Initial Run: July 15th, 1985 to December 26th, 1985
Running Time: 24 mins
No. of Episodes: 26
Before I start this review, allow me to draw your attention to two different meanings for the word ‘dirty’:
“not fair or sportsmanlike; unscrupulous” - Dictionary.com
“(of an activity) dishonest; dishonourable:” - Oxford Dictionary
A combination of the above is the perfect way to describe the ‘dirty’ in Dirty Pair. It’s important I make this distinction prior to dissecting the TV series of this 80s sci-fi anime franchise, because a) the show does feature two often-immodestly-dressed girls as its heroines, and b) anime has a horrible habit of throwing nudity and bloody violence on you when you’re not expecting it. It’s the very reason why I always screen stuff before I watch it with anyone not familiar with the medium. It’s also why, when I was 16, my friends didn’t talk to me for two weeks because I introduced them to a certain movie I loved called Akira. A little sensitive, you might think, and I somewhat agree - but it’s important to take other peoples’ dispositions into account when introducing them to things they’ve only heard of via the odd media outrage. So, yeah - just wanted to clear the above first for any reader suspicious over Japan’s incredibly diverse world of animation.
(This doesn’t hide the fact that there is one shot of full-frontal boobage in Episode 24 of this show, but we’ll dwell on that later. For now, we’ll just breath a sigh of weariness, and move on. Because anime.)
But anyway, Dirty Pair - could any other show title conjure up such misleading connotations? - is really just a vintage animated series about a couple of intergalactic special agents taking on all kinds of missions and getting into all sorts of scraps across the universe of the 22nd century.
Given that they’re both female, they’re also a pretty unique pairing for their time too - the heady days of the mid-80s were still very much a time when the high-action, trigger-happy world of criminal investigation and espionage was largely considered a man’s job - with entertainment reflecting as such. But these two no-nonsense operatives - the red-haired, tomboyish Kei and the blue-haired, feminine Yuri - are more than capable of kicking the backsides of all the scum and villainy the universe has to offer, male or otherwise. That is if, as the sworn BFFs they are, they’re not busy flirting with and swooning over guys, bickering with each other or inadvertently blowing everything up, inexcusably causing galactic levels of collateral damage.
Such is the notoriety of this well-meaning, dysfunctional duo that their mishaps while working as ‘Trouble Consultants’ for the World Welfare Works Association (3WA), a corporation offering special agents for hire, has earned them a rather unflattering nickname. Certainly, it’s a nickname less complimentary than the ‘Lovely Angels’ moniker they continuously attempt to flaunt upon themselves, in praise of their beauty and self-perceived elegance. Nope, Kei and Yuri are in fact known as the ‘Dirty Pair’, a team so widely dreaded by both the good guys and the bad that their chaos element alone is enough for them to be regarded as just the solution for the various planetary conflicts the 3WA is charged with resolving. Of course, when the chips are down, they more than have the ability to pull off the various jobs they’re faced with - as this 26 episode series definitely shows. It’s just a problem getting them to do it without them complaining about not being paid enough, not getting enough vacation, or a lack of cute guys present on the mission involved - and then having to foot the bill for the inevitable catastrophes that often arise from their planned courses of action.
As one might also be able to tell from the show’s staunchly 1985 but irritatingly catchy intro, Dirty Pair is definitely a series with a focus on allowing a lot of lighthearted fun to run rampant throughout its combination of sci-fi and role-reversed (for its time) super-spy action. It owes a lot of its comedy on that particular combo as well, using a heavy amount of references from both American and Japanese shows of the time for not only gags, but plot ideas as well.
Apart from the odd two-parter, this is a show that is strictly episodic; nearly every new episode promises a completely new mission for the Pair to take on, and it takes full advantage of this format by providing a completely different idea with each new instalment, all the while throwing generous helpings of silly sci-fi comedy and witty, banterous dialogue into the mix. To give one such example, the very first episode involves a computer AI going haywire and declaring humanity as its enemy. The twist? Instead of being some grandly-concocted robotic mastermind gone rogue, it’s actually the automated management system for Kei and Yuri’s apartment block. Whose name is Brian. Brian nonetheless turns out to be a dangerous threat with the ability to level their entire city - but his name is still Brian.
And then there’s the horde of contemporary parodies to consider - one features a treasure hunt that wouldn’t even have been written without Indiana Jones existing, another involves the toppling of two warring cartels played out in part as a spaghetti Western, and even the assumed literary classic Flowers for Algernon gets its own send-up when the 3WA headquarters end up overrun by super-intelligent mutant mice. It all adds up to a collection of episodes that, while consistently inconsistent in theme, never loses their goofy, charming sense of humour.
But that’s not to say it’s all tongue-in-cheek tributes and slapstick pratfalls - Dirty Pair also has to deliver in the action stakes, and it still manages to do so in competent fashion. It’s definitely a blast watching Kei and Yuri bomb around the universe in their own spaceship, ‘The Lovely Angel’, tackling their next big mission or trying to avoid work altogether.
