Sunday, June 29, 2014

“Love is the law, love under will.”: Love is Everything. Risk Your Life to Elope!!

An artifice is a kind of symbol, in that it is meant to stand in for something else. An artifice is a symbol that is caricatured to emphasize certain truth-facets of the thing it represents. A spectacle is a kind of artifice, but a spectacle, following Debord, is an artifice that abandons truth in favour of the hollow simulacrum of truth, that is, falseness. Vacuousness. However, an artifice that knows itself, indeed, even a spectacle that knows itself, is an artifice that invokes truth and, in so doing, thus invokes its own true self.

Goddesses and ideas live on within words.

The pipe organ towers over Clicky Goldjeff's wedding. It is, in fact, a literal “tower”, one and the same with a skyscraper that serves as yet another defining feature of Elenore City's skyline. It appears to rise from the Earth itself, the blinding concrete and steel as much a part of the world as any natural object. Clicky, the son of a massively powerful cruise line mogul, is being married off to at least a dozen women, with the hope this will keep his “wandering eyes” at bay. The woman at the organ is Joanca, and it's in truth only her who Clicky has eyes for, and she feels the same way. Joanca proceeds to demonstrate this by firing blindly into the wedding reception as the male model waitstaff, dressed in skintight bunny uniforms, look on in stunned silence. Joanca shoots apart the chains with which Clicky was escorting his brides out by and the two elope together in a blimp.

Kei and Yuri are called in by the elder Goldjeff to retrieve his son, whom he claims has been kidnapped in exchange for a substantial chunk of his fortune. The girls feign interest in the mogul, as this is what male viewers of a female-led science fiction show expect to see and this is what Goldjeff's secretary, who is giving them a tour of the company headquarters, expects them to say. In truth, Kei and Yuri are making small talk and do not like homewreckers, as they confide to each other, and by extension us, when it's revealed the secretary is also Goldjeff's mistress. When Kei and Yuri speak to each other in private, we know they are expressing their true selves, as this has long since become a regular motif of Dirty Pair. The girls only act infatuated when they're with a potential client, and Kei only teases Yuri when someone else is watching. Or rather, when someone else is watching diegetically-Kei and Yuri never actually speak in complete privacy, because there is a camera on them at all times. This is, after all, a television show. But it's a television show written and produced by Kei and Yuri, so they write these scenes in as a form of textual metacommentary. Graffiti on the fourth wall. The Angels do this as an act of love, because they love each other. And they love you too.

Kei and Yuri regularly put on highly elabourate performances, but they hate dishonesty and insincerity. They are opposed to people and ideas who are not being true to themselves. And this episode is about contrasting their true selves, as caricatured and conveyed through artifice as they may be, with those who would deceive and manipulate for selfish reasons. Goldjeff took his secretary as a mistress because he is fixated on his masculine and patriarchal desire for power and control, which is the same vice that leads him to believe he has the right to dictate Clicky's fate, and he's willing to lie to get it. He even treats the girls the same way, declaring that because he's their client they should follow his orders without question, even though the Angels highly suspect Goldjeff is lying about Joanca from the start. In an adjacent scene, we learn the company's marketing director is willing to put thousands of passengers at risk in extremely dangerous “General Relativity Star Tours” because too much money has been spent on advertising and research and development to justify scrapping the project. He returns in the climax as the orchestrator of the trap that ensnares Clicky and Joanca, which he happily points out he did so his boss would give him a raise and a promotion.

Meanwhile, for her part, the secretary agreed to the affair with Goldjeff because she's willing to essentially prostitute herself to further her stature and position within the company. The sort of behaviour the secretary engages in here is the same thing that Avital Ronell, in her redemptive reading of The SCUM Manifesto, fingers as the one thing Valerie Solanis, troubled and otherwise indefensible as she might have been, hated above all else: A way in which she felt women abandon their rightful position of power and submit to (and thus further) patriarchy for short-term personal gain at the expense of material social progress. This is the difference between light magick and dark magick, and this is what Kei and Yuri object to as well. In fact, Kei and Yuri start out despising this entire case: Before they discover all the information that's being withheld from them, they want nothing more than to be done with the whole matter because they can't find anyone to sympathize with. They see Goldjeff and his secretary as utterly repugnant, Clicky as an absolute sycophant and Joanca as a contemptible manipulator and pathological liar.

And this is why the lynchpin scene is when it's revealed Joanca is a transwoman. At that moment, everything comes into focus and Kei and Yuri decisively make their move. And they immediately and overwhelmingly side with Joanca. There is of course that beautiful scene where Kei confidently brushes aside Goldjeff's ineffectual protestations as being “old fashioned” while Yuri backs her up, aghast at the executives' horrid bigotry and laying into them with the facts that one in ten people undergo transition. The scene is triumphant just on a surface level, as it not only makes clear being transgender is a commonly accepted facet of life by the average, non-reactionary person in the Dirty Pair universe, but the technology also exists to make transition as clean and effortless as possible: Joanca doesn't just “pass”, she's statuesque, lovely and stunningly beautiful. But this also ties very strongly into the episode's key theme: Joanca's transition is depicted as a metaphor for her fully blossoming into the person she is meant to be, nobody except Goldjeff and his secretary ever question that she's truly a woman, and even Goldjeff's objection is that she “used to be a man” because he's fixated on the past. Even a character this diegetically reactionary doesn't dispute her gender identity-That's how much social progress has been made.

There are a few other offhand references to Joanca having once been a man, but these are almost always depicted as being diegetic slips of the tongue. When they're not, it's shown as a metaphor for a person growing over time in accordance with their discovery of their true self: Certainly this is the way transition is conceptualized by at least some (though not all) trans people in the real world: As a move away from one gender identity to another that accompanies a deeper understanding of what gender is and of who the person themselves are. In a very material sense, we are not the same people we were in the past as every cell in our body is replaced every seven years, and combine this with a world where transhumanism exists and standard notions of personal identity and the self no longer apply. All that matters is that we continue to become better and more true people. And this is why Kei and Yuri suddenly decide to act, because now they fully understand what the stakes are. Joanca's reveal proves to the Angels that she is a person who is genuinely and sincerely acting in accordance with her true self, and this convinces them that she and Clicky truly are in love. A victory for them is a victory for lightness over darkness.

This is reinforced by the scene immediately preceding where Joanca seems to betray Clicky before Kei reveals she's being mind controlled by the secretary: During that brief scene, Joanca was quite literally “not herself”, which was the major clue that something wasn't right. Furthermore, it is mirrored in the climax when Clicky confronts his father and goes after Joanca, refusing to let him control his life and impose his reactionary and hurtful beliefs on him any more. Kei tells Clicky that he is finally “acting like a real man” because he is taking his life into his own hands and refusing to let allow himself to be controlled by the unfeeling whims of patriarchy. This also explains why Clicky looks and acts like a teenager throughout the majority of the episode in spite of him supposedly being 22: This is his story of finding his true self, and just as Joanca grew into a woman this is his opportunity to grow into a man and reclaim that title from authoritarian hegemony. He and Joanca are the heroes of their story because their actions are governed by love and compassion, not power and self-interest.

The can be no growth without change, and this is something the Angels understand on a very deep level. Joanca's transsexualism and Clicky's story of personal redemption are metaphors for positive change, and the forces against which they are pitted are equal parts retrograde and stagnant.The General Relativity Tour, which is explicitly stated to be a terrible idea originally abandoned and then dug up again for selfish reasons, sends cruise guests on an anti-voyage where they are prevented from growing or changing as massive amounts of time passes in the outside world and the entire universe shifts around them: A fitting invention for a person such as him. And, of course, it becomes the ultimate threat to Clicky and Joanca in the climax. Indeed, Goldjeff's control over this hegemonic doomsday device and his strong connection with it, along with the fact he has an actual undersea supervillain dome city peg him rather obviously as a Bond villain. Dirty Pair is saying someone who has that much hate in his heart and is dedicated to it so fervently isn't just evil, he's cartoonishly evil.

But then the Lovely Angels show up at the last second, and while they don't manage to avert the launch, the cleansing light of their narrative magick changes its meaning. Clicky follows Joanca into the rocket, so they'll be together in the end after all. But then, Goldjeff suddenly has a change of heart and finally comes to understand how much pain he's caused, confessing to Kei and Yuri that all he ever wanted was to make his son happy. So he follows the couple too, partly as an act of penance, but also because, through apologising and being honest with the girls and himself, he's earned the right to follow his son and daughter-in-law. Forgiveness is another reoccurring motif in this episode (note how Clicky jokes with Joanca that he'll “forgive [her] just this once” in the car and how Joanca tells Kei and Yuri she'll “never forgive [them]” before they realise they're on the same side), and now that these truths have been revealed and spoken, forgiveness and healing can begin. This is a kind of love that transcends age and era, and is available to anyone who discovers their true path.

Kei and Yuri have changed the mark. The General Relativity Tour no longer symbolizes stagnation, but a holding pattern for people who are ahead of their time. Once again, the universe isn't quite ready for the truths Kei and Yuri have revealed, and won't be so long as people like the secretary, the marketing director and the man Goldjeff used to be continue to exist. But, when their tour is up in fifty years, perhaps things will be different. And if they aren't, as Kei says, the Lovely Angels will be waiting. Yuri rolls her eyes and says “we'll be grandmas by then”, but this reveals more than her author insert character was letting on.

