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.


  1. I felt that this episode had issues at the moment I witnessed Kei and Yuri's shock at the fact the Chairman was a woman. I would have thought that if their characters were being represented properly they would perhaps have been encouraging this young woman towards rebellion in some way, rather than denigrating her?

    1. Yup, absolutely. I agree completely.

      I've considerably soured on this one and others like it since initially writing about it and finishing up the series. It's an episode where just about nothing is handled as it should be or comes together at all.

    2. Yes a big shame, really huge wasted opportunities here.