"Dirty Pair" Vol. 1: Girls, Guns, and Space Bikinis. What's Not to Like?
Back in ancient days when the Internet was all text-based and dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the only place to get Japanese comics and cartoons was in the back corners of comic book stores. One of the earlier imports that piqued my curiosity at the time was Dirty Pair, although I never worked up the energy (or the money) to satisfy that curiousity. Once upon a time, I would have tried coming up with some highbrow excuse to justify my curiosity in a show with a pair of cute women wearing space bikinis, toting guns, and blowing stuff up. However, if age has not necessarily brought wisdom, it has at least brought enough self-awareness to know that my curiousity in Dirty Pair really was just because it was a show with a pair of cute women wearing space bikinis, toting guns, and blowing stuff up. Still, I was happy to learn that Right Stuf had licensed the title for DVD release on American shores, since it was an opportunity to satisfy a curiosity that’s been percolating at a low-level for close to two decades.
The good news is that Dirty Pair holds up pretty well to my expectations. The series focuses on Kei and Yuri, a pair of “trouble consultants” for the World Welfare Works Association (WWWA), charged with making their clients’ problems go away by any means necessary. In Kei and Yuri’s case, this usually entails so much property damage that the solution is often worse than the problem. The official code name for the pair is the Lovely Angels; their talent for destruction has earned them the more pejorative nickname the Dirty Pair. Kei is the redhead with a hair-trigger temper and the more robust figure; Yuri is the slimmer, quieter brunette, and the duo are often assisted on their missions by their giant cat-like pet Mughi and the R2-D2-like robot Nanmo.
At a minimum, Dirty Pair is always genially goofy, with its approach to adventure-comedy refusing to take anything too seriously. It also manages to treat its leads and its plots with more respect than is strictly required for such lowest-common-denominator entertainment. Kei and Yuri are certainly easy on the eyes, but despite their costuming, the show never treats them as sex objects. The show makes a running gag of the duo’s non-existent love lives, but it’s handled as the urban professional’s lament that a busy job doesn’t leave much time for romance. Similarly, the pair alternate between being clever and dense in believable ways. While the pair aren’t rocket scientists by any stretch, they’re also not complete bumbling idiots, so despite their many pratfalls, we never look down on them. Finally, Kei and Yuri are rather charming and winning individuals, convincing us handily that they are exceptionally dangerous without ever coming off as threatening. A good chunk of the show’s appeal lies firmly on its heroines.
However, the show still seems to be holding back for most of the first disc. Perhaps it took that first disc to properly calibrate my expectations, but I kept expecting the show to be crazier or wilder. The pacing of the first five episodes felt like they were going at an easygoing lope rather than the full-tilt run I was expecting. It’s certainly not because they waste time on exposition; the first episode flings Kei and Yuri headlong in a mission to kill the supercomputer running their megacity on account of its growing self-awareness and ensuing rebelliousness. Their solution is certainly original, even if it has the side-effect of throwing the city’s major tower off-kilter like the leaning tower of Pisa. These initial episodes keep moving at a brisk if not breakneck pace, and while the plots may not be too original, they’re at least executed pretty well.
The show improves substantially on discs 2 and 3, with the earliest episodes beginning to toss some seriously nutty curve balls into the mix. Episode 7, “Love is Everything, Risk Your Life to Elope!” starts as tale of star-crossed lovers and gets more and more deranged as it goes. It ends with a twist that would be daring to pull off today, let alone a quarter-century ago when this show was first made, and the rather novel solution to the episode’s central problem makes perfect sense even as it makes no sense at all. I think the best episode on the entire set is episode 9, “Hire Us! Beautiful Bodyguards are a Better Deal,” which turns out to be a 20-minute remake of Yojimbo that replaces Toshiro Mifune with a pair of outer space babes. Splitting that central role allows for some surprising twists on the tale, leading up to a genuinely exciting climax and topped off with a moment of destruction so ridiculously over-the-top it becomes hilarioiusly funny. Episode 12, “The Little Dictator,” is delightfully wacky, as a security system gone awry at WWWA headquarters leads to a few gross-out moments, a highly unlikely enemy, an even more unlikely army providing assistance with Kei and Yuri at the head, and an ending that would be touching if it weren’t so bizarre.
Right Stuf’s new release of Dirty Pair on DVD is about as good a release as we can hope for given the age of the source material. The series originally came out in 1985 and doesn’t look like it had much of a budget to work with even then. While the video and audio are both clear and unblemished, nobody is going to mistake Dirty Pair for a modern anime series, with its relatively muted color palette and film grain. Dirty Pair shows its age in other ways as well; it might have been one of the earliest fanservice shows to be imported to the US, but their outfits are quite tame by today’s standards. The action scenes get better as the show goes along, but even by the end, you can get better and stronger adrenaline rushes from anything of more recent vintage. None of this is intended to denigrate Dirty Pair in any way, but rather to set up expectations for a modern anime fan curious about the series. Like many of their recent releases, Dirty Pair only gets the Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles, and the only bonus features are trailers for other Right Stuf titles.
I can’t say that Dirty Pair is a groundbreaking, earth-shaking show of such stunning quality that it overcomes its cheap thrills underpinnings, but at the same time, I must also say that it’s a sizable jump in quality from other been-there-done-that, pandering fanservice shows. It’s still a show whose major attraction is a pair of cute women wearing space bikinis, toting guns, and blowing stuff up, but it’s a good show with a pair of cute women wearing space bikinis, toting guns, and blowing stuff up. At its best, it is exceptionally clever, with just enough sex appeal to keep things interesting but not so much that it overwhelms the stories being told. A second set is on the way next year, with more to come if demand sustains it. As long as you’re willing to adjust your expectations for the show’s age, Dirty Pair will provide plenty of good, (mostly) clean fun.”