It might be worth taking a little time to look at the way Original Dirty Pair was first distributed to viewers. This is, of course, an OVA series: Far from the stigmatic connotations direct-to-video works have in the West, Japanese OVA programming is best seen as an early precursor to something more akin to Netflix Originals or Amazon Prime Studios-Shows that have a vocal and loyal enough audience worth catering to, but one that’s not big enough to justify trying to pitch the show to a major network. In addition, this would be the medium of choice for more unconventional, experimental works that would be hard to sell anywhere else.
The thing about OVA though is that, as the title might suggest, these were things released only on physical home video media, which meant you had to actually go out and buy each new release as it hit store shelves. In the case of Original Dirty Pair, the show was spread across five volumes of VHS and Laserdisc, each with two episodes each. Today’s episode, “That Little Girl Is Older Than Us. The Preservation Was a Success?!”, was released on what would have been volume four as a double bill with “Revenge of the Muscle Lady!”. The reason I bring this up is that, for the first time, Original Dirty Pair sort of feels like it’s treading water a bit here, and that’s something of a larger concern when we’re talking about an limited run OVA series with a sparse ten episodes as opposed to a major network television series that ran for a full season with an episode count pushing thirty and all the accompanying pressures, restrictions and obligations that go along with such a structure.
It’s not that this episode is bad, far from it: In fact, this is a perfect case study for how much progress has been made in the past four years. The TV series basically had two modes-Unbridled masterpiece and catastrophic misfire. There were a small handful of middling or mediocre episodes later on, but by in large this was the general model we were working under. Here though, every episode up ’till now has been absolutely magnificent and a contender for the franchise’s best work. But the downside of that is when we finally hit “functional”, “serviceable” and “watchable” it’s much more more noticeable and worrying than it would be in any other context. What we have this time is a bog-standard detective story in a light sci-fi setting: There’s an unsolved mass murder on a star liner culminating in a scientist putting his young daughter into cryogenic deep-freeze and sending her off in an escape pod. Madame Beryl was assigned to the case, but couldn’t solve it, and it goes cold for twenty years until Kei and Yuri stumble upon the girl’s escape pod while returning home after coming off on an unrelated investigation. Stuff happens, there’s some cute moments with Kei trying to bond with the kid and a shootout with the orchestrator of the original attack, who turns out to be the most predictable suspect imaginable.
The big problem here isn’t the rote plot itself, plot is often the least important or interesting aspect of a Dirty Pair story and the series can and does get a lot of mileage out of playing with particularly stock plot structures. And it’s not, for once, that the girls are belittled, infantilized or written irritatingly out of character: Everyone is in top form and behaves the way we expect them to (although Yuri ends up with frustratingly little to do). You may raise any eyebrow at how Tia seems to grow on Kei to the point she momentarily thinks about looking after her, but remember that though Kei and Yuri are not the child-raising type, they’ve never had problems with little girls. Anyway, I choose to read this part of the story as Kei once again acting like a big sister archetype (note how it’s her teaching Tia gymnastics that allows her to escape from Bill during the climax). No, the major issue here is that Dirty Pair doesn’t actually *do* much of anything with this plot, to the point one questions if this even needed to be a Dirty Pair story in the first place.
The thing about Dirty Pair stories is that they always have to show in some way how Kei and Yuri’s presence and actions bring about material cosmic progress on a grand scale, and that’s what’s not as clear here as I would have liked. There’s no imminent threat to the continued well-being of human society that needs to be cleansed with fire here, just a standard issue story about professional jealousy and small children. The sensible rebuttal would be to point to Tia herself; to point out how she gets closure for what happened twenty years ago and that Bill was finally brought to justice, and say *that* has made the universe a better place. And while certainly true, I’d be more inclined to accept that reading wholecloth if Tia was a bit more of a character and less of a macguffin. I mean say what you will about Missinie in Affair of Nolandia, but she was a *person* with real thoughts, real feelings and a real tragic character arc. Tia just sits around and glares at things until it’s time for her to make her big move in the climax.
