“At the mouth of the night, between daylight and dark”: No Thanks! No Need For a Halloween Party
It’s understandable that Kei and Yuri wouldn’t know what Halloween is. It’s a holiday that’s only come to Japan comparatively recently in its history, mostly through osmosis of Western pop culture, and there isn’t really a Shinto, Buddhist or Hindu analog. And as such, the titular Halloween party of “No Thanks! No Need For a Halloween Party” is strobing, neon excess of a festival, a gloriously and beautifully Long 1980s commentary on the corporate-state forces that turn holidays into celebrations of capitalism and consumerism. Indeed, this is what Halloween is now, which makes this episode probably more relevant today than it was in 1987.
But this, like so much about Dirty Pair, is conveyed strictly through mood, atmosphere and visual symbolism. The look of this episode in general is *phenomenal*, and I could, as usual, spend an entire essay gushing about that. The animation and background work already elevated to a new level from the previous show, this is the moment where Dirty Pair finally starts to look like the Long 1980s I remember. Not that the older animes looked bad by any stretch of the imagination, but this one stirs a very specific set of emotions within me. And in spite of this outsider critique and the girls’ unfamiliarity with the night, “No Thanks! No Need For a Halloween Party” ends up resonating with much deeper and more fundamental truths. This isn’t simply the greatest Halloween special ever, this is a story that glows with an innate understanding of ritual, associative symbolic power, allegory and synchromysticism. And on top of that, it’s a masterpiece.
There’s a wryly knowing tone set right from the start: There’s a musical cue that plays over the title card that sounds for all the world like the Jimmy Hart version of the famous theme song to the *movie* Halloween. Both it and the CRT Jack-o-Lantern, complete with scanlines, that becomes a minor reoccurring motif even feels like they’ve been plucked from the opening to Halloween III: Season of the Witch (a movie that was, in part, about returning Halloween to its Celtic roots as a rejection of its commercialization, which is maybe fun to think about). And while the Tactical Robot the girls are chasing in this episode is clearly supposed to be a skeleton, it also *looks* a heck of a lot like the T-800 from The Terminator, which also means “No Thanks! No Need For a Halloween Party” is a considerably better Terminator pastiche than the *actual* Dirty Pair Terminator pastiche was: The Robot never stops running and is seemingly invincible (up until the climax, of course), but Kei and Yuri just find that annoying instead of terrifying.
There’s also the various criminal gangs the girls end up (completely accidentally and incidentally) taking down in their pursuit of the Tactical Robot, all of whom are in disguises themed after various fairy tales and children’s literature: There’s a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, an Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, a gang that seems to have a pulp sci-fi theme and (much to my delight) an Alice in Wonderland. They all have the goal of blending in amongst all the other costumed revelers to take advantage of the night’s confusion to commit crimes, and, interestingly, they all seem to have based their costumes around the Walt Disney versions of their characters (well, of the stories that Disney had made movies of by 1987 of course).
So there is a corporatist commentary here, but Dirty Pair doesn’t stoop to a facile Charlie Brown bemoaning of commercialization either. Halloween is portrayed as something that doesn’t really have a distinct identity anymore-The girls don’t really know what it is (Yuri even says it’s a custom that began on Earth so long ago its original meaning is probably lost), and the rest of Elenore City basically just uses it as an opportunity to throw a party. But the show doesn’t say we should be ashamed by just throwing a party either: There’s a festive, jovial tone to the whole story that seems to be saying that even if we’re not entirely sure what we’re celebrating, this doesn’t mean celebrating itself is a bad thing. Everyone comes out to make the night fun in their own way, from the costumed partiers in the streets to the friends who go out for drinks together, to the Chinese immigrants who put on a traditional Dragon Dance display (and *aren’t* racist stereotypes for once!). All except Chief Gooley of course, the programmatically gruff and hilariously high-strung workalholic salaryman who could be read as a Halloween Ebeneezer Scrooge if he wasn’t totally irrelevant, which is, really, the way it should be.
And then, of course, there’s Kei and Yuri.