Throughout the episode there's a reoccurring joke about textual Yuri's apparent fear of aging: Kei teases her relentlessly for her cucumber face pack when they're talking with the secretary's Joanca hologram in their hotel room and snaps at her for snarking during the climactic sequence. But what text!Yuri fears is not growing up, but growing old: Becoming part of the heteronormative and reproductive futurist hegemony she fights against. And this is why text!Kei sets her at ease in the denouement when she says “the Lovely Angel grandmas” will be waiting when Joanca, Clicky and Goldjeff return in fifty years. If Kei and Yuri do “become grandmas”, it won't matter because their true selves are agents of positive material change. They can never grow old and become retrograde because it is not their will to do that. They have a higher purpose, and following that will keep them young forever.

This is also true on a different level: Adam Warren's comic adaptation of Dirty Pair establishes that the Angels actually exist in physical bodies genetically engineered to be perfect, rendering them unable to age and impervious to conventional damage. Although this is a character detail unique to his version, it's a theme worth examining and one I think holds some interesting ramifications in the subtext of the other versions, especially as this is a universe where we already know transhumanism exists. Regardless of whether or not Kei and Yuri are diegetically immortal, they are still effectively transhuman: They exist on a separate narrative plane, observing and shaping the plot instead of being part of it. Why do they do this? Because Kei and Yuri are utopian ideals. They are not characters in the standard sense-They truly are divine agents of positive change. As “Lovely Angels”, Kei and Yuri are our higher selves and thus part of us, and it's our job to discover and internalize the individual manifestations of the truths we see in them. And in this story, they are Clicky and Joanca's Holy Guardian Angels who come down to help them accomplish their own Great Work, which is love.

For me, this is the moment Dirty Pair finally arrives in full. This is where my take on the show shifted from “unexpectedly pleasing diversion” to “genuinely one of the best things ever”. What was the point of all that meta-cosmic fun the show has been dancing around with for the past few weeks? This. It allows the show to do this. This is what utopian fiction is for. This is what speculative science fiction can do. This is what Dirty Pair can do. This is what only Dirty Pair can do. Because here's the big secret: We're not looking at Dirty Pair in the context of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We're looking at Star Trek: The Next Generation in the context of Dirty Pair. Because this is the point where Dirty Pair doesn't just beat Star Trek at its own game, it demolishes it: A decisive championship title victory by submission hold. This is the new bar. We've found our true higher selves. Nothing will ever be the same again. Dirty Pair is the greatest action science fiction series of all time. And love is everything.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

“A Hard Day's Night”: Lots of Danger, Lots of Decoys

As a genre, science fiction, especially science fiction that is in some way descended from Golden Age Hard SF, seems largely focused on the machinations and inner workings of giant, authoritarian, monolithic institutions. Be it some futuristic extrapolation of the army, the navy, the intelligence sector, the police or huge, sprawling technoscience corporations, science fiction seems one the whole unsettlingly comfortable with mulling about the halls of power, likely owing to the genre's futurist roots. Remember, James Blish, a member of the influential group of sci-fi writers the Futurians and the guy who novelized the original Star Trek series, thought, somewhat bewilderingly, that Pfizer would usher in a Trotskyist revolution so long as we pledged support to them and bought their products.

This is, suffice to say, equal parts untenable and unacceptable.

There are exceptions to this trend. The first two Alien movies, arguably The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf, bits and pieces of Doctor Who at various points in its history. Star Trek itself tends to go back and forth on this: Though the point of the franchise is very much that the Federation is anything but an unambiguous group of good guys promoting a utopia and how our crews operate under that knowledge, this fact seems to have been lost on a worrying number of creative teams and this isn't as emphasized as frequently or as strongly as it really needed to be. Raumpatrouille Orion is better, though that crew is still a bunch of ace pilots. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was anything but this, but invoking Nausicaä in this case does feel a bit like bringing a nuclear bomb to a knife fight.

Then there is, of course, Dirty Pair. Kei and Yuri may job for the 3WA and United Galactica, but they have a much higher calling than that and, by virtue of being professional wrestlers operating by cyberpunk logic and the way this show has been portraying them, we're very much meant to read them as working class characters. Even so, the series hasn't done a story overtly about this yet, and this is what “Lots of Danger, Lots of Decoys” is about.

In some ways, this episode is “The Case of the Backwoods Murder” for Kei, with the Angels taking a job that puts them in contact with a childhood friend of hers who gets mixed up in the mission in some form. What this allows us to do is get a rare look at Kei's backstory: Though the Sunrise anime and the light novels are of course two separate continuities, we can assume Yuri's backstory is roughly similar here to what was described in “The Case of the Backwoods Murder”. In this episode though, we learn that our suspicions regarding Kei were correct: She grew up on a more urbanized planet and probably lived off of the streets. After Kaia, the leader of a fleet of space pirates who are after the precious gem the girls are tasked with escorting, introduces himself as someone from Kei's childhood, Yuri even openly supposes he's one of Kei's “delinquent friends” from “back in the day”.

As for Kaia himself, he's another in a line of subverted romantic foils for the girls. Like we saw with Sydney a few weeks ago, Kaia goes out of his way to peg himself as potential love interest for Kei, but he's exceedingly less subtle about it, to the point it manages to interfere with the way his backstory is conveyed. He even introduces himself right from the beginning as Kei's long-lost childhood friend, tacitly setting himself up to play a predetermined role. But this time Kei shoots him down right from the start: No sooner are we introduced to Kaia then Kei confides to Yuri (and us) that he's what in modern parlance would be described as a “massive douche”, and that he's the kind of guy who thinks that because he's attractive every woman wants him simply for existing. In other words, Kaia thinks he's “God's Gift to Women”, if you will, and you can imagine how well Kei and Yuri take that. Kei does nothing but smack-talk and insult Kaia for the rest of the episode, but it never connects with him: It's as if he's reading from an entirely different script and doesn't realise what show he's on.

This comes to a delightful head in the climax when, figuring out they have the real gem amongst a fleet of decoys, Kei rewires the shipping container as a bomb and sends it over to Kaia's ship, as Kaia asks her to come with him. She gives a big, emotional monologue straight out of any pulp serial or cheesy drama about distances and lifestyles keeping people apart and how her giving up the gem is symbolic of her love and his victory and how he should think of her every time he looks at it. And it's total and complete bullshit, as Kei flags it as a feint to us from the start and then proceeds to laugh maniacally as Kaia's entire starfleet, which appears to be roughly the size of a solar system is obliterated in the ensuing conflagration (Kaia's OK, of course: As Kei takes care to reassure us, a “little thing like that” won't do him in. Once again, don't forget it's all play-acting). So, Kei's speech becomes a textual “decoy”, Kaia's self-absorbed bravado and machismo becomes a metaphor for a preponderance of tropish, patriarchal writing, and the Angels think the best attitude to take towards something like that is to blow it up.

But the workaday feel of “Lots of Danger, Lots of Decoys” isn't limited to what we learn about Kei's childhood as a street rat. The Angels are on an expressly mundane mission this time, even compared to tracking down a lost cat in “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death”: All they need to do is transport the gem, valuable in a certain kind of precision mining, from the 3WA headquarters to an deep space excavation. The girls are basically truck drivers here, hauling cargo on a cosmic highway, and the show does an amazing job conveying what a world where this kind of job exists would feel like. The distances here are ridiculous: The mining operation is an entire galaxy, and they can't use warp drive because it would have an adverse effect on the gem's harmonic resonance, which means the girls are basically traversing the intergalactic void in a straight line on impulse. Thankfully faster-than-light technology seems to be more advanced in the Dirty Pair universe than in the Star Trek one and this is a distance achievable in what seems like a few days instead of a literal eternity.

But what this manages to do is simultaneously evoke feelings of cosmic wonder and mundane drudgery: We're awestruck at the scale of the journey the girls are undertaking and left to wonder about how many countless indescribable sights Kei and Yuri can see if they have the ability to explore at this level, and yet the journey still feels like what it is-A mind-numbing truck drive from one point to another. I love the little scene before Kaia shows up where the Lovely Angel is in mid-flight and the crew is just passing their time: Yuri is reading and listening to classical music, Kei is exercising and practicing her martial arts and Mughi is baking a cake, which is a heretofore unknown kind of adorable not possible to measure with current technology. Dirty Pair gives us a world that manages to capture our imagination with inspiring science fiction vistas while also reminding us of the grit that exists in any fantasy world extrapolated from, and designed to talk about, our own.

And then there's the final scene, which is just a fist-pumping moment of perfection: Kei and Yuri play Gooley like a flute, totally taking advantage of his tendency to dismiss, belittle and unjustly blame them. As far as I'm concerned, it's a contender for Gooley's best moment in the show (though I'm also quite partial to “You idiots! from “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death” and one bit in an episode coming up). The boss is a hardass who doesn't live in the same world as his workers and doesn't understand them, as it frankly should be ( shouldn't be, but it should be in fiction about jobs and work in capitalistic systems). Kei and Yuri may be forced to work in an unfair world and for a system and institution with at the very least questionable ethics (severely so, as we'll soon find out), but they can't be held accountable for this any more than they can for anything else, if for no other reason than, as the protagonists, they're allowed to transcend, reclaim and reappropriate it.

Kei and Yuri are workers for the light.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

“From One Heart To Another”: Criados' Heartbeat

And the first thing they do is completely torpedo each and every one of our expectations.

“Criados' Heartbeat” is unbelievably subversive, even for this show. With its ominous countdowns, imposing and mysterious antagonist and seeming dramatic, game-changing plot twists, this is the kind of episode most shows would save for their season finale. And Dirty Pair casually tosses it at us five weeks in with another twenty to go. But we'll get to all that later-This episode works on a multitude of different levels, so let's take a look at the most obvious one first. One thing old school science fiction buffs like about Dirty Pair is its musing on trans/posthumanism, typically in the classic cyberpunk sense of body modification and upgrading or augmenting the human form through emergent biotechnology. This is the most visible in Adam Warren's Dirty Pair adaptation for Dark Horse comics, but it's a theme the franchise on the whole is known for, and, it's worth noting, one it hasn't actually looked at before now.

