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.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah I like how it's said near the beginning that "it's best to let the elders keep their egos inflated", and at the end it is good how they both do not end up mocking Graves - which any other lesser piece of writing may have done. I think that yes as with your comments at the end that this is the best thing to take out of this episode - the movement away from oppression and not attacking or overtly glorifying the past. Good thoughts.