Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Anime Jazz Soundtracks

Numerous anime incorporate jazz soundtracks, but Cowboy Bebop and Great Pretender stand out as authentic embodiments of jazz. They exude a sense of chaos, unpredictability, intricacy, and layers, effortlessly transitioning between plot developments and musical rhythms. The series can shift from a rapid and carefree pace to a deliberate and steady one when building towards a grand and inevitable improvised crescendo, often giving the impression that it might descend into chaos at any moment.

In contrast to most heist narratives that revolve around meticulous planning, Great Pretender focuses on a brash team of con artists who grapple with executing their scheme while external forces, including the egos and avarice of their associates, constantly disrupt their plans. While they have a plan to adhere to, likened to sheet music, there is ample room for improvisation, and the potential rewards are often too tempting to disregard.

Each member of the team assumes distinct roles, approaches to their tasks, and personal visions for how the performance should unfold, which they rarely share with one another. Consequently, as the con unfolds, their only option is to heed each other’s cues attentively, harmonize with their partner’s desires, and seize opportunities to pursue their agendas. The roles of leader and follower can swiftly interchange, and the whole picture becomes clear once everything has played out. Nonetheless, it all converges into a greater whole, transcending the sum of its components at any given moment.

Setting the Stage

Great Pretender centers on Makoto Edamura, a Japanese con artist who falls victim to the French thief Laurent Thierry’s scheme, leading him to join a mission in Los Angeles to deceive influential individuals in a counterfeit drug deal. The portrayal of the L.A. heist in the series draws parallels with classic heist movies such as Ocean’s Eleven, involving intricately designed deceptions that initially give viewers the impression that they comprehend all aspects of the plan. However, the show leverages this initial understanding to surprise the audience with unforeseen plot twists.

In Great Pretender, Edamura assumes the role of the audience’s surrogate, venturing into the world of con artists without knowing each scheme’s intricacies. This approach ensures that the heist’s unexpected twists are equally surprising to both viewers and Edamura, emphasizing character development. The primary objective of the series is to engender a greater sense of empathy and concern for Edamura rather than the actual theft itself.

Throughout the five episodes set in L.A., viewers gain insight into the genuine identities concealed behind Edamura’s con artist façade. He presents himself as a charming, albeit inexperienced, individual determined to succeed despite being over his head. Understanding his backstory and the factors that shaped him elicits sympathy and generates support for his character. The two additional heists in Singapore and London also prioritize character exploration, delving into the backgrounds of other members of Laurent’s gang through their criminal activities.

The show’s triumph hinges on its characters’ captivating and multifaceted portrayals. Edamura, the central figure, is depicted as someone who resiliently navigates a world that does not suit him. The supporting cast, including Abigail Jones, a resilient and adaptable gang member; Cynthia Moore, a charismatic figure who also serves as a caretaker; and Laurent, a suave and untrustworthy thief, contribute depth to the narrative. The pleasure of the series derives from observing the dynamics between these characters who, despite their respective roles, genuinely harbor affection and trust for one another, providing an enthralling element to the storyline.

Elevating the Anime Style

Hiro Kaburagi directed this series, and it is clear that his outstanding cinematography in the previous gangster film was not a coincidence. He is a filmmaker who profoundly understands his craft and knows how to integrate essential elements from non-anime genres into the hyper-realistic world inhabited by some of the most stylish animated characters globally. Despite the series’ impressive ability to evoke the films that inspired it, it does not merely seek to imitate their style but aims to elevate it.

In this series, Kaburagi effectively captures the grit and ruggedness of classic American crime dramas. With the assistance of director Yuusuke Takeda, they channel this essence through a sleek, multi-layered, impressionistic style reminiscent of Kaburagi’s underappreciated romantic comedy, My Little Monster. They push the boundaries further by embracing avant-garde coloring and abstract environments, creating something original and captivating. This anime exudes the essence of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and moves with the same fluidity as Miyazaki’s Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro.

