Just like its main characters, Dirty Pair as a franchise is an expert in the art of obfuscating comedy. On the surface, this series seems to the uninitiated to be the most ridiculous thing ever, and even the title story of The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair played out very much akin to a straightforward parody of pulp sci-fi and space opera tropes, and even of Haruka Takachiho’s own Crusher Joe. It’s probably because of this that Dirty Pair possesses the hyper-niche, marginal status it does. This *also* means that Dirty Pair is able to quietly do something flagrantly radical and openly experimental and go completely unnoticed and uncredited except by a handful of ardent admirers because it’s not the kind of series that sort of thing is necessarily expected of.
Just as Kei and Yuri can make wisecracks and giggle disarmingly in the middle of a crisis, so does Dirty Pair’s reputation keep it as fiercely marginal as its heroes themselves are.
Which is why episodes like this one are Dirty Pair’s secret weapon. “Red Eyes are the Sign of Hell” is, without question, the darkest, most sombre story this franchise has done to date, at least on screen. It’s also one of the best. Even though Affair of Nolandia definitely had its more contemplative moments and had that one admittedly disturbing bit of psychological and body horror, it was on the whole a tight, jaunty, engrossing piece that kept the audience engaged from start to finish. Even “Criados’ Heartbeat” had to throw out a subplot about the girls’ vacation and Kei getting ready for a date and kept an upbeat tone throughout. This though is genuinely difficult to look at sometimes: This episode has a body count to make both Doctor Who and the original Star Trek blush, and I’m pretty sure every single supporting character introduced here gets gruesomely and ruthlessly killed off by the end of it. But more importantly, these deaths are absolutely not played for cheap shock value or sensationalism: Each and every one is played as a tragic loss and an unconscionable blow, which is only to be expected given this episode deals in some of the most incandescent anti-imperialist rage I’ve ever seen from Dirty Pair.
“Red Eyes are the Sign of Hell” is a perfect case study for exactly why “That Little Girl Is Older Than Us. The Preservation Was a Success?!” was plainly the misstep it was. The plot here is absolutely no less formulaic or predictable than it was in that episode, but it absolutely doesn’t matter. Kei and Yuri are dispatched to a planet whose government is embroiled in a thirty year war with a rebel faction that was on the verge of signing a peace treaty before a group of elite assassins showed up and started indiscriminately slaughtering the rebels, serving to escalate the war even further. The show wastes no time in letting us know what we’re in for, by the way, with the assassins, who the camera shoots essentially as horror movie monsters, showing up and gunning down an entire platoon of rebel soldiers in the *teaser*. While there, the girls run into a freelance arms dealer by the name of Mazoho with whom Yuri had unspecified prior dealings with. Pretty soon its revealed the assassins are actually kidnapped soldiers from other planets who have been brainwashed into acting out a terrorist campaign against the rebels by a third party interested in prolonging the war.
It’s pretty obvious fairly early on that Mazoho is going to end up being revealed as the scheme’s orchestrator, and the show is plainly uninterested in keeping this inevitable twist a secret. From from it: The show does just about everything it can to telegraph Mazoho as the culprit from the beginning. In fact, Original Dirty Pair seems to go out of its way to let us know precisely how stock this setup is at every opportunity, even to the extent of having the massacred soldiers in the teaser state immediately pre-massacre how much they’re looking forward to time off or a cease-fire, which doubles as possibly the single best bit of gallows humour in Dirty Pair yet: The show might as well have had them say they only have two days left to retirement. But the plot structure isn’t the point here-Much like Kei’s distracting theatrics in “Are You Serious?! Shocked at the Beach, Wedding Panic!”, the show is making its plot conspicuously vestigial by deliberately pointing out how stock it is so we focus on other things, namely the repercussions all of this has for its setting and what it’s trying to tell us through that.
Understandably, we immediately want to side with the rebels here. They’re the ones suffering the most grievous and catastrophic losses and, simply because they are rebels fighting against a government, I’m going to make a presumption of my readers and guess we’d all likely give them our sympathies without learning anything else about the plot or setting. And the episode does acknowledge this desire, as it’s with them that Kei and Yuri spend the overwhelming majority of the story and their city is depicted as a burned down, bombed out post-apocalyptic wasteland where even children must act as sentries (which results in a nice nod to “Who Cares If They’re Only Kids!” from Kei. The implication is that the kids don’t make it, by the way). It might be a bit off-putting at first to see the episode absolve the government of any and all blame: There isn’t even a twist that Mazoho was working clandestinely with them, they really are depicted as entirely innocent. The leader of the army is even the first overtly sympathetic person we meet.
