Dirty Pair, or Why Aren’t You Watching The Lovely Angels?

The magic of the Lovely Angels is difficult to describe.  There’s something irrationally appealing about the mannerisms of their characters, the intonations and inflections of their voice actors, and their general screen presence.  It extends beyond mere lines and color on two dimensional cells, and it’s something less concrete than the pleasantly eye-catching character models.  The infectiousness of this attachment blurs on the fringes of moè tinged with no small amount of the erotic, facilitated no doubt by provocative costumes, hot women in dangerous situations, and their seemingly effortlessly-written banter.  Kei & Yuri are fantastic characters, to say the least, as admirable as they are humorous and sexy.

But that isn’t to say that Dirty Pair offers nothing other than gratuitous, meaningless fanservice.  In fact, its fanservice is quite negligible in comparison to the sheer amount of action and adventure the whole franchise dishes out.  And that’s what makes Dirty Pair so much fun; it isn’t just babes in leotards and bathing suits fighting crime, it’s babes in leotards and bathing suits going under cover, exploring alien ruins and cyberpunk visions of futuristic cities, piloting fantastical spaceships through warp conduits and firefights.  The whole franchise is Sunrise Studio’s sci-fi frivolity at its best, with likeable characters and great animation thrown into twenty-two-some minute segments of action-packed adrenaline fueled adventure.  When older fans of anime make boisterous claims about how the 80s were a Golden Age, they’re talking about works like this.

It isn’t hard to see the appeal, either.  For its time, the television show offered some great production values.  It’s a little dated by today’s standards, in part due to the advances in animation techniques that have come about in the last twenty-five years, but also due to the ever-changing stylistic design methods as well.  The gritty, Star Wars-influenced backdrop of older, run-down equipment taken for granted in a stylized futuristic setting has largely fallen out of favor in current anime, and a lot of the dystopic cyberpunk elements that were right at home in the late-80s are almost entirely absent in modern works.  But these aren’t aspects integral to Dirty Pair by any means.  At best, they were convenient backgrounds and props, interesting side-notes in a show that preoccupied itself with other concepts.  The sentient robots, laser pistols, and enormous capital ships were seemingly ubiquitous at the time, anyway.

But maybe you’re lost.  Maybe you’re wondering, “wait, hold on, just what the hell is Dirty Pair?”  If you’re already a fan of anime, the chances are that you already know—or at the very least, you’ve likely run into references or parodies of the works enough times that these characters look vaguely familiar.  But if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then the answer is simple: Dirty Pair is babe space cops gallivanting across the cosmos fighting crime, solving mysteries, and leaving gargantuan trails of destruction in their wake, with a giant intelligent space-cat and a compact everything-bot android for assistants.  It started as a series of novels by Haruka Takachiro, but the franchise has since expanded to include screen adaptations—the subject of this review—and various comic series as well.

Affair of Nolandia title card

The first work to be animated for the franchise was the somewhat lackluster and poorly paced Affair of Nolandia, in 1985.  Produced by Studio Nue, the studio Takachiro himself helped establish, the OVA bears all the marks of its time; ample amounts of nude scenes, plenty of nonsensical and wandering periods of surrealism and absurdity, and decently storyboarded action are about the best things it has to offer.  It’s easily the lowest work of the stuff adapted to screen, and not only because of its poor narrative and discordant style; the character models and animation style as a whole are both considerably different from what would later become associated with the Lovely Angels.  Obviously they’re familiar enough to be recognizable, but they lack the softness and anime-cuteness charm reminiscent of Rumiko Takahashi designs.  When the stylistic difference is set against somewhat out of character performances and a mediocre-to-bad writing, it’s pretty obvious that the OVA isn’t anything special.  If it weren’t a Dirty Pair-related title, it’d easily be something to skip over and leave in the dustbins.  And even then, I wouldn’t recommend it highly to anyone unless they’re absolutely thirsting for more action.

TV Series title card

After the retrospectively-disappointing break onto screen with Nolandia, a 26-episode series was co-produced by Studio Sunrise, already renowned for the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise.  With their weight behind the title, animation quality skyrocketed and the character models underwent slight redesigns until they resembled the pair of angels that look so familiar today.  The series, while nothing terribly groundbreaking or innovative, is notable for its quality and key animation segments if nothing else.  Explosions, chase scenes, gunfights and dogfights and fistfights are all depicted in remarkable detail for a 1986 episodic show, and the episodes themselves—while connected only by the characters, setting, and vague offhand references to continuity—remain well-paced, written with adventure in mind, and solidly directed.  There’s no over-arching plot whatsoever, but that isn’t quite the point of Dirty Pair anyhow.

