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.


  1. Gotta say, especially in response to your final comments on how this show shaped sci-fi that it is fascinating to discover this show I have never previously heard of. That's why I come here.

    I love what you say about the knowledge of Kei and Yuri - and another thing I really liked about this episode was that in the first heist scene he chamber broken into was chock full of apparently religious objects. I like that that, that the character denoting himself King of media and attempting to take over the narrative places himself in the centre of a maze filled with sacred objects - whose religions perhaps he has already appropriated on his networks - all designed to tempt people.

    Interesting also that the most magnetic object of all is called the Golem. A piece of Jewish myth where inanimate matter was animated and controlled - sometimes used to attack or defend against others. Hubris is important here, as often Golems are hard to control and end up killing their creators, and as you indicate King's whole enterprise turns against him.

    1. And indeed, the Lovely Angels, themselves fictional characters supposedly "created" by somebody, are the ones whose presence orchestrates King's fall from glory. Ideas, stories and symbols gain power and agency through the meaning they are imparted with.

      Kei and Yuri's symbolic power transcends even their own narrative. And this is the truth that comes back to keep the "Dirty Pair Concept" going time and time again.

      Great thoughts: I'm really glad you're enjoying the series!

    2. Yes am enjoying the series. Just been away at a conference for a few days on Narrative Practice & & Healing in relation to psychosis, with Cherokee psychotherapists and other Maori and Aboriginal practitioners. Amazing!

      "stories and symbols gain power and agency through the meaning they are imparted with"

      This point above was actually central to the conference's themes - and the idea was being presented that an individual's story had no less power because of it being communicated via voices the person is hearing - a lot of the work was around the idea of the person taking back control of their own narrative, away from the medicalised story being presented to them.

      Am working my way through the series and will comment as I continue! Thanks again.

    3. You always seem to end up going to the most interesting conferences and workshops: I remember the one you went to last summer on interactive storytelling, which I still think was fascinating. I think this one sounds fascinating too.

      Thanks for watching: I look forward to your thoughts!

  2. Yes, it was amazing! I like hunting out events that can add a new edge to my work - always looking for new approaches to story. Enjoying watching, cheers Josh!