This is the moment where Original Dirty Pair finally lives up to its title.
“Are You Serious?! Shocked at the Beach, Wedding Panic!” is a very Yuri story. Structurally, it’s extremely reminiscent of the other big stories that have focused specifically on her as a character, namely “The Curse of the Backwoods Murder”, “Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode” and “Something’s Amiss…?! Our Elegant Revenge”. As was the case in each of those past adventures, Yuri becomes entangled in a love story that plays out very much akin to stock or cliched Harlequin fare, with Kei becoming the third wheel. Part of Yuri really wants to just completely immerse herself in the romantic atmosphere of it all, because she does have an attraction to that sort of mushy stuff and wouldn’t necessarily mind living a quiet and charmed fairy tale life like that. This time, she falls in with the second son of a notorious mob family involved in a counterfeit operation the girls have been sent in to bust. She goes along with it mostly to keep up her undercover identity and gain access to the family’s printing room, but she pretty clearly has real feelings for the guy too.
In spite of being a deft Miami Vice style “you become your alter ego” sort of plot on top of things, this is largely the archetypical Yuri story. The reason why this is her signature plot is because the girls’ personalities and characterizations are drawn quite explicitly from astrological symbolism, and Yuri is a Piscean. Those born under this sign are said to be romantic dreamers who are infinitely fluid and malleable: They can reshape themselves into any number of different identities, but tend to be most drawn towards roles that allow them to be very expressive, such as art and dance. This makes sense because, if you recall, the Dirty Pair novels are all told from a first person perspective, namely Kei’s. This means Yuri isn’t technically a character, or rather it would be more accurate to say she’s a *diegetic* character and the only things we learn about her are what Kei cares to tell us. In that respect, Yuri really is an ephemeral, intangible being.
However the downside to all this is that Pisceans can get so wistful and so formless they can become totally detached from reality and become lost in their own fantasy worlds they imagine for themselves. And, like clockwork, in each and every one of the stories that has taken care to seriously engage with who Yuri is at a fundamental level, this is depicted as the greatest threat she faces. In “The Case of the Backwoods Murder”, she starts to dream about rekindling a relationship with her childhood friends Thunder and Lucha: Yuri can only view them through rose-tinted and distorted memories of her youth, and imagines running off with them as part of a inauthentic romanticized conception of simple country living. This freaks Kei out for a number of reasons, so she spends most of the story trying to keep them apart. Meanwhile, in “Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode”, Yuri’s willing to throw her entire life away to fly off with a boy she hasn’t seen since she was seven who promised to marry her someday because she fools herself into thinking he’s actually going to keep this promise from decades ago.
But just like in all those other instances, what’s actually the most interesting, at least to me, is what this reveals about Kei. While Yuri only exists within the series’ diegetic text, Kei is even more elusive because she possesses every ounce of Dirty Pair’s narrative agency. Where Yuri is tacitly a character in Kei’s story, Kei herself is *aware* she’s telling a story and knows how to play off her audience to elicit a certain reaction from them. Dirty Pair in its original novel form is in truth a delicate call-and-response Kabuki dance between us and Kei, and how the anime adaptations have attempted to deal with Kei as a character tends to tell us a lot about how well the various creative teams have understood and conceptualized this over the years. Where Yuri wears the guise of a Yamato Nadeshiko, Kei’s chosen mask is that of the Yamato Nadeshiko’s foil; a comically unrefined rural working class woman. But while Kei herself may freely and openly take on the role of comic relief, given how steeped in performativity this series is she can’t actually be straightforwardly written that way. She’s no more her character than Yuri is.
And so whenever Dirty Pair has cast Kei as a comedic, bumbling foil to Yuri’s refined cool competence and elegance, it has utterly failed, because it has the girls become their masks. In essence, the creative teams themselves are falling into the most archetypically naive mistake beginning pro wrestling fans make: Taking kayfabe at face value. Kei’s funny, but her humour can’t come from incompetence or lack of culture: She has to be *deliberately*, *consciously* funny, and of her own volition. She has to be funny with *agency*. Like the classic standup comedian who makes jokes in deference to a challenging world, Kei is funny because she wants to deflect attention away from herself and towards her story in general and Yuri in particular. Kei is in truth fiercely marginal, to the point it’s written into her down to the level of her appearance and her birthday. Which only makes sense, because Kei is a storyteller, and storytellers are shamans.
