The Starshine is bright and warm wherever Angels tread.
If there was ever a year where Dirty Pair could be said to have been at the peak of its pop culture saturation, 1987 was it. High on the success of Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture (which got its own Famicom Disk System game), Haruka Takachiho’s perfectly timed third novel Dirty Pair’s Rough and Tumble, a slew of tie-in merchandise and the premier of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kei and Yuri were by now most definitely in the public eye on a scale they’d never been before. But in many ways the franchise’s true home, or at least the home of the Sunrise anime branch of the series, can be said to be OVA. And it’s here where the Lovely Angels got a second wind with an entirely new episodic series following in the footsteps of the cult hit Dirty Pair television show from 1985. This series is officially just called Dirty Pair, but is usually afforded the subtitle “The OVA Series” by fans and critics to differentiate it from its predecessor. More infrequently, it’s also known as Original Dirty Pair, a nod to Sunrise’s belief that this show is closer to the original light novels than the other anime adaptations.
Regardless of what you call it, Sunrise released a series of ten brand-new episodes between December, 1987 and March, 1988. This was an extremely wise move on Sunrise’s part in my opinion: One thing I feel severely damaged the ultimate efficacy of the Dirty Pair TV series was that it struggled to maintain its early momentum as the season wore on. It seemed like the show was dealing with too large of an episode count and the ideas started to wear thin after some time. It’s a perfect example of why I think all TV shows need to have about a third fewer episodes per season, with an ideal of about 10-13. This allows the creative team to focus on one a handful of really solid stories at a time, and means they’re not rushed to throw something out to meet a pre-existing quota. And Original Dirty Pair definitely hits the short end of that spectrum. Combine this with the fact that the OVA medium allows for far more creative freedom just in general as OVAs are not at the beck and call of networks, ratings and broadcast schedules, and we have the potential here for an incredibly fine-tuned and honed sort of Dirty Pair anime.
So what’s new this time? Well, like all iterations of Dirty Pair, this series of course exists in its own continuity strictly distinct and separate from anything that came before or after. Stylistically, this manifests in the Lovely Angel looking like a cross between its Affair of Nolandia and Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture incarnations. The girls’ uniforms similarly resemble most closely the ones they wore in Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture, but are all white, reminiscent of the all-silver wrestling outfits they wear in the books. The supporting cast is also different: There’s no Nanmo, and Mughi is now the result of a genetic engineering experiment by the 3WA’s resident scientist and inventor Dr. Q (who just makes the James Bond spy-fi connection all the stronger, although *his* gadgets tend to fail catastrophically and hilariously, usually by exploding). There’s also a former Trouble Consultant named Madame Berel, who was the 3WA’s top agent before Kei and Yuri came along. And while I can’t say I’m thrilled to see Gooley A. Francess back, I have to give him a chance. This is a new universe, after all, and perhaps he won’t be as corrupt and paternalistic as he was on TV.
As you might have guessed, all this means that the version of Dirty Pair the OVA Series is the closest in tone to, at least as of this episode, isn’t actually the novels, but rather the TV series. The plot and style of humour are extremely reminiscent of something that could have been done on that show, but it’s considerably tighter and denser than at least the later episodes, and that translates to a marked improvement. In fact, everything here is a noticeable step above how the TV show closed out: The humour is far, *far* better paced and balanced (and more sophisticated) then it was on the back half of the TV series, and Kei and Yuri are once again written just about perfectly, which I must say is a relief coming after Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture. Speaking of, this show even seems to inherit that film’s interest in speculative technology and world-building, and it’s considerably better at it. Much like in Star Trek: The Next Generation, the technobabble and exposition is weaved delicately and intricately into the rest of the story, only being brought out for window dressing. As a result, it never feels like it’s jarringly standing out or grinding things to a halt.