This manifests, obviously, in Criados himself, a literal mad scientist who, upon committing suicide two years prior to the events of this story, transplanted his consciousness into the computer core of a deep space automated hazardous waste processing facility. It doesn't look like he did a particularly amazing job of it though, considering he's become consumed by rage and has dedicated his existence to hunting down and killing Kei and Yuri, who he blames for his death after they shut down a drug smuggling ring he was involved in. And he's brutal about it, tormenting them with horrific imagery via psychic projection and sending out entire starfleets to track them down and drag them to the space station, which is a meant for the disposal of dangerous toxic waste unfit for human exposure and actually called the Graveyard of Ships. Criados is clearly unhinged and evil and, given what we know about the loose cautionary tone pervading much of Dirty Pair, it's possible to read this as a criticism of the kind of augmentation he attempted on himself.

But that's not what I think this episode is actually trying to get at with this theme. As a character, Criados is, in fact, a revelation: It's only mentioned very briefly when the girls are going over his biography, but Kei does state he had a particular fascination with the supernatural and life after death, which he, of course, managed to attain in the end through his transhumanist experiments. Combine this with his power of telepathy and his interest in hallucinogenics, which is what got him busted by the girls in the first place, and it starts to sound a lot more like Criados is a kind of futuristic shaman who was able to heighten and focus his own pre-existing power and abilities through technology. This alone is a breakthrough in speculative fiction: In the Blade Runner post I expressed concern about mainline transhumanism's apparent ignorance and dismissal of humanity's connection with the larger universe, meanwhile, in Dirty Pair, even Criados gets this, understanding transhumanism through his prior exploration of spirituality, and singlehandedly solving one of the biggest questions of mind and consciousness in the process.

And this understanding turns Criados into a truly formidable figure of immense power: He is an absolute menace and a genuine threat to the Lovely Angels, and is the first antagonist who can truly compete with them on their level. He possesses all of the girls' narrative powers, except twisted and honed into terrifying weapons. He's telepathic, but he projects it as an invasive and debilitating image-based assault. He leaves a trail of destruction wherever he goes, but, unlike Kei and Yuri, when he does it it's *very* deliberate. He's even capable of rewriting the narrative of Dirty Pair: When I first saw this episode I was a disappointed that all of Criados' backstory seemed to be pulled out of thin air in a throwaway exposition dump, and I remarked it would have worked better as the end of a story arc because it felt like a sequel to a story that didn't exist. Upon rewatching it though, I realised that's exactly what it is. Criados is so powerful and so frightening he can bend the show to his own will, calling forth a story revolving around him out of nothing, which is something only the Angels were able to do before.

This is why Criados is so dangerous: The last handful of villains have in one way or another been pegged as evil twins of the Lovely Angels, most obviously the Elegants, but King too. Criados, though, is the one who's actually come the closest to besting them, and this makes him genuinely nightmarish. While Lan and Jerry were the girls' doppelgangers as far as the plot was concerned, Criados actually has mastery over postmodern cinematography. King did too, but he was only able to attain a textual level of enlightenment (if you recall, there were very few scenes of King looking directly at or out of our camera). Criados is on another level-His perspective has granted him an understanding of the true nature of reality, and he would use this knowledge to wipe it out. Even before the girls show up in this episode, we get to hear Criados' ominous voice while intrusive countdown timers and error messages constantly pop up everywhere, shattering the diegetic coherence and artifice of the narrative. Criados is literally trying to force the universe to crash, and it's well within his power to do that.

In this regard, the threat Criados poses is that of a narrative collapse, which is usually defined as a story that has the potential to destroy the narrative and prevent any future stories from being told through a catastrophic and irreparable disruption, hence the name. In fact, “Criados' Heartbeat” would seem to be an almost textbook example of a narrative collapse right up to its final moments by teasing us with a major plot twist: The death of Nanmo. In a narrative collapse story, the restoration of the status quo can only occur with a blood sacrifice, and this would certainly suffice-Being in many ways the biggest differentiation between the anime and the light novels it's based on, killing off Nanmo would in a sense mark the end of this version of Dirty Pair. But of course, Nanmo is a robot and can't actually die. While she does activate her self destruct sequence and prompts Yuri to fire her body at the computer core thus destroying Criados and severing his connection to the space station, she removes her memory disk first. As Kei points out several times, Nanmo can very easily be rebuilt if they have that disk, which contains all of her essential programming, in essence, her personality and consciousness.

So Nanmo's supposed “death” turns out to be anything but, and this means she becomes a mirror of Criados himself and the episode's transhumanist theme. What this shows us is that it's not his experiments with technologically augmented ascendent spirituality that doomed Criados, but his obsessive self-absorption, anger and desire for revenge. Where Criados went wrong was not the fact he was a shaman, but the fact that he was a shaman gone bad and was never able to fully process and come to terms with the visions he experienced. And, in a way, perhaps Kei and Yuri did him a favour by killing him, thus allowing him to return to the cosmos to start again. Incidentally, this has the added bonus of averting our narrative collapse: By fighting transhumanism with transhumanism and having Nanmo very clearly not die, the girls have regained control of their narrative. Even here they're able to dance out of trouble (a big clue things will turn out alright is Kei's behaviour-Note how her biggest concern is not her and Yuri dying or the end of the universe, but that she's going to miss her date). Kei and Yuri didn't cheat narrative collapse, they beat it. They collapsed a narrative collapse.

Speaking of Kei's (and Yuri's) attitude, one last thing worth mentioning is the way the respective personalities of the Angels are depicted here. If there's one criticism to level at this story, it's that this seems to have retroactively become the blueprint for a lot of what the pop perception of what Kei and Yuri are like, and that's not quite a good thing. Kei spends a lot of this episode seemingly not depicted in the best of lights, acting really hotheaded, obnoxious, impulsive and reckless. Yuri, by contrast, sits around alternating between serene competence and exasperation. I think this was perhaps the start of Yuri being seen as the “mature”, “responsible” and “professional” half of the pair, which is as inaccurate as it is misleading and dangerous.

That said, this is the fault of later, careless and cursory readings of the show rather than the episode itself. Note how the moment Yuri tries to go solo and take matters into her own hands she nearly gets everyone killed, how Kei is the one who comes up with the plan to defeat Criados because she understands Nanmo and how, as I mentioned above, the relative lightness and joviality of Kei's demeanour telegraphs to us from the very beginning that Criados isn't going to win. The point the episode is trying to make, I think, is that the Lovely Angels need to be taken together or not at all, and it is in truth splitting up Kei and Yuri that would kill off Dirty Pair faster and more decisively than any amount of cosmic horror and metatextual narrative collapse. But then again, one of the biggest strengths of Dirty Pair is that this can never happen.

What “Criados' Heartbeat” is definitive proof of is that Dirty Pair will never succumb to the temptation of being self-consciously and po-facedly “epic”, in spite of its science fiction heritage. Criados wanted everything to “Die!”. Kei and Yuri want to not just survive, but to live, and that's the message they bring to us, perhaps above all else. Even though it features explosions and carnage left and right, Dirty Pair is about love and hope, not conflict and destruction. And that alone means it can never be collapsed or killed off.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

“We're on a mission from God.”: The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death

It would be one thing if all Dirty Pair did was ramble through different film and literary genres parodying and riffing over them in the process. It's reliance on Long 1980s postmodern cinematography notwithstanding, that would not be an especially novel concept. What Dirty Pair needs to do is to carve its own niche within the televisual landscape of the era: Not just making witty commentary, but delivering its own unique message about what science fiction means in this day and age. The books are very upfront about declaring that it's Kei and Yuri's purpose to usher humanity into a new era, by fire if necessary, but the anime does seem to prefer building to this ultimate revelation a bit more methodically.

We will, of course, eventually get there, and sooner rather than later. And while “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death” at first seems like a complete romp, this episode is in truth another step towards that (I mean, it is a complete romp too, but it's more than that). This is another great example of how postmodern cinematography and knowing constructed artifice can be used to emphasize different narrative truths, and be a bloody fantastic evening of entertainment to boot. The comparisons...Well, they're obvious, aren't they? There's no way this is anything other than a knowingly wry and comprehensive send-up of The Blues Brothers. For those unaware of that particular movie (for shame), The Blues Brothers is a 1980 comedy film by John Landis, John Belushi and Dan Akroyd based on their Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name. Both concern the titular Blues Brothers, a blues revivalist band fronted by Belushi's and Akroyd's characters Jake and Elwood, who grew up in a Catholic orphanage and form a blood pact by cutting their fingers with a guitar string said to belong to Elmore James after being introduced to the genre by the orphanage's janitor.

The film sees Jake and Elwood breaking parole to reunite their band to perform a benefit concert at the orphanage they grew up in, which is facing foreclosure. They go on a cross-country quest, which Jake constantly reminds us is “a mission from God”, to locate their old bandmates, all the while being hunted by the police as part of a ludicrous car chase that lasts essentially the entire movie. The climax is a thing to behold, with Jake and Elwood screaming through a downtown metropolitan area in the “Bluesmobile” trying to shake their pursuers, whose ranks have been bolstered by the addition of a Neo-Nazi group and a country band, whom the brothers somehow managed to also arouse the ire of.

And, true to form, “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death” is about three-quarters car chases throughout the neon canyons of Elenore City, with Jake and Elwood replaced by Kei and Yuri and the Bluesmobile replaced by two slick motorcycles. Dirty Pair even manages to *one up* The Blues Brothers in this respect because the police here have futuristic hovercars and go after the girls in *three-dimensional traffic* before the epic showdown on an incomplete section of bridge held aloft by a helicopter. That climax, by the way, is an absolute comic and narrative triumph: It manages to have three simultaneous fight scenes, choreographed synchronized car crashes across five lanes of traffic and at least three different subplots coming to a head all at the same time in the span of a few minutes. It is nothing short of poetry in motion.

