Thursday, July 31, 2014

“I want to give you all my love”: No Way! 463 People Disappeared?!

What it comes down to is that we were compelled to write it. That's the main thing.

It started, like most things do, with a vision. Some people say visions are messages from somewhere else telling you what you need to do next. But I don't think that's true, personally: For us...for me...It's more of a brief flash of some image or feeling, always without any sort of context. We never comprehend the things we see as we see them. You have to understand that when we touch the visions we see are not clear at all-More...fuzzy and muddy. Those are words you could use for it. But the vision is still there, and it's my job to bring it to you because, in my experience, visions usually tend to mean something. So now I suppose you want me to talk about the things we said and the order in which we said them. R-really? I mean, isn't the story already enough for you? I've already said my piece. I'm a storyteller, not a philosopher. I just do my job and consider myself lucky to be able to do what I do. I can't possibly be that interesting to you, can I?

Well, fine, I guess you wouldn't have called me here for any other reason...

I'm of the mind that things happen because we know they're going to. Planets orbit their stars in the silent darkness as they always have, casting day into night and into day again. I don't believe that space is an ocean, but I do think that our words, our songs and our mantras flow through us just like water flows through the oceans (which reminds me, I need to check the tide charts for Ocean Ridge. We're going on vacation soon, you know). The very best we can strive for is to be able to channel this flow in a way that can help us. When we do this, I think we can feel a bit the arcs and rotations of the universe. Those philosopher guys who spend all their days in the casinos spinning wheel after wheel hoping that *this* time it will be different understand maybe some of this, but they're so focused on spinning around and around in circles they never get to the point of realising they're in the wheel too.

But look at me. Here I go on and on again like a silly broken record. This isn't what you wanted to hear me talk about, was it? Well, what we saw that night was a ship adrift in inky night. It was an enormous ship clad in the loveliest shade of blue you've ever seen. It was sparkling and glowing, illuminating the darkness around it Except, not really. It was more like the idea of a ship...but also the idea of a ship not being there. It wasn't like it was there one moment and gone the next, nor was it like it was both here and gone at the same time. It was as if these two images kept repeating and following each other forever. And then it just stopped, before we'd even had time to process what had just happened. This sort of thing is always confusing at first, but we did have a clue, so that was a place to start at least.

So we got to thinking, what sort of story could we tell that would allows us to share a part of what we'd seen with all of you? Was the cosmos trying to tell us something? And what could we do with the knowledge that had flowed through us, limited though it might have been? What we came up with looked something like this...

The mere fact I'm writing this means I am somewhat forced to spoil what is unarguably the most ambitious and clever story in the entire first series. But, considering you can readily find Dirty Pair episode lists anywhere from Teatime in Elenore City to Wikipedia to the actual Dirty Pair wikia wiki (not to mention this show is as of this writing pushing thirty years old), there's not a whole lot of purpose in keeping this episode's trump card a secret. Or rather, I should say episodes, because “No Way! 463 People Disappeared?!” totally bucks this series' convention by being part one of a two-parter.

The magnitude of this is not to be overstated. Not counting the occasional reoccurring character or offhand mention of the Leaning Tower of Damocles, the only other time Dirty Pair has referenced a previous episode directly has been “Do Lovely Angels Prefer Chest Hair?”, which was only the second episode ever made and came out months and months ago before anyone knew what the show was going to be like in the first place. Dropping a “To Be Continued” here is a stroke of genius and comes as a genuine shock, reminding us of the gravity cliffhangers used to have the potential to evoke. It's not like today when everything is expected to be part of some ongoing serial or story arc: Back when television was episodic, cliffhangers were akin to pulling the rug out from under your audience precisely because they were so rare and unexpected. There's a reason so many of them tend to be remembered as television landmarks.

And this one absolutely is, because between its two episodes, this is a triumphant masterpiece of a story that's a serious contender for the show's very finest hour. It's the highest stakes and most dramatic this show has ever been, but also the most charmingly piquant. Dirty Pair has more than earned the weight it throws around here: It's heartfelt, emotional and moving on any number of levels and each and every one of them is an exercise in sci-fi perfection. If you're only going to watch one Dirty Pair story, I can come up with very few that encapsulate everything that's great about this show better and tighter than this episode and its conclusion.

One of the big reasons this is the case is because “No Way! 463 People Disappeared?!”/”We Did It! 463 People Found!” (hereafter “The 463 two-parter” or just “The 463”) is essentially everything episodes like “Come Out, Come Out, Assassin” and “Pardon Us. Trouble's On the Run, So We're Coming Through!” were trying to do, except successful. Hell, more than successful, more then a home run, this is a grand slam: Far from being a farce or a parody, it's a deeply moving, emotional and powerful story woven together expertly with an endearing and delightful sense of gentle humour and brevity. It's got an intricate and captivating central mystery populated with a really fascinating cast of characters, each and every one who goes on to play an important role in the case and its ultimate resolution.

A true to life ghost ship lands at a planetary space port, with all 463 passengers seeming to have simply vanished into thin air without a trace. Chief inspector Eddie Jones, Kei and Yuri's local contact, has an emotional investment in the case as his daughter Melody is among the disappeared and his son Arthur misses her terribly. Eddie's also going through a divorce: Melody lives with her mother and was coming to visit her brother and her father when she vanished with the rest of her fellow travellers. Even so, Eddie acts very erratically, arousing the girls' suspicions. There's a mysterious hooligan who seems to be deliberately targeting the Angels, and Yuri has a hunch Arthur knows more then he's letting on. What seem at first to be tangential bits of character development and minor bits of exposition all eventually prove to be of tremendous significance, and the way the episodes tie up all their disparate story elements together is a work of art.

Lest you think the show's newfound pathos has doomed Dirty Pair to self-indulgent grimdark, the show doesn't hesitate to point out its own medium awareness by, among other things, flagrantly violating every single rule of epic two-parter storytelling and giving away its big resolution in the title of next week's episode, which the girls cheerily and helpfully recite for us in the post-credits teaser. Oh, you thought Dirty Pair would preoccupy itself with maintaining dramatic tension and suspense over the course of the week? Why ever would you think that? *Obviously* Kei and Yuri are going to win and the missing 463 passengers are going to be found. That's a given. The truly savvy move lies within shifting our curiosity about “what happens next” to other areas, namely, our investment in the plight of the divided Jones family, which is where it's really supposed to be. Just like with “Criados' Heartbeat”, this is a story that's high stakes and well done enough to serve as a season finale, and Dirty Pair once again adamantly refuses to deliver the patriarchal pleasure of a narrative climax that doing so would entail.

(I can't help but think here about something Rick Berman once said in regards the Star Trek Voyager episode “Living Witness”, where the EMH curates a museum exhibit in a possible 31st Century chronicling the exploits of the Starship Voyager. The original writer, Joe Menosky, wanted the museum in the Alpha Quadrant, but Berman made him change it to the Delta Quadrant because he felt it would supposedly “spoil” the planned eventual revelation that Voyager would make it home, even though that was basically a bleeding obvious foregone conclusion from about the fist episode.)

But what really reminds us of the true purpose of this series is Kei and Yuri themselves, who make a point to lighten the mood whenever it's needed. The girls have never, ever been depicted better: Colourful, animated, kindhearted, charming and devastatingly competent, they are unquestionably the narrative's prime movers, yet they remain strictly marginal figures, albeit conspicuous ones. Kei and Yuri reveal their true selves to us once again through their actions, but also in little vignettes interspersed throughout the plot, occasionally (literally) cutting in but never stealing the spotlight, because this isn't their story. This is the story of the Jones family on multiple levels, and Kei and Yuri are here to do what they do best, and better than anyone else: Healing the universe by reconstructing reality and being utopian role models to those in need.

Well, that's the gist of it at any rate. I don't really need to go on any further, do I? I mean, you can all watch the episode yourself-It's right *there* after all. But I suppose you'll want to know about the people and the love stories and the computer magicians and the ocean tide. Fine, fine, I'll talk more about all that as soon as I stoke the fire.

To Be Continued

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“O Sister, Where Art Thou?”: Nostalgic Blues Makes a Killer Soundtrack

Irritatingly, the much-discussed pattern is still in effect. You know what that means.

Although truth be known that's being a tad unfair. “Nostalgic Blues Makes a Killer Soundtrack” isn't terrible: There's a handful of things about it to recommend and it's not ethically bankrupt, but the fact is this is still an off week and this still means it doesn't work either. The big problem is this is yet another episode that lacks thematic cohesion: The best way I can come up with to describe it is that it seems to be a combination of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and The Defiant Ones. Also the blues for some reason. Why...I honestly couldn't tell you, unless I'm missing something particularly blatant, which is always a possibility.

The first film is credited with finally killing off the western genre in the US and chronicles the falling out between a bounty hunter and an outlaw who decide to terminate their partnership and come to blows over the money, while a mercenary discovers the whereabouts of a hidden stash of Confederate gold during the Civil War. The other two find out, and proceed to generally try to swindle and betray each other throughout the film's runtime. Our analogues here would I guess be Blues the assassin and his target, the business tycoon of the “Miss Creamy Gal Beaty Pageant” (and I can't believe I actually wrote those words: This is going to look so, so wrong outside the context of this episode) who killed Blues' mother, a Blues singer, by throwing her into the gaping maw of an active volcano for reasons I don't think are ever actually explained. The owner is running an insurance scam on the local hotel and plans to blow it up, and Blues is out to stop him and avenge his mother's death.

