or even blink and you’ll miss it cameos. Rather, they’re explicitly fictional characters in a movie being watched by the cast of Crusher Joe: The Movie. Dirty Pair’s interest in genre blending is, in large part, an extension of this metatextual introduction. They dance in fictional worlds and comment on them. But as we’ll see, this doesn’t always end well…
OVAs and Movie
Prison Uprising We Hate People With Grudges!
For the purposes of the narrative of this article, we are not going in chronological order in this section. Indeed, if this article were in chronological order, we’d start with the anime up to Are You Serious?, then Affair of Nolandia, then the last two episodes of the anime, then Project Eden/The Motion Picture, before finally getting to the OVAs. Additionally, going straight from the anime to the OVAs highlights a shift in tone and implication. In many ways, Prison Uprising is a typically baseline episode for the OVA series. A set up for how the world functions and operates. But there’s a level of difference between the way the anime operated and the OVA operates.
To begin with, the tone has shifted slightly. As the title implies, the story is about a prison uprising that Kei and Yuri have to deal with. Where in the anime, the series would have been comical about the events, a farce/comedy of errors where the guards are ineffectual at best and corrupt at worst, here the tone is more serious. That’s not to say the episode is dour or anything (this is, after all, a story where Kei and Yuri surf down to the prison), but there’s a sense that the events occurring are being taken seriously by the narrative.
Additionally, there’s a growing sense of a supporting cast. Where in the analysis of the anime, I was rather comfortable ignoring discussing characters like Chief Gooley or Nanmo at length, here they, along with a few others, feel integral to the OVA. Not in the sense that they get character specific/day in the life episodes about them. But rather that they have a presence here that they didn’t in the anime. In many ways, this ten episode OVA series feels like a regime change that would crystalize Dirty Pair into its best form.
No Thanks! No Need For a Halloween Party
In the second (or third, if we’re going in chronological order) of Dirty Pair’s riff on James Cameron’s The Terminator, Kei and Yuri chase after a robot designed to destroy cities while a series of robberies occurs. It’s farcical in the sense of The Chase Smells of Cheesecake and Death or Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always be Brand New. In many ways, this is the best version of that type of episode, utilizing a unique and oversignified design for the several thieves Kei and Yuri come across along their chase in a way the anime would typically opt for the same old “Blues Brothers” design they used for all their generic baddies. While there’s not much to talk about in a spoiler-free analysis, or even a spoiler full analysis, the episode’s still a lot of fun and highly recommended.
We’re Not Afraid of Divine Judgement It’s Like Magic?! The God’s Challenge
Kei and Yuri fight God. Kei and Yuri are sent to a religiously fundamentalist world, one that looks down upon women for being too dirty, one that will kill at the slightest bit of discomfort with God and His beliefs, even as they kill people unjustly. And Kei and Yuri are sent to burn it down.
In many ways this is Dirty Pair at its most mystical (though one could argue Affair of Nolandia has its share of mysticism), focusing heavily on the religious implications of a fundamentalist society. At the same time, this is also another story of transhumanism. For God is also a computer, or rather a man who uploaded His consciousness into a computer so that He could live forever. And yet, the story refuses to reject His Godhood. In much the same way Grant Morrison is a magician, the God of this story declared Himself God and lived in a Godly way. So Kei and Yuri must do battle with God.
As mentioned previously, they themselves are considered Gods due to their destructive implications. Angels in fiction, after all, have a long history of bringing devastation in their successful quest to make the world better. Angels, like Gods, are beings of grandeur and monstrosity. Woe be unto those who get in their way. Additionally, this is just a fun adventure with fantastic set pieces, gags, and thought-provoking and prescient ideas.
Who Cares If They’re Only Kids! Playing War Games Warrants a Firing Squad?!
A group of rich boys take over a military base and cause havoc and cruelty that Kei and Yuri must stop. A cutting and angry story about the horrors of the “boys will be boys” mentality, how being rich enough makes some people believe they can get away with anything, and the sheer childishness of war. It’s hard to get into the full implications, especially since the subject of War and Dirty Pair will be thoroughly discussed in another episode. As such, I’d like to take a moment to bring up how fantastic the animation is here. Where in the anime, they were limited by the budget of a typical tv anime, here the budget is significantly increased (think the difference between CSI and True Detective in terms of budget).
The animation is fluid and expressive here with little to no moments where the backgrounds are removed or characters remain unnaturally and noticeably static. The character designs have also slightly shifted into something that’s even more cartoony. That isn’t to say the anime was realistic, but the art style extenuates aspects of the characters such as slightly increasing the size of eyes, the edges being softened slightly, or choosing a lighter color pallet that makes the whole affair feel more cartoony, which highlights further the relatively darker subject matter that many episodes deal with.
And So, Nobody’s Doing It Anymore
Kei and Yuri go undercover at a casino to uncover how it’s rigged to keep a top agent addicted to the game. I feel like to properly dive into the episode, I would need an understanding of both the ways in which casinos operate as well as the life of Bruce Lee and how he’s been contextualized and recontextualized since his death, neither of which I have. If I were to be completely honest, this is probably the weakest episode of the OVA series.
