From the opening on, you know you’re handling a dangerous couple of girls. Seeing them is like a game of Russian roulette! Shouldn’t you stay away? The answer is no. Kei and Yuri, the Lovely Angels that mean people call the Dirty Pair, are sassy but friendly and likable, and make their classic anime a classic. Dirty Pair began in 1980 as a light novel series, and while that meant limited art, Dark Horse published the first two volumes of the source work in English for those so interested. It even spawned some Western comics (we won’t read those) before inspiring a legitimate manga in 2010. Most fans though, it’s safe to say, got to know the Dirty Pair through the 1985-1986 anime adaptation that goes for 26 episodes, and its sequels. From the fast-paced first episode on, the premise is fairly simple. Kei and Yuri, both in their early twenties, hold high-paying careers as the Lovely Angels, a duo of “trouble consultants” or TroCons for the WWWA, or World Welfare Works Association, a sprawling enterprise relied upon by clients throughout the galaxy in the mid-22nd century space age. TroCons do a variety of jobs that require the skill sets of undercover agents proficient in armed combat. Already veteran TroCons when the series begins, the Lovely Angels always complete their assignments. Unfortunately, clumsiness or poor luck often lead to devastation in their wake, sometimes bringing loss of life far outweighing whatever good they tried to accomplish! Thus the popular nickname “The Dirty Pair”, which really gets on their nerves.
So, should Kei and Yuri be fired, even be behind bars for their wholesale negligence? True, they might rush to fit in a date set for that afternoon, or bill unconscionable sums to the WWWA expenses account as they visit a casino. They never let work get in the way of girlish fun when they can help it. But, as we learn by watching them, not only are they good at what they do, but they harbor real concern for their clients and those they encounter on their missions. Highly fashionable as they are—a major attraction of the anime is seeing how they dress up for elegant occasions—any airs they put on never sour their characters. Red-headed Kei is, of course, the fiery one with a preference for buff, tough guys, while Yuri affects more refinement and goes for more sensitive, learned men. Contra convention, Kei’s bust is slightly larger. Yuri is the more intelligent, and is given a startlingly high, genius IQ, yet Kei isn’t far behind; she can always follow Yuri’s train of thought, and the two get along like best friends. There’s a refreshing dearth of backbiting and bad blood between the Lovely Angels, which helps them cooperate ably.
Dirty Pair has plenty of attractive space age scenery. The initial ending is incredibly futuristic, in a laid back, cool way very close to today’s retrowave art. The Dirty Pair movie Project Eden with the series’s best production, is a classic example of cyberpunk; however, the color palette is too grimy and dark for a hour’s exposition of this great pair, and as fantastically the action scenes are done, leaving much exposition to the incoherently rambling villain, his motives hard to understand, makes it hard to connect with the plot. The first OVA, Affair on Nolandia, is a genuine masterpiece. Along with a metropolitan space colony setting, much of the special takes place in an extraterrestrial wilderness, where Kei and Yuri befriend Missnie, a dear little girl and world class loli boasting psychic powers worthy of a Gundam girl. Affair on Nolandia boasts some of Dirty Pair’s most exciting fighting and some epic explosions.
The setup provides opportunities for jetting to one colorful locale after another in a way sometimes like the later Cowboy Bebop, only not so gritty or jaded, with leads you’ll love to root for against even the most intriguing foes. It’s no wonder there’s also an OVA second season of 10 episodes, following much the same formula, and a second special, Flight 005 Conspiracy, about a missing interstellar passenger liner: a strange choice, as there was already a two-part case about a missing starcraft in the televised series, but with a series this good there is no redundancy.
What is strange, is the alternative remake Dirty Pair Flash, 1994-1996, which radically transforms Kei and Yuri in appearance, character, and even age. Now portrayed in their late teens, the WWWA TroCons get along poorly, their relationship much more like what I’d expect of two girl “friends” portrayed outside the Japonically harmonious world of anime. Their intelligence plummets something like 60 points, leaving Yuri groaning about an algebra assignment and seeking help. Kei in particular loses some of her dignity, with more underclass than class when circumstances lead her to seek new employment. Apparently, the original voice actresses were no longer available or willing to work, so a hoped-for continuation became an alternative retelling. Now, this is precisely what anime can and should avoid. It makes no sense for a medium whose every character takes many workers to bring to life to bow to the circumstances of the woman giving just the voice, or to adulate her. (In Detective Conan, I remember a number of episodes where Mitsuhiko’s voice was out of action, so they just had someone else do it; I noticed, and it sounded like Mitsuhiko was delivering his lines with a French accent, but everything was fine.) Here, Nippon Sunrise would have ruined a lot less in these 16 episodes had they simply hired replacements. Still, after a weak first arc, Dirty Pair Flash improves on strength of the plot and the joys of ordinary girlish hijinks. Very welcome is the second arc where we get to see Kei and Yuri attend a 20th century girl’s boarding high school at a historic Tokyo theme park! Dreams, fantasies fulfilled.
If you were wondering, Is there a flash in Dirty Pair Flash?, there is occasional, light fanservice and nudity in both the original and remake. They are “lovely angels”, so it is delightful, but this is not a destination NSFW anime, and other than one episode plot including a sex changed character, there’s nothing I’d class objectionable content. You are likely to die in the company of Kei and Yuri, but not from nosebleeds. Another thing to note before going, are the supporting characters, denizens of the girls’ spaceship, the Lovely Angel: Nanmo, a robot, and Mughi the cat. Nanmo isn’t too interesting, but Mughi’s a lot of fun. Few anime characters are drawn so differently within the same franchise. In the original anime, he’s a red behemoth, massive as a bear, but Flash shows him as a harmless house cat! (The cover of the light novel shows him a third way, like a panther). Almost the only thing that was missing was a character episode devoted to their gargantuan cat, unpacking his all-so important past and present hopes and travails. Oh well... it is enough having two so great girls