This Week in Anime
The Dirty Pair

by Jean-Karlo Lemus & Steve Jones,

With a a Kickstarter campaign to fund an English-dubbed Blu-ray Disc release underway, Jean-Karlo and Steve check in on the Lovely Angels' legacy of sci-fi comedy to see if it still holds up.

This series is streaming on RetroCrush and Crunchyroll

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
Well, Jean-Karlo, since we had such a fun time in the 1980s last week, why don't we stick around a bit longer and see if there are any other animated classics that recently wriggled their way into the headlines? Oh, on that note, I seem to be getting a very remote transmission. Let me switch to my second monitor.
Jean-Karlo
That's them, officer! Those are the women that beat me up and took my wallet and broke my Microsoft Dinosaur CD into little pieces and cut me up all over my body and called me a little baby and bonked me on the head!
Oh now I remember them! They're called the Dirty Pa—
I've had a lot of fun with a lot of anime I've watched for This Week In Anime, and Dirty Pair is definitely high up on the list. This is a seminal classic of 1980s science fiction anime; it's legacy and influence runs deep, and it has aged as gracefully as Cate Blanchette (ps: please call me). Right Stuf had the whole shebang on YouTube for a bit, but now it's up on Crunchyroll too, so Steve and I had to cover it.
Yeah it's only been a few years since I watched it for the first time myself, but now that it's streaming on Crunchyroll and RetroCrush—and with a dub + Blu-ray on the way—I'm glad we finally have an easy way to recommend a fun, breezy, and iconic '80s anime for the general audience. It's just a few clicks away, no matter what appendage you use to browse the internet!
Mandatory screenshot, because you can't talk about Dirty Pair without this scene popping up:

Anyway! The Dirty Pair is based off of a series of novels written by Haruka Takachiho in the 1980s about a pair of women that work for the WWWA, a pan-galactic peacekeeping organization. The novels inspired this TV series, OVAs, and movies. When those were brought over to the US, the late Toren Smith went so far as to nab the license and commission Adam Warren to draw a series of comics based off of them – see, in the 80s there wasn't a Dirty Pair manga Smith could license for his manga studio, Studio Proteus. It wouldn't be until 2010 that a Dirty Pair manga would finally be released, courtesy of Takachiho and Star Wars manga artist Hisao Tamaki. That's twenty-five years between the TV adaptation and the manga – most shows lose their relevance after just 25 weeks.
It also means there are a lot of different iterations of Dirty Pair you can find out there, and I'm not too familiar with most of them, but I think the original 1985 TV series is a perfect place to start for the Dirty-curious. The vibes are retro, the music is jazzy, and the hair is floofed to the max. What more could you want?
The key thing to note is that Dirty Pair has its roots in... wrestling, of all things. Joshi wrestling (Japanese women's wrestling) was huge in the 80s, which is why all those artists of a certain age draw manga of spinster/divorced wrestlers that you can't show in polite company but can't buy anyway because they've been out-of-print for over a decade now. Ahem. The Dirty Pair were based off of Beauty Pair, which is why every iteration of them dresses them up like wrestlers. It's also why their organization, the WWWA, looks like the acronym for a wrestling league.

Even Tamaki's manga tried to keep the "wrestler" look, even if the outfits are more... shall we say, structurally suspect.
I mean if you're going to want to have your cheesecake and eat it too, then I can at least respect a series that is upfront about its influences.
Look, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a pretentious coomer, but I find it interesting to look at how the 80s created cheesecake heroines vs today. I'm not saying the Dirty Pair are more refined than Rias Gremory, but I am saying that they feel more like an actual pair of girls living that hot-mess life and who are also hot instead of your average "please buy my body pillow now, m'lord!" fare. Kei and Yuri bicker, steal each others' eyeliner, hate on guys with chest hair, are possibly in an open bisexual relationship, say "trans rights", and you will love them for kicking you in the groinular area and stealing your car.
It helps that Dirty Pair is definitely first and foremost a silly sci-fi action series. Like, the premiere eschews any conventional worldbuilding, save for the fact that it wants the audience to know that Yuri and Kei have a reputation, and that reputation is that they are the harbingers of inevitable doom.