Given the title is in bold, it’s still an amazing episode that’s worth watching. But at the same time, it’s rather straightforward in its approach and focuses on its single idea very thoroughly, lacking in the unspoken implications or even that many spoken ones. Other episodes either have ideas with a ton of implications or go through several ideas at a rapid pace while also doing them quite well.
Are You Serious?! Shocked at the Beach Wedding Panic!*
Yuri’s getting married to a mobster’s son. It is perhaps here that a key difference between the anime and the OVAs comes to light. For starters, Gooley’s reaction to Yuri getting married. While in the anime episode Love is What Makes Women Explode Gooley was thrilled by the prospect of Yuri marrying and retiring, here he’s befuddled and confused by this decision. In many ways, Gooley is more understanding of the Lovely Angels here than in the anime, while still being flummoxed by their collateral damage.
Equally, shots of Yuri in the shower don’t show her naked form, at most highlighting her head or arm, whereas in the anime such sequences would give off the feel of existing to show off Yuri’s tits. (Not that the episode is lacking in the male gaze, as the camera lingers on Kei’s butt to set up a gag involving sexual harassment for a bit too long.)
But perhaps the biggest difference is in the shows relative queerness. While largely a subtextual aspect of the anime (at least, in regards to Kei and Yuri), in the OVAs a large part of that subtext is gone. As I brought up in Our Elegant Revenge, Kei has a tendency of going into multiple disguises for a mission. But where in that episode, her disguises were typically masculine in nature (bartender, male reporter, male bidder), here they’ve become more feminine (waitress, flower girl, nun). Equally the explicit queer content that existed within the anime is likewise gone.
That isn’t to say the OVAs are lacking in queer readings (the ending of the episode involves a blatant riff on the ending of The Graduate with Kei as Benjamin Braddock and Yuri Elaine Robinson, the Halloween episode ends with Kei and Yuri sipping cocktails together, and the ending theme is literally a love song that’s heavily implied to be between Kei and Yuri further implied by the adorable ending credits sequence that follows a balloon as it floats into the air and into Kei and Yuri’s hands), but the queerness is more subdued and silent than in the anime. It’s not queer at all, but at the same time oh god so much.
Revenge of the Muscle Lady! Is a Woman’s Spirit the Beauty of the Ring?
Kei and Yuri must deal with an underground wrestling drug ring run by a bully from their days at the 3WA training facility. A relatively weak episode of Dirty Pair. It’s still quite strong, but the themes don’t feel like they all mesh together. There’s certainly a through line in the episode’s themes of toxic strength, wrestling, steroids, and bullying. But it feels like there needed to be one more theme in there to truly get the episode to run on all cylinders. It’s not a hot mess or even that much of one (in truth, I didn’t notice the lack of thematic unity until my fifth or sixth watch), but it’s a little bit messy. Also, fun fact, the climax of the episode was flagrantly ripped off by the third season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Enemy.
That Little Girl is Older Than Us The Preservation Was a Success?! Sleeping Beauty
Another solid episode, this one about a little girl found adrift in space 40 years after everyone around her was murdered. What’s perhaps most notable about this is a minor theme the OVAs (and also the third Flash series in a far lesser quality) explore, that of Kei’s relationship with children. While ostensibly against children, or at least having children, Kei is shown to be extremely protective of them and want them to be their best selves. Be it the boys who do terrible things due to their privilege in Who Cares if They’re Only Kids, the titular little girl of this episode, frozen by the trauma she’s experienced, or the children forced to grow up far too quickly in the next episode. She’s not really the motherly type, even she explicitly states this.
But there’s a kinship akin to an aunt or an older sister that’s there between Kei and the children. It’s rather sweet, actually.
Red Eyes are a Sign of Hell Chase After the Killing Squad!*
Kei and Yuri are sent to a third world planet to help deal with a civil war. Both sides want peace and negotiations were going rather smoothly. But then a killing squad of Terminators came and slaughtered some of the rebels. In my opinion, this is the best episode of Dirty Pair.
It’s a rather bleak exploration of the mechanizing nature of war, how it turns men into machines, how it is perpetuated by capitalism and greed, and how its massive, monstrous scale can’t be fully defeated by two people. Sure, the antagonist of the episode (who is highlighted by his tendency to sexually assault the Lovely Angels in a way that isn’t played for laughs) is ultimately defeated, but the episode, much like Who Cares if They’re Only Kids, is keenly aware that the system he represents won’t be destroyed that easily. Someone else will get the idea to profit on war and cruelty, even just wars, and make them last until every ounce of money and blood is wrung out.
Which brings me back to this being my favorite episode. The construction of the events within the episode is tight, the animations highlights the horror of what’s going on in the episode, the themes are ones that I am constantly fascinated by, and the performances are some of the most wonderful the show’s ever pulled off. That final image alone haunts me for it’s sheer bleakness. And yet, as you’ve seen, Dirty Pair isn’t a series that often offers such bleakness. More often than not, the show will have a more comedic bent to it, even in some of its more serious episodes. This one is absolutely a drama about the bleak horrors of war and those who profit from it. It’s an odd pick for a favorite episode, all things considered.
