The Lost Anime Franchises: Dirty Pair
By Christopher Kinsey
It’s no secret I revel in older titles. None of us can help it; the things we grew up with have a profound effect on our personal taste. Not just that, we feed off this ironic/serious feed of nostalgia to such a point there is barely a reason to make new intellectual properties anymore. Let’s face it, we’re locked into twenty years of Star Wars and Marvel movies for this very reason. More and more new titles suffer through either incompetence or a lack of unique vision clouded by the idea that we have to pay homage to the things we loved when we were younger. Everyone is scrambling to mine the past while unique talents languish all over Patreon hoping they can generate enough interest before rent is due.
Japan is faced with its own pop culture crisis, a dinosaur of a system of which anime is created plus demand far outweighing both the budgets and the talent needed to produce all of these TV shows, movies and OVAs. This means that the crowd is huge, margins are tight and unless it’s a proven IP or a kid show you will have to resort to lots of shameless fanservice of many varieties. Now the IPs are out there, so much manga to read, so many books, so many video games. But unless it’s a legacy title that lasted a fair while like Lupin III, Dragonball, Doraemon or Golgo 13 it’s rare to see reboots or re-imaginings of anime series. This is why I was awestruck when they made Slayers Revolution, dumbfounded when The Irresponsible Captain Tylor got a short series anime spin off in 2017, and when they went back to the well to perfect Fullmetal Alchemist with Brotherhood I was… full of reasonable expectations but also doubt as I knew how the first FMA anime ended.
My point is, nostalgia seems to be catered to two types of people. Folks in their mid-20s finishing college who seem to need one last boost of childhood before real life kicks everything out of them, and people in their mid-30s like myself who are thought to have this thing called “Money”. Well, that and parents who just have to share their childhood toys and stories with their kids. I can’t judge. I saved my least beat up G1 Transformers and a sealed (reissue) Optimus Prime for my son when he turned five. But these rumbles from our childhood come with a blind spot to many nerds. We flock together and assume that just because you know about popular anime either today, or even from 10 years ago, we assume you know about it all. And then one day you’re comparing pop culture anime stuff with people and someone about 15 years your junior asks “What’s Outlaw Star?” and the first instinct is to force feed them a stream in order to get the younger fan “to your level”, but you settle for a short description and pointing them to where they can watch it.
Case in point: What ever happened to Kei and Yuri, the WWWA’s finest team of trouble shooters and one of the most popular Japanese science fiction heroines of the 80s? In 1974-78 (the date is unclear) the author of the Crusher Joe light novel series, Haruka Takachiho, was entertaining a visiting English pulp science fiction writer, A. Bertram Chandler. The publishing staff hit upon the idea for the two to attend a wrestling match nearby. It was a World Women’s Wrestling Association (WWWA) event and the main event had the famous “Beauty Pair” headlining. The duo was well known in the 70s for being both a pop-singing idol group and professional wrestlers. Seeing them in the ring that night, Chandler was said to remark “With the way they fight they seem more like the Dirty Pair.” That idea seemed to spark something in Takachicho and in 1980 he released The Dirty Pair’s Great Adventures.
The premise was a lot like his first series in the fact that both were about small teams of space adventurers who were part of a larger organization taking on odd, unique and dangerous jobs. The difference being whereas Crusher Joe usually played it straight, Dirty Pair was a comedy. The basic premise to any story was the special unit “Lovely Angels” are sent to do a mission on behalf of the World’s Welfare Work Association (WWWA), of course the mission is attempted with many action scenes and great banter, then after a successful mission everything surrounding that mission is destroyed. However, the main computer that monitors said missions always notices that every operation’s collateral damage isn’t their fault so they continue to be top agents, just tagged with the nickname they hate.
As far as pulp writing and light novels go it’s a certain formula that guarantees you can write these characters episodically for a while. Takachiho continued writing Crusher Joe through 2005 and Dirty Pair through 2007. In the series wake there were an anime TV series (one original, one reboot), 28 OVA episodes (two finishing the TV series proper, 10 containing further adventures of the Pair, 16 being the reboot Dirty Pair Flash), a manga, an American original comic series, and of course Japanese radio dramas. Each series keeps the premise of the original novels sexy, professional and terror to infrastructures with its own twist.
