Dirty Pair: Project Eden
by Justin Sevakis,
Before we begin this installment of Buried Treasure, an announcement: I started writing Buried Treasure regularly in October 2006. I wasn't even working for ANN at the time. Since then, I've written 101 essays of varying length and quality about anime good and bad. While I've enjoyed myself for most of that time, it's become harder and harder to hide the fact that I'm pretty much out of material. The truth is, there are only so many old and obscure anime that nobody has picked up on in the 20-odd year history of anime in the states. The shows that stuck out in my memory over the decades have long been exhausted, as well as most of the promising shorter works on my to-watch pile. Often I've come back to a show I remembered enjoying in some hazy, half-forgotten way, only to be greeted by a looming deadline and an anime that inspired ne'er a word.
There are a few shows that I will likely come back to once I've finished them, ready for some analysis and discussion. Rose of Versailles and Legend of Galactic Heroes are both prime candidates. But at the rate things are going, it could be months before I finish either, and even then -- that's months of viewing in order to write ONE column. My work with the video side of this site, with ANNCast, and other yet-unannounced projects have taken a toll on my schedule, to the point that continuing Buried Treasure with any regularity would have been near-impossible in any event.
So rather than trying to stick to a schedule I'll never meet, we're officially taking Buried Treasure off of regular rotation. It will be back for occasional installments when I can manage them. In the mean time I hope you'll go back and revisit some of the older Buried Treasures, particularly the first 20 or so. These films are still criminally under-appreciated in the anime world, and are the shows I started the column to talk about.
You'll still have something to read on Thursdays, though; manga expert and author of King of RPGs Jason Thompson will be launching his new column, "House of 1000 Manga", on May 7th. Think of it as "Buried Treasure" for manga, written by possibly the most qualified guy in the business to spelunk through the stacks.
In the mean time, feel free to bug me about old anime at any time by writing into ANNCast. And thanks for reading all these years. It's been a pleasure for me as well.
The most memorable moment of Project Eden, the Dirty Pair's only excursion into feature film, is easily the opening sequence, a transfixing blend of 80s pop art and psychedelic imagery, animated in ways that seem like they should be completely impossible without the help of computers. The piece, which would be right at home at the Museum of Modern Art, was contributed by the genius anime auteur Koji Morimoto. It's well worth tracking down the film just for this 3 minute title sequence.
Luckily, the movie it's attached to is a blast -- quite possibly the best of the Dirty Pair stories ever animated. For the uninitiated, "Dirty Pair" is the unfortunate nickname given to Kei and Yuri, two hot and scantily-clad "trouble consultants" with the interplanetary security corporation WWWA. The girls aren't dumb (quite the opposite in Yuri's case), but they're ultra-fashionable 80s girly-girls, often as concerned about cracking a nail as they are cracking the case. They solve the problems handed to them by the Criminal Investigations section with aplomb, and invariably cause massive accidental destruction in their wake. But the computer always clears them of wrongdoing, so with their often-suicidal boss helpless to stop them, the two go on misadventures to far flung galaxies, their ultra-smart giant cat Mughi often tagging along.
Despite looking like they should be posing alongside a 1988 Dodge Daytona, the girls captured the imagination of early American anime fans, who were first tasting the possibilities of animated boobs and explosions. Their presence in the fan scene on both sides of the Pacific seemed like a permanent fixture, even inspiring an American comic series and a later spin-off OVA that became quite successful on its own. Their misadventures, however, never really translated to the post-VHS era, and today, their style is so laughably dated that most would have trouble taking them seriously. Kei has enormous hair, and both of them prance around in loud neon bikinis and hot pants with moon boots. At one point in Affair on Nolandia I noticed Kei was wearing a pink Hillary Clinton-esque pantsuit.
And yet, Dirty Pair remains sublimely entertaining. A large part of the reason is the girls themselves. Watching them, you immediately recognize the interplay between two friends that have known each other so long and have such chemistry that they practically can reach each other's minds. Appearances aside, the girls are simply a lot of fun to be around. Tag along on one of their missions in real life and you might just lose a limb, but chances are you'd have a great time up until then.
In no other Dirty Pair story is that more clear than in Project Eden, a (barely) feature-length story involving the incredibly rare warp engine fuel known as Vizorium, the two constantly-feuding countries that mine it, and the black market trading of it. One of the countries is funding the development of artificial Vizorium, but their operations keep getting smashed to bits by these gross mutant beings that seem to pop up everywhere. Kei and Yuri are sent to investigate, and after stumbling into a young hot-shot Vizorium smuggler named Carson D. Carson (who got away from Kei in an earlier case), the two quickly discover that the monsters are the work of a mad scientist.
That sounds a lot more muddled and confusing than it is. In reality, the two spend most of the movie running around wearing almost nothing (and dragging around Carson, who also spends most of the film in his boxers) and stumbling into one bizarre truth after another. The politics of their fictitious universe have a decidedly tongue-in-cheek realism to them (right down to the two countries' childish arguments over laissez-faire capitalism versus central planning), and the myriad sci-fi and otaku references keep the tone light. When a show sets out to be pulpy from the get-go, it's always an unexpected treat when more intelligent thoughts are hidden under the surface.
ADV released the various OAVs and movie on DVD (as "Original Dirty Pair"), but sales were lackluster enough that they aborted their initial plans to release the TV series subtitled-only (on their ill-conceived "ADV Fansubs" imprint.) In re-releasing the parts previously put out on VHS by Streamline Pictures, ADV insisted on redubbing them, hoping to keep consistency with their earlier Dirty Pair releases (and stick a little closer to the Japanese script in the process). In doing so, they managed to stay faithful to the original script, but at the cost of comedic timing and fluidity: the new version tries hard but often steps on itself and ends up sounding pretty amateur. I vastly prefer the fast and loose reinterpretation of the Streamline dub, featuring Lara Cody and Wendee Lee and a good dose of camaraderie and 80s slang. One particularly great moment involved Kei's reaction to Carson's accidental breast-grab: "What do you think they are, braille?"
The Dirty Pair franchise is clearly of another era. The TV series and OVAs are all still amusing, but most have lost their luster as time and animation quality conspire to diminish their impact. Visually, only the movie has the chops to really stand the test of time. And from a historical perspective, it's important to give Kei and Yuri their due. Beneath the big hair and silly fashions, their influence on modern anime is obvious in shows like Toaru Kagaku no Railgun. As for Director Kōichi Mashimo, he so clearly enjoyed the girls with guns that he's been coming back to that well ever since.
There's a certain innocence to Dirty Pair, a quaint sense of fun that seemed to permeate the lightweight T&A fare of the 70s and 80s, both in anime of the era as well as American fare like Charlie's Angels. To say that today's marginally perverted fare is more leering and pandering is probably putting it too strongly (the 1980s, particularly in Japan, could hardly be called enlightened about its gender politics), but something about works of the era seem less calculated, less commoditized. The fun Kei and Yuri have on screen seem, with the distance of decades, to have equated fun behind the scenes, and perhaps a sense of dorm room camaraderie that has since been lost to the now-grownup sweatshop of anime production. If Dirty Pair represents a younger, more innocent time in American anime fandom, the mind boggles at what it represents in Japan.
Where to get it: ADV's DVDs have long since been discontinued (along with the rest of the Dirty Pair catalog) but both it and the pan-and-scan Streamline VHS tapes can be found floating around the internet without too much trouble. I find it important to have both: the DVD for the nice anamorphic video, and the Streamline version for the dub. Perhaps one day some enterprising fan might come up with a nice definitive collection. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?
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