Review: Space Bikinis Begin to Wear Out Their Welcome in "Dirty Pair Features"
I’ve been vocal in my appreciation for Nozomi Entertainment’s rereleases of the vintage 1980′s Dirty Pair anime series, with the three DVD sets released so far (vol 1, vol 2, and OVA series)filled with light-hearted sci-fi fun starring a pair of buxom beauties is space bikinis, all consistently much smarter than it had to be. This era of the Dirty Pair anime comes to a close with the three-disc set of Dirty Pair Features, and if they’re not entirely as satisfying as the material on the other sets, they’re diverting enough and can ride the goodwill generated by the earlier material to coast to a milder recommendation. All three run longer than the half-hour installments in the series, and also feature better animation along with more adult content (i.e., violence and skin), but the added and improved elements don’t save somewhat derivative stories and sometimes less-inspired execution.
All three features star Kei and Yuri, a pair of trouble consultants for the quasi-police organization the World Welfare and Works Association (3WA). Their official moniker is the Lovely Angels, but their tendency to create havoc and cause massive property damage has earned them the more pejorative nickname of the Dirty Pair. Chronologically, Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia comes first, getting released in 1985 in the wake of the TV series. The hour-long movie begins on the title world, which is uninhabitable except for a city on a giant central plateau and a vast, wild jungle in the opposite hemisphere. When Kei and Yuri’s client is brutally murdered before they can even meet with her, the pair end up on the trail of a mysterious little girl who is the prime suspect suspect. The girl’s escape path leads them into the jungle, where they encounter increasingly bizarre and seemingly impossible life forms, along with potent nightmarish hallucinations. By the end, the plot involves psychic powers and corporate conspiracies, both of which are solved Kei-and-Yuri-style by blowing a whole lot of stuff up. This feature is pleasant if somewhat uninspired, yielding more intermittent fun than an average episode of the show. The story is pretty paint-by-numbers, stalling a bit more than it should during the middle act as the pair explore the Nolandia jungle. Affair of Nolandia is the best animated of the three movies, tweaking the character designs to be slightly more realistic and springing for visibly better, smoother, more detailed animation. Those with more prurient tastes will be happy to know that this movie features the first (and only) genuine Kei and Yuri nudity in the franchise so far, but I’d be hard-pressed to call any of it very titillating due to the circumstances.
1986′s Dirty Pair: Project Eden returns the pair to their original character designs as they investigate strange events on a planet that processes Vizorium, a metal ore that makes warp-speed space travel possible. This is the longest feature in the set, running at about 80 minutes, and is probably the best-written of the lot (which, sadly, doesn’t reflect well on the other movies). Vizorium plants are getting attacked by strange beasts, and while early clues suggest industrial espionage between two competing companies, the story soon changes gears to reveal the true cause of the problems as a mad scientist named Dr. Wattsman, whose vaguely-defined experiments in awakening alien life swiftly put him in Kei and Yuri’s crosshairs. The pair coerce an assist from the dashingly handsome thief Carson D. Carson, who is as much a rival as an aide to them and is also a possible romantic foil to Kei. Project Eden definitely has more ambition than most episodes of the show, but the movie still doesn’t seem to be working very hard, turning into little more than an Aliens rehash by the end. That’s not to say that there isn’t lots to like in the movie’s execution, especially in one tense sequence where the trio try to remain undetected while hanging precariously on an overhead catwalk. It’s just that these really enjoyable sequences are stitched together by a relatively uninspired script that’s just not as clever as those earlier in the series. However, I must admit a great deal of affection for the movie’s sly, sexy, and stylish opening credits sequence, which channel the best of Maurice Binder’s classic James Bond openings while mixing in hints of the bizarre sci-fi about to come.
1990′s Dirty Pair: Flight 005 Conspiracy fits between Project Eden and the OAV series. It is the last and, unfortunately, the least of the features in this set. This hour-long feature puts Kei and Yuri on two cases simultaneously to investigate what happened to several hundred passengers who disappeared off a commercial space flight, and dig into the seemingly unrelated vanishing of a scientist working with metals used in high-performance reactors. No prizes for figuring out that the two events are closely connected, especially since the audience can figure this out within minutes while it takes Kei and Yuri about half the film. The story also borders on the incoherent; despite its title, the movie ends up not being all that interested in digging into the conspiracy and leaves multiple questions about it unanswered. Or maybe it did answer them and I just failed to notice because the execution was lackluster enough to cause my attention to wander several times while watching. There are a few moments in this film that are worth watching, especially the climactic scenes on board a gigantic space station, but it’s hard to call this feature anything but a disappointment.
Like Nozomi’s earlier releases, Dirty Pair Features features remastered video and audio, yielding the best results yet from this re-release series. Image quality is excellent, especially in the anamorphic widescreen of Project Eden and the high-class animation of Affair of Nolandia. This set also improves on the OVA release by including not one but two English dub soundtracks for each of the three movies: the first, original dub track from Streamline that was supervised by Carl Macek, and a second, newer track from the ADV Films re-releases. Both sound fine and I’m led to believe the translations are excellent, but like the OVA set, I couldn’t listen to either soundtrack for long because I’ve gotten too accustomed to the Japanese voice actors for Kei and Yuri. As good as the English dub actors are (and, to be fair, both tracks sound very good), I just couldn’t wrap my brain around those voices coming out of those characters. Each movie comes on a separate disc in this set; a minor quibble with the packaging is that there’s no visible hints on which feature to watch first (not that there’s much continuity between them). Extras are limited to line-art galleries and trailers.
I suppose all good things must come to an end, and while I still liked the Dirty Pair Features set, the interstellar hotties in space bikinis begin to wear out their welcome with these features, and it’s probably for the best that the franchise came to a close for a few years after Flight 005 Conspiracy (to get rebooted in 1994′s Dirty Pair Flash, now available in a series set from Nozomi/Right Stuf). It’s definitely not the Dirty Pair set I’d want to re-watch the most often, but it’s still enjoyable despite its more modest charms compared to the original series sets.