Though its broadcast run is now over, Dirty Pair does actually still have two shots left in its barrel for us.
Due to insufficient ratings, the Dirty Pair TV show’s parent network NTV pulled the plug on it in December of 1985, canceling it before the final two episodes could air. There seems to be a lot of conflicting opinions about why the show was ended when it was, the most common one being that Dirty Pair was pretty definitively a cult sci-fi show, and that wasn’t enough justification for NTV to keep it around (which makes Dirty Pair’s status as “The Japanese Star Trek” all the more fun and fitting). But because Sunrise still saw a passionate and loyal fanbase for the show, they did something somewhat unprecedented. No, they didn’t sell Dirty Pair as a syndication package to air in perpetual reruns or create a sequel show called Dirty Pair: The Next Generation directly for a syndicated market, but they did do something that was just as novel from a Japanese perspective as Paramount’s handling of Star Trek was from a US one.
What Sunrise did was take the last two episodes, intended to air in January of 1986, and release them as Original Video Animation, or OVAs. OVAs are roughly comparable to what Western audiences might call “direct to video releases”, or DTVs, as that aptly describes what they are, but the contextual meaning OVAs have in Japan are quite different from what DTVs do in, say, the United States. Where DTVs are usually seen as no-budget schlokfests that weren’t good enough to be released in theatres, OVAs are seen as niche, cult works that might not attract a huge mainstream audience, but have a passionate enough following to justify putting them on home videos people might buy.
In other words, OVAs share a quite similar audience to the kind of shows that would, in the US, go direct to syndication or cable, like, funnily enough, Star Trek. And, just as Star Trek: The Next Generation pioneered the viability of syndication for cult TV (just as it outgrew those selfsame cult TV roots almost immediately), so did Dirty Pair pioneer the viability of the OVA market for similar shows. OVAs also have a slight advantage over other avenues for niche properties, as, because they’re made completely in-house for home video, they’re not subject to any meddling by network executives or ratings figures, so they have the opportunity to be more unflitered artistic statements.
(In fact, OVAs tend to have on the whole higher budgets and production values then regular television shows as a result of this, another thing that sets them decisively apart from DTVs in the United States.)
These two episodes, “Eek! The Boy in the Manor is a Terminator” and “R-Really?! For Beautiful Women, ‘Canon’ is the Keyword to Escape”, tend to be grouped together in a subset of the larger first Dirty Pair series under a shared name that’s usually translated as either From Lovely Angel With Love or With Love from the Lovely Angels. I’m going to be using the second translation here, mostly out of personal preference: The first one seems to evoke the show’s spy-fi side and is an obvious play on the James Bond story From Russia with Love, but the second gives the impression Kei and Yuri are writing us a letter from somewhere far away, which I think is sweet and more fitting.
Although all that said, With Love from the Lovely Angels isn’t *quite* the moment where Dirty Pair demonstrates the potential of the OVA medium (that would be the movie Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia), nor are they even technically OVAs in the first place. Oh sure, they were *released* direct to video, but these episodes were still *produced* in the same filming block as everything else from the first series and with a broadcast television audience in mind, so neither one of these episodes can actually take advantage of the medium in the way the other Dirty Pair OVAs do. So, in spite of the way audiences were first exposed to them, these two episodes are really more properly read as part of the first series, instead of their own little thing.
This bears a couple ramifications worth talking about. First and foremost, this means that, if taken in the context of their actual release date instead of their production date, they come across as incredibly bizarre. Though intended to air in January, 1986, these episodes wouldn’t actually see the light of day until a *full year later* in January of 1987. I’ve also seen accounts that they might even have been released even later, in that December and March 1988. And, sadly, this does With Love from the Lovely Angels absolutely no favours: By that point, Affair of Nolandia had been out for over a year itself and was consciously doing something very different from the first series, and, if the second dates are accurate, Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture and the *second series* were out too. Both Dirty Pair and science fiction as a genre had long moved on in the interim, and this means there’s absolutely no way these episodes were going to be seen as anything other then curious artefacts way, way after their time.
This is particularly awkward and uncomfortable in regards to “Eek! The Boy in the Manor is a Terminator”, because it sadly isn’t very good, and doesn’t hold up so well in the context of 1985, let alone the context of 1987. The title sort of gives away that this is going to be some kind of pastiche of The Terminator and, well, it largely isn’t. Yes, there is a person in this episode who is so blatantly a T-800 I’m surprised there weren’t lawsuits involved, but the episode does absolutely nothing with The Terminator apart from nick its most recognisable bit of iconography. There’s no meta-commentary about the movie and its place in science fiction here at all, which really flabbergasts me because doing a critique of The Terminator‘s neo-noir with Dirty Pair’s detective story legacy and the setting of Elenore City seems like the most obvious thing in the world. Even last time, while the show still dropped the ball, it at least seemed to know the direction it should have been going in: Here it seems entirely oblivious that this is a possibility, preferring to have the girls fight Arnold Schwarzenegger in a generic spooky mansion on top of a mountain in the middle of a snowfield (well, mostly Yuri, but that’s a separate problem).