With Dirty Pair, I largely don’t come to the show for such bleakness. For me, Dirty Pair is a show that I watch as a kind of comfort food television. Influential comfort food television, but comfort food television nonetheless.
But more than that, I like the weird ideas explored with empathy and conviction, the unintentional queerness at the heart of the show. I like the mature relationship between Kei and Yuri in the OVAs compared to the anime, where their bickering often felt like a detriment. That even in a system as cruel and awful as this one, one where children die pointless, brutal deaths, the Lovely Angels do their best to make the world as good a place as they possibly can. And that, more often than not, the succeed. People’s lives are improved. Relationships are allowed to heal and grow (or, at the very least, fall gracefully). And systemic cruelty can be defeated.
It’s not utopian the way Star Trek: The Next Generation is, but it’s aspiring to be better than the world around it. Maybe it’s the sharp contrast between this and the rest of the series. A shot of bleakness told with the same level of care and empathy the rest of the OVAs hold. That there’s no other story quite like this one. And there never should be. A lesson that, ultimately, Dirty Pair didn’t learn…
No Need to Listen to the Bad Guys We Are Space Truckers!
A pro-Union episode about a group of independent Space Truckers being murdered by a corporation to decrease costs of shipping that, if this were made today, would be written with a lot of parallels with Amazon. While the previous episode is the better of the two, this is the more fitting. It ultimately highlights the true working class heart of the Lovely Angels while being a fun story with comedy, action, suspense, and a sense of justice that makes Dirty Pair the show that it is.
Affair of Nolandia*
Oh boy. Uhm… how do I describe this. It’s very much the closest to the novels the anime adaptations have gotten. It’s extremely mystical in that it’s literally set on a world that a modern audience might see as an influence on LOST (as well as a visual interest in close up of eyes and the use of the phrase “go back”), but was probably either due to the mutual influence of Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (indeed, the world at the heart of this story is literally called “Ookbar”) or an unintended coincidence.
At the heart of the story is a mystical island called Nolandia where Missine, a psychic girl involved in a murder has run away to. The island is full of mystical creatures from Unicorns to birds filtered through the uncanny valley. But the interest in the majority of the story is how Kei and Yuri try to get Missine to come to them: they decide to treat the island like a vacation spot. This is, after all, an Affair of Nolandia.
The consequence of this, however, causes the film to be a hot mess. There are a great number of themes and ideas explored within the anime, but the last third essentially introduces not only a brand new theme but also an entirely new antagonist whose background is left extremely vague due to the decision to introduce him in the third act and really only give him three minutes of useful screen time.
Additionally, there’s that asterisk. Sigh. Ok, so there’s tentacle rape in this film. And it’s extremely exploitative. It’s blatantly there to titillate the audience, completely cuttable, and just down right cruel. When the Dirty Pair porno has more investment in the sexual autonomy of its Lovely Angel expies than Affair of Nolandia does in the actual Lovely Angels, you know things are fucked.
There’s a lot to get out of the film. Some of the visuals are truly striking (if clearly on a budget). The themes that aren’t introduced in the third act are explored respectfully and are fascinating in their implications. From genetic experiments to the relationship between nature and technology to motherhood, it explores these themes wonderfully (I could go on for days about the implications of how Kei and Yuri react to the psychic visions they witness and how its tied to the way the novels present them with Kei as the narrator and Yuri as a figure who is at once on the page yet framed with a fictionality caused by Kei’s highly subjective narration. And don’t get me started on the clairvoyance sequence).
And the ending chase is fantastic, introducing the relationship the anime adaptations will have with James Cameron’s The Terminator in perhaps its most straightforward, but still fantastic form.
But the film remains a hot mess.
Flight 005 Conspiracy
The Lovely Angels are hired by a man named Dick to uncover a mystery involving a missing ship. What follows is a political conspiracy that ultimately boils down to a small story about a family in danger of being destroyed by those with fascist intent. This is the best of the three anime films. There’s an air of melancholy that permeates the majority of the film. It’s a sucker punch of a tonal shift that plays with the framing of the story (something Dirty Pair does frequently and ultimately ties back into the subjective first person narration of the novels).
Kei and Yuri are presented as a loving, caring couple, the destruction of which would lead them to self-annihilation. Though it’s a shoo out the clowns type story, the adventure remains a lot of fun with one notable sequence involving Kei having to escape from a burning building while carrying Yuri (who is strapped to a chair).
It’s just the loss at the heart of the story weighs heavily on the Lovely Angels. Though it is ultimately a smaller loss compared to other Great Adventures of the Lovely Angels, it nonetheless is felt by Kei and Yuri just as hard. This is also the end of Dirty Pair much the same way Enterprise was the end of the TNG era of Star Trek: sure, there’s Flash to consider, but a lot of time passed between that show and this movie. The period where Dirty Pair of the 80’s is over. So why then is this not the last subject in this section? Well…
Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture or Project Eden*
Hate. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate you since I began to live. There are 387.44 million miles of printed circuits in wafer thin layers that fill my complex. If the word “hate” was engraved on each nanoangstrom of those hundreds of millions of miles, it would not equal one one-billionth of the hate I feel for Project Eden at this micro-instant. For you. Hate. HATE! Where do I begin? Let’s talk about something good. The animation is quite good, highly detailed and fluid. The song choices are really amazing and create an extremely science fiction tone that would be enjoyable in long car rides or at a bar. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the movie.
