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I Watched All of Dirty Pair, and Here's What I Learned

by Christopher Farris,

Three years ago, I embarked upon #DirtyDecempair, a hashtagged festivity in which one watches through the entire Dirty Pair TV series, one episode a day, through the month of December. Created by prolific Twitter user @porntagonist as a way to celebrate both his own birthday and the series itself, #DirtyDecempair appealed to me in that moment three years ago. Here was a stylistically cool-looking classic 80s anime I'd always heard about but never sampled before, so why not make the busiest month of the year even more complicated? Seriously, if you've never tried cramming in a committed viewing of a TV episode (for which there was no easy streaming option) every day in a row in a month filled with gift-shopping, visits, and other dedicated activities, I recommend giving it a go! It'll humble your sense of time management and, as a bonus, you'll also get to watch a cool cartoon!

All this soon to be outmoded by a single Kickstarted Blu-ray set

As I said, at the time there was no streaming option for Dirty Pair TV. Luckily, there was a fortuitously-timed sale on the DVDs for the series from franchise rights-holder Nozomi, and thus I was able to quickly pounce on some physical discs to own. Soon after that, as more sales rolled in, I complimented that acquisition with Nozomi's DVDs of Dirty Pair's ‘Features’ collection, its OVA Series, and 90s revival OVA Dirty Pair Flash. As this acquisitional hoarding of Dirty Pair discs accelerated, I rolled through that initial day-by-day watch-through of the TV series, finding myself irreversibly charmed by what it had to offer.

At long last, that same experience has now become accessible to others without the means in the moment to take a shot on physical media: In promotion of their near-immediately successful Kickstarter to dub the series, Nozomi has released Dirty Pair TV from digital prison, allowing it to be streamed on both RetroCrush and Crunchyroll! Two of them? Truly this duo of services could be considered their own…dirty pair. It also provides me with an opportune moment to reflect on my headfirst dive into the greater Dirty Pair franchise all those Decembers ago. It can be a fascinating experience to unhinge your jaw and consume all angles a wide-reaching classic like this has to offer, but possibly even more fascinating to try and derive what was actually learned from the experience. With that in mind, here are the lessons I think I got out of the deal:

1. The TV Show Is Still The Best

This is why we're all here, isn't it? 1985's Dirty Pair TV was the first animated excursion for the Lovely Angels (barring a cameo in the earlier Crusher Joe feature) and for my money still makes for the best, most brisk introduction to the appeal of the series' setup: It is the far-flung space future, Kei and Yuri are 'Trouble Consultants' for the WWWA (That's the World Welfare Works Association) who are mostly effective at their jobs yet not above getting into several scrapes, hijinks, or planet-exploding accidents along the way. Apart from a few nods to events between episodes and a solitary two-parter, the anime series is purely episodic, dropping the Pair into different jobs and regularly shifting genres along the way.

The sheer gamut of content covered is a strong case for why Dirty Pair TV works so well. The show tends to maintain the base of an action-comedy, but along the way hits on everything from crime thrillers to psychological horror to westerns. If you're just going through the series for the first time, there's an innate compulsion to fire up the next episode just to see what happens next. Meanwhile, if you're revisiting the series, the quality of the episodes are generally so consistent that they regularly provoke an excited "Oh right, this episode!" reaction each time the next one comes up in rotation. The series does have its odd bizarre dalliances, like the 'mouse dictator' episode or the one where Kei and Yuri try to work their way into the good graces of a guy with a violent allergy to women, but even those outlandish experiments are balanced by the continuously consistent charms of the show, to say nothing of how regularly good the production looks, even apart from the standards of TV anime in 1985. Basically, Dirty Pair TV isn't just the best Dirty Pair anime, it's also the Dirty Pair anime that will categorically confirm if you're going to be a fan of Dirty Pair in general.

And if you've still never seen the intro to this show, do yourself a favor, that one's absolutely an all-timer.