Though the girls may not consciously know what Halloween is, they certainly seem to instinctively know what their role on such a night is to be. In the Celtic tradition from which Halloween springs, late October into November, in particular October 31-November 1, is an important time of transition. The festival of Samhainn, one of the quarter-day festivals, was held annually to mark the transition from one quarter of the year to another: As the transition at Samhainn, the one from Summer to Winter, was of the most important in the Celtic year, Samhainn was likewise one of the most important and sacred of such festivals, some sources placing it as the start of the Celtic New Year. It’s as such a period of liminality; neither one thing nor the other, and maybe a little bit of both. And of course, we must remember how seasons are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres, so, when Summer ends in one, it begins in the other. In a very material sense, Summer and Winter *really do* exist simultaneously at Samhainn.
Liminality was very important to many different pre-modern and non-modern cultures, with liminal dates (such as Samhainn and its mirror twin Bealltainn at the opposite end of the year) becoming very meaningful and significant moments of observance. Additionally, people who could embody the concept of liminality themselves (such as in the case of those who modern societies would call transgender, people that many cultures viewed as neither strictly male nor strictly female, but rather encompassing the best elements of both) were seen as possessing a unique and sage kind of experience and wisdom, becoming respected shamans and keepers of sacred traditions. And, on dates as liminal as Halloween, the Celts believed the barrier between worlds was particularly thin and permeable, and the material and ethereal planes commingled for a time. This was the night when faeries, gods and spirits were said to be able to walk freely among us. Usually, this was fraught with danger, with tales of Otherworld denizens kidnapping mortals or some other such devious deed. But it’s the limnality that interests me the most here, and we all ought remember Kei and Yuri are extremely liminal characters.
One can read performers as being inherently liminal to one extent or another: They put on an act, their visage a quotation or facsimile of the character they’re portraying. As futuristic professional wrestlers, the girls are this by default: Yuri’s not a Yamato Nadeshiko, but she plays one on TV, and Kei is more than the stock tomboy character archetype (also recall this is a story set against the backdrop of everyone in Elenore City wearing a mask of some kind-What masks do you wear on a day-to-day basis, not just on Halloween night?). As Alan Moore once said, “There is a certain amount of sham in shamanism. There is a certain amount of theatre”, and we know modern shamans frequently become artists. But the liminality of Kei and Yuri goes even beyond this: Canonically 19, this places the girls into what is referred to in Japan as seishun, or “Green Spring”, and what in the West is frequently bandied around as “The Best Years Of Your Life” by various oblivious authority figures. Indeed, Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture was even ostensibly about this, with its entire conceit of Kei and Yuri being neither young girls nor adult women.
But we mustn’t forget Kei and Yuri are the protagonists of an episodic series. Not only that, but, at least if you believe Adam Warren, they’re also genetically enhanced and idealized bodies. They are both diegetically and extradiegetically immortal, but also in some sense static: While as voyagers they do grow up (if you feel they haven’t already), they will never grow old. They reside permanently within their Green Spring, and thus are permanently liminal, Spring being the other point of the year that’s neither Winter nor Summer. Celtic tradition also sometimes speaks of the Otherworld being a Land of Eternal Youth or Summer…and what do Kei and Yuri spend the majority of this episode doing? Buzzing around on their little jetpacks. Jetpacks that resemble classical depictions of angel wings. Or faery wings.
One interpretation of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the “people of the gods” said to reside in the barrows of Ireland and Scotland, is that they are the remnants of the old gods and nature spirits forced into hiding when belief in them waned, and are as a result now not quite mortal and not quite divine. The Fairy Faith, a modern spirituality connected to, though distinct from, Celtic Reconstructionism says angels are the same sort of thing. And so it is with Kei and Yuri, who are at once shaman and spirit, woman and goddess. Performers who wear the guise of the divine, and in doing so mantle them and become divine themselves. In this project I use the concept of gods and spirit guides as metaphors for utopian ideals, and the process of magick and shamanic divination as an allegory for bringing those ideals into, and thus sublimating, our material reality. Perhaps this is more than a rhetorical device-Perhaps this is how magick works in a very real and literal sense, depending on what you believe.