I also want to take a moment to praise the art direction and animation: Being Sunrise Dirty Pair, it’s good at baseline, naturally, but, much like the rest of this episode, it’s a step above some of the things we’ve seen before. It’s not quite as fluid or abstract as Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture and still uses a lot of static shots and crossfades and things like that, but it manages to pack in a lot more detail and feel like it’s playing on a larger scale than parts of the TV show did (it also goes off-model considerably less). Which is what we’d expect from an OVA release, though Sunrise puzzlingly doesn’t seem to let itself go as wild with this newfound freedom as it perhaps could have, at least not yet. Also, the opening sequence to this series is one of the most iconic and evocative moments in the entire franchise for me: It’s just lovely to look at, and the subtle little trick of having the camera, the recording process and video technology itself so intertwined with the sequence is a great way to integrate the series’ postmodern sensibilities even further into its body and structure. If the TV series often felt like a diegetic performance Kei and Yuri were putting on for us, the OVA series seems to be telling us Kei and Yuri are creatures of narrative abstraction: New Goddesses of high-tech video spiritualism in stereo.
As for “Prison Riot. We Hate People With Grudges!” itself, perhaps appropriately it most calls to mind “How to Kill a Computer” in that it’s a comparatively low-stakes action-packed sci-fi comedy thriller. The only difference is that instead of placating a rogue AI, this time the girls are out to quell a riot on a prison station (natch) in orbit of a giant star and bring the kidnapped warden in to stand trial as a key witness. Also like “How to Kill a Computer”, this is a story that at first seems to be nothing particularly remarkable, but in fact holds a substantial amount of hidden depths. There are two crucial thematic keys here: Firstly, the climactic reveal is that the warden is every bit as bloodthirsty as the convicts and, consumed by rage and vengeance, escapes from Kei and Yuri’s protective custody to murder all of the inmates. Secondly, and very tellingly, the prison is very clearly laid out as a Panopitcon. Which means we need to revisit this blog’s old friend Michel Foucault.
In Discipline and Punish, Foucault conducts a thorough analysis and historicizing of the two titular concepts, in particular how they have asserted themselves as defining characteristics of modernity. Foucault reads modern society as a “disciplinary” one that institutes control through (among other things) three distinct techniques: Examination, observation and the normalization of judgment. This is where the metaphor of the Panopticon comes in. A Panopticon is a method of prison design whereby each prisoner is separated from each other in individual cells invisible to each other, but visible to guards who work in a giant central tower-The Panopticon. The principle works under the assumption that there doesn’t even need to be anyone in the tower itself, just the idea that somebody *could* be watching and if they were, they *would* see you. What this does is normalize the concept of constant surveillance and the omnipresence of a hierarchical disciplinary structure put in place for one group of people to subjugate and oppress others. And the really scary thing is that, as Foucault shows, the Panopticon isn’t just a concept you find in prisons, but which variations of exist everywhere in modern society, such as in factories, schools and hospitals. They all work essentially the same way.
It’s through the Panopticon that modernity’s fixation on examination, discipline, testing and control comes from. It’s akin to what (to rather misrepresent her) Avital Ronell, following Foucault and others, calls modernity’s Test Drive and is a defining feature of all modern societies. And it’s what Dirty Pair explicitly rejects in this episode: Of course the warden would be mindlessly violent and driven only by his desire to enact revenge, punishment, against the inmates. He’s a man shaped by an authoritarian structure of discipline and control that gives him an obscene amount of power-This is exactly the sort of person that environment produces. One might feel in a situation like this that our sympathies belong with the prisoners, the oppressed class in this particular power structure. And while I’m sure many of those incarcerated were placed there unfairly and unjustly, as has been the case in prison systems from time immemorial, there are still going to be murderers, rapists and other violent criminals there too, and the ones we see orchestrating the riot can be pretty safely assumed to be in the latter camp.
