Let’s face it. Goody-two-shoes heroes are no fun. There’s nothing more boring than someone who’s right all the time. Small wonder some of our favorite heroes are anti-heroes, or maybe non-heroes. They’re the folks who leave behind at least as big a mess as they came to clean up, but darn it all, we want to see what they do next.
Such is the appeal of Kei and Yuri, the “Lovely Angels” — or The Dirty Pair, depending on whether or not you’ve benefited from their (cough) help. As agents of the Worlds Welfare Work Association, or W3A for short, they’re dispatched to lend a hand throughout the universe wherever there’s trouble. Unfortunately, after most people have a taste of their assistance — which usually means massive property damage at the very least — they tend to try and get by without it after that.
So how is it that these two vixens of chaos are still gainfully employed? Aside from their irrepressible spirits, there’s their powers of clairvoyance. When they put their heads together, they can crack cases that have remained long-uncrackable. The joke is that even they weren’t even aware they had this ability until a W3A rep found out and recruited them into the wild, sky-skipping life of Crime Trouble Consultants. (I’m reminded of that line in the movie version of M*A*S*H, where Hot Lips wonders out loud how anyone as morally wretched as Hawkeye ever got into a position of responsibility in the Army, and Father Mulcay deadpans: “He was drafted.”)
The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair, the first in what promises to be a long line of Dirty Pair novels from Dark Horse (two in English so far out of eight in Japanese), is actually the second of the DP novels that I’ve read so far — but that hasn’t hurt my appreciation of the series. Both books are riotous sci-fi slapstick that are bound to appeal to existing fans of the Pair, and are also a pretty good way to sample their headstrong insouciance if you’ve never tasted any of it before. And if you haven’t, shame on you: they’re as classic an anime staple as you’re likely to get.
Adventure is actually a two-fer volume — there’s Adventure itself as the first half, and the novella The Case of the Backwoods Murder as the second. Both stories weigh in at around 120 pages, so the two of them combined are about the length of The Dirty Pair Strike Again. That said, each story alone manages to pack in about as much incident and detail as the whole of the second book — they may be short, but their bang-bang pacing and giddy, densely-packed humor makes them feel a lot meatier.
The first story drops the Pair right into our laps and lets them strut their stuff. Sent to the planet Dangle to investigate an industrial explosion, they waste no time getting right to business: they flirt shamelessly with the planetary traffic controller, blow up five UFOs that pop out of nowhere and start wreaking havoc … and indirectly cause the destruction of a luxury spaceliner, which promptly crashes into the planet. Not a great way to start any job, and small wonder they’re received with indifference verging on outright hostility by Bayleaf, the local investigator who resents the arrival of these two galactic buttinskies and their catlike alien sidekick, Mugi.
It doesn’t take long to find out why the Angels have been called in: their special talents are needed to determine why a key scientist destroyed his own research. Answer: to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, that’s already happened: the nefarious secret organization known only as “Lucifer” (shades of SPECTRE from the Bond films) has gotten their hands on the dear dead doctor’s work: a chemical weapon that leaves its victims zombified slaves. Kei and Yuri intervene, as only they can, and then slip off to a bar to drown their sorrows after making their patented absolute mess of things.
Backwoods Murder gives us Kei and Yuri on the resort planet Lamier — no, not enjoying some well-deserved (?) time off, but investigating a murder. You’d never know they were on the clock from the way they’re blowing money in the casino — although that does allow them to blunder into a former childhood friend of Kei’s, Thunder, and his sister Lucha. Thunder is exactly the kind of hot stuff on legs that Kei pines for — but the fact that Yuri grew up with him kind of puts a damper on things.
Now, about that murder … A dead body that’s washed up on the beach has been connected to the stolen plans for a “Space Smasher” bomb, a weapon capable of crushing the very fabric of reality itself. After a hotel-room fire, a car chase, and a property damage bill you know these two will never be able to pay off, there’s a quite literally planet-shattering climax — in fact, if anything it’s all over a little too soon, but that’s what the next book is for, right?
There’s a few things that make all of this more than a mere catalog of catastrophe. The biggest and most immediate is the fact that the story’s told from Kei’s point of view, and her snarky running commentary on everything that goes on is gut-busting. The book’s a showcase for her irrepressible — or is that irresponsible? — attitude, from which the author mines the vast majority of the humor.
Translation: It’s always a little tougher to judge the translation of a novel as opposed to a comic, because there are that many less clues about what might be missing or changed. Still, the translation by John Thomas (joined here by Dana Lewis) is readable and reflects what I suspect is the original stripped-down, staccato writing style of the original.
The writing itself wins no awards for creative use of language (there’s nothing here like the vivid verbal images Hideyuki Kikuchi conjures up in the Vampire Hunter D books), but it gets the job done and, most importantly, gets big laughs when they’re needed. Thomas also keeps many of the original onomatopoeia, like Mugi’s “Gyaoo!”, which are some of the biggest signs that this is a translation — but they’re used sparingly and don’t really derail things.
This being a light novel, I should also make mention of the cover art and interstitial illustrations by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. The inner illustrations add to the fun, and if you’re a fan of that vintage 1980s look (as I am), you’ll be all the more endeared by them.
The Bottom Line: As with the other Dirty Pair novel, this is pretty much a must if you’re already a fan of Kei and Yuri, and it’s also one to grab if you like your sci-fi with a strong dose of sardonic comedy.