And it's not just that one scene: The whole episode is a work of art. Consider the sequence near the beginning of the episode, when Yuri returns to the apartment with the groceries. The TV show doesn't make as big a deal of the girls' psychic connection as the books do, barely even mentioning it, but this scene conveys it loud and clear without words through visual symbolism alone. Watch how Yuri tosses Kei the apple, which she catches backhanded, and then notice how this is mirrored a few seconds later when Kei throws away the apple core and Yuri intercepts it with the dustbin without having to even look. Kei and Yuri are so in sync they can anticipate each other's moves before they even act. Aside from the beautifully elegant framing and structure, I just think its delightful that we get to open on the girls chilling in their apartment talking about their favourite TV shows, hobbies and love lives: It's a fantastic moment that proves the Gods of Destruction are people too and while (sometimes literal) world-shattering catastrophe is just another Tuesday, there's more in the girls' day than just that.

This sublime, effortless tightness and sense of playfulness is everywhere in “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death”. It can hit us with a brilliantly mad concept practically every single cut that somehow manages to top the last brilliantly mad concept it hit us with each time without missing a single beat: Runaway house cat infused with an experimental anabolic steroid that can level buildings and has a penchant for cheesecake? Check. Mughi's intelligence network of alley cat contacts? Well, that's just to be expected, isn't it? A literal hair bank where patrons can store samples of their hair follicles for posterity? Why not? At this point anything goes, and yet never once does the show's constructed universe seem to lose focus or coherence. As random and bizarre as all of this is, it never feels like randomness for the sake of randomness: Somehow, it all seems to fit together through its own unique sense of internal logic. The show simply bounds from peak to peak never once letting up its stream of bonkers genius or tripping up in its pacing.

(Also note how the framing and timing work together to tag Kei and Yuri as in some sense outsiders: The opening scene with the construction workers goes on even as Yuri jogs by oblivious to their conversation. Kei and Yuri exist on a separate narrative plane from the world they're interacting with.)

But although the basic structure of this episode immediately calls to mind The Blues Brothers (as well it should-The bad guys' henchman are even the spitting image of Jake and Elwood, I mean it's exact), this story is nothing so mundane as a parody of The Blues Brothers with Kei and Yuri. If that's not what it is though, what is it? And why invoke The Blues Brothers so heavily in the first place? Well, our first clue is that while the imagery is very John Belushi, the actual humour is more John Cleese. Cleese's famous and groundbreaking sitcom Fawlty Towers, which he co-wrote with Connie Booth, is particularly well-remembered for its intricate and meticulous structure: Each episode would have a multitude of seemingly minor and irrelevant subplots woven through the fabric of the main plot, ever-so-slowly and methodically growing in severity before they all join together in a gigantic comedic title wave that crashes down on the characters in a spectacular fashion. Fawlty Towers also derives much of its comedy from misunderstandings, people talking past each other and situations snowballing to such a degree they become completely out of anyone's control. It's also worth noting how the show has basically one sympathetic character, Connie Booth's Polly (Basil Fawlty fans, remember “sympathetic” is not equivalent to “likable” or “fun to watch”), whose commendable and endearing efforts at keeping the peace tend to be met with even more disaster.

While The Blues Brothers uses a similar “seemingly minor events snowball to the point they're uncontrollable” structure to Fawlty Towers, it's nowhere near as drum-tight about this. That Jake and Elwood start out as convicts has always puzzled me a bit, as it gives the police a reason to be after them from the beginning, whereas I think it would be funnier if it was another misunderstanding. Also, I've always found the way the film builds to its climax to be almost *too* logical-It never quite reaches that peak of sublime comic exaggeration for me. In this regard, “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death” is far closer to the Fawlty Towers style of snowballing plot then the Blues Brothers one. Though she poses an imminent threat, Malatesta is ultimately a very minor project for the girls: I mean, rescuing a lost cat is *the* cliche activity for public servants to do. But, because this is Dirty Pair, it becomes this epic, overblown disaster that entangles the entire city. This is *especially* clear in the wedding scene, which, is, as far as I'm concerned, an utterly flawless series of sitcom gags that's on par with anything John Cleese and Connie Booth wrote. It's a masterpiece.

And yet it's not entirely accurate to call this a pure Fawlty Towers plot, or even a Fawlty Towers plot mashed up with The Blues Brothers. What this episode is in truth is something that, while it invokes both works, is utterly unique unto itself. Why would Dirty Pair be doing this? Because it's making the claim that this is an intellectual tradition it can be a part of. It's taking a look at what defines a Dirty Pair story, drawing comparisons to other works the audience might be familiar with, and showing them not only how Dirty Pair is the same kind of thing, but how it can do this kind of story in a science fiction setting and what unique advantages that science fiction setting can bring to it. And there are some: Being able to effortlessly leap between completely bonkers concepts without giving us too much time to think about them gives “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death” a huge advantage over The Blues Brothers as it can take that basic structure and kick it into warp drive, making it potentially infinitely more funny than it would be if it was constrained by real-world logic and physics. Just as it's been doing for the past few weeks then, this is another example of the show defining itself and coming into its own.

But in my experience, humour tends to work best if its targeted at something, preferably an authoritarian and hegemonic structure. Dirty Pair knows this too, and while it's still having fun, it's fun with a purpose. And this is why the villains need to be Kei's professional wrestling idols. Their name, the Elegants, carries an obvious double meaning: They're not only the evil mirror counterparts of Kei and Yuri, the Dirty Pair, but they're also an evil version of the real-life Beauty Pair, who were the original inspiration for the Angels themselves. With this, the show takes its first real step forward from the series' original conception: Because as beneficial as our Soda Pop Art heroes can be, the fact remains they're always going to belong to a capitalistic, corporatist system that's not really working for the benefit of humanity. The Elegants only care about themselves, and would betray their own family and fans for their own desire for more power and fame And that's a betrayal that's at once cuttingly brutal to Kei and Yuri, even if it is a betrayal that they, like us, knew was always a possibility in the world of Soda Pop Art. But even so, it's a betrayal they can not and will not stand for.

This is also the final level on which the Elegants become an evil mirror of the Angels: Lan and Jerry (whose names even sound like “Kei” and “Yuri”) are “elegant” because they hire a bunch of henchman to do their dirty work for them. They always stay offscreen, unwilling to get their hands dirty until they don't have any choice in the matter. Kei and Yuri, however, are, as we know, the Dirty Pair. They jump right into the fray. They make a mess. And, though things will inevitably appear to be superficially worse off after the girls show up, they always leave the universe a better place then they found it. They may be messy and not at all elegant, but they're not only more fun than Lan and Jerry, they're more sincere and demonstrably better people. And, in beating the Elegants in a wrestling match/action setpiece, literally beating them at their own game, the Angels attain the next stage of enlightenment by both acknowledging the form and place of their birth while also rejecting the shackles they would be burdened by had they stayed there.

Kei and Yuri have reclaimed themselves, and there's absolutely limit to what they can do now.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

“Television makes a lotta sense.”: Go Ahead, Fall in Love! Love is Russian Roulette

The Dirty Pair anime is often seen to be heavily influenced by spy-fi, in particular James Bond. There's been a whiff of gadgetry about the franchise from the beginning, of course, and the Angels certainly act, at least superficially, like what we'd commonly think of as high-tech secret agents. But the link is much clearer on the TV show, even down to the obvious lineage in its title card logo. But Dirty Pair doesn't reference James Bond just to reference it: Just like its parent series, the anime is as much about its medium as it is a part of it, actively going out of its way to send up television genres, and, in this case, the show is taking TV spy-fi and turning into an experimental laboratory for postmodernism.

In this regard, the better point of comparison isn't James Bond, but rather Danger Man and The Prisoner, which “Go Ahead, Fall in Love! Love is Russian Roulette” seems immediately reminiscent of. The opening moments are right out of a heist movie, with a super secret super spy breaking into a highly fortified vault to steal an important-looking doodad conveniently in the middle of the room on a pedestal which he reaches just in time to get laser-vaporized for his troubles. Then we cut to a shot of a TV monitor broadcasting our would-be hero's untimely demise, with a bunch of visibly affluent gents looking on judgmentally. Then of course comes the first big joke, where Yuri gives us our exposition about this sacred poker chip that brings its owner artificially heightened luck that he's using to monopolize business at the local casino planet while Kei grumps about being called away from vacation. So, in the space of three cuts, the narrative has jumped from heist movie to spy-fi thriller to Dirty Pair.

This also means that a premise a self-evidently overblown and ridiculous as sacred poker chips that control the fate of the universe has broken less capable action heroes, but is just overtime to the Lovely Angels.

First off, this episode is once again a laugh riot. After the mediocre, yet necessary, boundary-drawing of last week, the show is back to the rapid-fire exquisitely-timed humour that will become its hallmark. My favourite bits are near the beginning when Kei and Yuri are trying to navigate the confusing streets of the casino planet in their hovervan and multi-car pile-ups spring up around them, the girls' banter in the bar, which also gives us another good display of Yuri's Yamato Nadeshiko act, and when Sydney tries to drive them through King's hedge maze and makes dramatic swerves every five seconds. But, speaking of King, he's the most important thing about this episode. His name is, of course, symbolic: He's obviously the “kingpin” of a gambling empire, but he's more than that. It's odd (yet savvy) how little this gets commented on in the episode itself, but King is clearly a media mogul as well. He has security cameras set up all around his mansion, expecting, and indeed, taunting people to try and steal his poker chip. He even invites people he knows for a fact are his enemies right into his heavily-fortified home.

