Tuesday, July 1, 2014

“So high I cannot feel the fire”: Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode

You would think Dirty Pair would have a hard time topping that. I mean, we've been on a pretty unbelievable streak since episode 3, and that's gotta be the pinnacle, right? No show, not even one this good, can keep that kind of momentum going for any longer, especially not after what we just saw. And, truth be known, “Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode” is more low-key than “Love is Everything. Risk Your Life to Elope!!” was, though there's more property damage this time if that's your thing.

Yeah, but that doesn't matter. No need to worry; this is another unabashed masterpiece.

And yet I have to be extremely careful with this one. This is a story that's at least in part about the differences between Kei and Yuri, it's altogether too easy to pass value judgments when doing this, and plenty of people have. Yuri is without question the most popular of the two Lovely Angels, especially in Japan, and I could see a loyal Yuri fan being royally pissed off at what happens here. In approaching this piece, I have hazards of my own to navigate: I've made a big deal in the past about how you can't take one Angel without the other, but even I still have a deep and personal connection with one particular character here, and that definitely shapes not only how I read this episode, but how I react to Dirty Pair in general. I'll elabourate on this later, but the short of it is my challenge for this post is to explain how this episode remains a classic and a prime example of Kei and Yuri's undying and unbreakable bond that transcends metafiction while the story itself still quite clearly paints one of them doing something that on the surface seems irredeemable from the narrative's perspective.

The dilemma Yuri faces in this episode is, in truth, uniquely hers. And it's worth unpacking this extremely carefully, because the trap she falls into here is the exact same one Kaia tried to spring on Kei in “Lots of Danger, Lots of Decoys” and that (literally) blew up hilariously and spectacularly in his face. And it's really, really hard to not let this reflect negatively on her: After all, she spends the majority of this story perfectly willing and eager to abandon her career and life up to this point, not to mention her actual life partner and soulmate, to run off with a boy she hasn't seen since she was seven. And she's utterly horrid to Kei, smugly brushing off her genuine concern and feelings of heartbreak by accusing her of being jealous. Kei even rightfully points out Yuri has no idea the kind of person Billy is now, in a nice callback to what we learned last week about how people change over time. Considering Kei just recently went through a similar experience and immediately saw through Kaia's ham-fisted attempts to mobilize one of the corniest melodrama plots in the known universe and Yuri seems completely oblivious, this is absolutely gut-wrenching. Kei and Yuri are supposed to be better than us. This sort of thing isn't supposed to happen to them.

It almost seems like Yuri has screwed up so disastrously she's invited narrative collapse once again. And yet we as Dirty Pair fans must not read this episode this way: Not just because it's wrong on a very basic level to think either Kei or Yuri are better than the other (remember BRIAN, who is basically the planet's operating system, couldn't come up with an answer to Kei's query about who was the better woman) but because Dirty Pair is immune to narrative collapse. This is a show overseen by the girls themselves, so there must be something more complex going on. And there is: “Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode” is not a story about Yuri being a bad person or having a massive lapse in judgment, it's about the metatextual realities of the Angels' existence. What Yuri is actually in danger of here is disappearing into her role: She gets a telegraph from her childhood friend who made a stupid little kid promise that he'd build a giant starship when he grew up and then return to marry her when it was finished. Yuri, forever playing the romantic and devoted, actually thinks Billy is going to keep this promise from decades ago.

But even diegetically, this is not something Yuri should actually believe: She's making the mistake of letting her wrestling gimmick go to her head and forgetting the performative nature of her reality. She's letting kayfabe actually screw up her real life. And the fact of the matter is, this is a problem that Yuri and Yuri alone has to confront. This could never happen to Kei, not because she's smarter or savvier than Yuri (though this is explained diegetically by showing Kei to be more streetwise), but because, if you recall, Kei was Dirty Pair's original narrator. She can speak to the audience directly, while Yuri is someone who only exists within Kei's story. Though the anime is, of course, its own thing and has done a tremendous job putting both Kei and Yuri on the same level so far, this has always been and will always be an important part of Kei's character. She is a storyteller and has an innate understanding of narrative magick that may even be beyond that of her partner. Which is a good thing to remember because, contrary to how it might seem, as a character study, this episode is actually about Kei.