The second is the classic story about two convicts, a black man named Noah and a white man named Joker, who escape prison, hate each other, but are handcuffed together and are forced to co-operate and learn to appreciate each other in order to survive. The analogues here are clearer, with Blues as Joker and Kei as Noah, as they spend the majority of the episode in handcuffs bickering with each other and have to team up against the greater evil of the owner. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly also has a scene where Tuco, the bandit, is captured by Union forces and is handcuffed to his captor. Both it and this episode also have scenes where trains and bathrooms play pivotal roles: Tuco uses a trip to the men's room to escape in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly by leaping from the moving carriage and killing the Union soldier he was chained to and Dirty Pair uses restrooms to make a really lame and unfunny joke. And indeed, trains do prove important to the climax here, as the owner has rigged a ridiculously convoluted scheme that involves running a monorail over a precise section of track at a precise moment in time to detonate a bomb that will burn down the hotel.

What's even less clear then the actual symbolism is what any of it is supposed to actually mean. If this is indeed supposed to be a nod to both The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and The Defiant Ones, there are a couple paths the show could have taken. Likening Kei to a person arrested for belonging to an oppressed group of people is interesting, or it at least would have been had this episode followed up on any of the possible avenues it could have gone down with this. Even scaling it back to just an outlaw could have been intriguing, especially given the girls' increasingly strained relationship with the 3WA owing to their commitment to material social progress, and also because as far as the galaxy is concerned the Lovely Angels may as *well* be outlaws. If Yuri is then supposed to be Angel Eyes the merc from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (presuming that Blues is Tuco, the owner is his ex-partner and perhaps sometimes Kei as well), this would also explain why she spends so much time once again flippantly acting like she's better and more competent then her partner...But it's mostly just annoying.

The larger issue with this reading is that The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is a prime example of a deconstruction of the western genre, and I'm not sure there's much new ground to be gained by Dirty Pair looking at it, especially considering what this show has already done in “Hire Us! Beautiful Bodyguards are a Better Deal”, which is an unequivocally superior Dirty Pair western pastiche in every conceivable way. That episode was furthermore based on Yojimbo, the movie that was the direct inspiration for the Dollars series The Good, The Bad and the Ugly was *itself* a part of, so this whole thing to me just feels like an aimless and second-rate retread.

(And even so I can't for the life of me figure out the Blues motif: It's clearly important, but, apart from his name, Blues only plays the Blues once and it's never mentioned again. Is this supposed to be a callback to the show's affection for The Blues Brothers, whose titular characters were outlaws on a mission from god? If that's the case, that's even more strangled then the half-assed connection I've tried to make between this episode and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.)

Apart from the thematic issues, this week's outing is also less then satisfying on structural grounds. It relies on pulp stalling tactics to an extent I found noticeable and irritating, which is particularly a problem in a 20 minute cartoon show: It's nice that Yuri's attempts to blow off Kei and go solo to finish the job on her own are once again thwarted and shown to be ill-conceived, but it would have been nicer had that been done without her getting captured. The girls are depicted pretty changeably here, with about an equal mix of positive and negative portrayals, though what bugged me the most is how Blues' badassery wound up sidelining and stealing the show from them both. The thing about the Lovely Angels is that while marginality may well be built into their characters, Dirty Pair is still their show, so when they cross over with other stories great care has to be taken to balance the fact that they are in a different story with the fact that we still want to see the action revolving around them. And this episode basically doesn't.

(One word of praise I do have to give this one is that the world is absolutely sublime: It's an old west town at the base of a volcano connected by an antigrav monorail network with *dinosaur aliens* for horses. It's one of the most creative and memorable locales the show's come up with yet, which once again just makes you wish the episode itself was better.)

Even though Mark I of Sunrise's Dirty Pair is growing ever nearer to conclusion, we know it's not out of steam yet-It's still quite clearly capable of greatness, which only makes it all the more frustrating when it doesn't quite deliver.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

“Heart of Wax”: An Unjustified Lover's Grudge. Let Me Love You Without Revenge

Over at Teatime in Elenore City, webmaster Nozmo has a list of mini-reviews of several animated Dirty Pair stories with ratings out of five. Apparently, this one was terrible enough to warrant Nozmo's lowest possible score: A 1 out of 5. Now, I can certainly see how this episode could rub some people the wrong way, especially if you happen to be of a Hard SF predisposition, as this is essentially the opposite of that. It is *quite* silly and there are times you worry because you're not sure which way it's going to go, but its not long before it becomes clear this is, at least as far as I'm concerned, yet another classic.

For the first time in what feels like ages, though in reality it's only been three weeks, Dirty Pair is actually shooting for the stars and hitting its target. There are moments of undeniable wackiness; almost to the extent of the Mouse Nazis, but this time there's enough charm permeating the whole production that it doesn't feel off-putting or inappropriate. And furthermore, much to my delight, “An Unjustified Lover's Grudge. Let Me Love You Without Revenge” is once more as cosmic and profound as this series has ever been. But before we can get into that, we should square away what is likely the biggest complaint about this episode right away. You would think that after all I've ranted and raved about lately in regards to Kei and Yuri being written badly, badly out of character and the narrative constantly mocking them I would throw an absolute *fit* here. This is, after all, an episode where Kei and Yuri seemingly spend an inordinate amount of time competing for the affections of a reclusive suave bishōnen millionaire, each trying to prove she's a “better woman” then her partner. Well, in between blatant pratfalls at any rate.

Ah, but this isn't even what's going on at a textual level: The girls are undercover again, this time extradiegetically. Kei (natch) even comes right out and tells us (that is, she looks straight into the camera and addresses the audience directly) their mission is to show their client what real women and real love are truly like. They fear Reamonn's dedication to Meshuzura, a plaster statue, is unhealthy and counterproductive, especially as they go in thinking he's a raving misogynist. He's not, just *literally* allergic to women (hence why he only allows himself to be intimate with plaster statues), but his inability to coexist with them is nevertheless seen as a problem that needs to be corrected. So, Kei and Yuri put on various elabourate displays of femininity they assume Reamonn, a dashing, upper-class aristocrat, will find attractive and appealing. Naturally, they fail hilariously and spectacularly, because Kei and Yuri can never and will never be subsumed by traditional gender roles and commonly held notions of ideal femininity.

(This is, in some ways, a scene that is more relevant today then it would have been in 1985, with contemporary young Japanese society *literally* divided along gender lines due to confusion over the collapse of traditional gender roles.)

From this point the episode does indeed get very slapsticky and silly, but I don't have any problem with that here. Firstly because it feels appropriate for the setting and the particularly light-heated tone about it, but also because, really, slapstick is good for women. Women should be allowed to be funny in media: It's an old and tired notion that only men should engage in pratfall humour because women are supposedly more proper, mature and refined. It's just another form of patriarchal objectification, just of the positive discrimination kind. As avatars of reclaimed femininity, Kei and Yuri obviously understand this and are perfectly willing to engage in slapstick, and with wild abandon to boot. Done well, this is a very *good* thing: It's a feature, not a bug, of material social progress. This is another episode I think is extremely easy to read as the girls poking fun at themselves (as opposed to the diegetic narrative poking fun at them, which is an entirely separate matter) in order to tell a story and make a point about what their roles are. And anyway, there's enough tension, action and symbolism to reassure us there's a great deal more going on here than a simple comedic runaround.

The opening scenes of the episode are divided between two wildly different stories: We open in medias rens with Kei and Yuri already involved with a case in progress, embroiled in the midst of an incredibly dramatic and brutal conflict with a crazed military leader who goes largely nameless, so I'll call him Colonel Patch. Not that I'd advocate watching “Pardon Us. Trouble's On the Run, So We're Coming Through!” of your own volition, but if you paid attention to the post credits sequence last week and then watched this episode, you might notice that every scene that teaser pulled from, with the exception of a brief glimpse of the final shot of Reamonn and Miralda, happens in the first two or three minutes. Thus, the “real” Dirty Pair story is of them sparring off against Colonel Patch and his armed forces. But this is not what this episode is actually about: The story we're supposed to pay attention to is quite obviously that of Reamonn, Meshuzura and Miralda, which the episode further spends its opening salvos going out of its way to contrast with the world of Kei and Yuri.

Reamonn soliloquizes alone and removed from everyone and everything else in his castle atop a cliff with only his plaster statue for company, his iconography immediately reminiscent of about a million different plots and motifs. His love poetry and the theatrical way he describes his plight is quite obviously Shakespearean, both in the level of its bombast and flair and also in the way it's dealing with very mundane, everyday emotions: His allergy to women aside, Reamonn's isolation and crushing loneliness is something a lot of people could probably relate to. His giant, sprawling, more-than-a-little creepy castle also evokes Gothic horror and Gothic romance alike, and his undying dedication to the inanimate Meshuzura seems custom-tailored to remind one of the horror movie Mystery of the Wax Museum and its remake House of Wax, the latter starring Vincent Price in one of his best roles. Both movies concern a quiet and lonely sculptor who channels his passion into a museum of lifelike wax sculptures he considers his only friends. He's driven mad when his business partner burns the building down to collect on its insurance, seeing it as more profitable then actually maintaining the failing museum.

But this seems a world away from the gun-toting drama of Kei and Yuri's story, as the girls dogfight with Colonel Patch's starfleet in the skies high above and beyond Reamonn's castle. The two plots have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and the editing goes out of its way to make this as clear as possible: It almost feels like we've perhaps tuned into Dirty Pair late and have caught the girls at the conclusion of an episode we never get to see, and the camera itself, recognising this, is flipping back and forth between two different channels.

