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.