By Mento 4 Comments
I've been looking for something to help me through the hot 'n' humid summer months and what better way to beat the heat than to stay indoors watching questionable anime and playing questionable games based on said anime? For a rundown of this little project, check out the first episode.
Dirty Pair is a sci-fi action series about a duo of female "trouble consultant" agents of the for-profit World Welfare Works Association (3WA) company, their actual jobs essentially boiling down to mercenary work. While Kei (a fiery redhead) and Yuri (a calmer brunette) may introduce themselves as "the Lovely Angels" to their clients, they're instead best known across the galaxy as the Dirty Pair for the prodigious amount of destruction their assistance inevitably leaves in its wake. Despite the lascivious name, Dirty Pair is more like a PG-13 rated action franchise featuring two scantily-clad heroines blowing away bad guys and the occasional spaceship or planet, drawing levity from the duo's strong, opposing personalities, their cash- and man-hungry aspirations, and the inadvertent nature of their collateral damage. Kinda like a Laverne & Shirley if they both became Samus Aran instead of working at a Milwaukee brewery.
Created by sci-fi author Haruka Takachiho, Dirty Pair began as a series of written stories that were first serialized in Japan's S-F Magazine and then later collected and published in light novel form. The first serialized story, Dirty Pair no Daibouken ("The Great Adventures of Dirty Pair"), started all the way back in 1979. It initially skipped a manga adaptation, moving straight into an anime TV show that aired over the second half of 1985. The success of that series led to twelve OVAs released between when the show ended in December 1985 to January 1990. In that time there was also a feature film, known as both Dirty Pair: The Movie and Dirty Pair: Project Eden, which released in late 1986. The franchise was later rebooted as Dirty Pair Flash in the mid-'90s with all-new character designs and finally saw a manga adaptation in 2010, after which the franchise has lain dormant ever since.
The big conundrum with this feature is that '80s anime is often more fun than the '90s stuff, but going further back invites the possibility of more terrible tie-in games. I decided to take that risk on this occasion because Dirty Pair is an all-timer when it comes to fun, goofy, action sci-fi. Besides, most of this season has covered obscurities nobody outside of the hardcore otaku set have ever heard of, so it seemed prudent to let this season of Game OVA go out with a showstopper.
Kei: A hotheaded tomboy with a bob of red hair and a proclivity for large guns and even larger dudes. Tends to be the more reckless of the Lovely Angels, liable to shoot first and ask questions later.
Yuri: Though much more reserved and the model of a traditional Japanese beauty, Yuri is just as violent as Kei when angered and just as accident prone. Though an equally good shot as Kei, Yuri's more inclined to wield melee weapons in combat like energy whips and swords. Rather than the macho guys Kei's into, Yuri prefers suave and refined gentlemen.
Nanmo: A little robot with sneakers that operates as the Dirty Pair's technical support and pilot. Doesn't talk, but beeps and whistles like R2D2 (in fact, it's a lot like R2D2 in most other respects also). Apparently went on to inspire the design of the exocomp robots in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Mughi: A big red feline creature that's somewhat intelligent and like Nanmo assists the Dirty Pair with technical support and in flying their ship for them. It can't speak though, so the Dirty Pair just kinda leave it instructions and let it do its thing. It also has a Star Trek thing named after it. Is Dirty Pair considered classical literature in the Star Trek canon, like how Beastie Boys is classical music?
Needless to say there's a lot of Dirty Pair anime out there to draw from for this particular edition of Game OVA, so for the sake of keeping things at least semi-manageable we're only covering the official 1986 movie and the 1987 Famicom Disk System game based on same. As with City Hunter, the long-form TV shows and other OVAs are going to have to be something I dip into in my spare time.