Always in motion and impeccably timed, it syncs with the perfect soundtrack, skillfully playing with every facet of jazz as a genre—fast, loud, bombastic, and thrilling; slow, smooth, and melancholic; or even sensuous. The series adapts its style and tone to meet the story’s demands, effectively guiding the characters into uncharted emotional territories. Music plays a pivotal role, seamlessly complementing the visually stunning and dynamic animation. Beyond its visual appeal, this stylistic evolution is exceptionally clever from a technical perspective. The angular and exaggerated character designs and diverse skin tones effectively differentiate heroes from villains while using minimal lines and shading. It allows animators to redraw characters judiciously, emphasizing key moments. Moreover, with its low-color depth, the angular background art harmoniously blends with the simple models representing vehicles and other aspects of the show’s world that would be challenging to animate by hand, resulting in a more convincing overall composition. Despite its quick and efficient low-poly modeling, it aligns with the low-fidelity presentation of the world surrounding the main characters, characterized by abstract colors and shading.

The performance style of the series takes a crucial lesson from its characters: one does not need to provide every detail to make someone believe a falsehood. Instead, it is about showing just enough to create the impression of truth. This series boasts one of the best anime opening sequences in style, storytelling, and music. Remarkably, its ending song surpasses even that in terms of overall greatness. This sequence brilliantly pays homage to one of Freddie Mercury’s finest solo music videos, delivering an enjoyable viewing experience filled with subtle nods to the series’ narrative. Additionally, the show is named after this particular song, making it all the more impressive that they selected the best version for its closing theme.

Larger-Than-Life Characters and Captivating Personas

The primary characters in this anime are larger-than-life figures, or at least they convincingly project themselves as such. The crew’s personas are incredibly entertaining. Edamura radiates a genuine charisma characterized by an oddly innocent and straightforward demeanor. In contrast, Laurent’s charisma is extreme; he is portrayed as a master thief and the epitome of confidence. On the other hand, Abigail leans towards independent thinking rather than planning. However, she can interact effectively with others and handle herself, even when she cannot consistently maintain complete self-control. Even in moments of agitation, she retains her composure.

Watching these characters interact on screen is a truly delightful experience. However, they are more than just instruments for engaging in thrilling criminal escapades. They are fully fleshed-out and multidimensional—essentially human, with depth, concealed desires, and compelling reasons for being the way they are when we encounter them. The narratives are well-crafted and engaging, cleverly intertwined with the storyline of each heist, adding weight and profound emotional elements to the entertaining antics of the con artists. This series delves into dark themes and addresses pertinent, globally relevant issues, marking it as a genuinely worldly narrative. Nevertheless, it is not hesitant to explore local and personal aspects. Subplots involving supporting characters—such as Salazar in the initial case—can carry as much emotional impact as the main character-focused stories.

The writing and acting in this anime are of exceptional quality, and both elements playfully leverage language to showcase the show’s international appeal. Both the writing and acting are executed flawlessly. However, the richness of the writing also poses a challenge for these characters. Substance and subtle brilliance are abundant in how the series constructs and resolves its plots. Rewatching it can be delightful when we know what the characters genuinely do in each scene and why they are taking particular actions, turning seemingly insignificant animation details into crucial pieces of a giant puzzle.

Nevertheless, there is a preference for watching it initially without complete knowledge to fully savor the thrill of piecing it together for the first time. The true nature of the puzzle is only unveiled after each case, and much of the excitement lies in uncovering it for the first time. This series is very calculated in what it discloses, where, and when it reveals it. If we possess a fondness for anime and a tiny affinity for works like Ocean’s Eleven or Fast and the Furious, it is even more to appreciate.

Balancing Drama and Humor

Great Pretender skillfully maintains a delicate equilibrium between drama and humor, allowing severe or touching moments to unfold seamlessly without detracting from the show’s overall entertainment value. This facet of the performance is underscored by the artistic direction, as evidenced by the vibrant and lively poster backgrounds that cultivate a cheerful ambiance. The studio’s design choices starkly contrast with the somber color schemes often associated with esteemed dramatic television productions, such as Wit Studio’s Attack on Titan. Freed from the constraints of hit series, the studio has discovered opportunities to pursue greater ambition and creativity in their projects, effectively showcasing their capabilities. Beginning with the adaptation of Vinland Saga in 2019, a series recognized as a defining work of the decade, they built upon the lessons learned from their 2010s endeavors and successfully brought to life a manga that had seemed challenging to adapt. If Vinland Saga represented the studio reflecting on its past, Great Pretender indicates the studio’s future direction, one that veers far from the ordinary and gloomy.

When recommending an anime series to someone, especially someone new to the medium, the most straightforward approach is to tailor the suggestion based on the individual’s preferred shows or films. However, only a few series can showcase such versatility, transcending personal preferences. Great Pretender has now secured its place on that exclusive list.

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