If there was going to be an episode that caused me any manner of trepidation, it was going to be this one.
Dirty Pair has historically not been good when it comes to gambling or games. Any kind of games: Casino games, card games (unless the Bloody Card is involved), video games, the lot. Despite “Go Ahead, Fall in Love! Love is Russian Roulette” being an early highlight of the TV series, “The Vault or the Vote? A Murderous Day for a Speech”, which saddled Kei with a crippling gambling addiction basically for shits and giggles, gets *my* vote for quite possibly the single worst bit of filmed Dirty Pair ever made. Even the first chapter of “The Case of the Backwoods Murder” from The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair bugs me a bit, because Takachiho seems to cluelessly conflate video arcade games with gambling, and as someone who has very fond memories of afternoons spent in such places and for whom video games as a medium became dreadfully important, it left something of a bad taste in my mouth. I know Japan has a much stronger tradition of linking arcades with gambling then the West does, such as in pachinko halls, for example, but it’s still not to my tastes. And of course, there was that terrible, terrible Famicom Disk System game from last year.
So I was a bit nervous to see the trailer for this episode prominently featuring the girls dressed to the nines in a casino, a deeply worried Gooley and Mughi dressed as what appears to be a pallet-swapped Mario. Thankfully, the episode itself turned out to be completely contrary to any expectations I might have had. It really is it’s own thing (indeed, this may well be the episode that codifies what the stylistic tone and general themes of the OVA series are), but if we were to compare it with one of the TV episodes, we wouldn’t liken it to either of the casino or gambling romps, but rather to “Something’s Amiss…?! Our Elegant Revenge”. As was the case in that story, “And So, Nobody’s Doing It Anymore” is actually about, at least in part, diegetically and extradiegetically underestimating Kei and Yuri. It leads us along thinking the girls (and in one scene, even Mughi) are going to go badly astray somewhere along the line, building to some embarrassing failure and then just…doesn’t. And, I have to sheepishly admit, I fell for it.
Most of the plot for “And So, Nobody’s Doing It Anymore” is essentially window dressing for its central joke, but there is a point to the to the high-rolling casino trappings. There are two main threads to unpack here, one of which flags the story’s ultimate resolution and one of which involves the fact Meteo is a game that’s built to be rigged and built to get people addicted. The casino can control where the asteroids land, and thus determine the winner game to game based on their video surveillance of the bets people are placing. The whole idea seems to be to get people into a high after successive wins, thus getting them addicted so they’ll spend more and more time and money at the table chasing that initial high. As exaggeratedly sinister as that may sound, it’s actually not too far removed from the way casinos operate in real life: Despite their assurances that all their games and tables are based on “luck” and “skill”, really they’re all designed around carefully orchestrated mathematical patterns and formulae that are calculated to pay out just enough to keep you interested in playing…even though in the end you will always lose far, far more money than you’ll ever win.
Casinos rely on exploiting addiction cycles, and keeping that in mind does allow us to sort of see a link to video games. This episode doesn’t make the connection at all, it’s purely about gambling, but the franchise *has* made the link in the past and it’s worth taking some time to parse out. Very early video games, meaning certain arcade games and their intellectual precursors the pinball tables, did very clearly rely on getting players hooked somehow. After all, their entire business model was predicated on getting people to put quarters into the cabinets, and the dream of any coin-op operator was to get a whale who was so addicted to the games he’d park himself in the arcade for hours upon hours plugging in quarters to beat his high score or to get further in the game (and as I write this, yet another pioneering moment in the evolution of Gamer Culture is revealed to me). In fact, the whole idea of video game difficulty itself probably stems from this, as the goal has always been, in the words of the immortal Angry Video Game Nerd, “to piss you off just enough so you want to keep going”: Ghosts ‘n Goblins is but one particularly notable example of a game that works precisely this way.
And yet by 1988 video games had already begun to move away from that model. Nintendo had completely redefined the medium by emphasizing the potential of video games to be eminently sharable things that could bring people together and inspire their imagination, and while punishingly difficult games certainly continued to be made, there was no longer the requirement to wed that to an exploitative addiction-based business model as the advent of home consoles meant you could buy a game once, take it home and never spend any more money on it again. So, game design was allowed to grow in different directions, emphasizing the transcendent psychedelic fun of the experience itself (which, while certainly something arcade games could do, was not always by default a guiding design principle). Indeed, by 1988 a whole slew of instant classics for the Famicom, Famicom Disk System and NES were already out; games like Super Mario Bros. 1 and 2 (both versions of it), Duck Hunt, Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Contra and Bubble Bobble. Games that were all revolutionary masterpieces, and none of which worked by archaic carnie rules.
