How does a conman, con a conman? Simple; by becoming a Confidence Man. There's something truly alluring about heist sagas that contain hints of comedy that elevate the art of a risk vs. reward narrative. Certainly enthrals the audience into the intoxicating nature of accomplishing a maniacal. The ultimate thrill of escaping with riches beyond your wildest dreams. It does sound like fun right? GREAT PRETENDER is exactly that. An encapsulated joyride that seeks to pull its viewers into the action, and relate with its cast of quirky enablers on a personal level. A surprising original series from the team that originally produced the anime adaptation of Attack on Titan, Wit Studio. The series was first revealed during Anime Expo 2019, with 91 Days and Guilty Crown's Hiro Kaburagi, assigned as series Director.
Credited and notorious for his screenwriting within the Comedy-crime genre, Ryōta Kosawa was appointed Lead screenwriter making this his inaugural debut in Anime. Kosawa had coincidentally penned the script for The Confidence Man JP movie series, completely unrelated to GREAT PRETENDER. Legendary artist Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, was approached for his expertise in character design, bringing his acclaimed and unique style to the series' vibrant overlay lead by Hunter x Hunter and Psycho Pass Chief Animation Director, Kyouji Asano. Asano's latest contributions within Anime have included the latest series of esteemed Shonen franchise, One Piece. Yutaka Yamada, known for his excellent overture in the Tokyo Ghoul Anime Adaptation was approached in an effort to apply an outstanding work of jazz melodies that accompany the title's "catch me if you can" like crime drama.
Meet Makoto Edamura, the self proclaimed “greatest swindler” in all of Japan. Along with his partner Kudo, the duo are in the shady business of conning the elderly with fake credentials. The young, brash, Japanese hopeful had aspirations of pursuing a respected, high paid career that would help pay for his sick mother’s medical bills. Confiding in his father’s long time friend and business partner, Kudo decides to hire Edamura without letting him know that he was running a dodgy enterprise that had mass manufactured health teas with fake dietary labels, misleading its customers into buying the product for its defrauded health benefits. Without questioning Kudo’s shady tactics in reselling beneficial beverage, the pair swindle a large crowd into buying their entire inventory of stock.
Not before celebrating their successful venture, the entire company is apprehended by local Police for selling fraudulent products. Kudo and his entire team are arrested, with Edamura released on bail. His family name was dishonoured within the small community due to his father’s involvement in notable crime rings. Failing to attain his personal goal, Edamura waits out Kudo’s jail term and confronts the crook upon his release. Realising he has no other alternative, he joins Kudo in continuing their deceiving deeds in scamming the elderly, posing as a Plumber. Make-shifting a batch of faux-appliances, marketing them as water filters and charging exorbitant fees towards the townsfolk, the dastardly duo reconvene at a pop-up bar within the bustling street markets where other patrons are seen there drinking.
Planning to swindle a blonde Frenchman, Makoto in his broken English, asks the tourist if he had “dropped his wallet”. Without a thought, Kudo intervenes and snatches the foreigner’s wallet and claims it as his, not before Makoto takes it away from the drunk conman. After handing back the wallet to the traveller, he thanks Makoto by paying him a reward and gives the young scam artist a big hug and walks away. Unbeknownst to their scheme, Makoto pulls out the Frenchman’s real wallet from his back pocket that entails the wad of cash that the Frenchman initially paid the pair with, swapping the original with a replica wallet full of newspaper clippings in the size of cash. Back at their apartment complex, Kudo compliments Edamura, ensuring him as Japan’s greatest thief. The two share a cup of coffee, to celebrate while preparing to count their earnings for the day.
Makoto unfolds the leather strap to find it casing the newspaper clippings that had initially been planted there by Kudo. In complete disbelief, Edamura recounts every step he made while swindling the sophisticated stranger only to realise that he himself had been the one, swindled. Suddenly, a loud screech is heard outside their door where a swarm of men in black suits come knocking on Edamura’s apartment door. Both he and Kudo make haste towards their separate escape routes wishing eachother the best of luck in their getaway. Scaling pipework and leaping barriers, Makoto makes it to the ground floor where he expeditiously sprints towards an open cab, coincidentally claiming to share it with the same Frenchman who conned the con artist earlier in the day. In their discourse, the foreigner explains that he is not a conman, rather a “trader” of sorts. He offers Makoto to accompany him to Los Angeles, in which he reluctantly accepts only to collect his money and escape the police. In hopes of breaking the ice between the two, the Frenchman offers Makoto some Japanese candy, housed in a pink container and places it in Edamura’s escape sachet.
Upon arriving to Los Angeles, the suave trader finally reveals his name to Edamura. Laurent Thierry, or Laurent: The French Asshole as known by his clients and associates is a con artist in his own right, but rather uses longform label to describe himself; A Confidence Man. Entrusting Edamura for his next job, the pair purchase expensive suits to disguise themselves. Without explaining to Makoto the objective, they head towards Beverly Hills to meet with an Executive Producer interested in purchasing “product”. Laurent takes the lead and introduces the Hollywood Mobster to ‘Dr. Edamura’, a narcotics specialist enlisted by the supposed ‘drug dealer’ in hopes of exclusive manufacturing “Sakura Magic”. Laurent pulls out the pink canister containing the substance and trials it on one of Producer’s female clients. After a few seconds of dissolving the tablet, the girl begins to hallucinate wildly, leaping across the Mobsters pool yard until finally landing in the pool on a complete high from the drug. Laurent says that he will produce the drug exclusively for the Producer at $5 Million USD per case.
