This Week in Anime
Does Great Pretender Stick the Landing?

by Monique Thomas & Steve Jones,

In August, the This Week in Anime team was enthralled by Wit Studio's heist-comedy series The Great Pretender. The original series stars Makoto "Edamame" Edamura, a small-time crook that quickly finds himself pulled into the high-stakes world of fleecing millionaires alongside the devious Laurent. Now the series is back with its finale arc, but does it continue its swindler shenanigans or fall flat?

This series is streaming on Netflix

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Steve
Nicky, after a lot of soul-searching, I've decided there's no better way to introduce this column than immediately posting this screencap of Laurent's morning wood. It's like a splinter in my mind, and I have to exorcise it right away if we're going to ever talk about anything else.

Anyway, welcome to season two of Great Pretender!
Nicky
I was hoping we could go the entire column without commenting on it just like the show but here we are.
Look, I'm not the one who made it one of the very first things we see in this arc. That was a deliberate creative choice, and I must acknowledge it as such. Which I have done. So now we can all move on and stop talking about boners. I hope.
Well, I guess if we use the antiquated definition of a "boner" I feel like Great Pretender part two has quite a few! And they're pretty big ones!
Earlier in the year, we covered part 1 of this 23 episode series so if you want a rundown of what the show is about, go there! To summarize though, I really enjoyed the first part of this show about executing both complex and fun heists to punish bad rich people, but part two seems to exhibit more of it's blunders.
Yeah it's worth noting that Netflix may call this "season 2," but it's really just the final arc of the series. The big grand finale. It's also the longest case, as well as the most convoluted. And speaking of cons, it's their biggest ever! We've got cons for days. Cons within cons within cons. It's cons all the way down! It's con-ception!
But does it have the CONfidence to pull it off? Is this show really Great or Just Pretendin'? I've seen plenty of shows with great set-ups can either bomb or they whiff. I'm of two minds here. What do you think?
I think they really, really try to do a lot with this last hurrah. There's another character introduced in this arc who also tries to go out with a bang, and let's just say it doesn't go so hot.

Like, it's not bad! But I think Great Pretender definitely bites off a lot more than it can chew this time around.
And the character stuff is still the part of the writing I like the most about the show but with a plan this big, I feel like there are parts where I don't get to interact with them as much as with other arcs and with the subject matter of the current plan I definitely felt a LOT less sympathetic to some of them coming out of it. Like, it's pretty hard to carry the buzz of the previous arcs to have and have a good time when your plan is to act as Child Slavers, and this is where we spend a good half of this story!!
Yeah, geez, this is one hell of an escalation. Abby's child soldier past was pretty heavy too, to be fair, but that was also just in her backstory. Here, Makoto has to actually aid and abet child trafficking while he's undercover. Which is bad enough on its own, but considering the arc is super concerned with prodding and interrogating his moral foundations, to the point of making the audience frequently question the truth behind his motives, it gets even tougher to deal with. This is sensitive stuff. It's not simply fancy window dressing to gussy up the villainy of your yakuza targets.
The Abby Iraq war stuff was a big oof for me but something I could write off as an isolated incident as the arcs are fairly stand-alone. This one is a LOT harder to ignore because of it's more slow-burning nature. Even if it did grant me this beautiful image of Abby being a quarantine mood.
That does bring up another issue I had, which I only fully realized when I was going back through my screencaps: I missed my favorite characters from the previous arcs. This one focuses a lot more on Laurent, Makoto, and Makoto's estranged dad Oz, but this comes at the expense of Cynthia, Abby, and Abby's middle finger.

As you can see, they're still around and still doing great stuff (and flipping people off), but they're interesting characters, and I just like it when they're more front and center. Especially after the recap of the previous arcs so beautifully summarized everything that makes Cynthia amazing.
Yeah, on the other hand we get some more much needed meaty character focus on the "main" characters, however without them I feel like the balanced is tipped towards the heavier side of things. The other thing that replaces them is getting focus on the current targets, two competing Chinese and Japanese factions of the same trading business, and sometimes I feel like it's more sympathetic to them than the children they're selling even if you know they'll get their comeuppance somehow.
The narrative definitely concerns itself more with them than with the children. The kids get only one scene where they're allowed to voice their despair, which is admittedly gutting.

But the story just kinda forgets about them after this point, and they go back to being props to show how bad the bad guys are. They get some lip service about finding foster families in the epilogue, and that's about it. It's really the most irresponsible part of this arc.
Yeah and it pretty much does nothing to assuage them on-screen after going through all that trauma including the additional trauma the main characters put them through to get the plan to work the way that it does even if they we're really being sold off and all they get to go to good homes later it just makes it seem like every second spent waiting more miserable for both the audience and Makoto, who once again knew nothing of the plan and got roped into it while trying to redeem his life, as per usual.
Ah yes, that old chestnut.

And by "old chestnut" I mean "blond bastard."
The backstory portion of this arc is much more in-tone w/ the rest of the series and I was glad to actually get the full explanation behind Laurent's motivations and also that it wasn't whatever crazy thing I was trying to piece together.
I also hope nobody is going into this arc hoping for some kind of sweeping redemptive character arc to round out Laurent's story. Because after all is said and done, he's really still just a smarmy scumbag. And that's the way it should be! But he's a smarmy scumbag who fell in love once, and for that I cannot blame him.