And when he does, he turns on all his cameras and sits his inner circle down to watch the ensuing fireworks on TV. The whole process is eerily reminiscent of, for example, studio executives bringing in focus groups to give feedback or directors giving private screenings of their latest films to the elite and well-connected. He's The Prisoner's Number Two for the 1980s. What King, the consummate gambler and businessman, is trying to do is expand his capitalist empire from beyond the confines of television: He wants to use literal “television magick” (the chip is really only powerful because people desire it enough to write heist films about it and thus it becomes imbued with symbolic power) to take control of not just this narrative, but all narratives and impose his Single Vision.

Recall cable TV was a new thing at the time, and King's “TV shows” are obviously of a multitude of genres. He's channel-surfing. Again, we start in a heist movie and then transition to Dirty Pair. That's why Kei and Yuri got recalled from their vacation, because this is an emergency: King threatens all of fiction, or at least all of visual media on TV. And he definitely knows who he's up against, because as soon as the girls show up he locks them in a room with a giant...and makes them fight, placing bets on their odds of survival.

In essence, King turns himself into a wrestling promoter, and he's booked the Lovely Angels as the invading heel faction in a title match against his home team. He wants to beat Kei and Yuri, and he wants to beat them at their own game to boot. But, though he knows who and what the girls are, he vastly underestimates their true power, and this becomes his undoing. There's never any doubt that Kei and Yuri are going to prevail here-They figure out what's going on immediately (in that great scene where King turns his TV set on and the girls are right up against the camera making faces at him. And us for that matter, as the camera is pointed directly at King's set). Not only are they the protagonists, they're also the writers: There's no way they're going to let the threat King poses get the better of them. They dispatch the giant, which wasn't supposed to happen according to King's script (and note how Yuri takes him out with a chair to the head, just like in extreme contact wrestling) and get free run of the mansion, at which point everything naturally goes to hell and literally falls apart around King.

(I suppose it's possible to read King as a critical commentary on Vince McMahon here, though I doubt he would have been a common reference point for the exclusively Japanese cultural context this show was originally going out in.)

Once Kei and Yuri are free, the various disparate other aspects of the episode start to reassert themselves, but they're all deformed by the Angels' cleansing fire. The spy-fi and heist trappings come back, and a succession of stock, tropish plots attempt to play themselves out to close off the story, but none of them take: Sydney tries to make a heroic sacrifice to buy Kei time to escape the mansion's self-destruct sequence, but Kei saves him. He then tries to betray the girls by revealing himself to be a rival agent, but the girls had him outmaneouvered from the moment they met him because they've always known full well what he's up to (Sydney is, in point of fact, a gender-swapped Bond girl: Just look at how he's introduced, with the camera slowly panning up his body just like it'd do to any femme fatale. Tellingly, Kei and Yuri block the camera's field of view in this scene). King's wise woman medium adviser reminds us of the episode's mystical component and tries to give a moral about cheating fate to tie into the gambling motif, but she turns out to be Sydney in disguise as well so it doesn't actually mean anything. And, when they blast out into warp, at the end, the girls don't go into an angst-ridden spiel about love lost, but instead tease each other about their crushes. It's brilliant.

Not only have the Lovely Angels snuffed out anyone trying to monopolize narrative, they've taken an early stand against violent conflict as spectacle. Dirty Pair is action sci-fi and needs a bunch of explosions and bodies to keep the pace going. After a time, this starts to become morally indefensible. Kei and Yuri know this, and this is precisely why they act as seemingly flighty, capricious and casual as they do. Not because they don't care; they do, quite a lot. They just know it's not real. They're making visually flashy entertainment, and have consciously modeled it after the constructed shared artifice of professional wrestling. This is going to become a major theme as the series progresses, and the girls are drawing the line and making it clear as soon as possible: Immediately after their setting is introduced and the narrative has reassured us they're the heroes. This is absolutely the correct message to be delivering three episodes into a Dirty Pair cartoon show.

“Go Ahead, Fall in Love! Love is Russian Roulette” is an early high water mark for Dirty Pair. Actually, a great deal of the first few episodes are, barring the one from last time. It makes it abundantly clear, if there were any lingering doubt, the bar this show is aiming for: Nothing short of a total and complete reshaping and reconceptualization of the medium of action sci-fi television. If you strip away all the metafictional and mystical elements, what you're really left with in Dirty Pair is an action sci-fi series that, because it knows its action sci-fi and embraces its own spectacle and camp performativity, makes action sci-fi ethical and acceptable, which is why it's such a watershed coming after the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind movie: Kei and Yuri are making entertainment, that's their actual goal here. And because they know entertainment has the power to effect change, but ultimately isn't anything more than entertainment and shouldn't strive to be anything textually more, this means their entertainment is imbued with every ounce of the power they explore within it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

“Because the kids know where it's at”: Do Lovely Angels Prefer Chest Hair?

After the giddy heights of “How to Kill a Computer”, Dirty Pair dials things back significantly for its second outing. Don't let the name deceive you, “Do Lovely Angels Prefer Chest Hair?” is a far more straightforward outing than its predecessor. It is by no means my favourite episode, and I have a hard time imagining that it would be anybody's favourite episode-It is, in fact, stultifyingly mediocre. That said, it's not utterly terrible, and in many ways it's the episode this show needed to do at this point in time for the audience it has.

What's interesting about this episode from the vantage point of someone who owns the complete series on DVD is how unlike the rest of the show it is. For one thing, it is a direct sequel, picking up in the aftermath of the explosion in the Leaning Tower of Damocles and pretty much the entire 3WA hating Kei and Yuri's guts. Weirdly, in spite of its sci-fi magazine heritage, Dirty Pair has never been much of a serial, even on this show, usually preferring to make its stories largely standalone, although set against the backdrop of a unified constructed world (and yes, this is a storytelling structure I tend to be in strong support of, at least for television). This episode, however, is explicitly dealing with the fallout from last time, and Gooley even assigns the girls a supervisor in the form of consultant Graves because he no longer trusts them. Even the case is low-key; a bog-standard example of corporate rivalry where an starline company sends undercover agents to sabotage their rival's ships by planting bombs designed to emulate engine failure-Certainly not the kind of thing that would put the fate of humanity at stake.

It's extremely trivial to explain why this episode exists. It is obviously about explaining to viewers of the anime who might not be familiar with the book series why we should sympathize with Kei and Yuri even though utter destruction follows them everywhere, and it needs to get this across in twenty minutes. Graves starts out as an utterly contemptible character, lounging around in Gooley's office, throwing his weight around and treating the Angels like spoiled children, even making it absolutely clear he only wants them on the mission so the can check the women's restrooms onboard the starliner and that he thinks they never do their jobs. He is a a truly repugnant combination of the worst aspects of the Western film noir antihero and traditional, outmoded Japanese conceptions of masculinity and the inherent superiority of elders. This is what Kei is mocking when she tells Yuri that she's sure Graves must have chest hair, and that she hates men who do: She's saying she has no tolerance for men who literally wear their manliness on their chest and flaunt it in front of everyone.

Because of course Kei and Yuri are consummate professionals and figure out what's going on long before Graves does, it's just we have to get through an extended zero-G firefight on the exterior hull and have the whole ship almost crash into a major metropolitan area to prove that. And then the girls get their moment of triumph where they evacuate the passengers, arrest the saboteurs, diffuse the bomb and singlehandedly (well, with help from Mughi and Nanmo) avert disaster by steering the ship out of harm's way. Actually, put that way, it's a very un-Dirty Pair climax, with nary a city razed to the ground. But we have to keep in mind the audience for the anime and the audience for the books wasn't necessarily the same, and the show doesn't have quite the room to play with symbolic magick, subtext and narrative negative space that the novels do, and it needs to convey that Kei and Yuri are unambiguously heroic to people who might be sceptical after last week's fiasco and do it as quickly and bluntly as possible, and on that front “Do Lovely Angels Prefer Chest Hair?” is a success.

So in its own way, this episode reaffirms Dirty Pair's commitment to youth counterculture. Thankfully though, it doesn't pull the tired and facile “kids are cool, grown-ups are square” ridiculousness that it was in danger of and that so much lazy youth literature tends to do: Any youth culture that believes dangerous, retrograde and reactionary ideas are the exclusive domain of the over-25s and that all our problems would be solved if grown-ups just got out of the way is a youth culture that is simultaneously toxic and doomed. We saw that happen to the counterculture of the Long 1960s. We all know how *that* wave broke and rolled back thanks to Hunter S. Thompson and Scooby-Doo. Kei and Yuri know better than that, but, more importantly, they are better than that.

This is what allows for both Graves' ultimate redemption and the girls' eventual forgiveness of him: As Yuri says, we have to let adults have their pride and, after all, Graves was right about where the saboteurs came from. The underlying message here is that the real potential for positive and material social progress that lies within the heart of the Long 1980s youth is that it can listen to and work with multiple perspectives and positionalities to plot a course to a better future from the ashes of abandoned ones. We can learn from the wisdom of the past without repeating the same mistakes our forebears did. We can look back at the past not with unfiltered nostalgia for our parent's era, but not with complete shame and scorn either. They had some good ideas we can repurpose (recall Generation X is largely comprised of the children of Baby Boomers who were young in the Long 1960s). The Lovely Angels themselves are clad in outfits inspired by both Mod fashion and 1980s pop culture icons.

Our enemy is not the older generations, but outmoded and reactionary ideas, which can manifest anywhere in anyone at any time. We can find allies in anyone, from all ages and all walks of life, so long as they're as willing to listen as we are. Graves didn't have chest hair in the end after all, and earned Kei and Yuri's seal of approval. Our power lies in taking the best of the past, the best of the present and the best possible future we can imagine and crafting our utopia from that. This is the soul of punk: Anyone can carve out their own niche and deserves to the right to pursue that without fear of oppression.

