No. 6: DIRTY PAIR: PROJECT EDEN
Reviewed by Sam Hatch
AS THIS IS PART OF A RETRO NOSTALGIA BINGE AS OPPOSED TO A TRADITIONAL REVIEW, THERE MAY BE SPOILERS PRESENT IN THE TEXT.
If you happened to skim through my article that details my love for the outdated Laserdisc video format, you'll be familiar with my fondness for Japanese ‘Anime' cel animation. In the late 80s I was a bona fide anime collector, fuelled by the initial thrill of Harmony Gold's Robotech (a reworking of three classic Japanese cartoons into a sprawling new entity for American audiences). At this time anime fandom was strictly underground. The only magazines for 'Japanimation' nuts were Japanese language imports, and fan sub tapes (video copies given handy home brewed subtitles thanks to numerous multilingual fan translators) were nowhere to be found. So if you stumbled into a comic/sci-fi convention with a hankering for anime, you'd likely find tables packed with bootlegged VHS copies of Japanese anime laserdiscs. As a rule, these were almost always lacking English dubs or subtitles.
The upside to this scenario was that it mattered very little. Sure, any complex plot points were undecipherable, but you'd be surprised at how much of the story came across on an emotional level. In fact, I showed my Japanese language laserdisc of Akira to numerous people, and nobody ever complained that it wasn't in English. In the mid-eighties, I was reading a small magazine called Comics Collector (the poor man's quarterly version of the Comics Buyer's Guide) on a fairly regular basis, and their coverage of Manga (the Japanese version of comic books, though with a much wider reader base and variety of genres) splintered off into an overview of multiple anime series as well. One of them was Crusher Joe, an immensely popular show (rock fans might recognize it from Matthew Sweet's classic Girlfriend video) that had spun off a recent series of adventures following two attractive special agents. That series was called Dirty Pair.
At the next convention I went to, myself and my Danish ex-pat friend Carsten loaded up on bootleg anime videos, and quite a few of them were Dirty Pair compilations. It was a short-lived series compared to the longevity of shows like the Gundam series. There were forty or so television episodes, a much shorter run of straight to shelf Original Video Animations (or OVAs), and two feature length adventures. Project Eden was one of the latter, and I pretty much wore out my VHS copy of it.
Dirty Pair was a sci-fi action/comedy very similar in tone to Cowboy Bebop (which was released much, much later). Kei and Yuri were its two titular cheesecake heroines, one a smarter brunette, the other a boy-crazy redheaded spaz. They hopped around the universe in their ship Lovely Angel, accompanied by a gigantic narcoleptic supercomputer/housecat named Mughi. They officially worked for the 3WA, the World Welfare & Works Association, and answered to a cranky department head who was constantly aggravated by the fact that a Dirty Pair solution was invariably much worse than the original problem.
One great episode of the OVA series followed their quest to unseat a martial arts master who'd become addicted to a futuristic gambling fad (cannons fire asteroid-sized chunks of debris at a derelict planet and players bet on which sector the foreign body will impact on). All hell breaks loose during his capture, and the episode winds up with the asteroid cannon being dislodged from it's housing. Its trajectory changing enough that it begins firing rocks at a fully populated planet, thereby decimating the world and all it's denizens. That was what Kei and Yuri could do in the process of saving the day, which had earned them the Dirty Pair nickname (which they hate, by the way).
Project Eden begins with a nod to James Bond, with a mini-adventure aboard a space station in which Kei and Yuri track down a pair of notorious smugglers. Will the space station survive? More Bondian style emerges in the opening credits sequence, which obviously owes a debt to 007 credits sequence creator Maurice Binder. The rest of the story involves Agerna, a mining planet beset by a swarm of nasty Aliens-esque beasties (craftily birthed from the rock surrounding the very ore being mined, an element necessary for space travel called Vizorium.). Two warring mining countries (meant to resemble cold war America and Russia) accuse each other of being the culprit, and they reluctantly assist the Dirty Pair in unraveling the mystery.
Behind the attacks is a silly-looking big-eared geezer named Dr. Wattsman (who even has his own theme song with breathy women pronouncing "Wattsman!" whenever he appears), whose plan on releasing dormant creatures from their mineral state is titled Environmental Displacement by Evolutionary Necessity, hence the EDEN nomenclature. More biblical references ensue, as the massive-eared coot is also trying to cook up his own Eve of sorts as well. He believes that the monsters will eventually evolve into a species that is destined to supplant humans, and he later amusingly mistakes the Dirty Pair themselves as pristine examples of this final stage of evolution.
On their journey, the Lovely Angels encounter Carson D. Carson, a hunky thief who happens to be after the same prey for a wildly different reason. He's after an old bottle of wine from the WWII era, which happens to be in the possession of the old scientist's butler. His lust for antique vino doesn't stop him from coming on to Kei in the meantime. While it's definitely not Hentai, it's still nothing for the kids to watch, as there is a considerable amount of comical booby squeezing during one early bathtub scene with Carson and Kei.
I suppose this series was also my first real introduction to J-Pop, and as much as it pains me to say it, I must admit that I copied just about every theme song onto audiocassette and listened to it (in all its hissy mono glory) ad infinitum. As South Park so aptly spoofed in their ‘Good Times With Weapons' episode, all of the songs have moments where the Japanese lyrics are suddenly interrupted by random English phrases, often rife with grammatical errors. I can't think of anything as egregious as South Park's 'Let's fighting love' lyric, but there is the odd reference to 'Safari Eyes' during the main titles song. Doesn't matter, I ain't apologizing for being a fanboy.
Once the 90s arrived, traditional mono anime sound mixes quickly evolved into surround affairs, and by the end of the decade new shows often had 5.1 mixes. Needless to say, Dirty Pair doesn't sound quite as awesome as it did back in the day. Some of the animation looks a bit dated as well, but the stories and characters are still as exciting as they were when I was watching them for the first time. I'm happy to report that during a recent shopping trip to Salem, Massachusetts, I happened upon a really cool comic/geek-shoppe that had five Dirty Pair DVDs for sale. To my delight, I found that ADV Vision had stealthily released the entire OVA series, the two motion pictures, and one of the most popular feature length stories from the original television run. Even better, they kept the original Japanese language tracks in addition to the newly created dubs. And wouldn't you know it, when I popped in that OVA episode with the Kung Fu Gambler, I realized that I had almost fully understood the entire episode without the English subtitles in the first place!
My VHS copies of the OVA episodes looked decent enough, but sadly my Project Eden tape was always pretty dodgy, with really bad noise patterns marring the picture. I'm glad to say that the ADV DVD is simply beautiful in comparison, though some interlacing artifacts do appear occasionally. It's even anamorphically enhanced (though it never quite fills a 16:9 frame), and the colors are great. The paintings of Agerna's cloudy skies are particularly breathtaking on DVD. Animation-wise, it's definitely a step above the individual episodes, but not quite as good as some of the more modern titles. Like most sci-fi anime, the design work is fantastic, with plenty of buildings and vehicles that would do Syd Mead and Ron Cobb proud.
The DVDs are labeled the 'Original' Dirty Pair, in recognition of the early nineties, when the characters were given a very popular American comic book in a pseudo-manga style (which I never got into, since American-ized Manga always looks wrong IMHO) which is arguably more familiar now than the original books and anime on which they were based. In this case, the original is still best.