All of which is to say the way the girls are written here is absolutely superb and entirely in keeping with all of their symbolism in this respect. These characters are so heartwarmingly recognisable as Kei and Yuri it’s somewhat difficult for me to put into words: The OVA Series has been nothing but good so far and I’m not surprised by this, but it strikes a deep chord nevertheless. True to form, this episode is set up from the beginning to put Yuri front and centre, with the camera lovingly taking its time to pan around her in beauty shot after beauty shot, deliberately and methodically dressing Yuri up as a classical romance heroine. Kei, meanwhile, only pops up every now and again through intentionally intrusive cuts, oftentimes literally hanging about in the background with a grin on her face and a twinkle in her eye. And the episode contrasts them in other ways too: Yuri spends the story acting genteel and contemplative, while Kei bounces around restlessly. Yuri thinks Carine is handsome, while Kei goes for more muscly guys, preferably brash ones.
Where Yuri gets to play the ingenue archaeological student, Kei takes on the role of a salty barmaid, an impoverished flower girl and an unassuming nun. As we’ve seen in the past, Yuri throws herself wholeheartedly into one role to the point she almost vanishes into it completely while Kei constantly leaps in and out of different stock personae; a magician performing a quick-change routine. Kei darts around making herself conspicuously marginal, always making sure the narrative’s attention is on Yuri instead of her and entirely cognizant of the way we’re interacting with the story. Kei may be a fool, but she’s a wise Shakespearean fool if she is, and it’s said those who take the path of the Fool posses the inner peace and wisdom to let the turnings of the universe guide and shape them rather then struggle in vain to impose their Will. It’s thus appropriate that this episode should evoke “Something’s Amiss…?! Our Elegant Revenge” (even with a plot about a mob family), which was the first real time we got an unfettered look at this side of Kei’s personality.
(This is in fact, so fundamental and essential to who the girls are that had Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture simply swapped Kei and Yuri’s roles such that Yuri was the one who got seduced by the dashingly roguish cat burglar and received the big love story plot and Kei was the one slinking around wearing monster skins and stumbling through ventilation shafts it would have been about a billion times better and more effective.)
And yet in spite of Kei’s deep fondness and love for Yuri compelling her to craft a Harlequin romance starring her, there remains an inescapable truth about the Lovely Angels that precludes this wedding from having a conventionally happy ending. Though Yuri probably has some subconscious awareness of this, Kei is very mindful of it on multiple diegetic levels: The exaggerated looks of confusion and bewilderment she gives in response to Yuri’s whirlwind romance and marriage are of a woman facing the prospect of zero-summing. Though Kei pretends she’s jealous of Yuri every time this kind of story happens (and lesser creative teams will fall for the ruse and write her under the assumption she is), she’s actually upset at the possibility of Yuri leaving her, not just because Kei loves Yuri herself and doesn’t want to be alone or lose her soulmate, but also because Kei *literally* can’t live without her as there’s no Dirty Pair without Yuri.
Notice how Yuri’s wedding is to-the-note stereotypical Christian, even though Yuri herself isn’t and such weddings would be practically unheard of in a country whose populace is 2% Christian. Yuri would even reject her beloved Mughi as a bride, for fear the cat’s hair would mess up her dress. And that’s the problem in a nutshell-Yuri is so caught up in her fantasy she’s on the verge of dropping out of Dirty Pair, thus completely negating Dirty Pair as a functional form of storytelling. Kei is absolutely right when she tells Yuri and Carine in the big emotional climax that “We don’t have time for this!”: The episodic action sci-fi world of Dirty Pair precludes Yuri from running off to live this kind of story. They’re simply not compatible. Well, that and the fact a bomb was about to go off destroying everything in a five block radius, but isn’t that what I said? The Lovely Angels exist on a different narrative plane of being, which is reaffirmed when Yuri begs Carine to come with them at the end, and he says he can’t.
And when Carine parachutes out of the plane as “Aki kara no Summertime” starts to play, who do we cut back to but a smiling and welcoming Kei in the pilot’s seat? Yuri has a lover and a life partner whether she’s aware of it or not. Like most things, she probably has some inkling of it, even if it’s not something she openly thinks about regularly. But Yuri has a divine role to play herself, and this means she’ll always come back in the end. There was never any real danger to Dirty Pair, nor any chance this kind of major character development would ever take. Like everything else, it’s just a story, and one we immediately know how it’s going to turn out. Knowing how a story ends does not invalidate the telling of the story itself, though, because it’s only through dreams and stories that we can understand ourselves and each other. Perhaps Kei and Yuri act for each other as much as they do for us, and they hope their performances will help show us how we can all do the same.