I'm going to be perfectly blunt. While I love both Kei and Yuri as the pinnacle of what postmodern sci-fi characters can accomplish and as narrative free agents, I identify quite strongly and deeply with Kei. More than I do with Yuri. It wasn't always like this: When I first saw Dirty Pair a year or so ago as of this writing I found it surprisingly fun, but it was still something I regarded primarily with academic curiosity. It quickly became a show I would not hesitate to put on for a quick laugh, but it wasn't anything life-affirming for me. That all changed when I watched the last episode, and to a lesser extent this one, and researching the franchise further cemented my love for it. Though, I still didn't feel a personal connection with either of the Angels until I got to the astrology section on Teatime in Elenore City, at which point Kei suddenly became a *lot* more important to me. And, at the risk of tarnishing what little credibility I have, it's because we're both Sagittarians.

As the webmaster over there says, terrestrial astrology as it currently exists is basically a pointless and inaccurate pseudoscience, but it is still something that's an important part of the history of astronomy. This makes it of interest to Nozmo as an astronomer and to me as someone with a background in science and technology studies and social studies of knowledge. Either way, the astrology-influenced reading that site gives Kei could just as easily be describing me, and I'll admit I was taken a bit aback by that. There a few differences: I'm not *quite* as fiery and confrontational as Kei is (though this can be explained by her being First Decon and me being, I think, Second Decon if you're so inclined) and I also don't have, at least I hope I don't, the more negative aspects of the sign (and I actually don't think Kei does either, but that's another story), but everything else is note-for-note either the person I am or, more importantly, the person I want to be.

There's an entire essay that's not this one about my connection to Dirty Pair as explained through astrology and comparative mythology (among other things) so for now I'll just say this revelation caused me to see Kei in an entirely different light and turned her into someone who embodies all of the ideals I personally strive toward, someone whose virtues I try to invoke in my day-to-day life and, onscreen, a character I think I understand particularly intimately. So I hope you'll understand when I say this episode is the purest, best demonstration of who Kei truly is we've seen so far, if not in the entire show. The heartbreak she feels at potentially losing Yuri and what this would mean for her own fate is something I could feel at an absolutely visceral level. I was very moved by her impassioned pleas to Yuri and Gooley, her tears just barely discernible through her overt displays of rage and indignation. Then there's a succession of just magnificent scenes: Even in what she accepts might be her final hours (more on why I'm saying this later), Kei exerts a beautifully elegant power over the narrative. I love the opening scene where she dances to “Space Fantasy” and the perspective shift from our POV to Kei's as the bank the girls drive by suddenly reappears in her video game in the same take is absolutely magical.

Then Yuri flippantly says she's sure there are many girls better then her Kei could find as a partner, and we're briefly meant to think Kei is going to turn into a tsundere (a hackneyed and overused character archetype in Japanese, and contemporary Western, media describing a young woman who uses a harsh exterior to hide an inner vulnerability because she's uncomfortable expressing her feelings), but she doesn't, saying she's sure there are, and that she doesn't want any of them. Kei's brash, but she's utterly comfortable with who she is and how she feels (note also her reaction the Yuri's “three centimeters” crack: “I'm fine the way I am”). And above all else, Kei is honest and loyal: She spends hours tracking Billy's signal to Poisonville, where he's being held with other kidnapped engineers and forced to build advanced and illegal battlecruisers, and even calls in an anonymous request to Gooley so that he'll assign her and Yuri to the case, because, as a corporation, the 3WA won't act without a paying contract.

Speaking of Gooley and the 3WA, this is also the story that finally damns them both. As the chief flatly states, the 3WA is a business, and turning a profit trumps everything else. Not only will they not act to correct a wrongdoing they know for a fact is happening unless someone is paying them to do it, they'll put profit before their employees' lives and emotions: Gooley's advice to Yuri is to resign and live out her life in heteronormative wedded domestic bliss and completely disregards Kei's feelings, suggesting she “settle down” too, which is the absolute most hurtful thing he could possibly have said to her. Both Gooley and his organisation are utterly contemptible here, and it's practically impossible for me to sympathize with either of them after this. However, even though the way the 3WA is portrayed here completely flies in the face of how Kei described it in “The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair”, their face heel turn here actually helps to underscore the rest of what this episode is trying to tell us about her. Because Kei comes very close to actually dying here.