Dirty Pair: Project Eden is a 1986 feature-length anime movie (about 85 minutes long) that was directed by Koichi Mashimo, written by Hiroyuki Hoshiyama, and animated by Sunrise. It covers a self-contained adventure of the Dirty Pair—as did most of the OVAs and episodes of the show—as they investigate an economically pivotal mining planet that has seen regular attacks and sabotages from a mysterious group of assailants. This would be our third Sunrise anime, after City Hunter and Magical Hat, so feel free to follow the link to the latter to get a deeper dive on their history and the more famous anime they've produced. A short list would include Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, Love Live!, Inuyasha, and Code Geass; for many older weebs it'd be hard to imagine the '00s anime scene without them.
Koichi Mashimo is a major figure in the serialized anime world due to founding studio Bee Train in 1999 which, apposite to our goals here, got its start making anime adaptations of video game RPGs (including Wild Arms, Medabots, and Arc the Lad) and later branched out into original content like Noir and Madlax. Their most famous franchise is probably the MMO-inspired .hack. Prior to founding Bee Train, Mashimo had worked on a great many anime usually as a director or scriptwriter: he was the director for Dominion Tank Police, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, and the A.I. City movie. He also wrote some of the scripts for the first Dragon Quest anime and helped produce the anime cutscenes for Xenogears, so this dude's really keen on games (if only because they kept him employed). He appears to have retired about a decade ago. Hiroyuki Hoshiyama is a scriptwriter with a credits sheet a mile long: he also helped write episodes of the Dirty Pair TV show and OVAs as well, along with episodes of the original Gundam run, Macross, Urusei Yatsura, City Hunter, Mazinger, and many others that might one day grace this feature.
The one and only Dirty Pair game I'm aware of—though there might be some MSX games I'm struggling to dig up—is directly based on this movie, hence why it's the only Dirty Pair anime we're going to cover today.
Dirty Pair: Project Eden (1986 Movie)
We get a Bond style cold open as the Dirty Pair foil a Vizorium smuggling ring on a resort-like halo world, accidentally destroying most of it after their quarry sets off a self-destruct on the briefcase carrying the goods. One amazing '80s musical intro later (warning: some anime nudity) and we get the mostly unrelated plot underway: the Dirty Pair are sent to the planet Agerna, the source of most of the galaxy's Vizorium, after an experimental facility and a refinery are destroyed by a group of mysterious reptilian monsters. The government in control of the refinery starts pointing fingers at their neighboring country and so the neutral 3WA is called in to mediate and investigate the matter. After meeting the local government representative at the smashed refinery, while maybe accidentally causing even more damage, the duo decide to investigate the first destination the monsters hit: the experimental mining facility. The place is abandoned, including the living quarters, so the duo (or should I say the writers/animators) take the opportunity to have a gratuitous bath scene to wash off the mess caused by their mishap at the refinery.
However, there's a creeper in the vents, and it's revealed to be the one smuggler from the cold open that successfully escaped: Carson D. Carson. (If you name your kid the same as their surname, you kinda have to be prepared for them to become a hardened criminal.) After he crashes through a grate and the pair beat his ass for peeking, they slap some cuffs on him and take the sample of Vizorium he was hiding. At this point the reptile aliens from earlier show up and there's a neat sequence of the Dirty Pair having to improvise fighting them, having nothing but towels and their blasters to defend themselves with. The aliens prove too much, but Carson has already realized that they're not there for them but for the Vizorium: he steals the sample back and tosses it away to create a distraction. After escaping, the Dirty Pair interrogate Carson to discover the culprit behind the creatures is a person called Professor Wattsman (there's a funny musical interlude here where Wattsman gets officially introduced, though we've seen him in a few scenes already): they're not just aliens but manmade genetically engineered lifeforms. Realizing they're both after the same guy and that Carson's not quite as stupid as he looks, the pair decide to let him go so both groups can investigate independently to get to the bottom of things faster—Kei takes this moment to dramatically shoot his robo-cuffs off, apparently despite the fact they belong to her and she'll probably have to pay to replace them. Maybe she has a whole cupboard of the things, who knows? (Incidentally, Carson's also in his underwear at this point. I guess the duo wanted things to be fair and even.)