But another way to read it is, as always, to remember this is Dirty Pair and who Kei and Yuri really are. The episode ends with Yuri’s Lazer Ring malfunctioning and causing the entire station to fall apart, while the marines obliterate the starship the prisoners commandeered, dispatching the few remaining convicts left alive after the warden’s rampage. The prison collapses, and then falls into the sun’s corona: The cosmic tide has rolled over and swallowed everything whole. The Panopticon is thus revealed for what it truly is, for it any the entire system of discipline, power and control it facilitates is anathema to nature and the good of the universe. And the brilliant solar skyscape left behind serves as a beacon and a mirror for the cleansing light of the Lovely Angels. Yes, we may have had a 99% fatality rate, but remember Kei and Yuri do not act on the behalf of individual humans or groups of people, but on the benefit of the universe as a whole. And a universe that has purged itself of the Panopticon and the toxic modernity of judgment that goes along with it can only be said to be a healthier and stronger one.
Indeed, through being staunchly critical of systems of judgment, incarceration and authoritarian prosecution, “Prison Riot. “We Hate People With Grudges!” is a fascinating episode to contrast with the contemporaneous “Encounter at Farpoint”, which had only aired four months prior. Q sets himself up as both trickster god who forces the Enterprise crew to experience “the full extent of human ugliness” by making them sit through a recreation of an earth judicial system, but also a diegetic and extradiegetic authority who has the right to pass judgment on Star Trek: The Next Generation himself. Kei and Yuri, meanwhile, through acting on behalf of the cosmos that is within and without everyone and everything, are a kind of divine anti-authority. While Q will always have a more complicated and difficult relationship with the concept, Kei and Yuri very clearly stand in for the spirits and gods that are apart of all of us, that both shape us and can be shaped by us.
That Dirty Pair can consistently get away with setting up these stark juxtapositions that would be jaw-droppingly horrific in literally any other context is a testament to the sort of things only it can do, to how strong its values and ethics as a series are and how they continue to ring true decades later. And the juxtaposition here is truly a remarkable one, contrasting its explicit and heady critiques of Panopticism and modernity with a lighthearted and whimsical sense of fun that permeates the rest of the episode. The comic banter and timing is pretty damn excellent, and Kei and Yuri even sweet talk one of the marines (who look like something right out Aliens) into taking them out for drinks after the station gets destroyed. I also simply adore the part where the girls literally surf solar wind to get to the station: It’s an absolutely iconic moment for me and without question a personal highlight of the whole series. Much like Dirty Pair on the whole, “Prison Riot. We Hate People With Grudges!” is great, spectacular fun that manages to do good because it has its heart in the right place. It’s not as good as Affair of Nolandia or as groundbreaking as Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture, but this episode is still a stellar debut for our new Dirty Pair series.
And speaking of whimsy, lightheartedness and all that, I lastly need to talk about this show’s soundtrack. It’s magic, pure and simple. The incremental music alone is superb, and better than that of the TV show, but it’s the two theme songs that really make it for me. The opening and closing themes to Original Dirty Pair, “By Yourself” and “Aki kara no Summertime”, respectively, stand among the very best music this series has ever produced. “Aki kara no Summertime” in particular may well be my absolute favourite Dirty Pair song, all stop: It’s sparkly, piquant and bittersweet and just about the absolute perfect theme song Kei and Yuri could ever have asked for. I won’t outline all the lyrics for you or do a full analysis here: You really need to check them out for yourself. What I will say is that the primary reason these pieces are as overwhelmingly successful as they are is because, for the first time in the series, Sunrise actually thought to write music about Kei and Yuri.
I know The Motion Picture score was supposed to be about them, but I found that too vague to be as effective as it needed to be. Here though, while the girls aren’t mentioned by name, both “By Yourself” and “Aki kara no Summerime” are without question about Kei and Yuri and the very special relationship they have with each other. The latter in particular is this very beautiful and touching love letter about nostalgic yearning paradoxically set against the backdrop of an eternally unfolding present, all wrapped up in a simple, yet evocative, bit of bubblegum pop. Like Kei and Yuri themselves, it puts you in the mindset of someone in possession of the carefree wonder of a child and the sophistication and wisdom that only adult experience can bring. It only needs a minute and a half (four minutes, if you’re listening to the album version) to effortlessly convey what some Dirty Pair works have spent their entire runtime trying to get across: For all its high-flying, high-tech, deep space adventure, Dirty Pair is ultimately about the love Kei and Yuri have for each other and how that can reshape the whole universe.