Indeed, this is precisely what's happened. Just like in “Criados' Heartbeat” and “Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always Be Brand New”, we've stumbled upon a Dirty Pair story that exists within the subtext of the Dirty Pair story we're currently watching. Except it's a bit different this time: Given the elabourate and meticulous way this was set up, this is a situation the girls seem fully in control of, and this ties into how they portray themselves in-universe (and incidentally, this also gives further credence to the reading we afforded “Criados' Heartbeat” positing it as an abandoned or ethereal season finale from a potential future). What this means is that the actual Dirty Pair story is intangible and visible only in fleeting glimpses: The real story this week is that of Reamonn, Meshuzura and Miralda, and Kei and Yuri only get involved when they literally crash-land into their world. No wonder the girls seem to slip into the margins as soon as they get to the castle, occupying themselves with a comedy sideshow in order to give Reamonn and Miralda the spotlight.

See, Kei and Yuri were never going to win over Reamonn's heart because they are flatly incapable of being somebody's love interest, or getting one themselves. Their narrative roles will never permit it (unless you read them as each other's love interests). This is why they portray themselves as being utterly hapless and inept at romance: Yuri's overbearing efforts cause Reamonn to break out into severe allergic reactions and Kei's not a whole lot better. But it's OK, because, completely divorced from the micro-plot as always, Kei and Yuri have a far more important and interesting job then getting themselves involved in a Gothic romance. It's Reamonn himself who gives us a clue as to what this might be: As he recites poetry to Meshuzura, he tells her the gods themselves must be jealous of her beauty, and if she were any more lovely the gods would punish them both. Poetry, like all art, is an attempt to reflect some aspect of an indescribable and intangible ethereal drive in material form, and Reamonn's words seem to have touched on some kind of truth as fireball meteors light up the night sky above his home. Fireball meteors that are the remnants of Kei and Yuri's battle with Colonel Patch and a sign of the imminent crash of the girls' damaged fighter pod into Reamonn's castle.

As performance magicians, Kei and Yuri are both divine avatars and ordinary people. Mantling the angels and being guided by the cosmic oversoul, they, as we well know by now, speak for the universe, are guided by its drive to better itself and bring about the cleansing fire wherever it must be spoken. Though they didn't mean to hurt Reamonn and the “death” of Meshuzura isn't their fault, Reamonn is made to change and grow and move beyond her because it is imperative that he must do so. This isn't, I don't think, an idolatry motif: Meshuzura may be a “fake woman” and thus, I suppose, a “false goddess” but she's real enough to Reamonn because magickal symbols gain their power through belief and, after all, Dirty Pair has done sacred totems before. Meshuzura is also, at least at first, the only woman Reamonn is allowed to be with and her “death” is a very real and visceral thing that causes him much anguish. More relevantly, Kei and Yuri are not vengeful Old Testament gods who go around smiting people for idolatry. No, the problem with Meshuzura is that she symbolizes unnecessarily false love, and even if he doesn't realise it yet, Reamonn must be made to understand that his self-imposed isolation with Meshuzura is hurting him and, more to the point, Miralda.

Because he doesn't realise his allergy doesn't extend to Miralda (or rather doesn't apply to someone he discovers his true love for) and doesn't understand that Miralda's dedication as his butler is the only way she knows how to express her love for him, this means Reamonn is not living as true and fulfilling a life as he could be and is not experiencing a truly harmonious and liberated existence and is similarly keeping someone who should be his equal and lover from doing the same. Whenever one person discovers their own path towards material and spiritual enlightenment the universe on the whole benefits, so, on its behalf, Kei and Yuri play cosmic matchmaker; accidentally on a diegetic level and very purposefully on an extradiegetic level. This is the job of ideals: Kei and Yuri don't tangle with the complexities of love and relationships themselves, but instead tell us a story about how the importance of love manifests in other people. A love story.

Yes, Reamonn and Miralda's tale is as tropish as they come. Note, in fact, how Miralda is every ounce the Yamato Nadeshiko Yuri wears the stylized, caricatured Kabuki mask of-Once she lets her hair down, it's even revealed she has a near-identical character model to Yuri, save for her elegance, poise and proper jet-black hair to contrast with Yuri's cartoonish blue. Miralda is just about as stock and demode as they come, but she is the kind of heroine this story would have, and this is the kind of story that would have her as its heroine. It's the sort of story one might expect to be targeted at Dirty Pair's original demographic and, as usual, Dirty Pair has rehabilitated it into a story that works.

This episode even takes care to keep the Lovely Angels on a separate narrative level: Tacitly and arguably fictional characters in-universe, Kei and Yuri's fiery showdown with Colonel Patch is an awe-inspiring, catastrophic spectacle playing out in the night skies above Reamonn's castle, a story within a story within another story (and one that satisfyingly returns at the opposite end of the episode). Heroes and villains, they are our new narrative gods and goddesses, and when they fight there's no room for the mundane and everyday. But that doesn't mean they can't teach us something important about it: Indeed, the twisted, tormented melange of romance and horror themes joined of course, by the shared lineage of Gothic fiction, is a kind of voyeurism for emotions as grotesque and captivating as the imagery on display. Many such stories gain their strength by the way they magnify and highlight such things in order to say something about the everyday, and Kei and Yuri are not above telling this kind of a story...though they are above the story itself.

And in being so, perhaps it's now clear how Kei and Yuri also symbolize the true nature of Nietzsche's Übermensch as Avital Ronell sees it: Not as an Übermann, or “superman”, but as someone who is “over”, as in being “done with”, the idea of man, mankind and the certainty and singular, unified Master Narratives that go along with those concepts. Not “superior”, but “beyond”. In other words, transhuman. Ronell argues that Nietzsche saw the Übermensch as the philosophy of the future, a philosophy whose truths would lay with women, whom conventional philosophy does not understand and cannot read.

And, as they do for Reamonn and Miralda in this network of stories, maybe it's our divine, transhuman, cosmic avatars of reclaimed femininity who can show us how their future can help us usher in our own.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

“Prisoner and Escort”: Pardon Us. Trouble's On the Run, So We're Coming Through!

Yup, it's not so hot.

Although, we do seem to be experiencing a kind of averaging-out of the show's quality. There are numerous good bits intermingled with more then enough not-so-good bits to land this one at decisively mediocre, but at least it's not another catastrophic derailment. The girls aren't really right again, landing more often then comfortable in a depiction that reinforces their inaccurate pop stereotypes, though there are a number of scenes that do balance this out some. Much like last time, the show is trying to combine slapstick humour with a darker and more serious tone, but its not as effective here. There are specific moments that really stand out, like the comedic shootout in hotel in the first act, which contrasts with the dramatic storm on the police station at the end where Gooley is gunned down by the crooked chief who set the 3WA up, but this episode can't mode shift to the same degree last week's could, and this ends up giving the impression of a story that, in spite of its individual successful setpieces, never really comes together in a cohesive form.

But the quality argument isn't an especially captivating one anymore: Another thing “Pardon Us. Trouble's On the Run, So We're Coming Through! “ shares with “Come Out, Come Out, Assassin” is that it's a further step in the development of Sunrise's version of Dirty Pair: Mixing light comedy with drama and heady sci-fi concepts is a theme that will be dealt with explicitly (and far more effectively) in the second series and two of the three movies, Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia and Dirty Pair: Flight 005 Conspiracy. Looking at Sunrise stumbling over this now really isn't much help to us except as an example of what amounts to a rough draft. Part of this may also simply be do to the fact it's functionally impossible to sustain momentum over a 30-episode season of *anything*, and even Dirty Pair isn't immune. This is why it's such a wise decision on the part of Sunrise to slice the episode count for the second series by two thirds, but now I'm in real danger of spilling my hand too early in my attempt to avoid talking about this episode.

No, what's of more interest to me at this point in the show's history is a theme I noticed and touched on briefly in the last mediocre outing: Who exactly, is this show for and what makes it unique among Dirty Pair adaptations?

The answer seems, at first, obvious: Surely fans who wanted to see the next logical step in the evolution of Kei and Yuri's dynamic and their narrative universe, right? But it's actually a more complex and muddled issue then it might seem to be at first glance. We'll talk about it in considerable more depth when the time comes, but one of the things that's revealing about Affair of Nolandia is that it was explicitly made for and marketed to fans of the light novels who didn't like the first series, and the movie pretty clearly sees that audience as “hardcore science fiction fans”. So, by being made in direct contrast with Affair of Nolandia, one could be forgiven for assuming this show is for more general audiences. And yet the show itself apparently struggled in the ratings such that it was canceled before all of its episodes could be aired, and even today its legacy exists almost exclusively within science fiction (not even anime and manga) circles. I have to wonder if some of the wheel-spinning the show has been doing in recent weeks isn't in part its own reaction against conflicting and sporadic audience numbers, especially as it otherwise seems so strange given the imperious confidence with which the show stormed out of the gate at the opposite end of the season.

Because this really is frustrating and hard to watch. When the show had been mediocre in the past, namely in “Do Lovely Angels Prefer Chest Hair?”, it still *worked*. That episode wasn't terribly memorable or exciting, no, and Graves was an absolute pain in the ass, but at least he was clearly *supposed* to be a pain in the ass and the episode on the whole was largely inoffensive. With “What? We're Heinous Kidnappers!”, The Little Dictator! Let Sleeping Top Secrets Lie”, “Leave It To Us! The WWWA is a Wonderful Job” and, well, this one, it's really hard not to read these efforts as the show losing the plot and forgetting what its core themes and characters are (and that's not touching on the absolute calamities like gambling addicts and Racist Chinese Chef Stereotypes). Watching a show you *know* is incompetent and cack-handed flounder and flail about is one thing, but seeing a show you know for a fact is capable of absolute greatness and has furthermore demonstrated it quite recently squander its potential is unbelievably aggravating and it makes you wonder what the heck is going on.