Dorothy is very good.
Dorothy is a treat, also major props to her English VA, as well as all the other actors. The dub continues to be great if you don't mind the fact that all the Chinese portions are still in Chinese even though the Japanese portions are in English/Japanese in the sub. Hope you like subtitles regardless of what language you're watching! I personally thumbed between the two with how many language switches there are this arc.
Side note, but it's also kinda fun and meta that the con hinges in large part on the art of translation—namely, the abuse of it. Makoto and Laurent deliberately mistranslate their bosses in order to manipulate them. Translation is power! It's not just for seasonal anitwitter discourse.
Yeah, though this also emphasizes that the shitty mob/business stuff is fun on it's own without dealing with the whole human trafficking aspect.
Amen to that.
One of the fun things about Dorothy but also the bad effect she has on Laurent's character is that she wants to treat everything like a game and that also means that she particularly doesn't care or think about what the consequences or getting too attached to anyone or anything because it would ruin the thrill.
Oh yeah some of her incorrigibility definitely rubbed off on our boy. But Laurent starts to nurture a possessiveness that doesn't seem great either. I mean, maybe their relationship was totally fine. It's probably not Laurent's fault that everything he says comes across as totes creepy.

Just kidding, it's absolutely his fault. Tho, credit where it's due, he did make for one insufferably cute Belgian child. He's got the kind of face you just wanna feed waffles to.
I actually don't think it's supposed to come off as creepy despite the even more creepy imagining your presumed dead wife while thinking about your revenge best served cold?
I liked those moments! They felt legit (and intentionally) disquieting, and it's probably the closest Laurent comes to feeling like a three-dimensional character with flaws and hangups.
Yeah that wasn't meant to be a diss but definitely something about Laurent is somewhat unsettling and wants you to question his sanity a bit if him or Makoto would potentially spoil the whole bunch of these apples.
Oh yeah this plan is a bulging powder keg of repressed emotions. Between Laurent's regret over Dorothy and Makoto's daddy issues, it's no small miracle that they're able to pull everything off without murdering each other. Not that they don't try.
Also yes, Makoto's dad is here and he's been the mastermind behind every scheme in the show the whole time at Laurent's behest! Though, I don't think the show is asking to fully redeem him.
It's not, which is good. Like, every acid-coated word that Makoto spits out at Oz is totally justified, and he doesn't have a rebuttal. I think Great Pretender ultimately realizes that he was a shitty dad, no matter what the intentions.


But while it does take a nuanced tack, I do also think the narrative lets Oz off too easy.
Speaking of guys who get left off the hook, uhh I guess we better talk about THIS.
Lol welcome back, guys. What a nice surprise? Guess they didn't mind getting conned too much. That or they're just rich and powerful enough to shrug everything off, which kind of upends the thematic thrust of the series quite a bit, but let's not think about that part too hard.
Yeah, totally cool just to hang out with these irredeemable scumbags like they're old pals!! Haha, what's a little prank between friends, am I right? They're just totally willing to help out because none of this affected any of them at all.


Y'know maybe I'm the one who's morally reprehensible here but I'm gonna need to play a whole round of Hitman and catch up with Moriarty just to wash the bad taste out of my mouth cuz I'd rather see these guys end up dead than to reek havoc another day if they're not even going to act humble about it. Where's Agent 47 when you need him?
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind Great Pretender being silly, but this kind of buffoonishness really runs counter to the spirit of the first three arcs. Turning them into these cartoon villains for a last-minute gotcha does a lot more harm than good, imo. There had to be better ways for Makoto to pull one over on Laurent.
It also totally makes me question the lasting effectiveness of the finale. If all these other big bads get to run free, what's to say that the same won't happen to these fools under the right circumstances? And what for? Alongside the elaborate dick-sizing contest between Makoto and Laurent it makes the characters come off as truly selfish in a way they weren't before.
It's just not a good look for anyone involved. Outside of that component, though, I did enjoy the prestige of the gargantuanly absurd machinations revealed behind this con. Real galaxy brain stuff here. This is what Great Pretender does best.
Oh yeah, from an artistic standpoint the show is absolutely top-notch. Not to mention the return of that great jazzy soundtrack and some smooth insert-songs. At the very least, you definitely won't be bored.
However bumpy it may be, it is one hell of a ride all the same! Again, I just think it tries to string too many threads together, and that comes at the cost of honing the strongest, most emotion-rich ones. The result is still fun, but it left me feeling hollow in a way the previous arcs did not. That said, please don't hesitate to make more of this. You can't just tease Laurent conning the President and then NOT deliver.
I'm still soured by the fact that it made me dislike some the characters I had already come to like so much and then tries to deliver a cheap message about "letting go" before making any sort of reparations, while this message can be effective on a personal level, it still doesn't really change the feeling of deception and betrayal when most of the characters continue to...deceive and betray each other....

However, every other aspect of GP is so excellent and exciting, I also don't feel like my time was ever wasted. The arcs are also mostly standalone enough and the characters have enough rapport that I also wouldn't mind giving it another shot if it ever got a second season. Maybe it could even address some of those issues I mentioned? But, as it stands now, I say that people pick and choose what they want of these arcs or even check out a series of even more episodic heists, Lupin the III.
Whatever arc you do pick up, just don't forget to put Laurent back where you found him: right in the trash.
And how!

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