Kei is so loyal and honest, she won't just sacrifice her life to save Yuri, she'll sacrifice her life to give Yuri the life she wants. During the climax, even though Kei by this point knows Billy is dead and the message they picked up back in Elenore City was prerecorded, she doesn't tell Yuri this and goes out of her way to give Yuri the opportunity to leave with the surviving engineers and her dreams. Because this, fittingly, is what Yuri actually wanted: Not the actual Billy or married life with him, but the idea and fantasy of what she imagines this would be like (not only is Yuri herself built out of artifice, since we were talking astrology earlier, it's worth bringing up that her sign, Pisces, represents performativity and mercurial mutability at the expense of self-image and a tendency to become lost in fantasy and unreality). Kei is more than willing to do this for someone she loves as much as Yuri, but she also knows doing so will mark her own demise.

Kei, being Kei, knows she has no life without Yuri (the inverse is also true-This is why Yuri's only future without Kei is explicitly a fantasy). Not in the sappy “you are my life and you complete me” way that some romantics throw around, but because Kei knows how the story of Dirty Pair works. Remember what I said back in “Criados' Heartbeat”: The only thing that could kill off Dirty Pair would be to split up Kei and Yuri. Nanmo can be rebuilt no problem, but marrying off Yuri (or, to be more accurate, letting her get completely self-absorbed and lost in her own performative artifice) and killing off Kei would definitely end Dirty Pair. Even if the transhuman technology exists such that she could be resurrected, there's no tenable future for Kei in a situation like that. And this is why she spends the climax fighting a losing battle against a horde of armed guards and a fleet of starfighters on top of a mountain, completely outnumbered and just waiting for death. At least she'll go down in a blaze of glory for someone she loves, which seems like the only way she could go.

It's a heartbreaking, unbelievably moving scene. I know the heroic sacrifice is such an overdone cliche-the original Star Trek alone must have done it every other week-but I think it really, really works here. If Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan handled itself a minute fraction as superbly as this episode does, I'd understand why people worship it so much.

But, as we've said before, this is Dirty Pair and not The Kei Show (and Sunrise haters, do please note how this story makes the rather explicit statement that letting the series turn into that would be its complete undoing), so Yuri comes back for her dear partner at the last minute. There are subtle visual clues that she might have figured out the truth about Billy on her own, but it doesn't matter if she did or not. What's important is that Yuri didn't forget her true calling and came back in the end. At first, her smug and abrasive attitude rubbed me the wrong way, especially after everything that had been done for her, but I eventually realised this was a sign that the status quo had been restored: After all, text!Kei and text!Yuri do squabble quite a lot. And there's another level that forgives absolutely everything text!Yuri does in this episode. Remember, this is a show the girls are writing themselves, or at least have a great deal of creative control over. Why would Yuri allow herself to be portrayed in such a seemingly negative light? For the same reason Kei does in the novels. Because she loves her partner.

Recall how in the original light novels, Kei seems to use a lot of metatextual sleight-of-hand to glorify Yuri at her own expense. Even though she's the narrator, she's still *writing the story*, and she's comparing her author insert character unfavourably to Yuri by having the character of the narrator compare Yuri unfavourably to herself and tapping into Yuri's privilege of being conventionally attractive. As much as Yuri exists only in Kei's story, Kei herself only exists in the subtext of her story. A big difference between the anime and the books is how it can give us a more unfiltered look at both Angels, and that explains everything. Because every single thing Kei does in this story is utterly in keeping with the reading we gave her in The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair and “How to Kill a Computer”. This is Kei at her absolute best; her true self. And the reason she's allowed to show that to us here is because of Yuri.

“Gotta Do It! Love is What Makes a Woman Explode” is Yuri's way of expressing her thanks and her love to Kei by doing for her the same thing Kei does for Yuri in the novels. By telling this story, Yuri returns the favour by highlighting and emphasizing what a wonderful person Kei is. In doing so, both Kei and Yuri remind us once again that Dirty Pair is about love above all else and reassure us that this truly is a series that can live forever.


  1. The thing that I really got from this episode was that both of the characters are written to be (or writing themselves!) to be absolutely true to their natures and hearts. That means a lot, especially with regards to how often characters are actually rewritten to manipulate us the viewers.

    1. I absolutely agree. This is something that strikes me so much about Kei and Yuri: It's actually really, really hard to get them wrong or mobilize them for ill purposes. Even when the show falls on its face or the franchise itself loses its way, which it does at several points in its history, Kei and Yuri walk away unscathed, intact and indisputably sincere. It *really is* never their fault.

      It's like their mastery of narrative and magick is so great that even their own tales bend around them, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they can easily adapt to changing circumstances without sacrificing what makes them uniquely them, which is actually sort of perfect.

  2. Yeah, interesting to have characters that have such power, that's rare. This was a pretty moving episode.