I think one thing to remember over everything else is that Dirty Pair should probably always be fun. It can blast off to the ends of the universe, reshape narrative reality and plumb the depths of inner space to reveal fundamental human, spiritual and cosmic truths with the best of them, but this series needs to remember its sense of humour and lightness above all else. After all, what's the point of doing a show about two intergalactic crime-fighting professional women wrestlers and a giant alien cat beast who blow up planets together if it's not going to embrace how ridiculous (and ridiculously awesome) that premise is, in addition to all the other good things it does? Key to this is also remembering what its humour is actually about,who its laughing with...and who it's laughing at. Without fail this show's weakest episodes have been the ones where it's laughing *at* Kei and Yuri rather than with them. Dirty Pair should always be fun, and this simply isn't.

But this too belies not just the way in which the show is able to wrongfoot itself, but of its own metafictional reality. This is another example of the external world in some sense letting Kei and Yuri down, as the material production of the show isn't aware of its own potential, and even here this is an example of Dirty Pair's diegetic truths transcending textual boundaries: Just as the human world never appreciates Kei and Yuri for who they are and what they do, so will the world of media Soda Pop Art frequently be unwelcoming to the Lovely Angels. Their own show isn't always up to the task of encapsulating and conveying their magicko-symbolic power. Even when it is its truths are falling on deaf ears, and this is why there are only eight episodes left. Perhaps the show itself could even be likened to the figure of a harried and despondent secretary of the phantom desperately trying to take down signal flashes from the ether.

Having assumed the mantle of primal figures of change and creation, perhaps Kei and Yuri's recursion extends to the ether of symbols and images itself, and this is where their true destiny lies after all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“Black Hole Love Triangle”: Come Out, Come Out, Assassin

Predictably, given the way this show works now, “Come Out, Come Out, Assassin” is another good one. I have a few issues with it that keep it from, in my estimation, quite reaching the same heights as some of the masterpieces Dirty Pair has done in the past, but it's still a welcome rebound that reminds us what the series is capable of.

And if nothing else the opening scenes are absolute knockout works of art. The 3WA loses one of its own, gunned down in a dark and rainy alley during a flashback Kei solemnly narrates over. Not since “Criados' Heartbeat” immediately followed “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death” has the show pulled a mood whiplash this severe on us. It would be even more so if you were to, as I would suggest, skip last week's episode entirely such that this follows the goofy Indiana Jones pastiche instead. I must confess I do usually enjoy it when Dirty Pair takes itself just a *little* bit more seriously, and I will say it brought a smile to my face to see Kei make her triumphant return to the role of narrator. But this story is doing something a little bit more clever then just giving a graceful nod to the show's source material: This episode is, at least in part, Dirty Pair taking on both film noir and traditional detective fiction and, as you might expect, it hits a home run.

One only needs to give Blade Runner a rewatch to discern that a big difference between the cyberpunk that tends to be more popular in Western territories and the kind of stuff Dirty Pair is doing is a perhaps somewhat concerning lack of self-awareness. Blade Runner played its film noir trappings uncomfortably straight, so there's no way Dirty Pair could do anything other than the complete opposite. While the internal monologue Kei delivers through much of the episode's first half is indeed about as grim and bleak as this show has ever been, this is constantly tempered by metatextual signposts and the story's other themes. What this manages to do is weave the episode's more somber themes together with Dirty Pair's signature postmodern humour exquisitely deftly. A thundering round of applause is really owed to Kyōko Tongū, Kei's voice actor, here: The way she segues out of Kei's recount of her colleagues death to the big punchline, that the “one clue” their fallen comrade left behind was blatantly and precisely when and where the assassin who killed him is going to be, is simply masterful. She doesn't audibly change gears, rather, she shifts the emphasis and intonation of her voice just so, making it seem like both the scene's pathos and its humour are subtle movements of the same dance.

This tone pervades the whole episode, elegantly balancing its deeply serious subject matter with the signature Dirty Pair humour, though it's most pronounced early on. Kei's inner monologue defines the first half of the episode, even as she gets odd looks from her fellow passengers on the doomed starliner who can apparently hear her. The girls are once again undercover: Yuri is (of course) a sexy flight attendant, but having Kei assume the role of a Catholic nun (i.e. a “Servant of God”, as Marcus explicitly calls her) is rather brilliant. It's an interesting example of Dirty Pair performativity, as the girls are undercover on two separate narrative levels: They have their roles on the plane, but they're also infiltrating a film noir plot. But as much as they groove on it, and they do, Kei and Yuri are not grizzled private eyes and this is not film noir: Their cover is blown the moment the commercial break cuts in, because they're the Lovely Angels and thus celebrities: Kei and Yuri can't go undercover even if they wanted to, and certainly not when they make themselves stick out like a sore thumb.

Similarly, as was also the case at the other end of the season with “Go Ahead, Fall in Love! Love is Russian Roulette”, we have a succession of plots attempting, and failing, to play out. This time, they're all tangential manifestations of the main mystery story. From the very beginning, people start dying: There's the unfortunate Trouble Consultant in the prologue, then at the end of the first half the captain locks the controls for the black hole and commits suicide. Then Marcus panics and advocates abandoning the girls and Sundric to themselves, followed by the other business magnate actually trying to steal the shuttle and triggering its self destruct mechanism. At first we think the show is going to pull an And Then There Were None style body count, but then nobody else gets picked off and, as is ultimately revealed, the businessman was actually Sundric in disguise and he had faked his own death in order to buy time to plant a bomb on the ship's outer hull.

There's also a moment I quite like where it turns out the password to unlock the navigational controls is the opening stanza to “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, a children's song. The song has been a motif throughout the episode as Jack plays it on his melodica, and it turns out to be significant as his father, who is revealed to be the suicidal captain, taught it to him. Yuri plugs it into the flight console, which lights up coloured shapes reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind-Yuri even explains it though Sol Fege. But, this too is a feint because entering the password simply locks the system even more and triggers the self-destruct sequence of the *entire plane*: So much for arc words and character development. Though on the one hand I'm a bit sad the music theme was subverted, on the other I can't complain too much for the way this gives a total up-yours to heavy-handed symbolism and similarly pretentious narrative cliches.

The big one though is when Kei actually loses her shootout with Sundric. Her tether is severed, and she's actually set adrift towards the black hole. Sundric, meanwhile, dies a shockingly gruesome death by being torn apart by the ship's maneuvering thrusters, which he drifted in front of right as Yuri activated them. At this point, Kei is once again left alone with her inner monologue (and us), and, much as she had in “Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode”, seems to sit back and accept her impending death. There though it was all conveyed through subtext (which naturally meant it was a more serious and dire situation), whereas here there's a lot of weighty and dramatic speeches, which telegraphs her rescue by Yuri and Huey in the next cut. Here's where I actually have a few problems, though. The episode ends on a light, flippant note, which is fitting, but a consequence of the heavy focus on Kei this week means that Yuri is once again looking a little too hyper-competent for my tastes, though this can be excused , as usual, with the standard arguments and rules that apply whenever Kei is narrating.

The larger issue is Huey. He is, quite frankly, utterly detestable. An utter sleazeball on every level, he even attempts to rape Kei at one point, and to be honest, he's not beat up enough for it. When Yuri was propositioned in “Hire Us! Beautiful Bodyguards are a Better Deal”, she got to smack the daylights out of her aggressor in a wonderfully extended sequence of ass-beating. Kei doesn't get that luxury here, and furthermore, the rightly-named pervert winds up helping to rescue her in the end, and she even seems to soften on him, which leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. It's true that she had been attracted to him earlier on, before she realised what a terrible person he was, but that's never an excuse. I'm reminded of Inspector Bayleaf in “The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair”: He thankfully wasn't a rapist, but he was an ill-tempered, unpleasant blowhard who Kei initially tries to pick up before justifiably souring on him. But there, while Kei and Yuri continue to point out he's handsome after the fact, neither the diegetic or extradiegetic narratives ever portray him as *sympathetic*. That this episode is unable to manage something similar keeps it a few pegs short of a full victory in my estimation.

It perhaps says something about the status of the show now that this episode seems so much like something it could have pulled off effortlessly and with flying colours at the start of the season and is stumbling a bit on here. Though that said I'd still watch this one again in a heartbeat over any of the middling-to-terrible episodes this show has been churning out for the past seven weeks or so. It's a wake-up-call change of pace for Dirty Pair, and though its unrepentant dourness sets it apart from the rest of this particular show, it's actually rather prescient:. Sunrise's first Dirty Pair anime is in truth something of an outlier in its history with the franchise: The second series has much, much more of a heterogeneous tone and style, and with the exception of a few episodes of it and Dirty Pair: The Motion Picture, Sunrise's version of Kei and Yuri are never this cartoonishly slapstick again. Whether or not you agree with the decision, starting with the forthcoming Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia currently in production, Dirty Pair TV starts to get considerably darker and more complex, and “Come Out, Come Out, Assassin” is a revealing sign of things to come.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

“Just like in this book!”: Leave It To Us! The WWWA is a Wonderful Job

Well, it's not *as* bad as the last time this show went off. That's a positive sign at least.