The original TV series is the title most in step with the source material. Save for a costume change, everything is as it should be. Kei is tomboyish and very handy with heavy weaponry. Yuri takes pride in keeping Kei grounded and dispatching threats with her signature weapon, the Bloody Card. Each episode is colorful, amusing and fun in a kind of style that is reminiscent of the more lighthearted moments in the movie Heavy Metal. Foiling assassins, rescuing childhood friends, destroying mutants, all in a days work for the Lovely Angels. The OVAs under the title “Original Dirty Pair” do much of the same but with a new opening and ending. Well… and more well branded PG-13 nudity, or at least threats of nudity.
In 1986 the feature film called Dirty Pair: Project Eden was released. It’s a lot more well-known than the original TV series because Carl Macek’s Streamline Pictures produced a dubbed American version fairly early in the big anime VHS boom of the mid-90s. (Yes: THAT Carl Macek of Robotech infamy.) However, due to the world of buyouts and licensing and all those other wonderful things that makes sharing art a pain it was handed over to ADV Films in 2003 and given a much better dub and subs. Matter of fact, Nozomi Entertainment has the rights at the moment and it’s on Youtube for free if you want to check it out.
From 1988 to 2001 Studio Proteus gained the rights to make Dirty Pair comics in the USA. Toren Smith and Adam Warren worked together and published six different volumes of original adventures for comic companies such as Eclipse and Dark Horse. The first three stories were written as collaboration with Warren supplying the artwork. They tended to skew a bit more in line with a standard outing for the Lovely Angels but with some new characters and even more WWWA troubleshooter agents. The final three were Adam Warren’s work alone and delved a little more into the ideas of identity a-la Phillip K. Dick or Masamune Shirow. The art was great at the time. The earlier issues were a little more formulaic and restrained, but about the time of the third volume of works everything got this nice jumbled cyberpunk aesthetic that was fun to pour over for fine details.
Finally, in 1994 Sunrise studio got the idea for a new Dirty Pair series. They had worked on just about every other Dirty Pair project, and it was coming up on the 10th anniversary of the TV series. Unfortunately the voice actress for Kei, Kyōko Tongū, was essentially retired from voice acting and living in the USA. Yuri’s VA, Saeko Shimazu, felt that without the original duo it couldn’t work out. But rights are rights so Sunrise approached Haruka Takachiho about doing a kind of alternate reality series. An agreement was reached and Takachicho produced three novels while Sunrise produced three sets of four episode OVAs under the banner Dirty Pair Flash. This series had a lot more backstory and character development in it. It was OK, but kind of took away from the essence of what made Dirty Pair really great. World building and the like added unnecessary baggage to the episodic antics. The character designs were made a little more updated for the times and the heroines skewed younger. There was still the element of being professionals, but at the same time complete screw ups, but it got sidetracked a lot. And Sunrise is a pretty great studio. The animation was great and the new designs had their own flair that stood out.
It’s almost the 40th anniversary of the iconic duo, and you never hear about them now of days. Some people copied the formula from time to time but sucked some, if not all, of the fun out of it (Looking at you Kiddie Grade). Meanwhile I’d dare say the Lovely Angels get more exposure in old translated erotic doujins than anything else. But you know, the old shows are still out there. Heck, they’re old enough that great, respectful companies might have an interest in at least doing a little Blu-Ray clean up and magic to it soon. And it’s pretty much one of those legacy anime that were played all over in anime rooms at sci-fi conventions and small fan cliques back in the 90s. Bring the gals back! Send in the Dirty Pair!
THAT’S LOVELY ANGELS!
Dean The Adequate hopes the cyberpunk dystopian future we spiral into is at least half as fun as this series makes it out to be. Before some sanctioned yahoos show up and blow up your city everyone seems to be having a good time on a promenade of some sort filled with neon and ice cream vendors. Think about it, walking arm in arm with your gal, listening to the latest hits from ‘Priss and the Replicants’, eating a neon-yakisoba cone one handed… Then a sweet explosion cracks the Holomovieplex you just came out of because some WWWA agents with more weaponry than Grudd had a misfire chasing down a rouge android weapon. As the holographic advertisement flickers out and the needlessly tall building falls your way, you panic, scream and pull at your girlfriend to live another day and you think to yourself “Sweet, another date with post traumatic make up sex”.