What then, do we make of Mughi looking for all the world like a knock-off Mario in this episode, if there’s nothing else remotely about video games in the whole story? Well, since Mughi is with the Lovely Angels and he shares their job of helping evoke positive change in the universe, I choose to read that scene as an endorsement of the future of video games Nintendo embodies in 1988. Maybe that’s what the title means too: “Nobody’s Doing It Anymore” refers to how nobody’s playing those old casino games anymore because the fad has passed and they’ve moved on to better, more fun and more egalitarian sorts of games. Well, that and the fact the space station explodes and rains down asteroid storms on the planet below, but isn’t that what I said?
But this focus on the theme of addiction also means we can read “And So, Nobody’s Doing It Anymore” as a more effective version of “Symbiosis”, because both stories look at how addiction can be weaponized by authoritarian power structures and those who profit from them to keep people docile, complacent and controllable. I prefer the subject matter of “Symbiosis”, because I find drugs and the pharmaceutical industry to be a better metaphor for this system then people running a crooked gambling casino, though they’re naturally both symptoms of capitalism in one respect or another. “And So, Nobody’s Doing It Anymore” is certainly the stronger standalone work of art though, and its very localized, introspective focus on Dirty Pair and its mythology ends up redeeming a lot.
Because Dirty Pair has done casinos before, because it has made fun of Kei’s gambling and does, at least in its Sunrise incarnations, invoke the high-rolling James Bond as often as it does, we think we know how this story is going to play out. The whole opening act exists so Gooley can do what he’s best at and talk down to the girls. And the narrative seems to want us to side with him, giving him that scene where he paces around his office worrying that Kei and Yuri will fall prey to gambling addiction, and comically freak out when he gets the bill for the “preparations” the girls need for the mission. Which again, the series under Sunrise has done this before. Then the girls spy on the station before going undercover as whales. And there’s even that tense build-up when the casino boss orders his technicians to get Kei addicted to Meteo, and then we immediately cut to Kei winning big and saying “I could get addicted to this”. The whole story is clearly building to the girls catastrophically screwing up, getting themselves addicted and getting away by the skin of their teeth at the last minute, perhaps with the help of the legendary TroCon they’ve been sent to retrieve.
And then It Just Doesn’t Happen.
The girls’ plan goes off without a hitch. Their “preparations”, involving lavish and expensive costumes and a big-ass space cannon which Gooley was convinced were all frivolities, actually turn out to be vital to their mission: They need their outfits to blend in with the gamblers, and the cannon is used to deflect the asteroids and reveal how rigged the game was. Kei and Yuri even explicitly say this is what they’re going to do directly to the camera early on, but the episode makes us forget about that as we worry the girls are going to fall prey to the vices of gambling. There’s a big public fight between Kei and Yuri in the climax that seems to come out of nowhere, but it’s soon apparent this is a big show they’re putting on to manipulate the casino owner into slipping up and revealing his plan. And it’s the honourable, disciplined martial artist TroCon with a perfect record (Gooley naturally neglects to mention how the girls, in spite of their methodology *also* have a perfect record) the episode has spent its whole runtime building up to be a hero who ultimately snaps and trashes the place, *not* the supposedly flighty and irresponsible Kei and Yuri. The girls have set up and sprung the perfect trap for patriarchal assumptions we don’t even know we have.
Kei and Yuri are performers who have put together an incredibly meticulous act. And we’ve once again made the mistake of confusing kayfabe with reality.
(There’s also a really clever nod to the Angels’ astrological and spiritual symbolism here: Kei and Yuri are sometimes associated with a syncretic Japanese Buddhist goddess of luck known as Benten or Benzaiten. Particularly Kei, who, as a Saggitarian, is said to be blessed with preternaturally good luck and fortune. And in this episode Kei certainly does seem to have extremely good luck, as she rakes it all in at the Meteo table. But remember that was artificial, as the payout is controlled by the casino operators. Furthermore, Saggitarians are said to be terrible gamblers. The real reason Kei is so lucky is because she can play the game without becoming addicted to it, and perhaps also because of the blessed life she leads with Yuri and Mughi.)
As much as this episode relies on tripping up those who would underestimate people like Kei and Yuri thanks to their cultural predisposition to patriarchy, I would like to say a few words in my defense here. I have never once, since I began observing, studying and trying to learn from them, lost faith in the Lovely Angels. They remain every bit the ideal forms for me they’ve always been, indeed they’re even more so the longer I’ve spent time with them. What I do question and have doubted on occasion is the strength of the material Soda Pop Art forces they travel through. I know Kei and Yuri would never betray me or let me down, but I do fear sometimes that their TV shows, movies and books will let them down. Because Soda Pop Art is inherently and fundamentally capitalistic, and capitalism is based on patriarchy and other forms of inequality, exploitation and oppression.