But it's about the best I can come up with to say about “Leave It To Us! The WWWA is a Wonderful Job”, unfortunately. Once again, it's not terribly funny. Once again, the Chinese are worryingly othered. Once again, the girls are written basically wrong, though there are some nice scenes near the end that hedge against this somewhat. Kei in particular is pretty bad, though thankfully not the extent she was two weeks ago: She basically drops out of the plot after the commercial break never to be seen again until near the denouement so Yuri can get an extended scene of ass-kicking. When Kei does come back she's at least the Kei we recognise instead of some buffoonish clown, so the episode's got that going for it. And, while I do enjoy seeing Yuri get to be unequivocally awesome, I still wish it wasn't done at the expense of her partner. Really, Sunrise, how hard is it to depict *both* Lovely Angels as likeable, professional and competent?

The plot is about the least stimulating the show's been yet. This can go both ways, however: While it means the outing this time is exasperatingly uninspiring, it thankfully also means it's not a gruesome train wreck either. It's The Prince and the Pauper with Kei and Yuri as the pauper and the young chairman of a big important corporation as the prince. Where it goes wrong, apart from being boring, is that it has Kei and Yuri angrily complain about their working conditions and openly jealous of the luxury the chairman lives in. As working class characters, we rightly expect to see Kei and Yuri upset about the gap between the rich and poor, but framing this in a 1980s yuppieish desire to be more “upwardly mobile” is a craterous misreading of the characters. Contrasting the way Kei and Yuri are portrayed here with the girls' eagerness to leap into any case and to make a difference, Kei's strong belief in the power of the 3WA to bring about positive cosmic change and her gratitude for the opportunity it's afforded her and Yuri to spend their lives together in The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair is an exercise in anguish and frustration for me.

(Also, as an aside, I am beyond sick to death at this point of jokes about Kei and Yuri's bonus pay and every time Gooley appears onscreen I develop an irrational compulsion to punch him.)

Like previous episodes in this particular series, “Leave It To Us! The WWWA is a Wonderful Job” is attempting to be a postmodern riff on an established stock plot to make a larger point. Sadly though, this time it's not entirely successful. The best it can manage, and credit where credit is due this *is* somewhat clever, is to have the chairman come out at the end and say that were she to be reincarnated, the life she would choose without question would be that of a 3WA Trouble Consultant. Unlike in the original Mark Twain story, which had some false equivalency issues, this one comes right out and says what Kei and Yuri do is infinitely preferable to working in a corporation, which is appreciated. The problem is that this should have been the crux of the entire plot and it's not, instead being tossed off in a throwaway gag right before the credits roll.

Furthermore, up until this point the chairman has been an utter joke character, running through Elenore City slack-jawed with wonder and intentionally annoyingly chipper to the point she is blissfully unaware there are snipers after her, even after several things conspicuously explode in her wake. The episode does try to redeem her at the end by showing she's very professional at the job she's been asked to do when the time comes for her to do it, but this doesn't really work either because now she also has shades of the little prince form “What? We're Heinous Kidnappers!” about her on top of that, and it isn't any more palatable this time. In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, having the chairman deliver the episode's theme means it doesn't pack the punch it should have and the episode on the whole ends up feeling like it's lacking in polish and cohesion.

(Speaking of royalty, one other thing this episode does that's worth taking note of is depicting the corporation as essentially a hereditary dynasty. Thus, it combines the tradition of Japanese family businesses with the trappings of imperialism and, in doing so, blurs the boundaries between them such that they appear to be one in the same. It's a really clever trick and says a lot about the show's underlying ethics even in one of its comparatively weaker moments. I wish this motif had been used in a better story.)

Having now exhausted all there is to say about this episode, let's talk a little bit about its structure. There are basically four ways of reiterating a stock plot on a show like this. The easiest (some would say laziest) way is to just do a generic plot reference or parody, and pretty much every show under the sun has done that. You can explicitly and diegetically compare your plot to the original work, like how Wishbone compares its Oakdale plot with the story the titular dog and his players are summarising (alternatively, you can just dumbly bellow about it by way of giant crass illuminated rhetorical billboards like Nicholas Meyer does). Or, you could flat out just remake said plot word-for-word with the serial numbers filed off, as many teen movies, such as 10 Things I Hate About You (really The Taming of the Shrew) and Just One of the Guys (really Twelfth Night) do. The other way is what Dirty Pair usually does, which is calling on a familiar plot and transforming it to such an extent it makes a larger point about both the original work and material social progress.

What's interesting in this case is, naturally, that for the first time we have a Dirty Pair episode that doesn't examine a pre-existing work the Dirty Pair way (I suppose you could say “The Little Dictator! Let Sleeping Top Secrets Lie” was the same sort of thing, but I still prefer to read that episode as Kei and Yuri invoking a Ronellian reading of stupidity from the future to fight back against their narrative constraints). Well, I mean I guess it tries to, but it fails at it. And the thing about those other three methods is that they're all heavily associated with children's media and, with the exception of Wishbone and debatably some of the teen movies depending on your perspective, usually very *bad* children's media as it's typically a symptom of creators sorely lacking in imagination. “Scooby in Wonderland” from the generally execrable second series of Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo continues to occasionally haunt my dreams to this day. And though we needn't fear that Dirty Pair is going to get so bad it'll degenerate to late-1970s and early-1980s Hanna-Barbera standards, this is worth taking some note of.

Because the fact remains there is still a difference in the audience demographics of this show when compared to the original novels, and it's not hard to read the overall prescriptive tone of this show's weaker moments as something that might seem more fitting on a mediocre children's cartoon. And, as we said about Star Trek: The Animated Series in the context of “The Practical Joker”, this is not something a serious and legitimate work of animated science fiction should allow itself to fall prey to. Especially given the worrying ping-pong quality of the show in recent weeks, one does begin to wonder if Sunrise is starting to have an identity crisis about who Dirty Pair is actually supposed to be for and what it's actually supposed to be about.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

“The choices are yours, and yours alone!”: Dig Here, Meow Meow. Happiness Comes at the End

Oh Thank God. 

Dirty Pair hasn't quite managed to self-destruct just yet. This is brilliant. Returning to the motifs of “Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always Be Brand New”, the Angels are once again on vacation, which means some random ridiculous other story has to crash headlong into them. This time, it's a wizened prospector by the name of Grampa Garlic Joe, who crash-lands into Kei and Yuri's hotel swimming pool trying to evade the Blues Brothers goons from “The Chase Smells Like Cheesecake and Death”. I could criticize the show for recycling motifs from earlier episodes, but I'm not going to firstly because even in spite of the missteps, this has been an absolutely phenomenal run of fifteen weeks for a scripted genre fiction series, and secondly this isn't what the show is doing. This episode recognises Dirty Pair's by now familiar and signature themes and continues to build on and extrapolate them. And better yet, it's another comic masterpiece.

On the surface, this is another “Dirty Pair does a genre romp” story. The genre in question this time is pulp adventure serials, but in particular the revival of the style in the 1980s that followed the massive popularity of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones movies. However, the problem with the Indiana Jones movies, and anything else that tried to capitalize on their success, is that they were just that: Revivals. Spielberg and Lucas (though this does seem to be mostly Lucas, given Star Wars) dug up a bunch of old film serial tropes and cliches and...did absolutely nothing with them apart from slavishly reiterating them. And the problem with that is that those old films serials tended to be appallingly racist and sexist. And, well, so is Indiana Jones because it is completely and utterly lacking in any sort of postmodern self-awareness. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is rather infamous for its depiction of India, not to mention Short Round, but in my opinion it's the best of the three because it's actually ever-so-slightly cognizant of how silly it is: I think Raiders of the Lost Arc might actually be the worst in terms of gender roles and I find The Last Crusade to be basically unwatchable.

And Dirty Pair is *explicit* about what it's referencing this time and what its intentions are. Grampa Joe is manifestly an Indiana Jones analog, except instead of the rugged, manly and dashingly handsome Harrison Ford, he's an old geezer with two missing front teeth who pretends to be hard of hearing and scatterbrained just to be annoying and who eats too much garlic. When they're in the temple, the girls even find what are obviously the skeletal remains of the *real* Indiana Jones caught in one of La Kahanga's traps. But let's stop for a minute: Dirty Pair is about construction and healing, not destruction and mockery. This, by contrast, should at first feel off-putting and mean spirited and perhaps not what this show ought to be doing. That is, however until it becomes clear that what this episode is actually doing is rehabilitating the entire genre of adventure fiction. Remember, Dirty Pair only pokes fun at those it loves. Hell, a large portion of the show is really easy to read as Kei and Yuri poking merciless fun at *themselves*.

There are a number of ways it accomplishes this. Firstly, through its science fiction setting, Dirty Pair is able to completely divorce the traditional adventure trappings of booby-trapped ancient jungle temples and lost treasure from the genre's imperialist roots and its tendency to exoticize and misrepresent indigenous people. La Kahanga have no real-world analogs, and we learn nothing more about them apart from them being ancient, mysterious and disappeared. That would have been enough, but the show even goes one step beyond: La Kahanga are described by everyone as being not just incredibly old and mysterious, but unfathomably advanced.

Their temple is constructed around technology even Kei and Yuri don't understand, and it turns out in the end that they held the secret to some kind of “Super Energy”, which sounds as much like some kind of formula for perpetual motion and free energy as it does a video game powerup. Furthermore, that extraterrestrial life is what it is in the Dirty Pair universe, namely, something about which as much uncertainty exists as it does today, this hedges against the sort of distasteful Von Dänikenist infelicities lesser sci-fi works might be tempted to slip into this kind of setup: We can assume La Kahanga were human, just extremely advanced humans by even the standards of the modern Dirty Pair universe: An indigenous culture who make *us* seem "primitive" by comparison. This flabbergasts me, because it deftly executes a flawless proof-of-concept for things genre fiction *today* still can't figure out. I mean, of course this is the obvious way to salvage the stock adventure plot, isn't it? It's a perfect example of absolutely all the reasons I prefer science fiction over any pretension to representationalist cinematic spectacle.