Regardless of how you internally conceptualize it, this is what Kei and Yuri do and what they’re here to teach us. Halloween is the night where their world, that of fantasy action sci-fi, mingles with the mundane world. Are the Lovely Faeries dangerous? Well, one certainly doesn’t want to be in the immediate area when they go on their processions, no. And one can certainly claim nobody believes in these spirits, considering the abhorrent reputation they have across the galaxy. But don’t forget, as the rest of humanity in their world has, that Kei and Yuri actually mean no ill intent and fundamentally act on behalf of good and positive progress. The Fairy Faith is firm in their belief that there are “no bad fairies”, so make of that what you will. And while much of Elenore City is leveled in the pursuit of the Tactical Robot, Kei and Yuri put on quite a show for everybody. And isn’t that what we’re really all here to see?
The centrepiece of the girls’ spectacular finale is a wonderful supercharged traditional Japanese fireworks display: Kei shoots off what she calls a sanjakudama, naming her weapon after one of the largest single fireworks in the world that’s fired four times annually at the Matsuri, or celebration, held in the city of Nagaoka every year in early August. The crowd responds with rousing cheers of “Tamaya!” and “Kagiya!”, a traditional Japanese custom at fireworks displays hearkening back to the Edo period when two rival fireworks companies with those names would hold public contests to decide who had the most spectacular displays. And this brings the episode’s musings on Halloween to its obvious conclusion, solidifying the holiday’s positive and beneficial syncretism by sharing a uniquely Japanese way to celebrate and pay tribute, turning Halloween into a genuine Matsuri for all to enjoy. And when Kei and Yuri kick back at the end of the episode to toast each other and their youth, it becomes hard to keep back the tears.
The nod to the Nagaoka fete in August is a revealing one, and it’s just the icing on the cake to hear Kei and Yuri’s brilliant and vibrant fireworks show scored by a heartwarming and moving rendition of “Aki kara no Summertime”, which has by this point already established itself as the unofficial entrance theme of the Lovely Angels. This is a song about holding onto “summer memories”, a deeply loaded and meaningful phrase if ever I heard one, throughout life and always living within the moments they evoke for us. This is a song whose title is translated in Dirty Pair’s official English subtitles as “Summertime From Autumn”. I really don’t think anything I write can add more meaning to that. Rather, I think there’s a good chance my words would just take things away. “No Thanks! No Need For a Halloween Party” is every bit as groundbreaking and provocative as The Dirty Pair Strike Again, and it’s as deeply profound and intensely moving as anything Dirty Pair has ever done. This story stands among the very best things this series has produced, and from me, that’s about as high as the praise can get.
November 5, 2014 @ 1:03 am
" In a very material sense, Summer and Winter really do exist simultaneously at Samhainn." Just after reading this sentence I glanced out of the window and saw a leafless tree bathed in sunlight.
November 6, 2014 @ 1:32 am
Being a bit thick, sometimes, I've only just noticed you've got links to the episodes online! As a complete newcomer to Dirty Pair, would it make sense if I just started watching from Prison Riot?
November 6, 2014 @ 12:26 pm
First of all, I'm thrilled you've decided to check the series out-I really hope you like it!
To answer your question…I mean, I'd recommend pretty much most of the franchise, but it really depends on how much marathoning you want to do. I'm up to episode 6 of the OVA series and I can already tell this is probably the best run of stories in the franchise, but in my essays I do make not infrequent callbacks to the TV show, the movies and some of the things I said about them, so those bits might lose you if you're unfamiliar with them.
That said, there is a lot more of the TV series and it's far rockier than this show has been so far. The Motion Picture is revolutionary and stunningly, beautifully abstract, but the plot sucks and the characterization of the girls is wrongheaded. Affair of Nolandia is bloody brilliant and the closest to the original books, but it's not at all like either of the episodic series. And after all, the series reboots itself every incarnation, that's a major strength of it, so there's no need to worry about missing any important continuity or plot points if you do start with "Prison Riot".