And the larger issue is that, while sort of sweet, nothing about this episode specifically required Dirty Pair’s structure or setting: You could have done this story in any other series about detectives solving mysteries with very little change, which to me does seem like something of a waste of a coveted spot amongst the ten episode limited run OVA that’s to date the second-to-last Dirty Pair anime series. Also a missed opportunity is the use of cryonics: Even the episode title itself heavily hypes the fact that Tia is technically chronologically older than Kei and Yuri and the characters seemingly bring this fact up every five minutes (even if it’s a bit silly for me to hear twenty years prior constantly spoken of as if it was an eternity ago, but maybe I’m just old). And yet the cryogenics is nothing more than a plot device to keep Tia conveniently out of the way for twenty years and *maybe* as a rather lame play on the phrase “cold case”.
Here’s an example of the rare instance where Star Trek: The Next Generation really did do it better. While definitely problematic in other respects, one thing “The Neutral Zone” conveyed really well, and what “Time’s Arrow” will similarly echo four years later, is the utopia of the 24th century (or to be more precise, the utopia of the 24th century as interpreted by Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D) and how it contrasts with the less-than-ideal world we live in now. It took strides to define its utopia and to demonstrated why it was important and worth striving for Another thing “The Neutral Zone” did really well is that it showed how out of time and adrift its three cyronic sleepers are, and how they needed to redefine themselves, their identities and their lives in what is quite literally a brand new universe.
“That Little Girl Is Older Than Us. The Preservation Was a Success?!” doesn’t really have any of that: Because Tia’s cryogenic freezing is played as gimmicky and functionally as it is, it misses the chance to say something really provocative about ideals. Here’s a perfect opportunity to show the real effects of the material cosmic change Kei and Yuri bring about by showing how a world with them in it is a far better place for a child to grow up in than a world without them would have been, but the episode frustratingly doesn’t seem to do anything with this beyond the occasional hints that Tia might be grateful to Kei and the extremely minor “Bill is dead now so that’s a good thing”. Actually, the best use of the cryonics theme in this episode might actually come from Kei, whose response to Yuri’s suggestion she “freeze [her]self to preserve [her]youth” is a wonderfully characteristic bit of backhanded flattery that’s probably the best line in the entire episode.
(In this regard, it may be worth bringing up again the fact Kei and Yuri are tacitly immortal and, depending on the adaptation you’re looking at, are thus entirely possibly a great deal older than 19. But as is always the case with Dirty Pair, it’s the symbolic artifice that’s important here. No matter how chronologically old or young they may be, Kei and Yuri are permanently of seishun age and any performances they’re involved in are going to acknowledge this in one way or another.)
All of this is in no way to suggest this is a poor episode: On the contrary, in basically every other respect it’s a perfectly crafted and entirely watchable and enjoyable bit of television. I certainly wouldn’t call it a total waste of time and it completely and utterly lacks all of the appalling ethical lapses that have defined mediocre Dirty Pair in the past. The only thing holding this episode back is the *phenomenal* bar the show has been setting so far-“watchable” does not look good next to “genre-defining masterpiece”, and that’s unfortunate. And it is here where we start to understand the logic underpinning consumer reports-style reviews of creative work, even if we don’t agree with them on principle: People who picked up “That Little Girl Is Older Than Us. The Preservation Was a Success?!” alongside “Revenge of the Muscle Lady!” certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed in their purchase, but they might have been disappointed this wasn’t *quite* on the level of the previous releases they bought. In that format, it might start to feel to some that they haven’t got their full money’s worth.
Today of course, you have access the whole scope and breadth of animated Dirty Pair on YouTube and Hulu. You can just push play and marathon the whole franchise in one sitting if you want, and in that context this episode might simply come across to you as one you end up paying slightly less attention to than others. But then again, if you’re only a casual fan with a limited amount of time, energy and patience for entertainment…Well, it’s kind of hard for me to recommend this over much else we’ve looked at featuring the Lovely Angels.