The half-naked trio then fly to Wattsman's private laboratory, but it's heavily guarded by an "ion field". The resourceful Carson gets through it by dropping some scrap piping through the field and hopping into it, and the Dirty Pair attempt to do the same but have some trouble lifting the scrap, giving Carson a head start. Switching to Wattsman, he's trying to produce the perfect lifeform with these experiments, and almost gets there once a purple humanoid woman emerges from the test chamber. Sadly, she suddenly morphs into one of the reptile aliens and promptly disintegrates. Turns out Wattsman learned something about Sadinga, the fossil-like substance from which Vizorium is refined: it's still alive, in a manner of speaking, quietly modifying its own genetic data for the day the species can reawaken in a world some 100 million years removed from its prime. Wattsman is determined to make that awakening arrive sooner, his scientific curiosity piqued by the extraterrestrial lifeform and its unique genetic properties. Because this exposition is a little dry and has a lot of big words, the three mostly-nude investigators are having a Scooby Doo moment in the pipes above after they almost drop a gun on where Wattsman is working, leaving them perilously dangling in a daisy chain.
Wattsman leaves the sample room just as the trio fall in, causing them to get mixed with the Sadinga when Wattsman's program starts genetically altering the nearby fossils with random seeds: Wattsman then discovers that there's a few humanoids mixed in with the usual scaly rejects and mistakes them for his "perfect mutations". Kei and Carson are captured (and I guess Kei's fallen for the idiot by now; the two turn out to have pretty similar personalities) and Yuri's left to chase after them after she destroys the sampling machine. Now he has his perfect samples, Wattsman moves to the next phase of his plan and has his enormous laboratory transform Unicron-style (that movie came out the same year, by the by), creating chaos for Yuri, Kei, and Carson. Kei and Carson are placed in pods and have genetic data extracted: the fact that they tell Wattsman he's an idiot for thinking they're aliens doesn't seem to deter his opinion in the slightest that they're somehow advanced forms of the fossils he's been studying.
It's only when Wattsman's manservant Bruno comes by with the celebratory drink that we realize Carson's entire motivation for being here is to steal back some expensive-ass wine that was taken from him. It's no ordinary wine though: it was commissioned by French General (later President) Charles de Gaulle after the conclusion of World War 2, making it almost 200 years old by the movie's timeline. Wouldn't it just be vinegar at that point? Remembering that he's a quasi-Bond villain, Wattsman goes into a familiar diatribe about how the next stage of evolution has to be artificially executed and his work is the only means of finding a species capable of surpassing humanity as the future custodians of the galaxy. He tests the sample one last time before he decides to awaken all Sadinga on the planet with it—the beam of course hits Yuri, who has dressed herself in the carapace of a Sadinga for, I guess, the sake of being stealthy—and Wattsman is further convinced that these human-like Sadinga forms are the real deal.
One heck of an action scene follows as the Dirty Pair's scout unit shows up with a bunch of equipment, and all hell breaks loose. In the explosion, Wattsman's sampling laser doohickey goes haywire and mutates a bunch of Sadinga into vaguely feminine monsters while the Dirty Pair and Carson shoot the everloving crap out of dozens of them with their new gear. Carson eventually gives chase after Bruno and Wattsman as they escape while the Dirty Pair finish off the stragglers. Carson gets into a knife-and-laser-baton fight with the burly butler but, when jumping after the expensive wine, gets shanked for his trouble. He buys the Dirty Pair some time as he bleeds out, letting them chase after Wattsman as he gets ready to spread the mutation to the entire planet and its billions of dormant Sadinga. Kei's a little distraught at leaving Carson behind—though we don't quite get a "I love you", "I know" moment—but if we're sticking to Bond conventions then the romantic interests are usually pretty disposable. Firing off rockets while necking his priceless French wine, Carson leaves this world satisfied to have encountered such a fine woman and a fine vintage despite being a petty thief. We then get one last action scene of the Dirty Pair tearing through what few obstacles remain to capture Wattsman. Did I mention that almost every action scene has smooth '80s City Pop playing over it in lieu of loud explosion sound effects? It's quite mesmerizing.