OVA Series title card

What followed the series was a ten-episode long OVA series, produced over the course of 1987-1988.  Animation quality is improved slightly over the television series, mainly due to a slightly more liberal use of scheduling, but overall the product is essentially the same.  Each 22-some minute long episode is largely self-contained and relies on a combination of intrigue, action, the appeal of the characters, sci-fi backdrops, and gloriously contrived writing to deliver swashbuckling tales of justice and hilarity in the vastness of space.  Some episodes are better than others, at times alarmingly so, but generally speaking, the writing quality remains fairly consistent.

At around the same time, Dirty Pair: Project Eden was produced and released in March of 1987.  Perhaps most notable is its opening credits, which display incredible feats of animation in an age before digital assistance or significant computer graphics.  The film itself is, in large part, even more frivolous and absurd than the two series preceding it.  A sudden and illogical dance routine over a well-shot, well-paced montage sequence is a good example, but it’d be next to impossible to do something like that outside the 80s—barring, of course, more serious works that play with music/visual accompaniments such as the Macross installments of the 90s & 00s.  There’s a volume of difference between something like Macross Frontier and Dirty Pair, though.

Project Eden title card flashed at the start of the opening credits' acid trip

While not a watershed effort in the industry, and hardly noteworthy outside being a solid, enjoyable title that characterizes anime in the late-80s, Dirty Pair: Project Eden still showcases some reasonably impressive animation.  It didn’t break expectations, and the amount of narrative ridiculousness piled into this single film is mindboggling; a particularly memorable scene involves a wonderfully timed bathing sequence in run-down industrial complex.  Aside from an excuse to show off the lithe, nubile forms of the sexy angels, what purpose does this sequence serve?  Nothing.  But it’s the 80s, and it’s Dirty Pair, and it’s Kei, Yuri, and an absence of clothing.  There’s no cause for complaint when one considers the importance of these factors.

Flight 005 Conspiracy title card

The final Dirty Pair OVA was released in 1990, titled The Flight 005 Conspiracy.   Of the OVAs released, this is probably the most lucid, most focused, and most serious—which doesn’t say a lot, but it should say something.  Its animation is the best of the batch as well, surpassing even Project Eden in terms of fluidity, detail, and ambitiousness.  Only Eden’s opening credits could pull a number over this gem, which probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise.  But like the rest of the Dirty Pair animated franchise, there’s little of substance attached to this title—the animation serves its purpose, but does little to exceed that, and the same goes for the narrative meat.  There’s nothing profound being said, nothing incredibly ambitious amid its direction or animated presentation, and little of note to a casual observer except “damn, that action sequence was badass,” or “Kei’s breasts looked fantastic the way they were poured into her top in that last cut.”  It’s good, but it’s not exceptional, and the whole of the Dirty Pair franchise never really aimed to be anything more.

It’s that appeal to pure, adrenaline-pumped entertainment that makes Dirty Pair such an enjoyable title.  Granted, it’s dated, most of its animation isn’t spectacular by today’s standards, and some of the humor can be on the bad side, but overall, it far surpasses its faults.  The characters, Kei & Yuri, are what make the whole series of works function perfectly.  Their dynamic is as old as fiction is, and their character models—while nothing less than absurdly attractive—are very much products of the 80s.  And yet, between the solid-to-beautiful performances delivered by their voice actors (Kyouko Tonguu and Saeko Shimazu, respectively) and the surprisingly intricate writing, these characters leap out of the works to make lasting impressions on the minds of countless viewers.

Ultimately, Dirty Pair is a portrait of anime in the 80s.  Sure, series like Macross, Urusei Yatsura, and Minky Momo defined the 80s, but Dirty Pair is something that set few standards, catered to a lowest common denominator, and still managed to pull of something memorable enough to be referenced, imitated, and adored ad infinitum for decades to come.  It’s a classic, it’s enjoyable, and most of it is doubtlessly must-see material for all interested in anime.

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About Merridian
Merri lives with his wife in the USA. He is a happy human being. He wrote for Forced Perspective while the project was active, and he is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of QNUW. His newest project is YNRI // Transcendence, dedicated to poetry, short fiction, and artwork.

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