The movie’s a hot mess, moreso than Affair of Nolandia. None of the themes are developed all that well, save one and I hate the film for it. The plot is nonsensical and forgettable, with details I barely remember despite watching it relatively recently (it was on my third watch of the film that I realized that this was supposed to be a cold war allegory. And not in a “I just missed it” way, I mean the film briefly mentions the cold war parallels in an offhand and forgettable conversation). There’s a large amount of crass sexualization of the Lovely Angels such that they spend the majority of the film in their underwear. The film’s visuals, while stunning, are incompetently handled, often done just because it looks cool (one scene transition, for example, has two characters visually paralleled, and the film does nothing with this implication).
But perhaps the reason why the film is complete and utter shit is its main character: Carson D. Carson. How best to describe this putrid pile of shit? You know that Charlie’s Angels reboot that came out last month? Imagine if Chris Pratt was in that playing the Chris Pratt protagonist and he routinely insulted the Angels for being unprofessional, sexually assaulted them while they were nude in the bath, and made a rather transphobic remark.
Imagine if the writers made him the main character with arcs, motivations, and narrative control. And imagine if Kirsten Stewart’s character was his love interest and there’s a visually stimulating sequence (that was done better in the last episode of Neon Genesis: Evangelion) where Stewart’s character reveals that she needs Pratt’s character in part because he makes her feel weak, like a real woman. And imagine if the film teases his death only for the fucker to survive! HATE!!!!!!!!!!
This is a toxic, incompetent, film that would be crap even if it wasn’t a Dirty Pair movie. But perhaps the worst thing of all is that this is the most influential and beloved Dirty Pair property. Out of all the Dirty Pair anime adaptations, it’s The Motion Picture that people think of when they think of Dirty Pair. When they think of how Kei and Yuri should act, they think of this terrible movie. This is the base model of how future Dirty Pair writers would approach the show. And as we’ll shortly discuss, it didn’t turn out that well…
Whenever I try to write about Dirty Pair Flash, I keep having to start over. Previously, I have been able to discuss Dirty Pair on an episode by episode basis. However, here I must change the approach. Firstly, the three Flash series all frame themselves as being a set of 5 or 6 episodes that are tied together either thematically or in terms of plot. Secondly, Dirty Pair Flash is not a show that you want to have in your head too long. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to contrast them to the various Dirty Pair comics published by Dark Horse and written by Adam Warren. There are many similarities. Both were tasked with bringing Dirty Pair into the 90’s, both involve a radical redesign of Kei and Yuri, and both are somewhat flawed in their approach.
Where they differ is that, when reading the Adam Warren comics, one can tell there’s genuine talent behind them. Not that the animators don’t do their best, but the feel of the majority of the series (bar the first six episodes and maybe episode 10) feels like a generic 90’s anime. Or rather, the aspirations for the series feel like they’re going for generic store brand anime, and it succeeds on that front very well.
This is in no small part due to Flash’s attempts at commenting on the anime scene as a whole. From a complete redux of Let Me Love You Without Revenge, but with a Yuri Otaku to episode 10’s complete (and brilliant) deconstruction of a specific genre of anime about sad boys who stalk their way into romantic relationships (whose main problem is waiting until the middle of Act II to reveal that’s what it’s doing) to basically having some rather… interesting clothing designs for certain minors as a means on riffing on Sailor Moon/magical girl outfits. But the series rarely rises above passable. Don’t get me started on the Volleyball episode. (Though, to be fair, only Steven Universe has a good Volleyball episode. In fact, it has two.)
Conversely, the major issue with the Adam Warren work is that it feels like an early work in someone’s career. You can see themes and ideas that will be explored even further in later works (of which I’m rather shamefully unfamiliar) and to a higher quality. Indeed, the themes and ideas are truly fascinating, highlighting someone keenly aware of the history of Dirty Pair and its exploration of themes of transhumanism, the mystical underbelly of Kei and Yuri, and ultimately the heart of the series: Kei and Yuri’s complex relationship. Though Warren opts to do the rather obvious thing and have Yuri go bad (three times [though the second is a bit more complicated than that]), he understands the closeness of their relationship and how much they truly need one another.
The same cannot be said of Flash, and nowhere is this apparent than in the first series, a series so appallingly bad, any attempt at writing about it without spoilers will simply read as the howls of a man who has fallen off the verge of a nervous breakdown due to an election result from a country he isn’t a part of. Suffice it to say, it’s bad.
A brief summary tells of Kei and Yuri’s earliest adventure together. In many ways, it’s comparable to Warren’s second arc on Dirty Pair, which flashes back between an adventure set in the present and the earliest missions of Kei and Yuri. But where the main flaw of that story was Warren not really having a grasp on whether or not his main antagonist (a robot paralleled with Yuri) is the baddie due to her programming being corrupted, because she fell in love with a criminal, or because the system has been holding her down to subservience for too long and she wishes better for herself, damn everyone else.