But the story here is not a simple one of a populist uprising versus statist authoritarianism. The critique of imperialism is manifestly not embodied by the local government here; This planet is overtly a backwater, run-down one, frequently described as “faroff”. With the exception of the lavish entryway for visiting dignitaries Kei and Yuri are greeted in, the government buildings and the soldiers themselves look grungy, dirty and worn-out. This isn’t a corporate-state power tightening its grip over its populace or trying to assimilate some foreign indigenous culture, this is a long and bloody protracted civil war in the galaxy’s equivalent of a third world country. And in that kind of scenario, only one party truly profits: The sprawling world powers with a vested interest in exploiting the conflict for their own ends. And that’s why Mazoho is the perfect villain for this piece, even if he seems a tad predictable and facile at first glance.
Mazoho is explicitly referred to as “The Merchant of Death” by Randall McMurphy, which means he’s not just any arms dealer, he’s immediately evocative notorious arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian, who gained infamy by supplying Saddam Hussein with howitzer artillery to use against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. For a time, Soghanalian was known as the leading arms merchant of the Cold War, and, in addition to Hussein’s government, also provided his services to the Mauritanian Polisarios, Ecuador, Nicaragua, the Phalange during the Lebanese Civil War, and to Argentina during the Falklands War with the United Kingdom. However, what this summary leaves out about Soghanalian’s life and operations is the fact his dealings with Saddam Hussein in particular had the full backing of the United States government, in particular the CIA, the entire Reagan administration, Richard Nixon, Jack Brennan, Spirou Agnew and John Mitchell. The US not only didn’t do anything to stop Soghanalian, they actively encouraged his efforts, hoping Saddam Hussein’s government would be receptive to US interests.
Really, the stunning thing here is that Dirty Pair seems to have broken the Merchant of Death story before the actual Merchant of Death did, as Soghanalian’s actions working with the United States during the Iran-Iraq war didn’t become common knowledge until 1991. But that’s never stopped our girls before who, let’s not forget, share the power of clairvoyance. There’s a very important point to be made here, and the show makes this perfectly clear by depicting Mazoho as just about the most contemptible character imaginable. He’s explicitly called a pervert and constantly objectifies and harasses Kei and Yuri, and the climax has him rolling in leading an ominous and lavish-looking fleet of starships seated in a throne of a captain’s chair drinking from a martini glass while laughing contemptuously at the soldiers throwing their lives away below him. Mazoho is a composite of arms dealers and the neo-imperialists who use them as proxy agents. He’s a distillation of the worst aspects of western capitalism, once again intrinsically linked with patriarchy and oppression: In a word, Mazoho is a Ferengi.
Speaking of Star Trek: The Next Generation, this episode marks an interesting point of comparison with “The Arsenal of Freedom”, as they both cover similar subject matter…In two wildly different ways. And, counterintuitive as it may seem, it’s the Japanese cartoon that comes across as the more urgent and sophisticated. As great as “Arsenal..” was, it was quite explicitly aiming for a largely comedic tone, hence the overt Douglas Adams influences. “Red Eyes are the Sign of Hell”, by contrast, is deathly serious in every meaning of the term, as the title probably indicates. The entire episode is a procession of pointless, unnecessary inconceivable death and destruction to satiate the greed of a power-hungry psychopath. People needlessly give their lives in the hope it will protect their friends, families and homes just that little bit longer, or end up killed violently, suddenly and meaninglessly. And it finally all becomes too much for Kei and Yuri to bear, leading them to play against type for perhaps the first time: They take the fight into their own hands and punish Mazoho themselves. By quite literally taking his life with their own hands.
Even though they leave a trail of devastation in their wake, the Lovely Angels *never* directly bring it about themselves. The cosmic cleansing is something that accompanies their presence because of who at what they are; it’s not something they consciously will into existence. This is, after all, almost the entire point of their characters. They’ll take out nameless mooks in more lighthearted stories, sure. but it’s different this time. With nobody left to fight for their freedom and agency (…because they’re all *dead*), Kei and Yuri stoically, wordlessly face the might of Mazoho’s starfleet themselves…but not with the Lovely Angel. Deliberately positioning themselves as the honourable warriors Mazoho is the complete opposite of, Kei and Yuri actually put on spacesuits and face down an entire battle wing *in person* armed only with handheld weapons. If you must fight to the death, do it such that you see your opponent and know the person you intend to kill. And with the ensuing volley of gunfire, the episode fades to black.
We know what’s going to happen, of course. We know the girls survive. They have to (and just in case anyone was worried, there’s as always our cheerful teaser for the next episode). But the images linger long enough to convey their message.