The future is now.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

SIGKILL: How to Kill a Computer

That Dirty Pair would eventually make the leap to animation is a total no-brainer.

Although clearly indebted to Golden Age science fiction, this is a series that has always placed deliberately over-the-top, staged action sequences high on its list of priorities. Haruka Takachiho may be a master at prosaic imagery, but the fact is Dirty Pair has always been an intensely visual series. After all, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's illustrations are just as iconic to the look and feel of the novels as Takachicho's own writing is, and you can't inherit as much from professional wrestling as Dirty Pair does and not end up tackling visual media in some form. The question was not if there would be a Dirty Pair anime, but precisely how the series would bring its unique spin to the medium because, perhaps counterintuitively, there are also some things about it that make it somewhat hard to adapt.

Chief among these is the fact the the novels are told in the first person from Kei's perspective (or rather, what she wants us to think her perspective is), and this ties into their use of extremely clever postmodern and self-aware literary techniques. Kei being an unreliable narrator and an oral storyteller firmly working within the conventions of serialized sci-fi, light novels and fanfiction means that a great deal of Dirty Pair's uniqueness comes from being a book series in the first place. For the anime to succeed on any level other than a purely superficial one, it's going to have to translate this sense of knowing and pointed structural playfulness into some equivalent visual media form.

Which, thankfully for everyone, it does. But to get an understanding of how, we once again have to take an extremely fine-toothed comb to the proceedings here, as this is another case where a lot of meaning is deliberately left to be conveyed through subtext and subconscious association. First of all, fans of the novels will likely immediately notice that everything looks a lot different in “How to Kill a Computer” than it did in The Dirty Pair Strike Again, which was, if you're playing along at home, just last year. Kei and Yuri now look quite a bit more cartoony (as does Mughi), though not in a bad way, and their outfits have been slightly tweaked to make them brighter so they stand out on 1980s TV sets. The girls' starship, the namesake Lovely Angel, is a completely different vehicle. In the novels, Kei describes something that sounds like a cross between a rocketship, a flying saucer and a fighter jet, but the anime's Lovely Angel looks like a pink, superdeformed Star Trek Phase II USS Enterprise (Andy Probert and Matt Jeffries version, not James Cawley version).

(This was by no means unintentional. The show's director was a massive, massive Star Trek fan and would slip in references at every opportunity. Trekkers may also want to take note of the readout on the computer monitor Yuri is looking at during the episode's opening moments.)

The penny drops when the introductory narration comes on, it's not Kei, and we are introduced to the girls flailing around in the apartment they share together that is literally malfunctioning at the time we meet them. Sunrise Animation's Dirty Pair anime series is not an adaptation of the Dirty Pair book series at all, it's a full-on reboot. Actually, it might be better to describe it as an alternate continuity, and this touches on something Japanese media has a far more comfortable grasp on then US media does: In Japan, it's much more readily accepted that a story is a malleable thing and will change each time its retold or translated into a different form, which is something that all oral storytellers have of course always known. There doesn't exist in Japan, at least at this point in time, the same kind of obsessive canon and continuity fetishization that defines genre fiction discourse in the West.

We saw this a bit with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, in that the film version by necessity had to not only distill and condense the epic, sprawling, Byzantine complexity of the manga, but also come up with a satisfying ending to a story that wasn't supposed to be finished yet. But it's the most clear with the animated Dirty Pair franchise, which has, plot-wise, absolutely nothing to do with the novels, and was by design a version of Dirty Pair custom-tailored to take advantage of the capabilities of animation as a medium. Even taking that into account, its connection to its parent franchise is somewhat dubious: Haruka Takachiho has complained in the past that the show's animators “threw away the novels”, but he's also said he worked as a creative consultant and tried very hard to translate the franchise to animation as best he could. Regardless, the point here is while this show is unquestionably Dirty Pair, it's manifestly and explicitly a different interpretation and conceptualization of Dirty Pair. In fact, this series isn't the only Dirty Pair alternate continuity, nor is it the only Dirty Pair alternate anime continuity. Actually, it's not even the only Dirty Pair alternate anime continuity produced by Sunrise. But we'll get to that at a later date.

So, if this is a completely different sort of Dirty Pair, what's new and unique about it, apart from the superficial costume changes and character redesigns? Well, one big thing is the addition of a couple new supporting characters. The first is Chief Gooley, supposedly in charge of the 3WA, or at least Kei and Yuri's division of it, and their immediate superior. I have mixed feelings about this guy. In the books, or at least the last one, the chief was a nameless, blowhard stick-in-the-mud suit who existed mostly to overreact in front of the girls, throw his weight around and get comically knocked about by the flying shadow ninjas in jetpacks. I like this, because it reinforces the motif that Kei and Yuri are unquestionably the heroes and thus the series' commitment to anti-authoritarianism, as even the 3WA itself is not spared from being part of a corrupt and dirty world that Kei and Yuri need to cleanse by fire. Gooley, by contrast, is frequently portrayed as a more nuanced and sympathetic character, and there's a slippery slope from that to infantilizing the girls and depicting them as irresponsible children who need to grow up (thankfully this anime for the most part avoids falling into this trap, but at least one of the future Dirty Pair adaptations won't be quite so lucky or conscientious). In this episode though, Gooley pretty much fills the same role the chief in The Dirty Pair Strike Again did, which is much appreciated.

The second new character is Nanmo, a small egg-shaped robot dude with one eye who wears tennis sneakers. I've never been entirely sure what Nanmo actually *does* on this show: She (Nanmo's AI is sometimes referred to as being female) seems to be Mughi's partner, and the two of them usually work together to maintain and operate the ship's systems and, like Mughi, Nanmo is very good at being a Deus Ex Machina to move the plot forward should circumstances demand it. Nanmo is also one of the bigger sources of criticism for this show from fans who consider themselves loyalists to the original novels, and it's not terribly difficult to see why. Nanmo is self evidently in the category of “cute robot sidekick” characters in science fiction shows, which is not a group of characters that people who value sci-fi being taken seriously as a genre tend to be especially endeared by. Personally, I find Nanmo to be as inoffensive as she is largely unnecessary, so I don't have a huge issue with her and she definitely has her moments of cuteness.

The biggest change between the show and the books is the depiction of Kei and Yuri themselves, however. While they are more or less the same Lovely Angels we know and love, there are a few key differences. Since Kei is obviously no longer the narrator, the anime series has to define the girls a bit more clearly then the novels can get away with. The first happy side effect is that we get to know Yuri a lot better than we did in the either of the previous three stories. Though “The Case of the Backwoods Murder” did elabourate on her background a lot, it, like all of the serial stories (especially The Dirty Pair Strike Again), the majority of what we learn about Yuri is what Kei imagines she's thinking and tells us she does. In the novels, Yuri comes across as a bit aloof, even a bit stuffy at times, given the mask she's trying to wear. In the show however, she's peppy, upbeat, jokey and wonderfully sardonic with a quick wit. She also tends to freak out a lot faster than Kei and a lot more often than she used to, but mostly it feels like she's just being dramatic. She definitely comes across as someone who's trying to be very kind, gentle and understanding, but this just makes it even more obvious she's a terrible, terrible Yamato Nadeshiko.

One of the criticisms the anime sometimes gets from die-hard fans of the novels is that it, according to this argument, essentially becomes “The Kei Show” because it has a lot of stories that focus on her and gives her so many opportunities to act tough, badass and hyper-competent that this steals the spotlight from Yuri, who they feel the show maligns for being “too girly”. Again, I find this to be a misreading: In my opinion, the anime pulls something far more nuanced and deceptive. Although Kei does get quite a lot of chances to show off, there are just as many times, if not more so, where she's portrayed as feckless, impulsive and irresponsible (which I think is the real problem as that's not Kei either) and either way what I think the show is actually doing is pulling a very subtle redemption job on her. Remember, while we we only know Yuri from what Kei told us about her in the books, we likewise only know Kei through how she talks about herself, and it's clear to me at least that Kei either has some self confidence issues or is extremely self-effacing.

Recall Kei knows she's not conventionally attractive, and this shapes the way she chooses to tell us her stories. She'll put Yuri down, sure, but she'll also, implicitly, make her own actions look bad. She quite deliberately draws attention to the fact she's being unfair to Yuri on a diegetic level, which actually reveals a tertiary metatextual layer: Kei's behaviour in regard to how she compares and contrasts herself with Yuri is meant to call her readers' attention to the fact that what she's actually doing is glorifying Yuri, which makes a *lot* of sense if you stop and thinking about it. If Kei is telling a story she knows people are reading and listening to, if Kei has written herself into her story as a character and furthermore if Kei loves Yuri (both as a younger sister and a soulmate, which I think is fairly overt, and on perhaps another level if you choose to pursue that level of subtext), it would follow that she might portray her author insert avatar character, the narrator, in a negative light for portraying Yuri in a negative light, thus encouraging her readers to sympathize with Yuri more than her.

(This might also explain why Kei gives the weight she does to the Yamato Nadeshiko aspects of Yuri's act: Just like some young women do in the real world, perhaps Kei holds her best friend in higher esteem than herself and is maybe trying to paint her as someone her readers will find likable, admirable and desirable. Alternatively, she could just be trying to get her little sister figure some action.)