Imagine being so bad at your jobs that everyone in the universe has a nickname for you, and that nickname is "Dirty Pair."
They're horrible, horrible women who aren't even old enough to drink (the episode establishes they're all of 19 years old apiece), but they get results. The first episode has Kei (the redhead with the floof) and Yuri (the blue-haired one) try to deal with Brian, a super-powerful AI who is lashing out against the city after learning that a device has been implanted in his controls that will shut him down if he goes rogue. Way to fulfill your own prophecy, tech-bros!
The episode title alone communicates how I feel nowadays, which is that every moment we're inching closer to a sorely-needed Butlerian Jihad.

Overall, though, it sets the tone for the series: there's some space and/or sci-fi problem, and for some reason, Kei and Yuri end up being the problem-solvers of choice. Note: this is never a good idea.
I also wanna take the time to point out that this was made by very, very nerdy Japanese animators in 1985. The background computer panels have all kinds of crazy deep-cuts. Being a nerdy animator in the 80s meant shoving nerdy references into your anime or drawing your missiles as coke bottles before anyone had the tech to actually point that out in your movie. These days, it just means you have Opinions™ on slavery.
Not necessarily a nerdy reference, but a later episode uses musicians as filler text, including one instance of "Eric Crapton." Now, you might call that a typo, but given the stuff that dude has been saying lately, I'd call it shockingly prescient.
The first episode also establishes Mughi, Kei and Yuri's long-suffering furbaby who is most likely an overfed coeurl/displacer beast (animators in the 80s were all about 2nd Edition D&D). There's also Nanmo, the often-forgotten droid that helps Kei and Yuri pilot their ship, the Lovely Angel.
In Stars Wars terms, Mughi is cat Chewie, and Nanmo is R2D2 if R2D2 had sweet kicks, i.e. an objectively better version of R2D2.

There's a scene in a particularly weird episode where Nanmo heroically sacrifices himself, and Yuri clutches his detached floating booties in memoriam. It's exquisite.

And don't worry, he gets better.
As we've established, disaster is the name of the game when Kei and Yuri come to town. The first episode ends with Kei and Yuri stopping Brian's rampage... at the cost of leaving the massive city-tower permanently leaning. There's a loose continuity at play here, but later episodes that cut back to the tower show it as still under repairs – and still tilted!
It's a such a good and understated running gag. A visual monument to their seat-of-the-pants lifestyle. The show also occasionally checks in on other people living in the tower, who all want the Dirty Pair's heads to roll. But if you ask me, I could never hate these most lovely of angels. Mostly because of their impeccable fashion sense.


Fashion in the '80s was a least 80% headbands, to be fair.
We see more of that fashion in the second episode, where the girls team up with a gruff male agent of the WWWA to investigate and prevent a ship from being bombed. There's no real serialized continuity here, just plenty of strong character writing as Kei butts heads with a guy she's convinced she'd hate because "he has chest hair".

For the record: he doesn't, but he does have male nipples.
Dirty Pair earns us another notch in the column of "TWIA Series Not Made By Cowards." And I do like that the series never shies away from their flirtations with men, but also never boxes them into heterosexuality. Like, even ignoring the fun and combative chemistry Kei and Yuri have together, there's also this episode opening where Kei, wearing a mechanic's uniform, has her eyes glued to a women's wrestling match.


Intentional or not, there's nothing straight about that.
Just gals being pals, appreciating each other's muscles, taking part in Pride every year.
Just gals tag-team wrestling together.

Just gals talking about going topless and picking up boys, and consoling each other because capitalism gets in the way.
The series is more episodic than anything else, so besides the very strong character writing there isn't much else here. But that writing is enough. Kei and Yuri win some, they lose some. Some episodes, the girls outsmart their corporate spy rival. Others, they bring the wrong cat back to the lab.

Kei giving that dude a pog with her face on it was a pretty baller move tho. But yeah, the episodic nature of the series makes it very easy to pick up and put down. I still haven't seen all of them myself, but I know I can just throw one on whenever I feel like watching these doofuses.

The action also tends to be pretty good! The show may be heavy on goofs, but Kei and Yuri definitely know how to handle themselves.
The TV anime doesn't really go into the weirder parts of Kei and Yuri's arsenal, like Yuri's Bloody Card or their, um, "climax"-fueled ESP. But the action is still top notch for a show from '85, and it still looks amazing to this day. It helps that the set-ups for the episodes are so varied too, forcing Kei and Yuri into new scenarios. One episode, for example, has them forced to explore a derelict ship – all while Kei is desperate to get to a hot date with an old flame.
That one's definitely the strangest out of the first batch of six that we watched. It reaches outside of conventional sci-fi and into the hauntological, with a mad scientist's dying wish pursuing the Pair and dragging them into a space waste facility. And it's neat to see the anime try to do something creepy for a change.

