Sound the alarm, after a solid two years of bankrolling wet cement, Netflix has finally thrown their bullion behind something that people will actually want to watch again. But don’t take that to mean that The Great Pretender is a retread. Pretender is a live-wire technicolor battle-of-wits-slash-action-series that takes place in the streets of LA (and perhaps abroad? Who can say this early on). Not many anime open with a shot of their protagonist hanging by his feet from the Hollywood sign. There’s only one episode of Pretender available (fansubbed) in English right now, but it’s well worth a look.
Despite my high praise for it (note: that will continue) the appeal of The Great Pretender is dead simple. Do you like shows with loud, fluid visuals? Do you like shows about conmen and attractive people? How about shows with great soundtracks? Character writing and design so snappy you can pick up on a character’s whole “vibe” in ten seconds flat? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you should give this one a watch, no need to read further.
This is a Wit Studio production, they of Attack on Titan. But if you’re not a fan of that series you shouldn’t worry. The vibrant backgrounds and colorful character animation of Pretender actually remind me a bit more of The Rolling Girls. Truth be told though, coloring like this, which is so tactile that it looks like it might drip off the screen if it lingers on any one frame for too long, is exceedingly rare in general. This pure visual muscle extends even to the title card for the episode, which looks more like a cocktail jazz album cover than anything out of an anime.
And we’ve come this whole way without even really mentioning the plot. To greatly oversimplify, The Great Pretender feels like if Black Lagoon was made by a group of people who like vibrant colors and prefer their crimes on the marginally less violent side. (Admittedly what I mean there is mostly that as of episode one, no one’s straight-up died yet.)
If your reaction to that description is that this sounds fun, you’re absolutely right. It’s impossible to say this early on where this freewheeling conman / drug dealer narrative will go. Our protagonists: Japanese con artist Masato Edamura and French(?)-American “confidence man” Laurent Thierry. This show is a blast, I found myself grinning ear to ear from the moment the episode proper began with a silly scam to sell overpriced water filters, right through to the end, where Edamura is caught up in a drug sale gone awry. Along the way, wallets are snatched, knives are snuck into luggage at airports, gratuitous English is hot-swapped for Japanese mid-scene, and more.
Going further into specifics honestly feels superfluous. There’s a scene where Edamura and Thierry go suit shopping while preparing to rip off a Hollywood mogul / crime kingpin.
There’s Edamura’s weird fixation on gachapon toys.
There is the entire introductory character line of Abigail Jones, who is introduced as a beauty with a bad attitude, is used to demonstrate Thierry’s drugs, which she promptly fries her brain on (in a sequence that I’m sure someone had an absolute delight drawing), and then lays Edamura flat near the tail-end of the episode for trying to bail.
I could go on, but The Great Pretender is clearly a series whose greatest strengths are craft and passion. Every inch of it absolutely bleeds a good time. Will it get into more dour territory as it goes on? I don’t know, it’s possible. It might even be great at doing that, but trust me, for sheer spectacle alone, this one is worth it. If you have any interest in anime measured in “holy shit”s-per-minute as a metric, you need to watch Great Pretender‘s first episode. It’s nothing short of a marvel. (The only reason this isn’t a Twenty Perfect Minutes column is because I don’t do those for shows that are currently airing.) Will this hold up for a full season’s worth of episodes? Who knows, but for now, The Great Pretender is one to keep your eyes on, with gusto.
Okay fine, one more point in the show’s favor.
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