But the anime, being visual media told from the perspective of a series of cameras, has a different task before it. There's at least a simulacrum of a more unvarnished or “objective” take on things (although even here the show is quite clever and misleading, which I'll touch on in a minute). So yes, Kei is a bit more badass and take-charge and Yuri is a bit more offbeat and silly then in the books, but this was a needed twist on the characters to compensate for what the novels already did and for the shift in perspective jumping over to a different medium naturally entails. Rather than getting Kei and Yuri wrong, what I think this actually does is make them even more complex, multifaceted and interesting. What we get to see here are different sides of Kei and Yuri's character and personality that we might not have gotten to see had the anime not happened and given the novels' quirks. But of course, this is Dirty Pair, and this is far from the extent of the show's ruminations on performativity: If the fundamental joke of the novels is that Kei is aware she's telling a science fiction story that comes out of feminist fandom and the fanfiction scene, the fundamental joke of the anime series is that Kei and Yuri are aware they're being filmed for a TV show.

Though it doesn't seem like it starts out a major theme, if you look closely at the pilot, you'll find quite a number of shots of computer screens and security monitors that quickly pan back to shots of people watching computer screens and security monitors. And, in case there was any doubt about what kind of show this was going to be, the series' own intro sequence (set to the energetic and infectious “Russian Roulette”) features first Kei running back and forth making sidelong glances at the audience and then Yuri looking straight into the camera, pointing her finger at it and causing the glass to shatter around a bullet entry wound that jump cuts into existence. There's even a very prominent monitor in the intro itself, that seems to be playing its own version of the sequence while the “second” monitor (the one we're watching) plays a different one. Notably, there's a moment where Kei and Yuri fly out of the background monitor directly at us, before taking a hard swerve to the space behind the camera.

Along these lines, possibly the most dangerous trap the Dirty Pair anime could have fallen into would have been to depict the action in a kind of overtly filmic, representationalist style, and thankfully it deliberately avoids and subverts this at every opportunity. We even get the professional wrestling joke squared away right from the start, first with two young boys the Angels are trying to rescue, but who laugh at the girls and tell them they can't possibly be 3WA Trouble Consultants because they've never seen them on TV, and then by having a confused man ask “why are there female wrestlers here?” when Kei and Yuri dramatically “enter the ring” to let everyone know they're here to help. This is a delightful moment not just for that meta-joke, but also for how Kei and Yuri seem to cue their own intro music and spotlights, as if they're both directing the scene and editing the action from within the narrative itself.

The pinnacle of this theme actually comes in the post credits trailer for the next episode, which Kei and Yuri actually MST3K riff over. It's delightfully unexpected and becomes one of the reoccurring highlights of the entire series: At the end of every episode the girls come in and directly address the viewers at home and tell us what to expect from next week's show, frequently complaining about the quality of their scripts. Sometimes, they even go so far as to imply they haven't actually watched their own show yet and are just as surprised as to what happens as we are. Any pretenses that this show is going to be anything resembling straightforward cinematic spectacle or that Kei and Yuri are anything other than Gonzo filmmakers booking their own angles is at this point completely out the window.

And furthermore, “How to Kill a Computer” is a visual treat. The girls' new home base of Elenore City is a breathtaking vista of neon and concrete canyons that looks like a blend of Blade Runner's Los Angeles and Foundation's Trantor, but of course derivative of neither because Dirty Pair came before Blade Runner and isn't doing Asimov-style science fiction. The city's signature fixture, the Leaning Tower of Damocles, which gets its infamous tilt in this episode, is an imposing and powerful sight that speaks quite clearly to the state of technologism in this future, (especially when the AI controlling it decides to revolt, giving us this week's humanity-threatening emergency). The cinematography is equally as evocative as the setting it captures, with picture-in-picture scenes that resemble a wall of computer monitors and flashing green warning signals and countdown timers constantly superimposing themselves over the action, as if the world itself is indeed on the brink of suffering a catastrophic system-wide crash.

(That this show is able to look as lush and gorgeous as this on a regular basis is testament to the savvy way Sunrise went about cutting corners: While Dirty Pair does not utilise limited animation in the Scooby-Doo sense, what it does do to save time and money is use a lot of static shots and crossfades, allowing absolutely all of the resources to go into the art design and into making imaginative, creative landscapes and backgrounds. As a result, while it's obvious this show was made on a budget, it by no means looks “cheap”: It's some of the most beautiful and evocative science fiction ever put to film.)

Speaking of computers, it's easy to write the plot of the pilot off as another “rogue AI goes berserk” story, but it does actually take this stock archetype to some interesting places. There's the obvious reading of this being a cautionary tale about surrendering so much to technology and automation, which would actually paint this as an almost Gene Roddenberry-esque boring morality play (Kei even pulls her own twist on the Captain Kirk School of Computer Repair in the climax), but I think it's more fun to read this story different ways. BRIAN the AI is clearly a character, not just a machine that goes haywire-He explicitly blames humanity for betraying him by installing the emergency kill switch in the Z-Box, and we're of course supposed to sympathize with Nanmo, so this episode is obviously not coming out of Grimwade's Syndrome. Also, note how the Z-Box itself is shot like a nuclear launch button, and how in-universe it's even treated like the “nuclear option”: So, on top of everything else, there's a faint Cold War analogy going on here. In its own way then, “How to Kill a Computer” is returning to the theme of humanity turning its back on the world and what the consequences of that might be, it's just that this time the metaphor is translated into the language of Japanese science fiction and delivered through the inner workings of the setting itself.

And that kind of subversive twist is what elevates something that might otherwise be seen as a middling techno thriller romp into something really fascinating and memorable, a good a start as any to this new Dirty Pair. On top of that, this episode is just a laugh riot: Jokes fly fast and frequent, and they're really good jokes with perfect timing. The anime on the whole plays up the comedy elements of the franchise to a much greater extent than the books do, to the point they verge on slapstick, but it's all absolutely flawlessly executed and really, in a franchise like this it's kinda impossible not to fixate on comedy.

And it all seems to have worked, as the Sunrise anime is definitely the most iconic, popular and beloved version of Dirty Pair, albeit mostly in retrospect (the show did poorly enough in the ratings it was canceled before all the filmed episodes could be aired), which is kind of amusing considering all the blatant shout-outs to the original Star Trek. Although even so, the anime was always critically acclaimed and Sunrise managed to win our favourite girls the coveted Animage Grand Prix award for Best Anime in 1985, putting it in illustrious company (the previous year's winner was, well, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind). While “How to Kill a Computer” may not be as dizzyingly meta or aim as high as The Dirty Pair Strike Again, for a 20-minute episode of a cartoon show it's pretty fantastic. And when Kei and Yuri take off in the ending credits sequence grooving to “Space Fantasy” (which you really ought to see for yourselves, it is a thing to behold), we end feeling like our future is finally in good hands.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

“All Aboard the Express Kundalini!”: The Dirty Pair Strike Again

I trust we all have a pretty solid understanding of how Dirty Pair works by now, so there's no need to go into quite the same amount of detail as we did last time. Especially since The Dirty Pair Strike Again has a great deal of complex and head-spinning twists, turns, themes and motifs all its own. If you thought the first book was an overabundance of mad brilliance, this one will disintegrate your brain. In a good way.

First of all, I just want to say this book has possibly the most amazing opening chapter in the history of literature. Four years have passed between the first Dirty Pair book and this one, and, as if sensing that we'd missed the girls when they'd been away, Haruka Takachiho tosses us one of the most captivating, over-the-top action scenes I at least have ever read. Kei and Yuri are sitting in the 3WA headquarters with their testy chief after their latest successful, yet disastrous, mission. The chief chews them out for destroying an entire planet (which of course wasn't their fault) and the Angels play along with exasperation. Yuri goes through an elabourate routine of mock-grovelling while Kei openly rolls her eyes at her idiotic superior and tries not to break out giggling at Yuri's masterful performance. Then, out of nowhere, the entire freaking front side of the building explodes and in fly a bunch of flying shadow ninjas in jetpacks firing indiscriminately at everything in sight.

What happens next is nothing short of sheer poetry. Kei and Yuri fall back to the roof of the 3WA building where they take off in single pilot needle-nosed rocketship jet fighters and pursue the shadow ninjas throughout the entire city, as Kei naturally gives us a truly riveting play-by-play commentary. Power plants and chemical refineries are utterly razed by the firefight, causing gigantic explosions that reach into the upper atmosphere and level whole city blocks in a single blow. The Angels dogfight with the shadow ninjas in the skies above major metropolitan centres, weaving in between Blade Runner skyscrapers before straight shooting out of city limits and soaring over expansive fields and rolling meadows. And then, best of all, Mughi (who, need I remind you, is a giant sentient alien cat beast who is also chief engineer of the girls' starship) charges headfirst into the fray, leaps fifty feat into the air, snatches said shadow ninjas out of the sky in mid-flight and then field pitches them straight into said skyscrapers, toppling them like bowling pins made out of Jenga. It is a breathtaking, awe-inspiring scene of inconceivable carnage and indescribable beauty.

And on top of that, it's an utter jaunt to read, keeping you smiling every step of the way. Kei is as sassy, snarky, sharp and whip-smart as she's ever been, and her comic timing is dead on. Her storytelling is a spectacle unto itself. Not only is it absolutely hilarious, it effortlessly and vividly evokes the kind of cinematic splendour I didn't think was even possible to convey through prose, and it goes on like this for fifty-four whole pages.

You would think the book would start to lose momentum after this, and while it does slow down and change gears a bit from this point, it's no less a provocative and fascinating read because of it. The case the Angels were being briefed on before being rudely interrupted by flying shadow ninjas in jetpacks involved an injured miner on the planet Chakra. While on the surface not even seeming to be worthy of 3WA involvement, let alone involvement by Kei and Yuri, it swiftly becomes obvious that there is, as always, more to the case than meets the eye, because piecing together the details of the incident reveals that the miner was apparently attacked in broad daylight by an invisible monster.

