Great Pretender is a really, really great anime. Across its 14 episodes, this confident animation combines elements of Carmen Sandiego and the affluent style of Picasso surrealism to create one incredibly well written show.
In its simplest form, Great Pretender is a noir thriller, split into three distinct cases for the 14 episodes available. While there is a satisfying conclusion at the end, it’s worth noting that this is only part 1 and there are – thankfully – more episodes coming in the near future.
To backtrack a second, the story revolves around eccentric con-man Makoto Edamura. After pulling a fast one on tourist Laurent Thierry, he learns to his horror that he’s been played. As fate brings them both together, the duo team up with no-nonsense sidekick Abigail Jones to take down sinister and sleazy crooks.
Along the way they also accrue extra team members in Cynthia and Kudou, hopping across the globe to put their plan into action. It’s a simple set-up but one that backs up that simplicity with a layer of character-driven depth. Each of these cases dive deep into the past for our characters with more gravitas around why it’s important to them.
Case 2, for example, is all about Abigail’s past. Similarly, Cynthia is the one who becomes entangled with case 3 thanks to some relevant flashbacks that explore more of her life. This is then interwoven around Edamura, who has his own past issues to deal with.
Narratively, the show works really well but it’s completely trumped by the visual design which is just, well, masterful. Every meticulously crafted scene is bursting with colour and honestly, some of these shots I’d happily have up on my walls. From a sunset bleeding purples, reds and oranges to a solitary black scene illuminated by one single red lamp, there’s a consistency to the artwork that continues right the way through the show.
Although one could argue that the CGI cars and planes look jarring against the colours, it really isn’t that much of a deterrent. More tellingly however is case 3, which sees the visuals take a bit of a back-seat as the action moves to London. While I appreciate the UK is a dull and dreary place, there’s a distinct lack of vibrancy to some of the scenes which is a real shame.
The show-stopping establishing shots are still here though, but the 4 episodes to close the show out do falter in the visual department. Hopefully part 2 will burst back into life again though.
This crazy medley of colour is backed up by an eclectic soundtrack too. While predominantly leaning into free-form jazz – especially that wonderful opening title sequence – there’s elements of hip-hop and even J-Pop here too. And yet despite this broad range of influences, everything comes together perfectly.
A lot of this clash of style acts as a motif to the main characters of the show. Laurent and Makoto are world’s apart and early on in episode 1, the two characters speak broken English and a light amount of Japanese to one another. As the series progresses, they start to learn each other’s ticks and begin to work well together. In a way, this feeds back into the visuals; muting everything down could be symbolic of their relationship settling into a consistent rhythm.
Overall though, Great Pretender is well written, beautifully paced and easily one of the most visually striking anime to be released in quite some time. The different arcs allow each of the characters a chance to hit the spotlight and the flashbacks are consistent and enhance the material on screen.
Out of all the animes released this year, Great Pretender may just be one of the most unique and original of the lot. It’s a must-watch for sure and one that I can’t wait to see return for Part 2.
Verdict - 9/10