Tho I should also clarify that Kei spends about half the episode in her skivvies. Duality of Dirty Pair.
This is also the very tragic episode where Nanmo detonates themselves and all that are left of them are their precious little booties. It's okay, they're walking on sunshine now.
I guess the cat episode is pretty weird too, if only for the not-brief-enough glimpse we get into these newlyweds' bedside manner.

I don't know what that's code for, but I'm good not knowing.
Something, something "soaking". But yeah, this was a fun running gag. Romeo and Julietta just constantly getting intruded upon by Kei and Yuri. Those gals might be disaster-bis, but they're not home-wreckers! I mean, they are, but in the literal sense.
Very literal.

Comedy-wise, that cat chase also has my favorite bit in the series so far, with a platoon of cop cars trying to prevent a dangling piece of highway from tilting too far one way or the other, while a foreman lackadaisically chides them for doing it wrong. A very strong mix of physical and visual comedy, and at the expense of cops to boot!
It's also just plain-old good science fiction, introducing such zany but practical concepts such as a hair bank. See, you go when you're younger and they extract some of your hair follicles, then when you get older they implant them back into your scalp! And apparently, they're also highly secured and Member FDIC, so robbing one is as steep a felony as robbing an actual bank!
Also some jokes just write themselves.
That's another thing, Dirty Pair regularly employs Blues Brothers-looking goons as random bad guys. I dunno, I really miss that trope. Like the random mooks Cutie Honey fights off.
Oh I'm glad you brought that up, because I literally have the exact same note here! We need to go back to the days where all bad guys dressed in identical fedoras and sunglasses, and, ideally, wielded tommy guns. That is peak villain character design, to me.
There's no coincidence that Cutie Honey and Dirty Pair are each successful franchises based off of ass-kicking bombshells who mow down armies of goons in fedoras. It's okay if Shotaro Hidari gets mowed down with them – he was soft-boiled anyway. As a man who loves the fedora my grandma got me when I was 23, please make fedoras short-hand for "this guy exists to get pummeled".
And that goofy spirit is what makes Dirty Pair, above all else, a fun cartoon to watch. You can count on Kei and Yuri kicking ass, being petty, and blowing up a planet or two along the way.


That's all part of the job at 3WA.
"Petty" is a great word; one of the final episodes we watched had Kei butt heads with a childhood "friend" who was after a cargo she was escorting. The whole episode was nothing but put-downs culminating in Kei just detonating the primped-up loser's ship. Dude, take the hint, she's just not into you...

Both sides of the Dirty Pair are very good, but I definitely have a strong bias towards Kei for those reasons and more. She's got the fluffier hair and the funnier faces, so the math just adds up for me.

...

Oh, I'm sorry, was I supposed to disagree? Yeah, no, I love blue but Kei is best Dirty Pair girl. Sorry, Yuri.

The Dirty Pair's influence, both as characters and as a series, runs deep as I mentioned earlier. 2002's Kiddy Grade was a very obvious attempt at bringing the formula to the new millennium, but it really failed to capture what was fun about them. They ramped up the fanservice and pretentious backstories for the protagonists, but left out the fun mayhem that they were supposed to wreak. Small wonder it's largely forgotten. Meanwhile, the Dirty Pair are still going strong, and Nozomi Right Stuf doesn't have to do much to make folks want to egg the girls on into more destruction. They have a Kickstarter up for the new Dirty Pair Blu-rays, and I hope it goes well because this is a full-on classic of the anime industry. Most younger anime fans might think me an old fogey, but it breaks my heart to think younger fans are missing out on The Dirty Pair. It's just a lot of fun and they don't make 'em like this anymore.
And honestly, even if you think you haven't, you've probably already seen some of Dirty Pair giffed into YouTube videos for vaporwave songs, so you might as well check out the full thing. It's a blast.
Agh! Dammit, they did it again!

discuss this in the forum (30 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history

This Week in Anime homepage / archives