But it also might be worth considering that the versions of the OVA episodes Manga Entertainment put on YouTube seem to be English dubbed, while I think all their previous releases are subtitled (certainly their version of the TV show was). I don't know why exactly as they're all subtitled on the DVD releases, which I do own and am basing my essays off of. As is always the case, dubbing tends to lose even more cultural nuance than subtitling does, and what little I've seen of the dub hasn't impressed me. I mean I'm still linking to them because having the episodes in some form is better than not having them at all and I want to ensure my readers have ample and easy access to as much of Dirty Pair as they can get, but it's something to think about.
My take is that Kyōko Tongū and Saeko Shimazu's performances are pretty indelible with who Kei and Yuri are to me. It's jarring for me not to hear them at this point and all of the Japanese cast bring a deliberately caricatured, energetic and exaggerated theatrical performativity to the show the English actors don't have. You might want to watch at least a few of the TV episodes first so you can see those performances and get a feel for how the Sunrise animes behave in their native language. But it's ultimately up to you and how far down this rabbit hole you want to go right now.
If it would be any help to you, I did, of course, compile a list of my picks for the highlights of the Dirty Pair TV show here, in addition to name-dropping the two movies and books I've covered:
November 7, 2014 @ 12:47 pm
Thanks – I'm not too dedicated, and I have difficulty watching programs with subtitles anyway (even recons), so this is good enough for me. I'll try to watch some of these over the next week or so.
November 7, 2014 @ 2:03 pm
My pleasure-I'm glad to have helped!
I don't think you'll be disappointed: I've just watched episode 6 and the OVA series keeps getting better and better. This is a terrific way to get into Dirty Pair.
November 20, 2014 @ 2:26 am
Ok wow, first Josh, what an essay! Well done.
So many things you covered here are important to me – and the episode was wonderful to boot!
Samhainn, Tuatha Dé Danann, Tir na Nog (Land of the Ever Young) and all of the associated themes… I love how the robot at the end appears as if dancing on the pyramid (one of my favourite images so far in this show) and ends up looking for me like one of the dancing skeletons from the Mexican Day of the Dead.
This is one of the most important times of year for me – both my partner and I share a Samhainn birthday (different years though) and I always find it one of the most potent and creative times of year.
On figure of Samhainn that this episode make me think of is Gwynn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Wild Hunt, actually it's more the idea of the Wild Hunt where at this time of year he hunts down lost and errant souls with his great hounds across the sky, and takes them back to the Otherworld. The story felt a bit like that, with it's crazy chase across the skies and stars with the criminals captured along the way.
"The Fairy Faith is firm in their belief that there are “no bad fairies”, so make of that what you will."
I don't really ascribe to the ideas of the Fairy faith and I feel that their ideas miss the point of the old tales and myths. It's not even that there are no 'bad' Fairies, but there are also no 'good' ones, at least not as far as human law goes. The Sidhe and the inhabitants of the Liminal worlds do not follow human ideals, or are even interested in my view. Their actions follow not the limited polarities of good or bad, but to a more mysterious and hard to understand rhythm. That's why the Sidhe are a perfect mirror for the Lovely Angels, as like with Tara and other Tantric deities they seek to free us from our human bondage, from the world we so dearly hold onto at the cost of our own happiness.
From The Stolen Child by WB Yeats:
"To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."
November 20, 2014 @ 2:37 am
And it's perfect that the robot comes from a place called Pandemonium, linking things both to Pan and the idea of Misrule, which the time of Samhainn into the Winter Solstice holds as all of the normal societal rules are turned on their head for a period of time. Perfect for the Angels. This is their time.
September 12, 2015 @ 6:09 am
So almost a year later and It's probably worth mentioning this thread is no longer relevant. Nozomi Entertainment released new uploads of the Dirty Pair OVA Series and movies so that we can all enjoy them in the original Japanese with English subtitles! I also have a full page here dedicated to getting those who are interested into the wonders of Dirty Pair: