Space is the final frontier… and these two girls are about to destroy it!
If you’ve ever hung around with oldschool anime fans, you’ve probably heard them mention Dirty Pair. This science fiction buddy-cop comedy has a huge American following, enough to make it one of anime’s best-known cult classics. In fact, this show’s popularity led Nozomi Entertainment to go through all the legal hassle of licensing it nearly twenty-five years after it originally aired. But why exactly is this series so beloved? Well, to answer that question, I just need to make one simple comparison.
Dirty Pair is the Japanese version of Star Trek.
Like Gene Roddenberry’s classic 1960s TV show, Dirty Pair is anachronistic. The look and feel of this anime is incredibly dated, mired in that campy mid-eighties culture that we all enjoy mocking. However, this campiness is part of the charm; the space bikinis, short miniskirts, moon boots and outlandish hairstyles just add to the sense of unrestrained fun that permeates this show. Just like Star Trek, this series’ strengths lie in snappy writing, loveable characters and great stories, allowing it to rise above its sillier qualities and become a true science fiction classic. Despite being a relic of another era, Dirty Pair is still a timeless anime that everyone can enjoy.
Find out more after the break.
Legend has it that the idea for Dirty Pair came from Japanese professional women’s wrestling. In 1978, the Australian sci-fi author A. Bertram Chandler was visiting Japan, and was being entertained by Haruka Takachiho, founder of Studio Nue. Takachiho and two other Nue staffers took Chandler out to see a tournament held by the All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling organization, which featured the highly popular wrestling team known as the Beauty Pair. During the match, something lead Chandler to comment “the two women in the ring may be the Beauty Pair, but those two with you ought to be called ‘the Dirty Pair’.” This remark inspired Takachiho, who had already written the successful Crusher Joe space opera light novels, to create what amounted to “female pro wrestlers… IN SPACE!“
The resultant Dirty Pair light novels were successful enough to spawn an animated series, which was produced by Studio Nue and Sunrise. This television adaptation, which began airing in July of 1985, deviated significantly from the light novels. Ultimately, it didn’t perform well in the ratings and was cancelled after 24 of its 26 episodes had aired. (The remaining 2 were later released on home video as OVAs.) However, like so many cancelled series before it, Dirty Pair grew in popularity following its apparent demise. The franchise was continued in numerous OVAs, a theatrical film, and even an American comic book series released by Dark Horse. Sadly, by the end of the Eighties, Dirty Pair had once again faded into obscurity. There was an ill-fated attempt to revive and ‘re-imagine’ the franchise as an OVA series in 1994 under the name Dirty Pair Flash, but most fans like to pretend that particular travesty never existed.
Dirty Pair is set a few centuries into the future, when faster-than-light warp travel has allowed mankind to settle hundreds of worlds across the Milky Way Galaxy. The main characters are the redheaded tomboy Kei and the ladylike Yuri, who are partners working for a private law enforcement firm called the World Welfare Work’s Association, or 3WA. Kei and Yuri are Trouble Consultants (TroCons) who specialize in high-risk combat situations, which can include dealing with anything from lone assassins to entire fleets of space pirates. Under the supervision of Chief Gooley, these girls form the team known as the Lovely Angels (which is also the name of their spaceship), and are regarded as the best TroCons in the galaxy.
Despite their near-perfect success rate, the Lovely Angels have a rather bad reputation. Although they always get the job done, they tend to cause wanton destruction in the process. Numerous cities and even a few planets have been demolished by their trigger-happy tactics. However, the 3WA central computer always clears them of any culpability during debriefing, much to Gooley’s chagrin. This doesn’t help the Lovely Angel’s image in the eyes of the public, and they’ve acquired the distateful nickname “Dirty Pair.” Don’t say it to their faces, though, or you’ll piss them off big time.
The interplay between Kei and Yuri is undoubtedly the highlight of Dirty Pair. These two characters, being polar opposites, form perfect foils for each other. In true buddy cop fashion, their sarcastic insults and personality clashes reveal the deep and respectful camaraderie they share. They are so attuned to each other that it almost seems as if they are telepathically linked (wink wink, light novel fans). Kei and Yuri’s verbal sparring makes up the bulk of this show’s comedy, and it is eminently enjoyable to watch. In fact, it brings to mind the similar relationship that Spock and McCoy had in the original Star Trek. Of course, this isn’t the only similarity between Dirty Pair and classic Trek…
The plots of Dirty Pair are episodic, usually involving some sort of criminal mystery that the girls must solve. Although solid and well-executed, these stories are also pretty unexceptional. A few episodes in the second half of the series manage to rise above mediocrity and pull off some fresh and interesting storytelling, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the plots just serve as a backdrop to showcase the girls’ personalities and set up the action scenes. A strong Trek influence is once again present, and many of these stories bear a striking similarity to the adventures of the Enterprise crew. In the very first episode, Kei and Yuri match wits against a rogue computer named Brian, against whom they use a move straight out of James T. Kirk’s playbook; they distract it with a logical conundrum (Who is sexier: Kei or Yuri?) while they figure out how to destroy it. Their other adventures follow similar science fiction tropes, paying homage to everything from Indiana Jones to The Terminator along the way.
Stylistically, Dirty Pair is a total throwback to mid-Eighties culture. Everything from Kei’s crazy hairstyle to the cheesy synthesizer soundtrack contributes to this show’s campy, nostalgic feel. Even the setting is anachronistic; Yuri is always asking boys out to the disco, and the mechanically-inclined Kei frequently repairs computers that run on magnetic tape. However, just like classic Star Trek, all of this is part of the series’ campy charm. Despite being laughably outdated, the concept of buxom girls running around in space bikinis and moon boots while firing their rayguns at alien monsters is still enjoyable today. Because the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s easy for viewers to dismiss these inconsistiencies.
The animation quality is similarly old-fashioned. Although good for its time, it really doesn’t hold up today. Kei and Yuri are frequently drawn off-model, and the other character’s designs are generic and uninspired. The spaceship scenes, while superior to those of older sci-fi classics such as Macross, still seem underwhelming compared to modern digital animation and CGI techniques. However, it’s obvious that the animators did put a lot of effort and love into Dirty Pair. A careful viewer can notice little in-jokes and easter eggs, such as this panel which appears during a single frame of a high-octane car chase. In the days before digital media, viewers would have been unable to appreciate these minute split-second details… but the animators put them in anyway. Now that’s craftsmanship!
This clean OP gives a good idea of Dirty Pair‘s overall style.
Overall, Dirty Pair is just plain fun. Despite its antiquated look and feel, the strong characters, great writing and campy space action make it a timeless classic of science fiction. Anybody who enjoys sci-fi, frenetic action or oldschool anime should give this series a try. If you like what you see, head on over to Right Stuf and preorder the DVDs, which come out this November. However, if the sexy space bikinis and raygun battles aren’t enough to convince you to watch, I’ll close this review by showing you what may be the greatest line of anime dialogue ever written. Prepare yourselves…
Now go watch Dirty Pair, or Super God will smite you into oblivion!