After two months, the last nine episodes of The Great Pretender finally saw the light of day on Netflix. Labeled as “Season Two,” this final case serves as the culmination of plot threads from throughout the series, as well as some much-needed development for Laurent, the brains behind Team Confidence.
And that’s probably the aspect of this case I was most interested in being fleshed out. Laurent was never that interesting to me before Case 4. He was suave and charismatic, sure, but the story never gave him much of an edge beyond that.
Even at the start, I wasn’t feeling like the arc was “his.” If anything, this looked like Edamura’s story, and why not? He is the main character. Edamura decides to leave the con-man lifestyle once more. He gets a job and – yeah, he falls right into another con that Laurent pulled.
See, I get that comedy comes in 3’s, but Case 4 really makes me hate Laurent even more in the beginning. It was one thing to fool Edamura once in Case 1. It was another to get him back into the fold in Case 2 just to be cheeky. In Case 3, he didn’t even need convincing. Here, however…
It sets an unsatisfying pattern where Edamura is robbed of autonomy and where Laurent isn’t recognizing how selfish and manipulative he’s being. The con this time around involves stealing money from human traffickers who are selling children at auctions.
Edamura’s desire to con people for a good cause is challenged more than ever. He can’t reconcile that conning the bastards behind the operation effectively doesn’t mean saving all the kids being auctioned off to lives of pain. Of all the stories told through the series, this one is hands-down the darkest.
And yet it’s almost as if the importance of saving the kids is glossed over at the very end and I’ll discuss later how that’s a problem. For now, let’s focus on Edamura’s lack of freedom at the mercy of Laurent’s planning. This pattern and the resulting miasma saps the excitement out of certain dramatic points.
At Edamura’s lowest point, it’s all so obviously “part of the plan” but it’s undeniably worse because he commits to a new normal that is undeniably detrimental to his mental state. The only saving grace is that once Edamura is in the know once more, it comes with an appreciably thorough flashback.
We find out how Laurent became who he is. This comes alongside huge revelations about other characters as well, especially Edamura’s father. It puts the entire series into perspective like nothing else. We see Laurent as weak and vulnerable; unlike anything we’ve seen from him before. It’s refreshing.
And the story actually calls out Laurent on his flaws. His insistence on not keeping Edamura in the loop is criticized, though he comes up with an excuse for it. Worse, once it’s explained, I kinda get why he doesn’t tell him things. But that just makes it more infuriating that Edamura is pushed into this kind of life.
The question is whether Edamura is born for this kinda work or was conditioned into it by how the world treated him and how others exploited his talents. That’s where the finale becomes truly ballsy. I would compare Edamura’s arc to something like Rock from Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail.
Amidst several big twists, one after the other, they set up a huge moment that seemingly addresses all of my complaints. Characters grow or regress depending on your perspective and the tensions rise as a larger plan behind the surface reveals itself. It’s what you want from any good suspenseful thriller.
This moment of sudden but understandable character growth makes every part of the conclusion worth it. Edamura feels like he has agency, no matter what happens. It’s a glorious payoff that throws some serious curveballs.
Case 4 was the longest arc of Great Pretender, allowing for plenty of time to bait, hook, and switch. It began to grate on my patience and then won me back. It wasn’t perfect mind you. It feels like they don’t exactly save as many kids as they could have, which is bizarre considering how stupidly perfect the ending tries to be otherwise.
The last episode doesn’t so much pull back the curtain as much as it tears it off and burns it. Everything is revealed and at first, I was overjoyed. But sometimes, the ending felt like too much.
I am the most qualified to sing the praises of endings that like to bring everything and everyone back for the finale. I love endings like that. However, when the ending tries to redeem characters who were previously awful villains, that’s when I start drawing the line.
Without spoiling anything, the finale wraps everything up so thoroughly but overestimates my ability to remember or care about minor characters from the other arcs. One of the last shots of the final episode before the credits confused the hell out of me.
I had to rewind to try and remember who a certain character was. After failing to recollect their identity, I ended up searching on forums to see if anyone knew who they were. Once I figured out who they were I thought “oh… well why should I care?”
[To be honest, this would have been considerably less of a problem if they just released the whole season together. Sorry (not sorry) Netflix but I’m never not gonna give you crap for the way you release anime.]
So the ending bit off a bit more than it could chew. In trying to be this perfectly complete ending, it lost focus on the present events of the story. However, it doesn’t change that The Great Pretender was a blast of a drama.
The technical critiques of this Case are consistent with my comments from the first review so consult that if you’re interested. For a TL;DR: the color design is unlike anything I’ve seen before in anime. The character designs are great. The music is kinda corny.
This is Netflix’s most successful effort at licensing an anime with the broad intent of cornering a western market. It’s mature without being too edgy. It’s fun while allowing itself to embrace human flaws and subject matter that can be uncomfortable.
On the whole, the English dub was awesome and unique but sometimes felt confused. At moments where the script demands that actors switch languages, they have no qualms integrating subs. However, the application of this mentality is inconsistent.
In episode one of the series, they start with every character speaking in their native tongue. Then, once Laurent and Edamura become acquainted, they break the fourth wall and establish that translation will occur from then on. In Case 4, they introduce new Japanese characters, but they don’t apply the same methodology to their casting.
They get actors who speak English as a second language, and not perfectly. It’s immersion, sure, but it conflicts hardcore with the way Edamura or Kudou are voiced. Even Edamura’s dad is voiced by Kirk Thornton and speaks perfect English.
I appreciate getting a more diverse voice cast. That said, when it comes to representation in media, I think it’s more important what we see, rather than the authenticity of the voice actor. This is a show with characters from all across the map and that is awesome in itself.
The Great Pretender is one of the most unique and fun shows of 2020. It’s a delight much needed in times such as these. Studio WIT has shown that they are more than capable of forging an identity for themselves in a world after Attack on Titan. I can’t wait for them to steal our hearts again.
The Great Pretender Cases 1 through 4 are available for legal streaming through Netflix.
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The Great Pretender