They also have a pretty fine repertoire of offense in their arsenal as well, being more than capable of going hand-to-hand with their enemies when a trusty laser pistol or rifle just won’t do (reason being, their designs also take inspiration from Japanese women wrestlers of the era). Sticking with the show’s bombastic atmosphere, it’s usually the bigger set pieces that work better than the smaller ones though. Certain episodes that involve the Pair taking on waves of baddies - usually after a botched infiltration of a secret base or being dropped straight into a firefight - still pack a satisfying punch. There is still room for some more refined plotlines, mind. A murder mystery involving a serial killer claiming unfortunate victims in Kei and Yuri’s apartment building (it’s not a recurring theme, honest) has its fair share of clues to deduce, and manages to unravel them in a convincingly thoughtful fashion. But by and large, Dirty Pair is action-oriented, and very often packs enough explosions and havoc to match your average golden-age Schwarzenegger movie - and that’s definitely a good thing.
Sometimes it can suffer from a lack of realism. Some sequences, perhaps due to some time-aged animation, look pretty rough and cheesy. But if you wanted technical excellence or believability, you probably don’t expect it to exist in a Japanese animated comedy over 30 years old. If anything, the aesthetics still retain a retro quality in the areas where extra effort has been put in: notably in the seas of space and the planetary landscapes that make up the pair’s usual action scenes, and also in the designs of the more prominent characters too. Anything of a military nature - be it a spaceship, armoured fortress or a mega-proportioned death cannon - looks better defined than any other show containing such items at the time. Cityscapes, particularly Kei and Yuri’s fictional stomping grounds of Eleanor City, still retain a light cyberpunk haze in their visuals that is perhaps enhanced by the decade the show was produced in, rather than detrimented by it. And then there are Kei and Yuri themselves - yes, the average cynic or troll might suggest I’m pointing them out for the rather suggestive clothing they usually wear (more on that in a minute), but their designs really do stand out for a show of this time - an age when anime was still finding a footing from an artistic perspective. Of course, nothing in Dirty Pair looks anywhere near as stylish as today’s technically sound anime masterpieces, but for its time - and especially if you compare to its contemporaries - Dirty Pair looks pretty clean, sophisticated and very well-defined.
While we’re on the subject of ‘clean’ - a word on the mind of a few doubters, perhaps - let me also point out that Dirty Pair is mostly an incredibly tame anime show compared to what can go on in other titles. I say ‘mostly’, because while the show regularly tries to point out to us that its two main characters are super-skilled, independent female special agents who definitely don’t need a guy to assist them in their field (and do in fact spend a lot of time saving them instead), one fact can’t be denied is that they’re doing all of this galaxy-saving, female-empowering stuff in the space equivalent of hotpants and bikinis. Make no mistake - Dirty Pair is still a show aimed at a male audience. It doesn’t objectify its main characters anywhere near as much as other shows with a ‘fan service’ element do, and modern shows are graphically more licentious with how they can depict some of their female protagonists. But the habit of subjecting them to compromising shots quietly persists in Dirty Pair - the odd boob angle here, the odd silhouetted shower scene there (except for the aforementioned Episode 24 when they inexplicably just give up with Yuri), and that could still offend more sensitive tastes. On the whole though, Dirty Pair is vehemently scant on actual nudity.
Same goes for graphic violence too, as pulsating as some of the action sequences can be. As far as a show such as this goes, it could even be considered wholesome - if not for the hypocritical stance it takes by treating its heroines as both gender stereotype busters and eye candy (at least for the hornier of fanboys) at the same time.
It’s all the more contradictory when you consider the content of the series as a whole - the show definitely doesn’t depict its two protagonists as bimbos. Kei and Yuri essentially operate as a classic buddy-cop pairing - Kei usually taking the more brash approach to getting things done, and Yuri often being the more careful, considered one. They are still nonetheless ‘girly’ girls - when not on duty, they have dates to go on and resort vacations to plan. They are also amusingly catty with one another too - never resisting a chance to remind the other who the prettier or smarter one of their duo is. If this makes them sound superficial, that’s genuinely not the case - once in mission mode, their determination and unwavering appetite for justice is ever-present, and the relationships they build with the characters they’re brought in to help and protect are definitely given enough focus to make them a well-rounded and thoroughly likeable partnership. They don’t develop much out of these initial molds, but that’s perhaps to be expected for a purely episodic show that had a pretty short run. What is disappointing though is that a handful of these episodes barely manage to develop themselves - a number of stories either peter into nothing or just serve as an excuse for a few action scenes, before concluding with some silly skit that leaves a whole bunch of loose ends sitting on the floor. But, when its star twosome are as fun, and as funny, as these two are, it’s likely you’ll move on to the next episode and hope for better next time - and more often than not, that’s usually what you get.
As dated as it is, Dirty Pair is still thoroughly enjoyable, and will be solid entertainment for either the retro anime fan, or the sci-fi comedy nut looking to see how riotous a Japanese animation focused on such a genre is willing to get. It’s definitely a product of its time - both technically and attitude-wise - but if you’re willing to forego the odd PC violation, you’ll find that Dirty Pair really ain’t all that dirty - it’s actually a pretty good laugh.
Dirty Pair: The TV Series is licensed and distributed by Nozomi Entertainment in the United States. I got it off of Amazon, but it should be available at all major anime retailers.
Media utilized in article is property of: Nippon Sunrise / Nozomi Entertainment