Great Pretender Final Review – currently streaming on Netflix
Season aired: Summer 2020
Number of episodes: 23
Genres: Drama, Adventure
Thoughts: I watched the first episode of Great Pretender back when anime conventions still happened safely, but the episode’s impact on me remained all the way throughout the quarantine of 2020. The premiere starts with a stellar opening scene in which the main protagonist is tied and hung upside down from the Hollywood sign while screaming for help, and, together with the vibrance of the art and the music, Great Pretender made sure I didn’t forget about it until the show became available.
Edamura considers himself to be one of the best con-men in Japan. He has operated successfully for a long while and can not see himself in any other position. However, when unexpected events lead to the aforementioned Hollywood sign scene, Edamura discovers that the con world has so much more to offer than the cash he has swindled so far.
The premise immediately caught my attention as someone who had always found herself drawn to stories about thieves and con-men. Something about heists, despite the fact that the protagonists are undeniably criminals, has always appealed to me. I could make up all kinds of excuses as to why, such as the fact that most of the time, the ones getting screwed over are worse people than the criminal protagonists. However, at the end of the day, I mostly think that these sorts of storylines provide room for potentially good writing involving morally complex protagonists and logically creative plots.
So, does Great Pretender succeed in those two areas? Yes…and no.
The anime explores its team of protagonists by dividing the series into four separate heists, with each heist focusing on a particular character. By having a central character in each story arc, it allows for character motivations to be smoothly explained without them feeling like shoe-ins to force empathy from the audience. Hands down, Edamura remains the most fleshed-out of the characters, and I more than sympathized with his backstory, his plight, and the journey he goes through. While the remaining protagonists — Abby, Cynthia, and Laurent — all have their well-written moments, Edamura shines the most in regards to complex characterization. Considering that Edamura’s the main protagonist, this is a good sign for the anime.
The bad news, however, is that a lot of the troubles that Edamura encounters are forced onto him without his consent. Worse, these encounters are forced onto him by the other protagonists, not antagonists. Because of this, the team shines a lot less when you consider the trauma they put Edamura through despite being his supposed allies and friends. In particular, the last arc puts him through an emotional roller coaster that he absolutely did not deserve, yet had no say in. It reaches a point of cruelty that honestly made me uncomfortable, despite the series presenting it in a sometimes more comedic light and sometimes it-had-to-be-done light.
I also felt that the fourth arc is the weakest amongst the four cases from a plot standpoint. While the first three had their hard-to-believe moments, the writing at least succeeded in making the ride enjoyable. The antagonists were despicable yet incredibly colorful, and the heists felt creative and enjoyably ridiculous, but also reasonable enough to understand and accept.
The fourth arc, however, broadens the spectrum by becoming a story focused solely on a personal goal rather than a money grab. The problem is that the writing also tries to force you to feel more empathetic towards the targets, who are far, far more dangerous and irredeemable in comparison to the prior ones than the protagonists involved. It left me upset at times because, frankly, there was nothing I could sympathize with the antagonists due to the heinous criminal activities they’re involved in. If they had chosen the antagonist to engage in some other activity, I might’ve found the script’s sympathetic angle to be more realistic. However, the crimes that they engaged in was something I do not think anyone would find forgivable.
The last heist did at least end in the spectacular and comedic fashion that all of Great Pretender’s heists end at, but one particular aspect simply didn’t work. I cannot go into more details because of how vital it is to the story. However, I can say that once you get there, you will know exactly what I am griping about. Is it fair to say a single bolt ruined the entire resolution of the heist? Well, I would argue that a single misaligned bolt can potentially make the entire structure fall down. That is what that moment felt like to me.
Despite my critique of Great Pretender’s plot and characters, I still look back at the series fondly, particularly because of the visuals. This is one of the most beautiful anime I have ever seen, and I say this as someone who’s watched Violet Evergarden. The colors splash across the screens with such vibrancy, and, because the anime takes place all over the world, we are offered gorgeous depictions of all kinds of different countries, namely the United States, Singapore, France, and, of course, Japan. I would gladly rewatch some of the scenes just to enjoy the scenery.
The soundtrack also pairs itself perfectly with the show, not just with its use of jazz music but also with lyrical tunes. It changed the style of the soundtrack to suit an arc’s location, and I loved every piece of music that graced my ears. Sometimes, the characters don’t say anything, but it doesn’t matter because the music pairs itself to the atmosphere so well that it does all the speaking for them.
Having said that, the voice acting is also particularly fun. Because the characters traveled all over the world, the production team actually decided to mix in other languages, with the protagonists even being voiced by different voice actors in some cases for authentic and convincing delivery. As a result, you get the protagonists speaking fluent French when they are interacting with local ancillary characters in France, and having their lines delivered by Chinese voice actors during Chinese-speaking scenes. While all this happens in the main dub, there are exceptions when the characters retain speaking in Japanese in locations that are non-Japan, such as the first heist in the US. As a result, I highly recommend newcomers to change dubs mid-watch to watch the arcs in the native language of their respective locations to fully immerse themselves in the experience. I certainly had fun doing so.
In summary, I think that Great Pretender is a solid anime. It has beautiful art, resounding music, and fun voice performances. While I still feel conflicted with the last story arc, I cannot deny that I enjoyed the first three arcs immensely. The show might’ve pretended to be a little bigger than it should at the end, but it stayed true to itself long enough for me to say that I had a fun time watching it.
Plot: 7.5 (Multiplier 3.5)
Characters: 7.5 (Multiplier 3.5)
Voice acting: 8
FINAL SCORE: 78.5