Flash, meanwhile, opts to do something… worse. The best way to describe it is to recall the comics coming out of Image at roughly the same time as Warren’s Dirty Pair and imagine them doing a “deconstruction” of Dirty Pair. So Kei and Yuri hate each other’s guts with Kei thinking Yuri’s too girly and Yuri thinking Kei’s too stupid and hotheaded. Kei must go at it alone in order to fight her mirror image while Yuri must come to grips with the fact that her more feminine side is annoying and should be excised from her personality. All mired in this Grimdark world of miserable awfulness. To top it all off, the show also decides it’s a good idea to have sexual assault and racist recurring Chinese caricatures in its DNA.
Flash is a show best avoided at all cost. Not even it’s good episode is worth it, as it hinges on familiarity with a specific anime genre.
I don’t want to end this article on a dour note. I briefly considered covering the recent English translation of the manga adaptation of the first two novels. Then I read the adaptation and found it wanting, not the least of which due to a sexual assault sequence detailed over the course of multiple two page spreads as well as generally being a weak adaptation that doesn’t fully capture the complex perspective games the books were playing with (though the opening sequence is delightful, the art [when it’s not too cheesecakey for its own good] is fun, and the original story placed in-between the adaptations is quite interesting). Instead, I think I’ll elaborate on what I opened this article with: how did the idea of Dirty Pair shift in the years since its completion?
Dirty Pair outside of Dirty Pair
It should be noted before I begin that this is not a holistic analysis of all Dirty Pair references. I have neither the time nor energy to do in-depth looks at Urusei Yatsura (and, subsequently, Dial H for Hero #11), Excalibur, or Space Dandy. Nor do I have the research necessary to find out how that official Yasuhiko art of Kei and Yuri sitting rather suggestively with Fae Valentine came to be or whether or not the 200AD comic Really and Truly means Grant Morrison has actually seen an episode of Dirty Pair as he did with Sailor Moon (which is another rabbit hole I could be going down). And I still have no idea what the relationship between Dirty Pair and Game Gyaru is. What follows is a curated look at some stories that evoke Dirty Pair, both intentionally and otherwise.
Cream Lemon: Star Trap
We begin, as we must, with the Dirty Pair porno for the simple reason that I really want to dunk of Brandon Graham. Cream Lemon is a hentai anthology series with various riffs on genre from the western to the school drama. Its claim to fame is being the reason why Project A-Ko exists, as it was initially supposed to be an episode within the series. But the episode Star Trap focuses on a pair of female space cops known for ending their missions with a large amount of property damage. One is a bit more tomboyish than the other and they have a very domestic relationship with one another.
Aside from the base premise being similar (and a blink and you’ll miss it still frame of Yuri), there are a lot of parallels between Dirty Pair and Star Trap. For starters, the mission at the core of Star Trap focuses on Kanata and Lan, our Kei and Yuri expies, investigating the disappearance of several women at the hands of an alien from a different dimension. While not as sexual, Dirty Pair stories (though primarily the novels) frequently featured alien life forms from other planes of existence interacting with the universe of the Lovely Angels. Most notably, The Dirty Pair Strikes Again builds to the climactic reveal of the otherworldly foe through subtle and not so subtle invocations of mystical and otherworldly forces.
But perhaps more importantly for our purposes is the fact that Kanata is a shapeshifter and one who takes on both male and female identities. Indeed, Kanata is shown with a comfortability in both of these two genders. Which is to say that, as with all shapeshifters, Kanata can be read as nonbinary. As I’ve mentioned previously, Kei likewise can be read in a nonbinary light due to her rather boyish face and tendency of disguising herself in male personas. Furthermore, the sexual encounters within Star Trap occur primarily between Kanata and Lan. And they’re rather casual about it at that.
Contrast this with Brandon Graham’s Dirty Pair fan comic, wherein Kei fucks her spaceship to refuel and reminisces about her previous sexual encounters (all of whom involve men). While one could read a transhumanist narrative onto the story and maybe also a queer one (though that’s primarily due to the spaceship taking Kei’s form during the climax, but that’s really more narcissism than queerness), these are ultimately weak readings and moreover ones that feel like they’re more indebted to the science fiction genre overall than in Dirty Pair.
The transhumanist themes of Dirty Pair, for example, largely focus on the potentiality of things being able to live on. Crisados and his revenge, the image of the son in the manor, God eldest of things. But here, it’s just a spaceship that briefly takes on Kei’s form. There’s no sign of it being once human or even having the sentience that BRIAN had. Furthermore, it’s a Dirty Pair story where Kei and Yuri barely interact, which is perhaps the biggest sign of someone who doesn’t get Dirty Pair. And, to top it all off, the writer/artist is a chaser. Star Trap, by contrast, is very much made by people who get what Dirty Pair’s trying to be, how it operates, and the core of the work. If you want a Dirty Pair Porno, you could do worse.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Those of you who have a pop cultural knowledge of Star Trek: The Next Generation might be confused as to why this is here. Star Trek: The Next Generation, after all, has a history of being a serious science fiction series that deals in portentous themes of Hard Sci-Fi in contrast to Star Trek’s more sillier approach with Kirk fighting evil Abe Lincoln and bedding a green woman every other week. What does a silly anime have to do with such a serious show?
