Reviewby Michael Toole,
Dirty Pair OVA Series Collection
Kei and Yuri are "trocons" - trouble consultants for the 3WA, the World Wide Welfare Association! The 3WA are a galaxy-wide team of government problem solvers and crisis managers, and these two winsome babes, who fancy themselves "Lovely Angels," are its most famous team. Not because they're good at what they do, but because their tendency for flashy mistakes always leads to a chaotic, cacophonous, and destructive ending. To themselves, Kei and Yuri may be lovely angels, but to the galaxy at large, they're the Dirty Pair! This set features ten direct-to-video OVA episodes of thrilling Dirty Pair action.
In this day and age, The Dirty Pair just might be an acquired taste. A lot of fans I know take one look at the shiny silver n' gold hot pants and halter top outfits, the hot pink starship, and Kei's explosive poof of red hair, and make a command decision to not bother. I guess I can understand that; the series really does look dated. But while the Dirty Pair was created in an era of big earrings and bigger hair, an age of corded telephones and vast control rooms with CRT monitors everywhere, it was created by Haruka Takachiho, an SF author with serious credentials. Its animation staff featured some of the best talents of the late 80s. So let me try to convince you that the Dirty Pair OVAs are still worth checking out, even as I check them out myself for the first time in a decade.
First of all, these OVAs are completely episodic and self-contained. I discovered this the hard way, by accidentally popping disc 3 in first instead of disc 1. Nothing was spoiled, no plot threads were left hanging. I like sweeping plot arcs in some of my shows, but it's just as nice to have adventures where things are wrapped up in 30 minutes. Each episode follows more or less the same formula: Kei and Yuri (and Mughi, their delightfully hapless super-intelligent fluffy alien panther) are assigned to deal with a problem by their beleaguered 3WA dispatcher, Mr Gooley. As often as not, this problem is a thinly veiled excuse for Kei and Yuri to go someplace exotic and try out cute outfits. But before long, they run across their target, whether it's a renegade drug dealer or a stolen piece of technology or a pack of pint-sized terrorists, and it's then that the tough, outspoken Kei and elegant, precise Yuri leap into action.
Kei and Yuri are at their best dashing down airtight steel corridors, exchanging cute little grins and knowing winks while being pursued by improbably large crowds of uniformed goons, or sometimes pursuing them right back. The set starts off very well, featuring a space jail episode where the threat of escaped convicts is superseded by the outraged warden, who is furious at his good name being sullied by a prison revolt and ready to bring the whole satellite down with him. The Dirty Pair are teamed up with rugged space marines, but while the soldiers squint disbelievingly at the two scantily-clad girls and plan a frontal assault, Kei and Yuri take the back door, using nifty powered armor and space surfboards to ride thermal currents up from the planetary surface and crash in from below. It's quality stuff, packed end to end with action and explosions, and it's genuinely hilarious when the duo realize that their real enemy isn't a pack of hardened criminals, it's a vain old man with his finger on the doomsday button. Then, episode two happens.
Episode two of these Dirty Pair OVAs is one of the most fun OVAs ever made, in my book. It is the first anime I ever watched "raw," without the benefit of a dub or English subtitles, and I had absolutely no trouble enjoying the hell out of it. The setup is minimal - on Halloween, a variety of robbers don colorful costumes, intent on using the chaos of the holiday to make some big heists. Kei and Yuri are trying to wrap up a recovery operation in time for the party, but to their dismay, the target is a runaway robot programmed to destroy everything in one hour's time, right when the Halloween party reaches its apex. The robot looks exactly like the Terminator, and is oddly personable as it deftly avoids the Dirty Pair's increasingly frantic pursuit, crossing paths hilariously with every one of the costumed bad guys in the process. The episode is packed end-to-end with great visual references to everything from Star Wars to Star Trek (see if you can spot the Dinosaucers logo-- it's in there!), and almost all of the action and comedy is visual. It's seriously like an episode of Mr Bean, you don't really need to worry about dialogue at all.