The girls warp to Chakra to check things out (and to flee being unjustly blamed for the complete and utter destruction of their city), but their investigation is hampered by the machinations of the mayor of the primary mining town and the owner of the mine operation, each of whom try to dissuade Kei and Yuri from helping the other and both of whom seem like they have something to hide. As the girls try to figure that out, they also have to dodge the incessant pursuit of the shadow ninjas and the invisible monster, who engage them at the most inconvenient moments leading to destruction on an ever-increasing scale. There's also a third party, an enigmatic and dogmatic religious leader known as The Master who gives impassioned speeches to his chosen followers about a time of reckoning soon to be at hand.

Structurally, The Dirty Pair Strike Again marks a kind of turning point for the series, as it's the first properly novel length Dirty Pair story (the previous book, The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair, being in fact a compilation of the first two serialized stories). This means that The Dirty Pair Strike Again can be a far lengthier and more intricate yarn than either of its predecessors and unfold at a slower and more methodical (but no less engaging) pace. We even get to take a break from the plot for a couple chapters to (of course) watch a wrestling match that (of course), Kei gives a breathless play-by-play of (and incidentally, I quite like how the headquarters of the 3WA is on planet Lyonesse). Not to worry though, a monster shows up and throws a fit in the ring and then the arena burns down before too long.

That said though, and I'm not immediately certain if this was the case last time too and I just didn't notice it there because of how brief those stories were, but this one seems to wear its pulp serial heritage on its sleeve a bit more noticeably than either of the Great Adventure stories. The general body of the thing feels very much like something that initially ran in drabbles in a science fiction magazine: There's a lot of breaks on cliffhangers where the girls are in mortal peril, only for the next section to open with some random plot element flying in at the last second out of nowhere to save the day, typically involving Mughi. It's not that this is especially bad or detracts from the story, but it does invoke its lineage quite evidently. It reminds me a lot of the Tintin books, where every page would end on a panel of Tintin in danger, only for it to be swiftly resolved in the first panel of the next page, because that's how the serial was broken up when it ran in comic magazines. But the Tintin books still worked effectively as a single unbroken longform narrative in spite of this, and such is the case for The Dirty Pair Strike Again too.

(Well...for the most part. There's one extended section near the back of the book where the girls spend a somewhat unnecessary amount of time faffing about in abandoned mine shafts dodging a rather ludicrous number of successive cave-ins.)

But what I think is the most interesting about The Dirty Pair Strike Again is what it pulls in its climactic moments. Now I'm pretty much going to spoil this book outright from this point onward, so if you want to go into it blissfully unaware of its big reveal, close this and go check it out right now. Seriously, I highly recommend it: It has all the radical performativity and giddy fun of the last book, all the action and explosions you could hope for and it kicks the series' mystical component into overdrive (but you don't have to take my word for it). For the remnant, it turns out that everyone on Chakra is trying to get to the centre of the main mine, where the corporation has discovered a giant, solid black egg of mysterious origin and is trying to keep it under wraps. They're not having much success though, as The Master and his people, the Absolute Children of Heaven, know about it and consider it the key to the resurrection of their Messiah, whom The Master calls Boralura. Lucifer (of whom the owner is a secret member) has gotten wind of it too, and wants to secure its power to tighten their grip over United Galactica.

Eventually, it's revealed that everyone is right: The egg is a solid deposit of pure Ishana, a mineral so rare it only exists in a few places in the entire universe, and Ishana is what Boralura, who actually exists and is an extradimensional collective consciousness, is trying to channel itself through to make first contact with humanity (it's worth noting here the magnitude of this reveal: Extraterrestrial life in the Dirty Pair universe is the province of sacred, ancient myth and legend, spoken only of in hushed tones). The invisible monster is a similar such entity, an evil, ravenous member of Boralura's species known as Yaksha, unleashed by The Master as an agent to convert Chakra through a terror campaign. But in the end, it's neither the Absolute Children of Heaven, nor the mining corporation, nor Lucifer who ultimately get chosen to speak with Boralura, but Kei and Yuri, who undergo what can only be described as a spiritual, transcendental out-of-body experience where they not only speak with Boralura (via telepathy), but temporarily join with it to share consciousnesses.

There is a *lot* going on here. I was blown away when I first read it, and then when I did follow-up research to confirm my suspicions for what all this hinted at I was even more impressed. First of all, this is another case where a lot of care has gone into things like the meanings of names and textual symbolism. All of the major names here are taken quite explicitly from Hindu, Buddhist and Tantric philosophy: a “chakra” is a vortex of energy on the “subtle body” (defined as a simultaneously physical and spiritual emanation of the larger divine, that is, one individual experiential manifestation of the “great chain of being”, which we could also call the oversoul or godhead) where the channels of life-force ebb and flow into. “Ishana” is an aspect of the Hindu god Shiva and is derived from the word describing the sacred and fundamental power of the cosmos. An Ishana than would be someone who is in possession of that power and who can control it for themselves, which might explain why everyone in the galaxy seems to be after the ebony egg in this story.

You might be thinking that The Dirty Pair Strike Again thus becomes an example of “Pop Hinduism” or “Pop Buddhism” given the way it throws these terms around, but that couldn't be further from the truth here. On the contrary, all of these names are very clearly supposed to mean something and The Dirty Pair Strike Again is absolutely a musing on spirituality. What exactly it's trying to say be a bit deceptive to parse out though: It's tempting to call it an embrace of Eastern spirituality and a condemnation of Western spirituality: The Absolute Children of Heaven use quite a lot of Christian imagery and are clearly evil (at one point attempting to literally crucify Kei and Yuri as a sacrifice to Boralura). And then, of course, there's Lucifer again.

But that would be a rather facile reading I think, for a number of reasons. First of all, Kei and Yuri are of course the “Lovely Angels”, and they're the ones who quite explicitly attain enlightenment here. The Master and Lucifer aren't evil because they're Western-coded, but because they feel they alone posses the Pure Sacred Truth and that they alone have the right to indoctrinate others as they see fit. Boralura definitely contacted The Master, but he let it go to his head, appointed himself prophet and priest and decided to invoke an authoritarian, dogmatic conception of spirituality (this is why they're called the Absolute Children of Heaven, after all). That's where The Master went wrong, because the kind of enlightenment Boralura represents is a communal, egalitarian one, promising to help show humanity how they're connected to the larger universe and welcoming them into a higher plane of knowledge and understanding. Building a hierarchical church around Boralura is anathema to the truth it embodies.

This is reiterated in Yaksha, who is described by pretty much every character as being an essentially demonic counterpart to Boralura. Hindu teachings a “yaksha” is actually a nature spirit who is simultaneously two different contrasting formes: A peaceful forest or mountain elemental and a predatory ghost-like creature who devours those who trespass into the places it guards (similarities can be drawn with the Celtic conception of faery here). Combining this with Yaksha's connection to Boralura in this story, and it immediately becomes obvious that Yaksha and Boralura are not only of the same species, but the same entity. Yaksha is merely the darker, negative manifestation of Boralura's consciousness, given life by the intense and fervent hatred of the Absolute Children of Heaven, just as we've said many times before how demons can be read as merely intense negative emotion given life as an entity.

And though they're not given any additional titles in this story (apart from being dubbed “The Gods of Destruction” by The Master, which is, well, fair), the extends to Kei and Yuri too. Because they have meditated on the inner workings of the universe and experienced the freedom of ego death by separating their consciousnesses from the material world to attain a higher spiritual plain, the girls, the Lovely Angels, have become Tantrics in the most traditional sense. Though deriving from classical Hinduism, Tantra is not a religion but a spiritual pursuit and, very fittingly, can be undertaken by anyone regardless of class, creed, gender or religious background. It's about finding your own personal path to nirvana, which in some ways makes it roughly similar to the Western Thelema (and you can go ahead and read a Tantric Sex subtext into that if you want. It *is* Kei and Yuri, after all).

So really, instead of being a West vs. East theological knock-down-drag-out, what The Dirty Pair Strike Again shows us is that we all approach enlightenment from different perspectives and conceptualize it different ways...and that understanding that in itself is enlightenment. I am we are all one. If there's any universal spiritual truth, it's that we're all connected to each other through the oversoul of nature, which is as much an animist concept as it is anything else.

But what really strikes me about this statement is how quickly and dramatically the book changes tonal gears: Dirty Pair has given us one of the most sublime and provocative science fiction messages ever, and then it all immediately goes south and goes hard. Because, you see, the universe isn't ready to hear this yet. The existence of Yaksha and all the drama on Chakra has Boralura concerned it acted in error and chose the wrong people to contact, to which Kei and Yuri have an amusing response: “Well...There is room for improvement” and convince it to take a different approach to contacting humanity at a later date. Another reason it's such a great moment is that it's a total inverse Captain Kirk speech: The charismatic captain(s) show the noncorporial entity why it's better than humanity and why humanity isn't ready for it's teachings.

Boralura foresees that this will be “the first and last interaction at this place of Ishana” and departs, leaving the situation, and the future, in the girls' hands. And, this being Dirty Pair, this comes to be through the utter obliteration of Chakra (like, it ceases to be an extant planetoid) and thus the loss of the only known source of Ishana in the universe. It's a bitingly cynical moment: We've ascended and returned to nirvana and unlocked the nature of reality, and humanity responds by blowing everything the hell up. We don't deserve enlightenment, and the universe rolls back on itself to prevent us from destroying ourselves and everything else in our arrogance and hubris.

But, maybe it's not all for nothing. After all, Kei and Yuri still discovered their path to truth. The universe at large might not be ready, but the girls, who are after all as much shamans as they are angels, certainly are and they're here to make sure that someday it will be. Because that's the job of spiritual teachers-To go on transcendental journeys, learn the secrets of the cosmos and to remind us of what we really are. And what we could be.