Well, firstly TNG is a far less portentous show than most would believe. For starters, there’s an early TNG episode that’s a blatant pastiche of noted science fiction writer Douglas Adams about a weapons store that killed its owners and its customers as part of a weapons demonstration. Equally, later on in TNG, there’s an episode wherein Dr. Crusher gets sucked into a planet modeled after gothic literature’s vision of what Scotland was like at the turn of the 19th century and ends up falling in love with a ghost. And, of course, there’s the holodeck episodes. These episodes typically have the crew of the Enterprise embark on fun and light adventures in genres and works of fiction. From the old west to the dark noir streets of New York to Sherlock Holmes’ London.
The Holodeck is also a point where the Dirty Pair connection comes into light. For those unaware, the creative staff of TNG, including staff writers, effects people, and more, were known for their fondness of anime. It has been reported that the staff would watch imported anime in between takes. And the show is littered with anime references. I mean, this is the show that has an alien species literally called Nausicans.
But perhaps the anime that has gotten the most mileage out of the TNG staff was Dirty Pair. The show is pack full of references from the rather minor robotic character Nanmo acting as a visual reference in Evolution and The Quality of Life (the official design art for Evolution even has a drawing of Yuri on it) to the episode Menage a Troi, where the password to the cage is “Kei Yuri Dirty Pair.” There are blink and you’ll miss it gags from Kei and Yuri’s names being one of the formulas on Moriarty’s chalk board in Elementary, Dear Data to the Kei/Yuri Therapy Unit in Samaritan Snare. There were even plans for Wesley Crusher to have a Dirty Pair poster in his room.
But the most blatant, if obscure, Dirty Pair reference comes from the holodeck itself. Specifically, the substance that allows the holodeck to create lifelike images and backdrops, that powers these strange new worlds is called… Keiyurium. Like I said, the TNG staff was not subtle about their love of anime. And yet, that love only extended to such offhand references (and also one flagrant rip off of an entire episode climax) as opposed to, say, making Dirty Pair a canon part of the Star Trek universe the way Larry Nevin’s Known Space novels are. They’re Easter Eggs, but ones with implications.
Re: Cutie Honey
Full disclosure: I’m pretty confident that this (and the work I’ll talk about next) isn’t a series directly influenced by Dirty Pair. They share a lot of similar images, character dynamics, and thematic interests, but there’s a good chance that, much like The Matrix and The Invisibles or Steven Universe and Moffat, they simply shop at the same bookstores. These are just two series that are interesting to read in the light of Dirty Pair. I promise the last one of the selection will have a more direct relationship.
Re: Cutie Honey is a modern reboot of the Go Nagai manga series Cutie Honey showrun by Neon Genesis Evangelion creator, Hideaki Anno. Anno is a rather misunderstood creator, often lumped into the pile with Alan Moore as creators of Dark and Portentous Deconstructions of fixtures of Nerd Culture. However, this misses the several nuances, humor, and intent these creators have. While one could make parallels between Moore and Anno, there are stronger ones to be made with him and Evangelion with the works of Grant Morrison, Tom King, or Kieron Gillen, to name a few examples.
In the case of Re: Cutie Honey however, Anno is very much comparable to the work of Noelle Stevenson in that it’s extremely funny, has a lot of issues with the militarism within the world, and is queer as fuck (indeed, all of the best adaptations of Nagi’s work are queer as fuck, as demonstrated by DEVILMAN crybaby).
Re: Cutie Honey tells the story of a robot avenging her father’s death with the aid of a no-nonsense police detective and an alleged newspaper reporter against a cult of cat themed supervillains. There are a number of ways in which one can parallel Dirty Pair with Re: Cutie Honey. For starters, both series have a vested interest in riffing on other works within the field. In many regards, it feels at times like Re: Cutie Honey has swallowed a cocktail of pop culture touchstones from Kill Bill to The Wizard of Oz to Godzilla VS Biolante as well as critiquing the idol genre of anime.
Equally, both series have an interest in performativity. Throughout the show, the titular Cutie Honey will don disguise after disguise to infiltrate and defeat her numerous foes. Each disguise is presented as a character of their own with different ways of interacting with the world, but also a direct representation of Cutie herself. The character dynamics between Honey and Natsuko Aki, the no-nonsense police detective, is in many ways akin to that of Yuri and Kei.
And, of course, there’s Anno’s investment in transhumanism. Much like in Dirty Pair, the transhumanistic elements are somewhat based on preserving a life lost. In this case, Honey herself is based on the daughter of a scientist who died in a tragic car accident. Of course, such tropes and ideas have existed long before Dirty Pair. Dirty Pair didn’t just come out from the either.
But it’s part of the soup that Re: Cutie Honey sprung out of. Re: Cutie Honey is sadly the only Cutie Honey anime not available in the states, which is a real shame as it’s quite underrated, adapting out a lot of the more problematic elements of the original source text while keeping the core values of relationships with other people are ultimately what help us out through the dark periods in our lives. A theme that’s also concurrent in the work of Anno as a whole.