Just on a brief tangent, I'm reminded of the Chozo, the mysterious culture of bird-people who raised Samus Aran in Metroid Prime, one of my favourite video games. Like La Kahanga, the Chozo had incomprehensibly advanced technology that allowed them to live in harmony with their natural surroundings, yet who mysteriously disappeared without a trace. The role of the Chozo, along with other similar hyper-advanced yet long-vanished civilizations Samus learns about in the Metroid Prime series, is to stand in for abandoned futures: Visions for utopia that have come and gone, leaving only their works. The role of Samus, equal parts bounty hunter, explorer, natural scientist and adventure archaeologist, is to piece these together in the ruins that still exist and take something away from their stories. What astonishes me so much about this episode is that not only is Dirty Pair playing on the level of Metroid Prime two decades early, it's coming in before the *original* Metroid, which wouldn't launch until 1986 and didn't have much more of a plot besides “go here and shoot things and BTW Samus is a woman”.

But underrated and manhandled Nintendo franchises are not the only things Dirty Pair anticipates tonight. For, as much as “Dig Here, Meow Meow. Happiness Comes at the End” evokes Indiana Jones, it is also strikingly reminiscent of Legends of the Hidden Temple, which I've mentioned before in passing and that suppose I should actually talk about now. Legends of the Hidden Temple was a children's game show that aired on Nickelodeon between 1993 and 1995: There were a number of shows like this at the time each with their own unique gimmick, and Legends' was facts about history. The basic premise was that six teams of two contestants each would traverse a mysterious “Hidden Temple” of vague Mesoamerican design in search of specific hidden artefacts to compete for certain prizes. The show featured a mix of trivia questions about historical figures and events alongside physical challenges, like crossing a moat in a particular way or navigating a multistory indoor maze. This is...actually pretty much exactly what Kei and Yuri help Joe do in this episode: Solve riddles written in ancient languages and having to figure their way out of impossibly convoluted traps and hazards.

Although I was watching Nickelodeon near the beginning of its run, Legends of the Hidden Temple was never a show I remember ever watching regularly. The fondest memories I have of the Nickelodeon-style children's game show were of stuff like the syndicated Video Power, PBS Kids' adaptation of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Wild and Crazy Kids on Nickelodeon itself, which might actually have been my favourite show on the network, all stop. Legends of the Hidden Temple seems to be the one that most people remember the best these days though, maybe because it was one of the most elabourate and famous voice actor Dee Bradley Baker did a lot of the characters. I guess I just missed it, for whatever reason: I got satellite TV around 1995 or so, which may have had something to do with it (and I'll talk about in the 1990s) and I stopped watching Nickelodeon not long after. I *do* remember Animal Planet trying to copy Legends rather shamelessly with the absolutely insane ZooVenture in 1997, but that's getting off-topic.

My primary exposure to Legends of the Hidden Temple actually came from my cousin, who was my introduction to much in the world of pop culture and will go on to play a larger role in my memoirs once Star Trek comes back. He and I have somewhat comparable creative predilections, and one of the things we both did was make up, write, and oftentimes attempt to illustrate, our own stories based on and inspired by the media things we liked. He once told me about a story he came up with based on both Legends of the Hidden Temple and The Legend of Zelda about a group of kids who travelled through a remote jungle to explore ancient ruins in search of rumoured long-lost treasure. It was supposedly a comic book he wrote and drew himself, and while I don't remember ever seeing it, I do know the images and ideas stuck with me. I've mentioned before how drawn I am to the idea of a low-stakes adventure story where a group of friends travel around new and exciting locales together: It's the primary reason I enjoy Scooby-Doo as much as I do, and it's why I liked the Tintin stories so much too. My cousin's story sounded to me like it would be something like that.

And this is what “Dig Here, Meow Meow. Happiness Comes at the End” is as well, except it's not just a fun, low-stakes adventure, it's a story that radically transforms the entire idea of adventure story altogether. By overtly and flamboyantly rejecting Indiana Jones, Dirty Pair reclaims the adventure plot from the more unsavoury things that surround it. As much as it riffs on old pulp serials (notice how Joe keeps telling little mini shaggy-dog stories that sound like they're about to fall into pulp cliches, before he psychs us all out at the punchline, or the rather adorable way Mughi and Nanmo reference the “X marks the spot” trope), it still embraces the idea of them in principle, so long as they can be detourned. After all, Joe may be an old guy, but he's a cool old guy to have some fun adventures with. Running around with him is certainly more fun for Kei and Yuri then lounging around the swimming pool with that sap Stephan: Kei even exclaims “All Right!” when the brawl breaks out.

(This is also to an extent Dirty Pair acknowledging its own heritage: The series' roots are, of course, pulp magazines, so one would expect it would have a vested interest in keeping parts of those old structures alive while also elevating them and helping them progress.)

And it all comes together in the final scene, where it seems like Joe has swindled his partners Kei and Yuri the same way his old partner (the aptly-named Clementine) swindled him by lying about the true nature of the Super Energy formula parchment and not sharing the fame and fortune he accrued with the girls. But, while he has in one sense, considering that's a stock ending to this kind of plot and was telegraphed to an extent earlier, on another level he actually hasn't. We have to remember who Kei and Yuri are: The Lovely Angels. Their job is to transform plots, not take part in them. This is not their story, it's Joe's. Textually so, as Joe says numerous times this is something he's spent his whole life searching for, and though they make a big show of getting into character and becoming treasure hunters themselves, Kei and Yuri frequently make a point to remind us that their primary motivation is to help Joe realise his dream. Just as they were for Clicky and Joanca, the girls are once again Holy Guardian Angels who come to help somebody discover their true purpose and fulfill their Great Work.

And there's one other level to this. Thanks to their cleansing light making adventure stories ethical and acceptable, Kei and Yuri have touched the dreams of countless others, many of whom must have been in their audience. The “Call to Adventure” means something, even if it's maybe not what Joseph Cambell thought it meant. There is, at least the way I see it, an irresistible allure to adventure, to travelling and exploring and learning and growing. It's something I find to capture the imagination like little else, and your personal adventure could take many forms. Perhaps this is what it means when we discover our callings and are reminded of what a wonderful place, in every sense of the word, the world is. Perhaps that's something our starfaring voyagers understand too. It's once again OK to dream, to adventure and to make art about the things we discover through it.

Like I said. Best action sci-fi series ever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

“The fault is not ours, but in our stars.” The Vault or the Vote? A Murderous Day for a Speech

I really, really hate it when Dirty Pair is bad. Probably more so then in any other series. And this one is really, really bad. As in, actively unwatchable. This episode gets pretty much everything wrong it was possible to get wrong, and is a serious contender for the worst Dirty Pair story ever.

I'm not going to waste any more time on this then strictly necessary because this one genuinely, properly makes me angry and offends me on a personal level. The plot is boring crap about a possible assassination attempt on a presidential candidate due to give a speech at the 3WA headquarters. There's a modicum of interesting content here about there being two ways to disappear a person, physically killing them and erasing their social records such that they're no longer part of the capitalist system and thus never existed, but it's never developed upon enough to merit pursuing it to any serious degree and I honestly don't care enough to make the effort. Racist Chinese Chef Stereotype shows up again, as does a particularly shocking blackface character in the soap opera Kei is watching in the beginning of the episode, and this is all compounded horrifically by the main plot going out of its way to infantilize, belittle and dismiss the Angels in the most blatant, upfront and disturbing ways imaginable, in particular Kei.

The show attacks them at every possible level, and it's no longer in on its own joke. Kei and Yuri ask for overtime and get brutally shouted down by Gooley, who is, need I remind you, by this point completely beyond redemption and yet is someone whom this show bewilderingly *still* thinks we're going to sympathize with, accusing them of being spoiled, irresponsible and wasting the company's money to the point he actually makes them cry. And the girls get *no* comeback to this-We're not meant to side with them *at all*. This becomes a recurring theme throughout this episode, the “joke” being that Kei is apparently careless and addicted to gambling and blows all her money at the casinos and by compulsively making bets with people she can't uphold. Yuri, meanwhile, is of course depicted as mature, responsible, demure and altogether more competent and together then her hapless partner. Aside from making light out of a kind of addiction that real people actually do suffer from, this is retrograde and wrong on a very basic and fundamental level.

It is flatly out of character for Kei to behave this way, and unlike when Yuri seemingly acted out of character several weeks back, this time it's provably a misreading that reinforces a false notion of who these characters are and how the logic of the series works. The idea likely stemmed from Kei being Sagittarian, as Dirty Pair's series bible is basically written out of astrological signs. Sagittarians are supposedly bad gamblers and are advised against picking it up, so what probably happened is someone took a look at that and decided to write the shittiest possible script around it. But that's making assumptions about Kei based on the most literal, unimaginative and hurtful conception of her character possible: Just because she's not supposed to be good at gambling doesn't mean you have to make her a gambling *addict*-That's not funny, respectful or necessary.

