Let's Film This is an ongoing series where we explore the idea of adapting different anime as live-action productions: what it would take, which shows would make for the best adaptations, and what issues would be raised in the translation.

There's a long-overdue conversation finally taking place about the way women do, or do not, assume front-and-center roles in movies where they appear. It's ill-advised to give a female character top billing if all she's going to do is get rescued or otherwise marginalized; don't make her sexuality more important than her personality or her skillset; do make her a character and not merely a piece of human furniture. And if you're going to adapt a title from another medium that prides itself on having strong female characters, pick something where the underlying material's professed feminism isn't just a shill for showing skin. Dirty Pair, for instance — its name notwithstanding.

It's a misleading name, for one. Not dirty in the sense of a woman of low morals, but dirty in the same sense as Dirty Harry: perpetually half-cocked, always making trouble, always looking for trouble, and always in trouble. That's Kei and Yuri for you, the perennially problematic "troubleshooters" of the World Welfare Works Association, creating at least as many problems as they solve. Given how audiences are now showing a taste for knockabout high-concept SF comedy, the time was never more right.

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© Haruka Takachiho / Studio Nue · Sunrise
Troubleshooters, emphasis on the "shoot".

Masters (mistresses?) of disaster

Even in the future — or maybe, especially in the future — we're going to need someone to clean up other people's messes. Leave that to the good (?) people of the World Welfare Works Association ("3WA"), an always-for-profit agency that sends its intrepid people into the thick of whatever disaster, deviance, or dunderheadedness is unfolding out there. Too bad one of the teams they have in their employ is known for making at least as many messes as they clean up: the brassy Kei and the demure Yuri, the "Dirty Pair", although calling them that is likely to earn one a punch in the snoot from either of those two ladies. Better to call them by their real codename, the "Lovely Angels" -- and while the first part of that sobriquet is fitting, the second one is a real stretch.

"Unorthodox" is the politest word for how the Pair get their jobs done. Consider the opening episode of the TV series: when a malfunctioning computer threatens the well-being of millions, they shut it down by beaming a spaceship into its central core. Unorthodox to be sure. Maybe "trigger-happy" would also fit the bill: they're troubleshooters, emphasis on the shoot, only too happy to put a laser blast into the face of whatever's in their way -- when they're not chewing each other out, that is. They don't give a damn about their bad reputation, but everyone else does — especially their long-suffering boss Chief Gooley, condemned to forever rip out his hair in frustration when he learns the 3WA's central computer has once again managed to clear the Pair of wrongdoing. It's never their fault. Call it bad luck, call it karma, call it cosmic coincidence — whatever you call it, just don't call it good.

The misadventures of the Pair were first chronicled in 1980 by way of Haruka Takachiho's light novels (the first few of which have since seen print in English), and five years later the first part of an animated franchise hit broadcast TV. Some of Takachiho's original ideas mutated in the transition: Kei and Yuri's joint psychic powers were ditched, and their catlike mascot creature Mughi was changed into a quasi-amorphous bear/cat something-or-other. But the tone and spirit of the original stories not only survived the transition handily, they even enjoyed a major amplification in their attitude and spirit. Translation: the books were good, but the TV show is in some ways even better — more uninhibitedly outlandish, more raucous, just plain funnier in many ways.

A perfect Pair for Western audiences

The beauty of adapting something like Dirty Pair (apart from the comely leads) is not only in how naturally it lends itself to multiple media — novels, anime, manga, even a pair of radio series. A live-action version is no more of a stretch, and in fact the only difficulties a Westernized live-action version would face would be budget and marketing, not aesthetics. The series takes place in a universe with no particular debt to Japanese culture, putting it in the same company as Soul Eater, Black Lagoon, Claymore, Fullmetal Alchemistand so many of the other anime titles that seem tailor-made for Western remakes.

There's also little question of how the market for a Dirty Pair production, in terms of its approach and subject matter, is as ripe as it's ever been. What with the worldwide left-hook success of Guardians of the Galaxy, it's all too clear audiences are at the very least receptive to wide-gauge, knockabout science-fiction comedy. No better label could be found for Dirty Pair itself, either; it has both the laughs and the spectacle. A Western production could even have fun with the neon-toned 1980s throwback flavor of the original material, right down to recreating rinky-dink, period-looking special effects.

One other thing about Dirty Pair that might allow it to be a hit is how its feminist — or at the very least female-first — take on buddy-cop ideas could gain major traction, based on recent box-office history. Consider The Heat -- yes, the 2013 lady-cop picture with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the leads. On a mere $40 million investment, it returned some $229 million worldwide, with a good 69.4% of that take being domestic gross. Clearly there's an audience of some size for stories in this vein — and furthermore, having it presented as science fiction instead of as a straight modern-day cop story ought to make it stand out all the more from the pack.

Yet another strong piece of evidence for how Western-adaptable Dirty Pair is comes in the form of an existing Western adaptation — a comic series by Adam Warren and Toren Smith, released through Dark Horse back in the 1990s. They weren't intended to replace the original Dirty Pair so much as augment or comment on it, in much the same way the 1990s Dirty Pair Flash "origins-of" TV series did for the original material. That and they demonstrated how easy it is to bring the material to a Western audience that doesn't need or want to have a roots lesson in the material they're appreciating. That's another point in favor for winning over moviegoers, they being even more fickle and picky than comics fans.

The best aspect of adapting something like Dirty Pair is how all that it is — the comedy, the characters, the setting, the situations — require no reworking to be effective. They work as-is. Kei and Yuri are naturals for audiences of any origin. They belong up on a big screen, surrounded by explosions, making the biggest-budget mess they can.

[Edited to add notes about Adam Warren/Toren Smith's comic version. Thanks, Marc!]

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© Haruka Takachiho / Studio Nue · Sunrise
Bad girls, worse cops, great box office potential.


About the Author

Serdar Yegulalp (@genjipress) () is Editor-in-Chief of Ganriki.org. He has written about anime professionally as the Anime Guide for Anime.About.com, and as a contributor to Advanced Media Network, but has also been exploring the subject on his own since 1998.
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