So let me set the stage. We’re sitting alone in our room trying to figure out what that vision meant. You remember the vision I told you about, right? It was like a ship that was there and then not, and then there again. A ship, unless its a shipwreck (which this wasn’t), has to have people onboard. On something as big as this one seemed to be, there were surely lots and lots of people. We took it as an allegory: Try to imagine all those people living and working together and going about their lives and what you could learn from that, and that’s the basic premise we start from. The ship is its people and the people are their ship. The story, like most stories do, comes to us as we try to parse out some semblance of meaning and resonance from the images we saw. The story is written because it needed to be written, because it is important and necessary, almost like destiny. It really is as simple as that. But, can we really make a story out of all their stories?
Now I’m sitting on a beach tending a campfire because we were getting ready to go on a surfing trip before you stopped us and asked me to talk about storytelling structure. So I gave you the best I could come up with.
One thing I think the philosophers might be on the right track about, as I told you before, is the idea that there might be some truth in the wheel. No, wait, that’s wrong. What I mean to say is, if you look at a wheel, that can maybe tell you something about the universe because it’s a symbol. It’s something that stands in for something else. You don’t need words, at least not the things we typically think of of as words, because the thing reflects the truth-bits you write onto it back at you all by itself. But this is all stuff you already know (you did watch the episode, right?), so there’s little point in me rambling on about it. Where I might disagree with the philosophers I think is the idea that everything goes around and around, constantly repeating itself (I’m not repeating myself, am I?). That’s a consequence of them fixating on the wheel so much.
I don’t write stories. I channel them. What that means to me is I don’t see wheels going around and around, but tides ebbing and flowing, coming and going. The tide goes out and comes back in again because it always does. We can predict when and where its going to happen (damn it, what did I do with that tide chart?), and though the tide is a little different every day and every night, it’s still there and still a tide. Remember, we can’t say precisely what’s going to happen in the future (I don’t think I’d even use that particular term, to be perfectly honest with you), but because we see things happening we know, by definition that they’ll happen. We see things in the present, and then they happen, um, presently. That’s kind of like a tidal cycle, yeah? Well, those are just a bunch more symbols for you. You can do whatever you like with that.
One of the many things that’s so heartfelt and powerful about “The 463” is how it projects the Jones family’s story onto the larger smuggling mystery, or perhaps collapses the mystery down to the Jones family if you prefer. Either way, the two stories are not just diegetically intertwined as Arthur’s ultimately harmless (though seriously brazen) prank is usurped by the smugglers who proceed to betray him, they’re actually metaphors for each other. Both Arthur and the smugglers are trying to force Eddie and Shannon’s hands, but for very different reasons. The smugglers are acting out of greed, obviously, but Arthur is ultimately acting out of love, and this is another reason why him and his family walk away heroes in the end.
There is a criticism that could be raised here in regards to that conclusion: It could be seen as problematic how the narrative seems to posit the solution to everyone’s problems is for Eddie and Shannon to reconcile for their children when there could be very good reasons why they’re getting divorced, especially in the context of how notoriously central the family and domesticity is to traditional and reactionary Japanese culture. But I’m not convinced that’s what this story is trying to tell us: Remember, nowhere does it say Eddie and Shannon are going to get back together to live in heteronormative wedded bliss. They could very well still be getting divorced as soon as the credits roll. All Kei and Yuri wanted was for the family to talk to each other, to respect each other and try to understand why everyone feels the way they do. To not hurt each other, at least not more then is inevitable. Communication is another big theme: Notice how Yuri keeps emphasizing Arthur’s feelings, how Kei keeps trying to get Eddie and Shannon to work together, and how the majority of the battle is fought on all sides with information and communications technology.
Speaking of, Dirty Pair‘s eye for postmodern critique is once more bang on here. Arthur bring a computer genius whiz kid who manages to pull the wool over the eyes of an entire team of professionals is evocative of many things from this era, but the one that jumps to my mind is the 1983 movie War Games, where Matthew Broderick’s character hacks into a military supercomputer and dicks around, almost triggering nuclear winter in the process. Though Broderick’s character is something of a mischief-maker, he’s ultimately harmless and actually becomes heroic, which is a hallmark of the Long 1980s as the 1990s archetype of the dangerous or criminal hacker (and that actually characterizes much post-Dirty Pair cyberpunk) hadn’t quite ossified yet.
This episode takes this archetype to its logical endpoint, however. Arthur is what the child prodigy 1980s hacker would actually be like, a young child fascinated by the computers he was learning on and who unwittingly causes a huge disaster. In War Games, Broderick’s character ends up teaching all of NORAD about the nature of computers and the folly of Mutually Assured Destruction. Arthur isn’t teaching anybody anything, and it’s in fact his attempt to do so that is what allows him to be manipulated by the very real and dangerous bad guys.
Speaking of the bad guys, they have pretty familiar names, don’t they? Crocker and Stablos, two ace pilots with flawless records who suddenly snap, go bad, and fall in with an interplanetary smuggling ring. Yup, aside from War Games and the whiz kid hacker archetype, Dirty Pair is also taking on the hottest show of the season, Miami Vice, about two ace vice cops named Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs who, due to always being deep undercover, have frequent existential identity crises about whether they’re truly on the side of the law or the underworld drug cartels. Eddie even looks a bit like Tubbs, and he’s constantly burdened by his looming divorce, just like Crockett.