And furthermore, had anyone bothered to crack open the original novels, they'd have found out that Kei doesn't even like gambling in the first place! She spends a lot of time at an arcade machine in “The Case of the Backwoods Murder”, but that's because she was pissed off at the game's AI, not because she was addicted, and I hardly think coin-op arcade games count as gambling anyway. I know the show and the books are separate continuities, but even in cases like this there are still basic, essential, irreducible things about characters that transcend any given interpretation or manifestation of the story, and you have to be loyal to those things, otherwise why bother telling the story at all? And either way, even in the third episode of this very show, Kei displayed reticence about going undercover at a casino...and it was Yuri who wound up blowing an obscene amount of money at blackjack because she sucked at it and Kei was the one calling her out! And this episode has the nerve to portray Yuri as the grown-up one who avoids the sins of gambling? Did the animators and writers even bother to watch their own show? The only assassination going on here is of Kei's character.

Again, I don't want to sound like I'm dragging Yuri across the coals or demonizing her to glorify Kei-That wouldn't be any more right. However, like I said, I'm partial to Kei in particular and am sensitive to how she's treated to begin with, but I'm also very much opposed to what I see as the prevailing trend in Dirty Pair fandom of idolizing and lusting after Yuri while laughing at her buffoonish and loudmouthed partner, which is something this show does actively encourage in its weaker moments. Because the fact remains Yuri is very much connected to the Yamato Nadeshiko archetype, and thus the hegemonic, patriarchal, classist and reactionary conception of ideal femininity. Yuri is obviously a subversion, but an alarming number of people fail to pick up on this, and through their attitudes to her and Kei, mainline fandom tends to wind up reinforcing the very outmoded ideas Dirty Pair is trying to tear down. Because the elephant in the room is that part of the reason Kei doesn't meet conventional standards of beauty and femininity and thus will always be marginal even when compared to Yuri is because she has darker skin.

Now it becomes *even worse* that Racist Chinese Chef Stereotype gets dredged up alongside a straight-up minstrel character. The show's sloppy and careless racism has now managed to turn it against and hurt Kei herself. Because, aside from the obvious misogyny, classism and anti-youth sentiments, the fact is the deeply uncomfortable connotation of the way this episode lashes out at Kei is that it's OK to make fun of her because she isn't white. And I'll go ahead and say that, because I don't mean white in a Caucasian sense: Skin colour is still important in racist conservative Japanese culture: Part of the whole Yamato Nadeshiko ideal is that she has “lily-white skin”, after all. Even Yuri's name can be translated out to mean “Lilly”, and I'm not engaging with this line of thought any further because it's beginning to make me very sad.

Once you manage to turn Kei and Yuri against one another and out-and-out glorify the exact things the Angels are supposed to be fighting against, it's pretty much all over. This is the point the original anime completely loses any claim to being the definitive version of Dirty Pair. The only comfort I can muster is that at least Sunrise's other branch is busy working on that movie.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

“...passages that will invite Cthugha unto our plane”: What's This?! My Supple Skin is a Mess

Perhaps, ironically enough, because it is so reminiscent of the original light novels, this is one of my favourite Dirty Pair episodes we've seen so far. The girls are actually solving a proper mystery that has real cosmic ramifications for the first time since the beginning of the series. As a result, it's tight and engrossing in a way the show hasn't quite been lately, largely because it takes itself quite a bit more seriously then it has in the past. That ends up being *really* cathartic, especially after what we've seen the last couple weeks. Don't worry though, Dirty Pair hasn't lost its sense of humour: In fact, the entire episode is one of it's most elabourate and clever jokes yet.

Once again, the show is being rather blunt and upfront about what it's doing here. However, unlike the Mouse Nazis, this time it largely doesn't feel the need to scream this in our faces every five seconds, for which I am extremely grateful. That the monsters-of-the-week hail from the “Lovecraft Galaxy” basically tells you everything you need to know about what's going on and what's being pastiched. And Dirty Pair throws H.P. Lovecraft under the bus pretty much from the start, dispensing any and all pretenses that this is going to be some nihilistic work of cosmic horror by having the requisite Eldritch Abomination show up in the sewer under the girls' apartment building. Not only that, but even though the episode raises the stakes every act (first there's one monster, then a whole colony, then an even bigger monster that snacks on the other monsters), it absolutely refuses to let this overwhelm the rest of the story. There's certainly nobody driven mad from unknowable truths here: Though the smaller monsters do eat people and the big one is definitely a serious threat, everybody knows exactly who and what they're dealing with. Kei and Yuri even spend a good amount of time doing zoological research and give the maintenance workers a briefing on the creatures' life cycles and how to combat them.

We really shouldn't be surprised at the tack Dirty Pair takes here. The thing about Lovecraft is, beloved and influential as he may be, there are serious flaws underlying the philosophy and worldview he explores in his horror novels. The whole impetus for Lovecraft's oeuvre is a combination of dumbfounded, slack-jawed reaction to the vastness of the universe: The point of the Old Ones is that they're so beyond human comprehension they could wipe out reality as we know it and there would be nothing we could do to stop it because of how insignificant and helpless we are. Combine that with the fact that Lovecraft was also demonstrably a racist and it starts to become clear how uncomfortably indebted to xenophobia his work really is. There's also the matter of Lovecraft's legacy among other writers: Though his actual stories weren't expressly magickal per se, they've had a tremendous impact on those people who do have an interest in more spiritual and esoteric matters. Robert Bloch we've already talked about in the context of the original Star Trek, but for our purposes now it's maybe worth talking about Kenneth Grant.

A pupil, like Bloch, of Lovecraft's and further influenced by Alesteir Crowley, Grant was a ceremonial magician and Thelemite writing in the 1970s whose particular interpretation of magick revolved around what he called “divine madness”. By this, he meant that any path which leads us closer to enlightenment will, by definition, also reveal the incomprehensible horrors that exist on the cosmic scale. In fact, to Grant, enlightenment *actually means* accepting and internalizing the inherent chaos of the universe, and he explicitly cites Lovecraft as a primary inspiration and someone whom he felt understood the truth about the way the universe works. Now, I am *positive* the writers of Dirty Pair were not up on their mid-1970s Western psychedelic literature, but, simply because this show has the lineage that it does and is doing a blatant critique of H.P. Lovecraft this week, this puts it in direct conflict with Grant by default. And it's really not difficult to figure out why this might be the case. Although it borrows some trappings from Western esoterica, Dirty Pair is primarily operating from a syncrestic fusion of Buddhist, Hindu, Tantric and animist philosophies.

Actually, it's even possible to read The Dirty Pair Strike Again as the complete inverse of Lovecraft's perspective: The massive, pan-dimensional inhuman collective consciousness is inherently good and peaceful, and anything evil and monstrous that happens is expressly due to human hatred and greed. What Boralura wants is to show humans how they're connected to the rest of the cosmos, not dwarfed by it, and we're obviously meant to sympathize with it as Kei and Yuri explicitly become its avatars, a textual allegory for the role they play as divine avatars of the cosmos throughout the series on the whole. So, when proper Eldritch Abominations finally show up in this episode, not only do they have actual encyclopedia entries written by scientists who've studied them, Kei and Yuri turn out to be experts on Eldritch zoology and ethology themselves and use that knowledge to save the day. And, while they certainly respect the creature's power, their primary concern is getting it safely out of the sewers and back to its home: Notice how they don't kill it, but freeze it with liquid nitrogen for later transport. This is closer to the ethos of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind than anything in “What? We're Heinous Kidnappers!”.

There is, it must be stated, something of an East vs. West theme here. It could be argued it's really only possible to come to this viewpoint from an Eastern positionality. If you grew up in Western modernity, even if you have no idea who H.P. Lovecraft or Kenneth Grant were, take a moment to think to yourself how many times you've had the universe described to you as “vast”, “empty” or “incomprehensible” and how humans are just “insignificant specks of dust” when compared to it. It's an omnipresent theme in the West: Carl Sagan makes reference to this all throughout Cosmos, and I think even Calvin and Hobbes made this point a couple of times. Modernity simply does not like animism. It's a philosophy completely anathema to it (I'll also just briefly mention here how massively influential to and beloved by Nerd Culture Lovecraft and his work is, which is also a culture almost overwhelmingly made up of New Atheists, and leave it at that). There's no way Dirty Pair was ever going to invoke Lovecraft straight up, and no way I was ever going to not side with the girls.

Along these lines, one of the very best jokes in the episode goes completely un-telegraphed, and it's the revelation that said Lovecraftian Eldritch Abomination is actually somebody's escaped exotic pet. Suddenly it becomes a lot more clear why this episode largely takes place in a sewer: It is, amazingly, mashing up Lovecraftian horror with the urban legends about people flushing unwanted pets down the toilet and them turning into mutated horrors underground. Once again, it feels like Kei and Yuri have peered into the future here, because it's really, really difficult now to *not* read this as a meta-commentary on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well, but no, the famous cartoon show wouldn't premier until 1987 and this is still 1985. The original independent comic would have been out by now, but I find it hard to believe that was something that was regularly circulated in the Sunrise animators' room, but I dunno, maybe it was. Certainly the original comic's satirical send-up of the Frank Miller style of cartoonishly dark and gritty comic book writing seeped in adolescent male power fantasy is something I could totally see Dirty Pair on board with, and Miller's own flagrant xenophobia (and subsequent deification by certain segments of genre fiction fandom) makes a nice point of comparison with that of Lovecraft.