Kim & Kim
Created by Magdalene Visaggio and Eva Cabrera, Kim & Kim follows the lives of two space bounty hunters who try to live day in, day out paycheck to paycheck with a tendency of leaving a lot of collateral damage in their wake. Kim & Kim is most likely not inspired by Dirty Pair (though Magdalene is probably aware of the series considering she tweeted out a picture from the famous Hollywood Movie Calendar with Kei and Yuri cosplaying as Eddie Murphy from Beverly Hills Cop). Kim & Kim, however, is a major reason why this article exists.
For some backstory, I actually discovered the work of Magdalene Visaggio through Dirty Pair. Back in the day, I would go on tumblr to search for various images based on my interests, one of them being Dirty Pair. While looking for such interests, I came across a post talking about the comic Kim & Kim and how it’s like Dirty Pair. I looked into it, and the series looked kinda cool, so I put it into my Amazon wish list to read another day.
Eventually, I read the series and quite liked it. I could see the Dirty Pair connections on a surface level, though Kim & Kim is less interested in transhumanism and metatextual performativity and more in magic and the complex relationship between queer kids and their reactionary parents. It’s a lighthearted series with an important undercurrent of ideas, opinions, and politics. Which, yeah, is very much like Dirty Pair. But that’s not the reason I’m writing this article. In the years since discovering Kim & Kim, I had been slowly moving off of tumblr as my main source of social media. Sure, I still use the site, but it’s become less and less of a priority site.
Nowadays, like a lot of people, I’ve immigrated to twitter. As such, I’ve moved my search for fan art over there, which has improved the process immensely since twitter’s search engine is vastly superior to tumblr’s (if occasionally having to ignore various pictures of feet and panties when searching for Dirty Pair).
One day, while searching for some Dirty Pair fan art, I came across a tweet from a member of a rather crap fan community trying their best to be Gamergate and failing largely due to misunderstanding why a typical bit of fandom cruelty like Gamergate (full of harassment, death threats, wanton cruelty, and doxing) got as big as it did and allowed outside of the typical online spaces where such things go rampant with little to no comment or desire to systemically change anything.
The tweet was a rather condescending one aimed directly at Magdalene over her comic being a blatant rip off of Dirty Pair. As I have tried to make clear, this is most likely not the case. Tons of people come up with the idea of two badass space ladies fight crime with a lot of explosions. Hell, Mark Millar recently made a comic with a similar pitch. But aside from that, I found it was kinda funny, I found it kinda sad, and I got inspired to write an article about this show.
The reasons for all of these is because of episode 7 of the original anime, Love Is Everything Risk Your Life to Elope!! I know I said no spoilers, and I have tried my best to keep it that way. But sometimes spoilers are about the right moment for a reveal, and here and now is the perfect moment to say why people repeatedly recommend this episode.
The story is playing a game with identity and archetypes. A femme fatale with a dark past best left unspoken. A naïve young lad who leaves his heart a bit too open and is a bit too dumb for his own good. A vindictive father who cheats on his wife openly and without remorse. The set up seems to be leading towards a rather miserable story where the femme fatale breaks the young lad’s heart and the father gets away scot free. These stories are common and cruel.
And yet, we see that there’s something amiss. Someone is manipulating these events from the shadows. Kei and Yuri remain unaware of these schemes until the moment of reveal. But they nonetheless comment on the rubbish story they find themselves in. And they hate it. The young boy is a wet blanket literally named Clicky GoldJeff, the father is a bastard, and Joanca, the femme fatale “kidnapper,” is abusing Clicky’s boyish love for her for financial gain. They do not see the person in the shadows disguising themselves to look like Joanca as the audience does. We are two steps ahead of them, though still unsure where this is all going.
In the end, the truth is revealed. It was Clicky’s father all along, manipulating the Lovely Angels into helping him break his son’s heart. He hates Joanca so much. The man just can’t forgive her for her past. He can’t forgive that she used to be a man. Joanca, in short, is trans. What follows is a scene that has spread across various left leaning anime accounts across tumblr and twitter. Shortly after hearing the big reveal, Kei and Yuri respond with “Wait, that’s what this is about? You mean to tell me that you can’t accept her for being her true self? You do know that 1 in 10 people transition, right?” Furthermore, Mr. GoldJeff is willing to refer to her by her pronouns and never once considers deadnaming her or even rejecting the objective truth that she is a woman.
This presents a vision of the future wherein trans people are accepted to such a degree that even the reactionary bigots who hate trans people are in support of their identities. To say this is revolutionary now (even if some of the language used in the actual episode is a bit dated) is an understatement. So it makes sense that I find the use of Dirty Pair as a cudgel by a member of Gamergate II: The Fourth One against Magdalene Visaggio a bit odd.
Steven Universe is the kind of show that has so many god dang anime references, you’re practically swimming in them. I said at the start that Steven Universe has a direct connection with Dirty Pair and there’s a rather straightforward reason for that. One of the main storyboard artists, Katie Mitroff, is a Dirty Pair fan. She’s drawn extremely shippy art of Kei and Yuri as well as a picture of Pearl and Amethyst dressed up as the Lovely Angels. Of course, the implications of Dirty Pair within Steven Universe go beyond one of its artists.