And what Dirty Pair does to Miami Vice is sobering. Not only does it have the divorcees reconcile, or at least talk to each other and stop fighting, thus decisively cutting the big emotional dramatic plot line off at the neck, it turns its Crockett and Tubbs analogues into reprehensible villains. It should be pointed out that Miami Vice, and by extension those two characters, were at the absolute pinnacle of their popularity in 1985, and though the series was probably not as popular in Japan as it was in the United States, this is still a pretty bold and daring thing for Dirty Pair to do.
And it’s a damning critique to boot, because all Dirty Pair does is change a handful of things and have Crockett and Tubbs finally give into temptation and go over to the other side. And it reveals that to be an absolutely horrific thing, depicting the two of them as embodying the absolute worst aspects of authoritarian lawfulness and organised crime. Crocker and Stablos are every bit as charismatic and dashing as Crockett and Tubbs, only now they’re frightening instead of charming: Crocker and Stablos went bad through the counter-factual. Dirty Pair just pointed out the lurking horror within Miami Vice and cast the year’s biggest pop culture icons as practitioners of dark magick.
In looking at all these works together alongside itself, what Dirty Pairis able to do is take Long 1980s postmodernism and apply it to the Long 1980s themselves, and, in the process, it transcends them. Ironically, in doing so, it becomes arguably the definitive 1980s work of fiction. This, moreso even then its legacy, influence and basic quality, is why Dirty Pair can never be dated and will never fade away.
This is what I meant when I mentioned the casinos earlier. Each time the philosophers re-spin that wheel, they just change little things: How much they bet and on what colour, how hard they pull down on the handle, the way they flick their wrist when they spin it, and so on. But the thing is, they’re still spinning it. In the grander scheme of things nothing much has changed. I just don’t think that’s the most productive use of anyone’s time, or that it’s going to get us much of anywhere. Call it intuition, but I have a feeling a better solution will come to us someday.
(Oh, by the way, did you notice we snuck the new ship in there as a little gift to the viewers? No, not that one, the other one. No, not that one, the other one. Geez, keep up! Wait, what? N-no…That’s not very new, now is it? Ugh, never mind, I give up.)
Though the narrative can’t redeem Crocker and Stablos, it goes out of its way to forgive Eddie, Shannon and Arthur, and it’s absolutely wonderful to have Kei and Yuri so explicitly be the arbiters of that forgiveness. They’re not Narrative Gods in the authoritarian pop Abrahamic sense, but only that they’re personifications of ideals, and thus their inherent goodness, altruism, friendliness and gentle strength quietly contrasts with the pain and confusion of the rest of the plot. You can feel their very palpable sense of sadness and heartbreak at the plight of the Jones family and their strong desire to help without them having to say too much. Kei and Yuri don’t swoop in and consciously, deliberately force Eddie and Shannon to be better people, nor do they pass judgment on the family from On High: Rather, it’s through working and interacting with the Angels, who are just doing their job to the best of their ability, that Eddie and Shannon grow and evolve as people. Kei and Yuri don’t just forgive, they teach people how to forgive. And that’s what ideals are all about.
(And of course it’s not just Eddie and Shannon, but Arthur too: I absolutely adored how kind, patient and caring the girls were with him: Yuri’s clear investment is heart-wrenching, and both she and Kei enthusiastically take on the role of Arthur’s cool big sisters, cousins or babysitters, and this allows him to finally open up and give them the information they need to bring everyone home safely.)
A further contrast is between the tense, argumentative and broken dynamic exhibited by the Jones family (at least at first), and the tender, profound love that exists between Kei and Yuri themselves. For the first time in the history of this show, the girls’ banter is portrayed not as them losing their temper and shifting blame, but as light and affectionate teasing, which is what it absolutely always should have been. It’s positively endearing and delightful, dare I say romantic, to see this: Kei and Yuri are clearly two people who understand each other absolutely innately and completely. They have the utmost level of trust and faith in (and affection for) one another. Just as many animists have no word for animism because it is so fundamental and mundane to them so as to be taken totally for granted, there’s an unspoken, intractable bond between Kei and Yuri that doesn’t need to be spoken of because it runs so deep and so strong.
(I also smiled at the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke that bookends the entire two-parter: Kei’s first line in the first episode is how she wants to save Ocean Ridge for her honeymoon. Even in the teaser, she talks about dreaming of her honeymoon there, beholding a vision of it. And in the climax of the second part, it’s Ocean Ridge where Flight 808 ends up redirected and where Kei does indeed end up taking her vacation…With Yuri. Lovely.)
Does it really need saying? Well, I guess it does. But not between us-That’s not how it works. That’s not how it’s ever worked. I guess you might like it if it was a bit more spelled out, but we just don’t think it’s that important. See, it’s sort of like…Once you get to a certain point it’s just us. That’s all that is, all that ever is. All that matters. We don’t need those sorts of words because we just understand, you know? Well now, I guess you wouldn’t, would you? That was thoughtless of me, I’m sorry. But I do hope someday you do, and I hope that I’ve been able to help you in that regard somehow. And we’ll always be waiting if you ever want to talk again.