2. The TV show...Should Have Been on TV

Okay, obviously this was the case for Dirty Pair TV in Japan, but come along with me on this one. Some of the Dirty Pair OVAs and Features made it to English-speaking airwaves on premium cable channels, but that damnable lack of a dub for the TV series – which we're only just now getting around to fixing – prevented it from hitting the place it absolutely deserved to be: Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. I just got through explaining to you how this series is the perfect introduction to the franchise overall, but the sheer prestige of getting to present one of the quintessential 'Girls With Guns' anime would have been right at home on the fledgling anime block in its early-2000's heyday. But the major selling point must be the tangible parallels between Dirty Pair and Adult Swim's foremost formative anime hit, Cowboy Bebop. I don't deign to draw comparisons simply on the basis of superficial similarities, but yes: both series center on hard-luck characters getting by in the Space Gig Economy, both prominently feature a zippy pink spaceship, and both do include an early episode wherein the heroes engage in a madcap chase pursuing a runaway pet containing top-secret experimental information.

Rather, the crossover appeal between Dirty Pair and the likes of Cowboy Bebop comes from that aforementioned deft act of genre-juggling. The irreverent horror-comedy punchline of Bebop's 'Toys In The Attic' reflects its sensibilities back from the fifth episode of Dirty Pair. Faye Valentine's struggles with her obfuscated backstory carry the same bittersweet tone as the kind closure Yuri is denied in the eighth episode of Dirty Pair (and not for nothin', but Faye's outfit doesn't not look like Yuri's classic costume!). Hell, the twentieth episode of Dirty Pair TV (the best episode, mind you!) is probably the most Cowboy Bebop-esque thing to come out of anime until Cowboy Bebop came out. And if reruns of Bebop's actual primary influence, the classic Lupin III, worked on Adult Swim, the Dirty Pair absolutely belonged there, carving out the mainstream popularity that they've been denied for too long. We can only hope the series making it to streaming and getting a dub at long last can begin to correct this injustice, even if it will inevitably prompt folks to go looking for 'more' Dirty Pair anime. And that could prove troublesome, because…

3. There Are Easily-Identifiable Reasons Why The OVA Series Is Not Great

It's easy to be sucked in by the obvious sales pitch of the Dirty Pair OVA series, the 10 episodes released between 1987 and 1988. It looks for all the world to be a continuation (spiritually, if not strictly in a canon sense) of that TV series I can't go two sentences without praising. But do not be fooled, dear reader, for this series is but a wistful imitator of those halcyon days. The main issue with the OVA series (which no, does not have a more concrete title to differentiate it from the other stand-alone Dirty Pair OVAs that were released) is that it misses a lot of the framing slice-of-life segments for Kei and Yuri which set up the world they live in and how they live in it between the missions they're assigned. There's no time to enjoy antics like Kei stealing Yuri's cake out of the fridge or the two of them arguing over dating strategies when we're constantly opening episodes with the Pair walking straight into mission briefings or being airdropped into warzones. Don't get me wrong, there are a few gems in this collection, like the Halloween romp where the girls hunt a Terminator or the one where Yuri almost gets married, and overall it's still enjoyable if getting into the TV series endeared you to the Lovely Angels. But it can be all too easy to just hop into it thinking you're getting a 'Season Two' of that impressive first outing, and you've got to temper your expectations knowing that's not the case.

4. Project Eden Is Probably Overrated, But It's Fine

Ah, Project Eden. You hear about this one all the time, and for good reason: As a singular feature it's a joy to behold, a gorgeously-animated thrill-ride that's stood the test of time as an anime accomplishment. Here's the thing though: If you've been hooked as a dedicated Dirty Pair fan by the time you get to this thing, you recognize that no matter how pretty it is, it's actually not the most representative iteration of the Lovely Angels. Kei and Yuri are here on a WWWA mission, yes, and they even manage to destroy a planet at the end, but the intersecting personalities that drive their relationship are almost as sidelined as Yuri herself in this feature, casting the conflict instead at the feet of Kei's rocky romance with a slab of 80s beef named Carson D. Carson, and mostly pacing out any developments therein between long stretches that make this come off like a feature-length music video more than anything else. Oh it's an extremely attractive music video, don't get me wrong, but it all feels wholly like a supplement to the Dirty Pair experience more than anything else, apart from the definitive introduction so many would try to convince you it is.

