Friday, July 24, 2009
Hidden Treasures Of Science Fiction: The Dirty Pair!
This is the first of what I hope to be a semi-regular feature. These SF works aren't so much "hidden" as they either were once popular but have since fallen off the cultural radar, or never found the audience they very much deserved.
The Dirty Pair is one of the former. It started as a series of comical scifi novels created Haruka Takachiho that were adopted into manga and anime in Japan and later comic books in America. The Dirty Pair's heyday was in the late 80s and 90s, with the last major work featuring them coming out in 2002. Though still fondly remembered by many fans, they have faded somewhat into the pop culture background.
The stories center around Kei (the red-headed, bad girl tomboy) and Yuri (the sweet-mannered intellectual brunette) as they work for an interstellar peacekeeping agency tracking down criminals and foiling terrorist plots. Though officially code-named 'The Lovely Angels', they're much more widely (and notoriously) known as 'The Dirty Pair' because of the habit of their missions often ending in one cataclysm or another. Buildings, cities, colonies, and sometimes even whole planets are often left in smoking ruins in their wake. Though technically the disasters are never their direct fault, their very presence seems to precipitate destruction and chaos.
This tongue-in-cheek approach to action and ultraviolence, combined with the curvy Pair's ballistic-weave work bikinis, would probably be enough to ensure a decent amount of popularity. But surprisingly, though many of their stories can't really be called deep, they are often very smartly written and sharply plotted. Imagine the best of the James Bond movies set in a scifi future and recast with two scantily-clad female leads, and you'll have a decent starting point for Dirty Pair stories.
The best of the original Dirty Pair took the form of anime, through a TV series, a series of direct-to-video productions, and a theatrical film. Of these Affair On Nolandia and Flight 005 Conspiracy are the stand-out episodes in my opinion. Here's a decent collection including both of those, along with the so-so Eden Project
But something surprising happened to The Dirty Pair when they were licensed for American comics and fell into the hands of artist Adam Warren; they got even better.
The original Dirty Pair took most of its cues from traditional Space Opera stories, both from anime and manga as well as popular western versions. Adam Warren, with help for the initial stories by writer Toren Smith, evolved the series into a much more cyberpunk/transhuman direction, and coupled it with his uniquely dynamic anime artistic style, produced a uniquely entertaining property.
In Warren's version (which is officially licensed by the Japanese rights holder), The Dirty Pair become more than talented young women with big guns. They are now genetically-bred, cybernetically enhanced fighting machines wrapped up in deceptively curvaceous barely-adult bodies with big guns. Their personalities, looks, and usual modus operandi are still very much in keeping with their 'classic' japanese versions, but now with a newer, and often darker and more subversive, subtext.
For example, the Fatal But Not Serious storyline hints that the current Kei and Yuri may only be one of a series of Lovely Angels, not the first and not the last, and that when and if they die, they'll simply be replaced by cloned and memory-implanted copies. In another storyline (Run From The Future), the Pair both use and run afoul of drugs that can easily be used as an insidious form of mind control, one inducing an emotional break down and the other inducing near-religious euphoria.
Of this version, A Plague Of Angels, Fatal But Not Serious, and Run From The Future are probably the best. Go Here to find these and more in trade paperback form.
It should be noted that all versions of The Dirty Pair, despite the obvious cheesecake and violence, never really teeter into truly adult territory, as some people assume. There's a lot of curves and cleavage, but rarely any real nudity. Tons of flirty innuendo but no actual sex. Gunplay and explosions in abundance, but very little blood or gore. The Dirty Pair are perhaps demented fan-service fun distilled into its purist form--sexy, kinetic, and smart.