The downside of all of this is, these opening episodes are the best of the entire set. The remainder rarely gets bad-- the worst episode is the seventh, featuring an old rival hulked up on steroids, with lots of lazy storytelling, animation mistakes, and a resolution that's improbable, even for the Dirty Pair-- but it's never quite as good. The scenarios, however, are a lot of fun; in one episode, the pair have to cheat at an interesting space gambling game that involves predicting the path of crashing meteors. This is kind of an excuse to see Yuri and Kei in fancy evening dresses, but man, Kei's outfit is one of the most nightmarishly 80s things I've ever seen. In another, they confront a high-tech military base hijacked by gun-toting elementary schoolers, bored sons and daughters of local politicians, so they can't exactly go in shooting. There's a surprisingly grim tale of soldiers victimized by cybernetic brainwashing, and the series wraps up with an enjoyable spacebound take on Japan's dekatora - trucker culture! This was obviously influenced by Space Truckers, which came out several years afterwards. Sorry, I just wanted to make all you watch George Wendt get sucked out of an airlock. Did it work?
Technically speaking, Nozomi's release is the one that fans have been waiting for. ADV Films released these OVAs a couple of times back in the early 00s, and their discs had the worst "ghosting" problem - afterimages created by poor video mastering- that I'd ever seen in a commercial home video release. It took a good little series and made it very, very difficult to watch. That problem is gone. Mind you, these are pretty old OVAs; there's a lot of visible grain in the video, which is good or bad depending on your tastes. I kinda like the warm look of old anime shot on film, so I liked it. I still feel like these OVAs could use a round of remastering, though - I spotted several editing mistakes. There aren't many extras - the clean OP/EDs are great to have (I can, and have, watched the ending sequence over and over - it's got that natsukashii quality down perfectly), but liner notes are pretty skimpy. The dub that ADV created for their release, featuring Pam Lauer and Jessica Calvello as Kei and Yuri, is present, but it's kind of odd. Lauer and Calvello have a good rapport and acquit themselves well, but there's an awful lot of odd rewriting going on, and most jarringly, ADV didn't have a music and effects audio track for their dub, so they had to recreate these elements using stock sound effects and music cues. Consequently, the background music in the dub can vary quite considerably from the original. It's not bad, really, it's just strange.
I like Pam and Jess as the pair, but I absolutely love Kyoko Tonguu and Saeko Shimazu as their original Japanese voices. More than anything else, they really make the Dirty Pair work - the characters' behavior isn't always credible, exactly, but their personalities and chemistry are absolutely genuine, and a lot of that's down to the hard work of their seiyuu. Kei and Yuri have opposing personalities, but through their actors' performances and the animators hard work, the viewer really gets the sense that the two are not just partners, but friends. It's crucial to making the series work.
As for the animation itself, the craftsmanship is generally good, if a little inconsistent. Character designer and animation director Tsukasa Dokite, who defined so much of the look of 80s anime with his extensive work on Urusei Yatsura, Giant Gorg, and Project A-Ko, is at the forefront, and he does fine work. Not all of the same staff work on every episode, so there are some technically dull episodes, and overall there's a lack of ambition and scale in many episodes - these are bite-sized adventures, and the planet-wide destruction that occurs in the best Dirty Pair adventures usually isn't even hinted at here. Still, Kei and Yuri's durable partnership holds the whole affair together easily, and the crew keeps it just interesting enough to keep going episode after episode.
If you already know and love the Dirty Pair, this release is a no-brainer. Grab it up and get a step closer to completing your collection. If you love the look and luster of 80s anime, it's still a pretty good bet. If you want challenging sci-fi starring babes with guns, you might not get as much as you want here. And if you just want big explosions and fanservice... oh, you'll get fanservice! But instead of a bathhouse episode, you'll be presented with a sequence where Kei fights bad guys in a heavy lifter that looks exactly like the one from Aliens. That's just the kind of fanservice that this series trades in.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ More Kei and Yuri adventures, some wonderful and inventive visual references, plenty of episodes.
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