5. Flash Is Probably Underrated, But It's Fine

On the complete opposite end of the court of public opinion's spectrum, you have Dirty Pair Flash. And if it's easy to see on the surface why Project Eden is so beloved, it's equally easy to see why Flash's reputation is so shaky. A completely fresh 'reboot' of the franchise featuring character redesigns that make it abundantly apparent it originated in the mid-90's, this one can be a bit jarring when placed next to the other anime editions of Dirty Pair. But getting past that stylistic stumbling block can reveal a rather rewarding time. The opening episodes of this set of OVAs presume to present an actual 'Origin Story' for the Lovely Angels, showing Kei and Yuri's first assignments together, and even provides us with some appreciable backstory elements like finally getting a glimpse of Kei's fabled delinquent past. The series does back off of its more ambitious continuity elements as it goes on, cobbling together a collection of contrivances to have Kei and Yuri spend most of the second arc in a simulated 1990's Japan, while the third arc retreats entirely into disconnected episodic outings. It results in Flash feeling like it has less of its own distinct identity the further in you get, which might explain its overall underrated feeling. But even then it absolutely shouldn't be disregarded as part of the broader Dirty Pair experience, as it's far from the most askew entry in the franchise.

6. Affair of Nolandia Is Weird

Simply trying to place Affair of Nolandia can be an exercise in confusion. An OVA released while the TV series was still airing its last episodes, this extra entry seemingly has nothing to do with the continuity of that establishing series. In fact, Affair of Nolandia earns the especial distinction of swinging closest to the look and feel of Haruka Takachiko's novels, featuring more illustration-style character designs as well as being the only anime iteration to include Kei and Yuri's episodes of ESP powers. Stuff like that, some bizarre extended hallucinatory sequences, and even the standby planet-destruction ending being played much more somberly than usual all contribute to Nolandia feeling like an odd curiosity rather than an essential part of the Dirty Pair canon. And as the discussion reaches this point, I can hear you saying, "Chris, for all the interesting points you've touched on about the other Dirty Pair entries, it almost sounds like none of them meet your standards in following up on the TV series!" to which I'd respond by pointing out that I didn't watch through this entire franchise all in a row because I didn't like it, and let you know that I was intentionally saving the best, most important lesson for last, since what I learned there was…

7. You Should Watch Flight 005 Conspiracy

The final entry of 'Classic' Dirty Pair anime in the 80s style (though released in 1990), Flight 005 Conspiracy honestly comes off like a smorgasbord of all the highlights of those other scattered entries I just covered. It gives us the continuation of Kei and Yuri's adventures that was the selling point of the OVA series, it's got the high-budget production gloss like Project Eden, and it's got just enough of its own distinctive style and tone the way Flash and Nolandia respectively did to let it sit comfortably in its own identity. It even appears to be loosely based on the plotline of that aforementioned two-parter from the original TV series, arguably executing it better than that formative entry. It makes Flight 005 Conspiracy the easy recommendation if you're looking for a solid Dirty Pair entry to throw on apart from any of the TV episodes, and a kind of concise collective reminder of everything that's overall great about the series.

And that's really the ultimate lesson to be taken away from all these wacky space adventures. There's something to be appreciated in each of Dirty Pair's myriad entries, and that's not even getting into the original novels or manga adaptation I absolutely didn't have the space to touch on. The TV series being more accessible than ever is an absolute win, of course, but from there it just gets to highlight the fact that Nozomi have hosted all those other Dirty Pair anime on their own YouTube channel, for free, for years now. Small wonder that the best one was the only one locked behind closed DVD-case doors until recently, but it also means there's never been a better time to jump into the franchise. So go ahead, you might even learn something.

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