All while this is going on, this episode is also subtly adding more nuance to Dirty Pair's conception of class. We've talked at great length before about how Kei and Yuri are working class characters and what a good thing this is, but any discussion of class does have to ultimately move beyond simply glorifying and valorizing the working class. While it's terribly important to draw attention to the plight suffered by such people, we must always be careful to avoid, through this, slipping into either a justification of the class structure itself or uncritical embrace of the status quo. Way back in the comments under the post on “The Ultimate Computer”, the story that first made Captain Kirk the working class spaceman, blog friend Adam Riggio pointed out that as much as we want to raise awareness of the working class, many real-life cultures inhabiting that caste reinforce very dangerous and outmoded ideas of violent hyper-masculinity as a way of dealing with the physical and emotional stresses their lives force them to endure. This is as much patriarchy and rape culture as if it were perpetuated by authority, and this is what Kei and Yuri are up against in the person of the maintenance manager.

The manager is an eminently unlikeable character, though unlike Graves from “Do Lovely Angels Prefer Chest Hair?” he doesn't make your skin crawl every time he's onscreen. He's one of those characters who you enjoy rooting against because he's funny and has a charismatic and magnetic stage presence. One can at least understand why he feels they way he does and sympathize to an extent, which we really couldn't with Graves. His biggest vice is his intense hatred of Kei and Yuri, which the show barely even attempts to dress up as anything other than a metaphor for misogyny. Especially considering the girls are the most professional and competent they've ever been depicted on this show, which is just triumphant coming after the way they've been treated the past few weeks. Part of the reason the manager puts them on this case is because, in his misogynistic mind, he thinks forcing what he considers to be prissy and spoiled women to work in a filthy sewer will somehow teach them a lesson.

But, of course, the girls have no problem with this (there are one or two offhand remarks, but they, like the title of this episode, are all clearly designed to be feints for people who might be inclined to share the manager's predispositions), and they spend the majority of the episode literally soldiering through the dirt and grime with the maintenance workers and regularly putting their lives on the line for them. And yet the manager never comes to appreciate them for this: It's sobering to watch the girls start out cheerful and eager to help, then stoically start to leave once the manager starts going on emotional tirades and hurling verbal abuse at them. You can read it all on Kei's face: They've been hurt terribly by his outbursts, but they understand why he has them. The Angels know when they're not wanted and not appreciated, and it's nice they have the power to leave a situation like that if they wanted. And yet even so, they continue to do their job to the best of their abilities and when Kei finally does crack and backhand slaps the manager across the face, it's genuinely unexpected, shocking and *deliciously* cathartic.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that, in this episode, Dirty Pair is criticizing Lovecraftian Horror and genre fiction grimdark by likening them to the endemic toxic masculinity that transcends class and culture boundaries, and it delivers this message through the medium of toilet humour.

Prophets, I love this show.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

“Television causes...Not smartness!”: The Little Dictator! Let Sleeping Top Secrets Lie

There is, believe it or not, an upper limit to how much forced zaniness I can handle in Dirty Pair. As it turns out, that tolerance threshold is somewhere around “Mouse Nazis”.

This episode is pretty much the inverse of “What? We're Heinous Kidnappers!”. Like the earlier story, this absolutely doesn't work in any conceivable respect, except this time it's the first half that's an unwatchable disaster and the second half that features one or two intriguing bits of erudition. Let's just get the big one out of the way right off the bat: The plot is, ironically enough, insufferably dumb and idiotic. There's a very fine line between “offbeat and clever idea” and “unbelievably annoying idea”, and this episode leaps across that line with boundless enthusiasm. For the first time on Dirty Pair, absolutely none of the humour feels natural or appropriate: Kei and Yuri's incessant quips about vacations and bonus pay, disarmingly cute and endearing in “Lots of Danger, Lots of Decoys” and “Hah Hah Hah, Dresses and Men Should Always be brand New” now just feel strained and overused, and that's just one example. There's an overwhelming, and unsettling, feeling of the show trying far, far too hard to be “wacky” and the whole thing just comes across as stilted.

The 3WA gets overrun by an army of mice who want to form Mouse Nazi Germany with swastikas and everything! Aren't we clever! Mughi (who we've retconned from being an advanced sentient extraterrestrial being to a genetically engineered house pet) is terrified of mice! Isn't that so funny? Let's have Nanmo fly in at the last second and shoot some stuff to save the day because robots! Everyone in the building is shockingly cruel to Kei and Yuri, who spend half the runtime throwing temper tantrums, breaking things or talking about boys, vacations and special bonuses! Those girls sure are silly! We even have our own more-than-vaguely racist comedy relief Chinese stereotype now, who naturally will go on and on about ancestors and Chinese history and is actually named Chan, because those funny Chinese people across the pond are quirky and strange and we don't quite understand them.

You get the picture. Frankly, fuck this.

There is, obviously, an attempt at meta-commentary about the novel and short story Flowers for Algernon here. This episode is trying to do something similar to what “Hire Us! Beautiful Bodyguards are a Better Deal” did by referencing a familiar plot, mashing it up with a mixture of different motifs and signifiers and then from there exploring themes that build off of the ones in the original work, but are fundamentally separate from them. However, it can't even do that right, because this episode isn't *referencing* Flowers for Algernon, it *is* Flowers for Algernon, down to the plot centring around a genetically engineered laboratory mouse with artificially enhanced intelligence who is actually called Algernon.

(The story, for those who haven't read it, concerns a janitor named Charlie Goodwin who undergoes the same treatment as the titular Algernon, swiftly gaining and then losing remarkable intelligence, and is about how people treat him differently every step of the way. The twist this episode wants to give the story is the idea that somebody like Algernon or Charlie would likely rebel against his creators and appoint himself dictator because he'd realise he was smarter then the people controlling them.)

But forget all this. I refuse to quit on Dirty Pair, even when the show catastrophically derails itself: The concept is too good for that, both in terns of value judgments and narrative structure. Dirty Pair can never let us down, we can only let it down, and those house rules still apply. And the back half is certainly entertaining, with Kei and Yuri leading an all-feline brigade charge at the gates of the 3WA building, now fallen to Algernon's forces. This turns out to be a part of a massive misdirection gambit on the part of the girls, who, in the end, wind up outsmarting everyone. This is more revealing then it thinks it is. Throughout the episode, there's been, obviously, a recurring theme about intelligence: Algernon is, of course, genetically engineered to have superior intelligence and, as Kei points out, this causes him to rebel against his creators, whom he feels are stupid. There's a doomsday weapon in the form of experimental head lice that causes widespread necrosis of the brain. The 3WA thinks Kei and Yuri are stupid and reckless, which is why they pit them against Algernon in the first place. The episode itself even seems to want us to sympathize and agree with the 3WA, right up to the climactic scene.

The episode is trying to make a point about how an uneducated and unenlightened populace is easier to control, and how authority figures are all stupid. This is only half true, and its overall effectiveness further hampered by a fixation on the Intelligence Quotient as a quantitative measure of who's smart and who's stupid, which is problematic for its own reasons. Yet, through their irreducible power of narrative magick, Kei and Yuri once again save us. The Angels cast another spell, just as they did in “Love is Everything. Risk Your Life to Elope!!”, and this time they pull the ultimate trick and change the mark of their own show. Through the clairvoyance gifted to them by their connection to the cosmos, Kei and Yuri are able to briefly see into and invoke a possible future, anticipating Avital Ronell's landmark reconceptualization of stupidity.

In her 2002 book of the same name, Ronell argues that stupidity is not actually a signifier in the traditional sense. It is thus not even a proper “concept”, but a “paraconcept”; not “the other of thought”, but rather an accusation leveled at a certain kind of thought in order to marginalize and dismiss it, and thus, perhaps even a sort of “pure thought”. Ronell is a scholar and redeemer of the marginal and persecuted in all things, which makes her what amounts to an ur-feminist, as feminizing is, of course, arguably the primordial form of marginalization. The guiding impetus for this project, according to her, is how so many perspectives deemed unacceptable to hegemony are written off by being labeled “stupid”, namely those held by women and ethnic minorities. In this light, Ronell casts stupidity as the enemy of certainty, agency and control, concepts which she considers fundamentally patriarchal.

A primary example of hers is the “stupor-like” mindset that accompanies writing poetry, a surrender to the process of creation. Ronell has said elsewhere she experiences all of her writing not as a “writer”, but as a “writing being”, taking “dictations” as the “secretary” of some etherial force. We write because we must and because we need stories. Ronell evokes the phrase “I am stupid before the other”, by which she jointly means the historical reality that there have always existed marginalized viewpoints dismissed as stupid by the ruling classes and Master Narratives, but also the fundamental constructed nature of the idea of certainty. Perhaps the only universal statement is, in Ronell's words, “I don't know” or, “I'm not sure I know”. Ronell has stated that she is “stupid before [her] students”, and I think most authors, if you really press them, would agree that they're “stupid before their readers” too. This project, even this post, has changed shape numerous times already. I'm not exactly where I planned to be with Dirty Pair, I let the experience of watching and writing help guide the direction of this voyage. We transform and improvise in our performative interactions every day.

It's telling then that intelligence is so heavily connected to IQ in this episode: In other words, quantitative, Scientistic certainty. Kei and Yuri are stupid before their audience. Note how part of their gambit is to pretend to be bitten by the brain-destroying lice (another performance), and how on a number of occasions they point out that it might be nice to be considered stupid. Notice also how they're the ones who outsmart the hyper-intelligent villains, and how this changes the context of the fickle and unflattering way they're depicted in the first half of the episode. As avatars of divine, reclaimed femininity, Kei and Yuri are by definition opposed to the patriarchal constructs of certainty and agency, they are fundamentally marginal figures both in their transgressive power and the way the human universe shuns and fears them, frankly for being women as much as for their reputation, and their bond with the larger cosmos means they have always been and will always be in a sense guided in their actions. Their will harmonizes with that of the universe, as both an extension and a reinterpretation of it.

I am we are stupid before you.