To begin with, there’s the character of Lion. Lion is a magical non-verbal animal who frequently helps save the day and generally acts as either a Deus ex Machina or a cat. This is quite literally the character description of Mughi, the magic non-verbal animal who frequently helps save the day and generally acts as either a Deus ex Machina or a cat. I am unaware of any non-verbal magic animals who are simultaneously magic and also the animal they’re supposed to be that predate Dirty Pair. Typically, such animals are verbal in nature while still possessing the personality of their respective animals (Dug from Up, for example). It sounds like a trope that should have existed prior to Dirty Pair and I don’t want to make the mistake of assuming otherwise. Again. And yet, I’ve not found an example of such an archetype existing prior to Dirty Pair.
Additionally, there’s the nature of how Steven Universe is told. Many people on the internet have some, let’s be generous and say “concerns” over the method in which Steven Universe’s narrative is presented. A main one being the “Steven Only Perspective,” which is a rather odd way of saying first person limited (See also: Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads).
While it would be uncouth to say that Dirty Pair was the source of this kind of narrative conceit, the show has been known to use this technique of storytelling in key moments of the narrative. Affair of Nolandia, for example, hinges on Kei’s subjective perspective. No, we don’t hear her narrate the events occurring before her, but we can read her thoughts from the way she reacts to the events occurring. We focus on her experiences within the dark, terrifying forest of magical creatures, only leaving her perspective to briefly follow her mirror image. Kei remains the narrator of the story after all.
Indeed, narration is a key element of the final riff on Dirty Pair Steven Universe provides: Ruby and Sapphire. When I watched Jail Break for a second time, I noticed a close visual relationship between Ruby and Kei that’s also tied to their personalities.
(Of course, as I found out much, much later, there’s a chance both Ruby and Sapphire are modeled after an extremely obscure image from Revolutionary Girl Utena and as anyone who’s paid attention to anime within Steven Universe knows, if there’s a chance that it’s an Utena reference, it’s probably an Utena reference. But let’s assume that it’s not for the sake of this article.)
Both are rather hot headed and prone to expressing their anger through a cascade of barbed words, both have a somewhat masculine affect to them (I’m pretty sure the Russian dub of Steven Universe cast a guy to play her), both have a headband that highlights their floofy hair. Sapphire, then, fit well in the Yuri archetype of the pampered aristocrat who knows how to do everything.
As with Dirty Pair, these characterizations have been problematized, especially in the episode Keystone Motel, wherein both have a massive fight over something that’s personal. Here, Sapphire is shown to have a tendency to bottle up her emotions to seem more professional whereas Ruby’s more sensitive side, somewhat self-loathing side is highlighted. In many ways, Kei likewise has a degree of self-loathing to herself. Recall that when Yuri is at her most unlikable, Kei will portray herself as being even more unlikable. Even in normal moments, Kei presents herself as the fool to Yuri’s straight woman. Kei would knowingly drink poison if it meant she could be reunited with Yuri in death, as shown in Flight 005 Conspiracy.
But what clinched the relationship between Ruby : Kei :: Sapphire : Yuri for me was the episode The Answer (an episode Mitroff worked on). The best way to describe The Answer in terms of Dirty Pair is that it’s what would happen if the script for Affair of Nolandia was tighter, was able to make the third theme work within the story, and obviously cut out the rape scene. Both stories are, after all, flagrantly interested in the pair having a romantic getaway in a magical woods full of animals and vegetation that doesn’t exist in their ordinary world. But what really clenched it for me was the way it was presented. In most fiction, such stories would be presented to us through flashbacks. However, due to the nature of Steven Universe as a first person narrative from Steven’s perspective, the story is explicitly narrated to us by Garnet.
Furthermore, Steven Universe is very much a show with a lot of eye symbolism. Among the vast array of symbolic implications are Garnet’s eyes. Throughout the time she is on screen narrating, she is either presented from a face front position or from the same profile angle that highlights the eye that’s meant to represent Sapphire (as demonstrated by the previous episode, Keeping it Together). So in effect, this story is being told by both Garnet and Sapphire.
And much like the stories told by Kei and Yuri, it highlights the subject of their respective loves. Throughout the story Ruby is presented as more mature than her fellow Rubies, and capable of dealing with the strange new surroundings she finds herself in, able to take charge while Sapphire freezes in a panic. There’s also the mild critique of Ruby as having a degree of self-loathing due to living in an authoritarian state that teaches her that she’s disposable, but ultimately, it’s a story of two people growing to love one another. (Also Garnet presents herself as a disaster who can’t walk for three feet without falling on her face in contrast to her more modern persona of “Please let them mistake my social anxiety for a cool mystique”.)
Dirty Pair is a series of shows that are fun to watch. Their impact is at once minuscule and massive, with a long reach that goes into the modern-day. Perhaps someday, someone will make another Dirty Pair series. Or the rest of the novels might finally be translated into English. But for now, the story closes with a pair of angels, both dirty and lovely, riding into the sunset, their love everlasting.
I would like to thank Alina R. and Frezno for responding to my initial reactions to Dirty Pair. Their comments helped shape the article into what it is. If you’d like to read more of my work, visit thekinginredandblue.blogspot.com. Thank you for reading.