Laurent goads the rest of the female clients into the drug, not before forcing Edamura to swallow one whole. Makoto panics, not before noticing that the gold watches he and the Frenchman were wearing looked vaguely like the one both Kudo and the elderly lady with the water filter both wore. He then rushes for the Hollywood mansion’s exit, making a safe getaway from Laurent, and the mobsters. Moments later, Laurent tracks down Edamura in a back alley and confronts the conman trying his best to explain the situation in better detail. Makoto tries to defend himself only to land into the same girl who supposedly took “Sakura Magic” back at the mansion, Abi and her Crane Kick, exclaiming “No Mercy” – Yes, a Karate Kid reference. Meanwhile back in Japan, Kudo was out celebrating with the gang of “Police”, while the elderly lady had evacuated the premises with another elderly entering the room, noticing a water filter had been installed on her tap. Yes, it was all a setup. Hours later, Edamura is awoken, hanging upside at the world renowned Hollywood Sign landmark, shouting for help. Laurent and Abi show up and inform Makoto that they are indeed con artists.
Commentary & Highlights (Warning: Minor Spoilers)...
Man, what an epic series. I had no idea about GREAT PRETENDER until it was bought to my attention only a couple of days ago. As a fan of the Ocean’s 11 franchise, and the crime-comedy genre itself, I was immediately drawn in by its embellished, quirky and over-the-top cast of con artists that seek to outdo each other all while working together to take out evildoers. The callous, double standards that are applied within its narrative makes for an utterly hilarious good time from the onset. Relaxing with a cocktail in hand, all while the mischievous “French Asshole” lays back and lets Edamura do the heavy lifting makes for some laugh out loud moments. The encroaching part of this entire series is the detachment our main thieves have with their personal resolve. Thrill seekers looking to leave a life of dread and disappointment behind for their own empty indulgence, or quick fix. This plays out as an outlier for our protagonist, as Makoto looks for an absolute out to the con life, and to straighten himself out but only leads a path that lures him right back into Laurent’s dastardly deeds. An enticing trip that connects with the viewer on such an emotional and personal level.
Makoto’s true aspirations of helping his mother, leading a good life had never waned. The life he led in Japan almost felt like a front to mask the pain of his everyday struggles. Kudo guided the youngster in the only way he knew how to, much like his father – a con artist. Laurent’s setup in hopes of enlisting Edamura heightens the character’s sophisticated and suave personality. Invoking an intoxicating presence with his silky, dulcet tones, the “Confidence Man” makes use of his stoic assistant, and her athletic attributes that assures to leave an impression on everyone, including our young male anti-hero. Abi’s troubled upbringing leads her to Laurent, in hopes that the self destructive teen does not get herself killed. The attractive teen takes no interest for anyone but herself, although she could care less about her own wellbeing. I was in admiration of personality that was introduced from the forefront of this amazing anime. There was a new twist and turn at every corner, and nearly every episode was left with a cliffhanger.
Each arc throughout GREAT PRETENDER’s entire 24 episode run is segregated into “Files and Chapters”. Split into four Cases, each chapter tells multiple sides of each tale, repeating some events but delivering alternate views happening in real time. There’s an appreciation towards each character’s backstory, that is highly detailed but does not drown out the ongoing tale. While we get a sense of each character’s prevalence and their personal pursuit, the story continues to revolve around Edamura’s erratic escapade with his new group of treacherous trouble makers. Highlighting some of the incredible works demonstrated by staff behind this astonishing series, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s identifiable illustration and character design evokes trademark emotions from the onset. Immediately recognising the art style, a quick google confirmed my suspicion of his connection to one of my favourite films of all time, Summer Wars. I also have to give immense praise to Kyouji Asano for his environmental renders. The FLCL influence shines here, with its flurry of abstractly framed water-colour washed tones that contrast each animation cell. Such a wondrous world of design that has been enveloped in this series. My only hope is that we are privileged with a third season.
Noteworthy Mentions (Warning: Minor Spoilers)...
Let’s just get this one out of the way; Abi is Best Girl.
Yutaka Yamada’s juxtaposition in jazz work is incredible. Only experiencing his melodies through series such as Tokyo Ghoul, I was amazed to see that the experienced artist had some serious funk behind him. A toe tapping good time, for sure.
I hummed the tune of “The Great Pretender” by The Platters before pressing play on GREAT PRETENDER’s initial episode, not knowing the series would use my favourite rendition of the song as their ED. “The Great Pretender” – Freddie Mercury was the British singer’s breakout solo track separating himself from the legendary rockband, Queen. To hear it finish each episode of the Anime was perfection. Was it odd hearing Mercury belt out this famous tune rather than the obligatory J-POP finisher to wrap each episode? Kind of, but this song’s purpose for this exact series is no doubt a marriage made in heaven.
Something incredibly unique is the usage of both Japanese and English within the dub. At the beginning of the show, I had to make sure I was watching the dub as each character was speaking Japanese with subtitles showing. As the show progressed I began to note how it switched out to English, but a multi-lingual facet remained consistent throughout the entire season.
A Cavalcade of voice acting royalty portrays series’ favourites here including; Laura Post (Persona 5 Royal), Fred Tatasciore (Spider-Man: Miles Morales), Jamieson Price (Persona 5), Cassandra Lee Morris (Bugsnax, Persona 5), and Kirk Thornton (Catherine: Full Body, Persona 5).
VERDICT: HELL YES🔥
Great Pretender (stylized as GREAT PRETENDER) is an original Japanese crime comedy anime television series produced by Wit Studio, directed by Hiro Kaburagi and written by Ryōta Kosawa. The series first case (Los Angeles Connection) received a June 2020 release on Netflix in Japan ahead of its television debut. It aired from July to December 2020 on Fuji TV's +Ultra anime programming block. The series' first three cases (Los Angeles Connection, Singapore Sky, and Snow of London) were released worldwide on Netflix in August 2020, followed by its fourth case (Wizard of Far East) in November.