The Power of Three Minus One: The Dirty Pair

Scott over at Mechanical Anime Reviews has been going through The Dirty Pair recently, and I think he had the same goofy fun I had with it. So he does (really good) reviews and I do this:

Okay, admit it: The Dirty Pair is one of those old shows that’s so silly it works. I’m not sure exactly why that is, and maybe I’ll get back to it some other time.

What I do want to get into is the relationship between Yuri and Kei, since, after all, they are the Dirty Pair at the heart of The Dirty Pair.

Plus I think there’s something really cool going on in there.

I mean, let’s face it: to work as a pair of protagonists in a narrative Kei and Yuri need to be complementary in some way, each having strengths and weakness they bring to the table. So you have Yuri, who is fairly smart and analytic, and Kei, who is impetuous and aggressive. That works well as a combination: Yuri knows what’s going on and Kei kicks her ass to do it.

Kei (left) and Yuri

But what I found really interesting is that they’re two-thirds of a class Mind-Body-Soul trio. Right? Yuri is mind and Kei is soul.

What’s cool is that they are not only complementary, they are also symmetric, and the way they are symmetric is that they are both fearsome fighters. The reason given is that they are clones, you know, plus they are highly trained agents of 3WA. Of course they can whup your ass.

Well, they can whup my ass. I don’t know about you. I mean, who knows? Maybe Jackie Chan is reading this.

What that does is complete the Mind-Body-Soul trio between the two of them, so you have Mind (Yuri) – Body (both of them) – Soul (Kei). And what THAT does in narrative terms is make them funny.

No, not funny in the “isn’t it funny that women are kicking A” way. Sheesh, has Utena Tenjou been animated in vain? No, funny in the creation of humor sense.

You see, although they have all the resources between the two of them, the fact that they are both strong often leads them to take on problems head on, with blasters blazing and spaceships flying all over. And when they screw it up, that’s funny!

I mean, after all, they’re called the Dirty Pair instead of the Lovely Angels (which they would VERY much prefer) because of all the collateral damage they create. So one way their physical abilities are used to create humor is to have them be walking disaster areas. Then they can look around and say, “Oops.”

In this way they remind me a lot of Vash the Stampede. Right? The reason why Meryl and Millie are after him is because the insurance company is sick of paying out claims in his wake.

The second way their general physical competence gets used to create humor is when they fail, for whatever reason. Now we have a contrast between the powerful people they are and their general lack of effectiveness. So long as that happens in a humorous context, it’s funny.

Story-wise, that’s okay, though. They have Mughi to save them, right?

See it? They are both strong. That, and Kei’s impetuous nature, leads them into fights naturally as a first resort in many cases. Not all, but many. When they succeed in the big fight, they create so much havoc that they actually fail and that’s funny. When they fail in the big fight, because it’s constructed in a tacky, humorous context, and that’s funny, too.

Just as an aside, I keep talking about the context. The context cues us to expect humor from The Dirty Pair: the villains are cartoonish, the girls are portrayed as boy crazy, and everything is wildly over-the-top. It reminds me A LOT of the old Batman TV series, and for much the same reason. Let’s face it, Batman was a cartoony show and The Dirty Pair is a cartoony cartoon.

Okay, back to The Dirty Pair: Their differences, that Kei is Soul and Yuri is Mind, create tensions between them. It’s very common for Kei to go running off, leaving Yuri to shout “Wait!” behind her. Yuri wants to make a plan; Kei wants to punch someone in the face. And because they possess those characteristics between them, sometimes Yuri’s brains win the day and sometimes Kei’s boldness pulls them through.

We’ve seen complementary pairs that work because between the two members of the pair one of them always has something they can use to win. My favorite example is Chii and Yuu from Girl’s Last Tour. They are almost polar opposites even to the point where Chii is black-haired and Yuu is blond! But if Yuu’s brawn (and her Arisaka carbine) can’t do the job, Chii’s brains can, and vice versa.

In a way, the Dirty Pair are exactly like that, complementary in one regard. But because they are symmetric in terms of their physical abilities, they tend to go for those sorts of solutions first, and the combination of butt kicking and overkill is pretty funny.

Bizarrely, they have the same sort of mixed complementary/symmetric structure socially. Let’s start with this: both of them are boy crazy, right? If there’s a good looking man around they are flirting and primping like schoolgirls.

But when they dress up to go out, you know what happens: Yuri is a girly girl who picks out beautiful gowns (and has trouble choosing between them) while Kei tosses on trousers, a vest, and a boyish cap. Right: they dress like a mixed gender couple, one’s appearance complementing the other’s.

It’s remarkable fun watching The Dirty Pair despite the fact that it’s REALLY dated. I mean, let’s face it, by modern standards the animation looks like dog poo, the vision of their sci-fi future looks more like Buck Rogers than Star Wars, and the relentless sexism grates on modern nerves.

But it works and one of the reasons it works is because the two of them are well-designed as a pair.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

3 thoughts on “The Power of Three Minus One: The Dirty Pair

  1. Sorry to bombard you with comments but I’ve been reading your blog and love the story models which you have used in so many places like the ‘mind-body-soul’ bit here. I am not familiar with Dirty Pair but can see how this plays out in so many different stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As a writer myself I love tropes like that. There are a bunch of trios that are like that: Gene, Jim, and Melfina from Outlaw Star, or Yuri, Yuuki, and Kurumi from School-Live, or Vash, Millie, and Meryl from Trigun or … 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No I get it and I’m kind of going back and analysing stories which follow these tropes of groups of three or four beyond even anime and yeah I see how the model fits. Really cool!!


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