Aside from the larger issue of not really being about anything, the other issue is, honestly, the choice of the subject matter: To be blunt, The Terminator was two years old in 1986, and *four* in 1988. Hell, in 1988, we were closer to Terminator *2* than to the original film. No matter which way you look at it, Dirty Pair is being hardly topical here and is arriving to the party somewhat painfully late, even if it actually did have something to say. Had this episode come near the start of the season as opposed to the end (let alone two years later), that would have been one thing, but the ship had unfortunately already sailed on The Terminator by the time this was being drafted up. It might even have been OK had Dirty Pair saved its Terminator commentary for *even later*, taking advantage of nostalgia, the subsequent sequels and the series attaining iconic status, but putting it anywhere near here just smacks of deeply unfortunate timing to me.
And it’s not just a general lack of erudition, this episode feels depressingly out of tricks in a way Dirty Pair hasn’t ever felt before, even in its weakest moments. Like “What? We’re Heinous Kidnappers!”, this is again an episode of two halves, and the first half is phenomenal. Kei and Yuri are pretty much pitch-perfect, and the situations they’re involved with are perfectly suited to them: Yuri is on a date with an insufferable bore trying, and failing, not to crack and lose her temper while Kei stays at home fixing the air conditioning with Mughi and Nanmo while keeping an eye on the radio chatter and pretending to be mad at Yuri. It’s a riot to see Gooley and Calico change roles, with the chief constructing elabourate conspiracy theories about what the girls are up to and Calico brushing him aside for being unfair. And it’s tough not to grin ear to ear when Kei takes on the counterfeit bust on her own to give Yuri a vacation (even though she knows that never goes well) and Calico pinch-hits, going out of his way to help and support Kei despite being in way over his head. And the show is once again in top comedic form.
Which makes it all the more frustrating when the second half of the episode just flails around aimlessly, squandering absolutely every bit of that goodwill. The narrative is initially set up so that any conflict that crops up is tacitly implied to be on Yuri, as she’s the one who left Kei to handle the case on her own. The idea seems to be a another demonstration of Yuri’s Piscean amorphousness and the ramifications this can have on the series, like it did in “Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode” and “Something’s Amiss…?! Our Elegant Revenge”: There are moments when even the cinematography seems to depict Yuri slipping out of the story and into an overt fantasy world. The problem is that this time it doesn’t actually follow through with this level of critique, and after the commercial break it feels like the show suddenly remembered Yuri was the breakout character and needed to make her seem cool and hyper competent, and any possible character moments are shoved out the window as Yuri kicks all manner of ass and Kei and Calico are swiftly locked away in a dungeon where they won’t run the risk of cramping her style *and* she gets to rescue them with flare and aplomb while they scream and beg her for help to boot.
(Furthermore, this episode falls down on an ethical level: The thrust of the plot, such as it is, is that the counterfeiters started their operation to avenge the honour of their son, who died being betrayed by a giant banking conglomerate. Everyone is against them for the majority of the episode, despite the narrative bending over backward to make them sympathetic. Kei and Calico frequently slip into a shockingly Judge Dredd style attitude towards crime and punishment, to be, naturally, swayed to the side of reason and compassion by Yuri. There’s even a positively horrid anti-piracy message at the end of the episode where the teaser would normally go.)
And the problem this causes is, well, after a number of weeks of this sort of thing I must confess I started to get annoyed and resentful at the way Yuri was being treated in contrast to Kei. And that was the point I realised this episode really, really didn’t work. The moment you turn the audience against either Kei or Yuri is the moment you’ve pretty decisively failed at writing Dirty Pair. As I’ve said a number of times before, I adore Yuri. I adore everything about this series. What I object to is when people put emphasis on one of the Angels at the expense of her partner, especially if it comes about through a pretty obvious misreading. I don’t at all begrudge anyone identifying with Yuri; after all, I’m quite open about my connection to Kei. If she’s your deity, by all means embrace it-That’s a wonderful thing. I just ask any fans and writers to remember that we’re all aspects of the same divine force here. Neglecting to always remember this means you neglect a divine truth, and placing one Angel on a pedestal higher then all others does nothing but harm, and sets you on a path towards the Absolute Children of Heaven.
So after all of this, the impression I was left with was of a show that has maybe now, at last, run out of steam. Dirty Pair has finally burned itself out. As enjoyable as it is in parts, it’s ultimately just reiterating the simulacra of its previous successes, running through its popular old set pieces in an attempt to recapture what used to make it great. This season has gone on too long, and it’s probably a good thing there’s only one more episode to go. It’s time to let the Lovely Angels take a break, regroup and transmute into a new form.