Anyway, that's about it. The Dirty Pair drag the professor and his manservant out of the laboratory as the last of it explodes and make preparations to fly home with their quarry in tow. Oh, and Carson totally lived through all that somehow, so they offer him a ride back also. Then, finally, the Dirty Pair throw the now empty wine bottle overboard as they leave orbit, causing it to fall onto the laboratory ruins and start a chain reaction that activates the mutation sample and causes the Sadinga to wake up all over the planet, killing everyone. Oops. Roll credits. While I'll say it lulled for a bit in the middle there as everyone was sneaking around in their underwear listening to exposition, the Dirty Pair movie was definitely a tremendous amount of fun overall. A combination of sci-fi intrigue, stylish and explosive action, some general klutzy goofiness from our imperfect heroines, and that aforementioned Bond-ian flair in its intro and outro made for a movie that, were I to stop and try to make sense of its plot or its pacing would probably not hold up well on retrospection, but was enjoyably surreal and chaotic in the moment. Real curious how much of this spirit makes it into the game.
Dirty Pair: Project Eden is a 1987 Famicom Disk System (FDS) game based on the movie of the same name (the one we just reviewed) that was developed by Daiei Seisakusho and published by Bandai. As with most game adaptations around this time it's only very loosely based on its source's story, and exists mostly as an excuse to drop Yuri (Kei's taking a back-seat this time) into a bunch of side-scrolling action levels. Yep, it's another shooty side-scroller: if Game OVA goes another season I'm really going to have to branch out with the game genres a bit more.
Also, do folks know about the FDS? The Japanese NES had a disk-based peripheral for a while because carts at the time didn't have enough memory nor could they save game progress. By the time those games released overseas Nintendo had more or less fixed those issues with upgrades to their cart production process, so the FDS was phased out in the latter half of the 1980s (and hence why we in the west never saw it). Many major Nintendo franchises got their start on the platform, including Zelda and Metroid, so it's both a significant system in the company's gaming history while also a mostly incidental one that was quickly rendered obsolete. Daiei Seisakusho, a.k.a. Daiei Manufacturing, was a contractor that split their time between anime tie-ins for Bandai and home system ports for Taito's arcade games. (They're not related to the Kobe supermarket chain as far as I can tell; "Daiei" is a pretty generic company name that means something like "great prosperity".) We don't need to go into who Bandai is again: they appear in this feature so often they should probably get an "also starring" credit. Did you know "bandai" means "eternity"? Certainly feels that way whenever I play one of their old licensed games.
Anyway, this is our first 8-bit candidate so expect a level of archaic jank unprecedented for this feature. Can't wait. And, hey, if anyone reading is a regular visitor to Jeff Gerstmann's Patreon Discord be sure to recommend this game for that NES feature of his as soon as he opens it up to JP-exclusive stuff.
Does it do right by the anime? It may have done if it factored in Kei a bit more. Like for a second human player, or maybe as an alternative option with slightly different stats or weapons. There's no Carson in this one with his pink boxers (though now I think of it, running around on an alien planet in pink underwear would be further explored in the similar Metroid) and I didn't get far enough to see if there's any more movie tie-in plot. We need a concept page for licensed games that could've feasibly (and almost certainly) been made with only a few pages of concept art from the movie. It's also pretty bad and nondescript, and as tough as NES games tend to be notorious for.
That's going to bring our Dirty Pair coverage to an end, as well as Game OVA itself for another year (or more?). I've been batting around the idea of making the next season of Game OVA (should one occur) follow properties that have taken the reverse route of starting as games and then seeing anime adaptations. As with the current format, I'd probably stick to the semi-obscure stuff of a certain vintage rather than any well-covered big names, as much as I'd be happy to watch the Castlevania or Persona 4 anime again. I'll work all this out by next summer though, so for now I hope you've enjoyed vicariously watching some anime and playing some bad games with me throughout these unbearably warm months and I'll catch you all in the autumn with a whole-new blog feature. (Also, be sure to click the link in the opening paragraph to catch up with the rest of Season 2!)