Otaku USA Magazine
Dirty In Print

It’s a shame that Dark Horse’s release of the first two Dirty Pair novels by Haruka Takachiho went unnoticed upon their 2007 release in America. I myself didn’t become aware of them until that year’s Otakon when the first book, the Seiun Award-winning Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair, was one of the last things I picked up on the way out. To this day, I don’t regret the purchase, having plowed through that particular book on the flight home and rushed to find the second volume. As opposed to being adaptations, the Dirty Pair novels are actually the predecessors to the concept, first serialized in the late ’70s; the TV series wouldn’t be on the air until 1985. With the coming of the Right Stuf DVD sets, there’s been something of a small-scale resurgence of the Lovely Angels, coincidentally coinciding with an ongoing seemingly fanservice-centric manga published in Champion RED that adapts Great Adventure. That said, this might be the best time to look into the novels—they aren’t high literature, but also not something to write off so quickly.

If you read my feature in the most recent OUSA, you already know the basic premise: Kei and Yuri are Trouble Consultants from the 3WA who will solve any crisis for you while leaving a trail of mass destruction in their wake. That’s really where the similarities between this and the animated incarnation end as there are a few strikingly different things. Aside from their outfits being “tamer,” our heroines have one extra talent up their… er, down their… blouses(?): Clairvoyance. Whether it’s in a pinch or when they least expect it, the Pair have the ability to connect their minds and receive psychic flashes pertaining to their cases. Sometimes they can be useful, but other times they’ll be incredibly vague. (If you read Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair comic, this aspect was parodied by making their joint-clairvoyance a party trick that fooled their friends into thinking they were psychics. Well, them and the 3WA since that’s how they became Trouble Consultants. They’ve yet to fess up.)


Then there’s the arsenal–The Lovely Angel starship is more in line with the designs in the Flight 005 Conspiracy OVA, Kei’s trademark weapon of choice is a specialized Heat Gun, Yuri is more prone to use her trademark Bloody Card (a remote control weapon that can cleave just about anything it comes into contact with), and Mughi is actually a threat. Seriously. Forget the cuddly android mascot in the anime, here he’s a cat-like alien from another world (the last of his kind!) who has antennae-like feelers that can manipulate magnetic waves. He’s the best ally that the Pair have, if not their final trump card; he has his own Hanna-Barbara Godzilla-esque summoning device, for crying out loud! If anything, that’s the one thing I wish the anime had carried over.

As for the stories themselves, like any other installment of the franchise, you can’t go into this expecting Dickens With Laser Guns. The best way I’ve ever heard them described is a fusion of hard science fiction and hard-boiled detective stories. Sounds simplistic enough, but when stacked against other Science-Fiction works coming out of Japan in the 70’s/early 80’s, Dirty Pair becomes a refreshing approach to the genre. Take something like Sakyo Komatsu’s two-volume Submersion of Japan (used as the basis for the films and television series of the same name): The titular disaster doubles as a metaphor for Japan’s culture and identity potentially going under due to influences from the West and beyond. Komatsu, like a lot of Takachiho’s contemporaries, echoed the movement of authors in the US of the time to darker territories, often being cautionary tales. The Dirty Pair series doesn’t accomplish any of this (though some argue that there is a dash of ’80s technophobia ala Terminator), but really, why does it? Much like our heroines, the novels take it upon themselves to not give a damn what they do, as long as the reader is given a fun romp through the cosmos. It should bomb by going that route with the storytelling but the novels are written cleverly enough that you’re rewarded for your trouble, not caring or feel ridiculous for going for the less-depressing alternative to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

Additionally, making the DP novels unique are amazing illustrations from Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (character designer for Gundam, director of Venus Wars), and their being told from the perspective of Kei. Interesting as this may sound, there’s a frequently heard critique of the novels that stems from this, given Kei’s tendency to go on tangents about ensnaring the right man or her appearance to where it either reads as slightly sexist or painfully obvious that the story was written by a male author. While I can see the points of contention, the one thing I really praise about the novels over the anime is that they have more characterization: Takachiho has an interesting yet risky tendency to focus more on his cast and less on the world they inhabit. I believe that Dirty Pair is one of the instances where it works, thus I’m going to be bold here and actually argue that her tangents and mindset make Kei all the more believable. For one, she and Yuri are 19 by the time Great Adventure starts, of course they’ll be thinking of the opposite sex every now and again! (What 19 year old of either gender wouldn’t be?) On the other hand, unlike the anime, Kei’s longing for the man of her dreams is justified: There’s an early scene in the second translated book, The Dirty Pair Strike Again, where she and Yuri actually come face to face with the consequences of their involuntary collateral damage—a child asking them to give his father back, having been killed during one of their jobs. In that small moment, a rare time in which we really pity our two heroines, the longing and pining make sense: if you’re stuck with the worst luck in the universe, wouldn’t you wish for somebody to sweep you off of your feet and take you away from it all?

Takachiho’s character-centric style also shows up in another series of his, Crusher Joe. Created in 1977, Crusher Joe revolves around a rag-tag band of guns for hire from the Crusher Conference, a troubleshooter organization that will do whatever it takes to get the job done, but only if the price is right. Led by the titular Joe, son of the CC’s founder, our heroes roam the galaxy, kicking much arse along the way. (If you have the opportunity to watch the Yoshikazu Yasuhiko-directed animated film adaptation of this series of books, I highly recommend doing so. It’s good enough to have won the 1983 Animage Award… and also so good that it’s out of print.) Expositional digressions aside, in spite of it coming out several years before the escapades of the Lovely Angels, the revelation is made in the third book of the DP series that Kei and Yuri’s adventures take place 20 years before Joe is even born!

In said novel, The Dirty Pair’s Rough and Tumble (which sadly, has yet to come out in America), our heroines join forces with Joe’s father, Dan, and his first pre-Conference team of Crushers while on the search for a murderous escort robot. The connection would make itself apparent later in the second Crusher Joe side-story novel, Tempest on Dolroy, which would act as a re-telling of an earlier story in the series from the Pair’s perspective. Off-screen—or off-page, in this case—a member of Dan’s team, Talos, would find himself hooking up with Kei, shattering the hearts of fans everywhere, and there was speculation from fans for years that Yuri might in fact be Joe’s mother since his father was known to have married a woman called “Yuria”. Takachiho debunked the notion a few years later, thank god, coming as a relief since Joe’s mother is known to have died shortly after child birth. And Yuri deserves a better fate than that.

There isn’t much available Stateside in way of Japanese Science-Fiction so if anything else, you may want to look into the Dirty Pair novels for that sake alone. The two books that have been released through Dark Horse are quick reads: The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair is a collection of the two original short stories that started it all, while The Dirty Pair Strike Again is the first full-length novel (and my personal favorite). They’re both still available, and quite cheap if that’s stopping you… unlike Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair comic which actually borrows some concepts from the novels, and is a whole other monster that will I will be tackling in due course.

Publisher: Dark Horse
Rating: NR