“What incensed him the most was the blatant jokes of the ones that passed it all off as a jest, pretending to understand everything and in reality not knowing their own minds.”James Joyce – Ulysses
Or at some point in the series, Edamura Makoto
I don’t know why I was so excited for this series to come out and kept checking the release date for months. When I first came over its poster with only the series’ name on, on MAL’s home page, I had no idea what it was about. But I liked the name. And while I cannot base it on anything logical, I had an inkling I’d love this show. I’m glad I was insistent because I enjoyed the show and completing the second season last month, I wanted to write about it while my memory and feelings are still fresh. Of course, there will be spoilers.
Great Pretender (GP from here on) is a 2020 anime series from Wit Studio, which is licensed by Netflix. There is a manga adaptation that started being released as well. The anime consists of 2 seasons that cover four cases in total; three of them being covered in the first season.
The series has a recurring structure in these four cases wherein each case, we learn about one of the characters’ past. They all start with Makoto opening a ‘clean slate’ in his life, only to end up with the rest of the gang, pulling some kind of steal-from-the-rich-and-party-as-they-weep stunt. He doesn’t know that he’s being dragged into another episode because… well Laurent, the head of the gang, thinks it’s for the best since Makoto is such a pure-hearted guy that he’d just end up spoiling everything! This is true to some extent because after a while whole group accepts that Makoto is a wild card even if he has no idea what type of plan he’s getting into. Heck, he doesn’t even know that he’s a part of any plan. He just wants to set his life straight!
This idea of ‘living right’ has been drilled into him by his lawyer father. We see flashbacks of Makoto’s childhood where he’s happily together with his parents, chanting his father’s motto: “Always be lawful. Contribute to the world. Be a respectful person.” We witness him getting hurt by the same mindset because, during Makoto’s teenage years, the embodiment of justice in his life is suddenly sent to jail for child trafficking. His mother collapses, is admitted to hospital, and soon after she passes away. Losing what he believed in and his family, Makoto starts swindling people together with Kudou to get by. He seems like he enjoys it, too.
There are a lot of past events that could be considered tragic, but overall it’s not a heavily dramatic sob story. On the contrary, GP is fun, perky, and while emotional at times, it never gets extremely dark. Rather than the histories of individuals, what got to me more was throughout the 1st season, I kept feeling sorry for Makoto and found myself always cheering for him. He genuinely wants to quit, and take on a legal job. He thinks he does, only to end up seeing that boss who hired him is someone that Laurent works with. He constantly finds himself going back to the starting point.
I wondered, how would someone be able to trust another human being after being deceived so many times by the ones he thought he was close with? At the end of every case, we know that it was all “part of the plan”, however knowing that it was all an act wouldn’t change Makoto’s perception that he went through it all, wouldn’t it? Maybe because I loved how earnest he was, I kept wanting to see a case where he was the one laughing at Laurent’s face. 2nd season touches on this topic, with a touching and powerful tirade from Makoto. He brings a surprise element to the ending as well, but it wasn’t as impactful or Makoto-ish as I expected. I should really get paid for getting worried over fictional characters’ well-being.
Most of the reviews I encountered on social media of GP were negative, especially how it wasn’t surprising enough. I have to say, I understand where they come from. If you are watching a hustle, you’d expect to be surprised, that’s what makes those kinds of movies fun after all. We are used to dramatic structures with one main axis and several small branches, for events constantly evolving in time. Instead, I’d say GP has 4 repeating circles for each case. This composition worked for me because, in its repetition, I was able to focus more on the interpersonal group dynamics and histories rather than looking out for the surprise element. The pretty backgrounds and color palettes distracted me a lot, too.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they were employing such techniques, but thinking about this ‘familiarity in event structure’ I remembered Bertolt Brecht, a modernist playwright who was concerned with Aristotelian aesthetic rules in drama and thought that drama could be a medium for critical thinking. In some of his plays, you can see a small summary of what’s going to happen in the next act (yes, he was spoiling what was going to happen next) so that the audience would focus on the details and have time to critique instead of just trying to follow what’s going to happen on stage. What he came up with during his time are techniques we are more than used to them now, but what I wanted to say with this whole paragraph is that sometimes it’s fun to just watch characters interact, and I personally thought GP didn’t lack when it came to the synergy between the characters.
In terms of technical aspects, GP looked solid to me. Voice acting was good and fit all the characters. I’m sure it’s written law somewhere that no hustle movie can do without playful jazz tunes, GP covers that as well. Although they remained vibrant throughout the series, color palettes suited the mood of each case and their respective backgrounds. Had one of the best OP and ED in the season. Especially the ending! A blend of cute and mischievous kittens and Freddie Mercury? Count me in.
To sum it all up, I fairly enjoyed Great Pretender. I understand other people’s criticism, but it didn’t dampen my experience. What did you think of GP, if you watched the series? Who was your favorite character? Let me know if you wanted to add anything in the comments. I’ll leave you with some of the screenshots I took. Honestly, be it the interiors, the buildings or the scenery, animators and designers did an amazing job with this. I wish you all a nice day/night, wherever you are, see you in my next post!