I love me a good heist story. Be it the Ocean’s series of movie and the television series Leverage, there’s just something about gentlemen con artists who use elaborate confidence schemes to outwit and outplay much more ruthless baddies out of their ill-gotten wealth. Heck, I’m one of the rare fans who liked the first Ant-Man film because, when you boil it all down, it’s just a heist film but with superpowers! That’s how much I like a good heist story.
So, when I found out that Netflix has an anime that basically focuses on long cons and intricate heist planning, I just has to see if Great Pretender is just what I was looking for. Thankfully, it was!
Great Pretender follows Makoto Edamura AKA “Edamame” because his name is, apparently, difficult to pronounce. He’s the self-proclaimed “greatest con-man in Japan” but he meets his match when he runs afoul with Laurent Thierry, an much more experience scam artist. The two are joined by Abigail Jones, the lithe “muscle” of the group and, later on, Cynthia Moore, the team’s resident femme fatal, as well as other minor players. Although they are technically thieves, Laurent Thierry and company develop very complex scams that only target corrupt people who either abuse their wealth and status or do criminal acts.
And when I say “complex,” I mean complex. Some of the scams they pull off are incredibly intricate, takes days or months of planning and preparation and would fall apart easily if everyone doesn’t play their part perfectly. Most of the time, something always does happen and things seem to go sideways. The weird this is that this happens because a member of the team, usually Edamame, going off script at the most inopportune times. Strangely enough, it’s usually because Laurent doesn’t give the team the full picture of his elaborate scheme. This is played for laughs and to show what a mastermind he’s supposed to be but, at the same, it does make him kind of a douche. A suave, charming and likable douche, but a douche nonetheless.
The team does still manage to pull through and complete the con one way or another and that’s both the strength and the weakness of the storytelling in Great Pretender. Like most heist tales from movies and television, these gaffes are easily rectified thanks to quick thinking but more often than not, it was all part of Laurent’s plan from the beginning. It does work if you like the usual flow of heist films but, if you’ve watched the Rick and Morty episode “One Crew over the Crewcoo’s Morty” and get how overplayed this is, then you might not like Great Pretender.
Even if the stories are quite contrived, it’s still easy to look past all that thanks to the engaging anti-heroes Great Pretender focuses on. Everyone has their own distinct personality and they do a great job of facilitating the idea that they might be friends but keep things cordial in order to stay professional during the capers. While all of them seem like they got it all together on the surface, each of the main players do have some trauma that happened to them in the past that led them to becoming the way they are.
As of right now, Netflix has delved into the histories of Edamame, Abigail and Cynthia and they do hint we’ll finally get to see Laurent’s past in the next installment of episodes. But I will say they do a fantastic job with the reveals as they’re fleshed out. They even give a clue during the previous capers regarding who’s story they’ll dive into next, which is why I’m confident it’s going to be all about Laurent during the next and final heist.
One thing I really appreciated about Great Pretender is that all of the major heists they’ve pulled off takes multiple episodes to reach their conclusion. This way, you do feel like these con jobs really took them a long time to complete. Additionally, it makes for some great binge watching periods with logical stopping points. And since each of them takes around four to five episodes, it makes it feel like you’re just watching a relatively short but well-written heist movie and the next con job is a sequel.
The people behind the animation and art design of Great Pretender is also top-notch. There’s a certain distinct style they use as the backgrounds are super colorful and have a pastel-like hue to them, making it look totally different from most anime right now. This also makes each scene of Great Pretender more dreamlike and it does suit the tone perfectly. This does, unfortunately, make the characters look a little more flat by comparison but, thankfully, the animators do animate them fluidly and give them some really expressive movements that mirror their personalities.
I do have some issues with Great Pretender but it’s mostly because of Netflix and not the anime itself. The English dubbing is actually very good and on-point but, for some unfathomable reason, the English subtitles do not match the dub! They convey the same general idea but it is very off-putting to read subtitles and then have the characters say something that doesn’t match. As I generally do watch anime in the original Japanese dub, I didn’t have a problem but others may find that confusing. Oh, and if you start watching the first episode of Great Pretender and think Netflix messed up because the characters aren’t speaking the language you selected, that’s normal. Apparently, it’s supposed to be that way!
Another issue I do have does pertain to the actual anime. While most of the characters are a delight, I still haven’t made a good connection with Edamame. On the surface, there’s nothing really wrong with him, however, my problem is that his character arc is just confusing. At the start, it seems like he does want to be Japan’s best con artist but, in later episodes, it does show that he’d rather be a guy with an ordinary job. Yet, in other episodes, he wants to prove that he’s as good as Laurent at planning scams! All the other characters don’t have this problem so it makes Edamame come off as incredibly wishy-washy.
Oh, I also do have to say that Great Pretender’s opening and closing sequences are quite good. The opening song isn’t all that great but the animation they do use to accompany the music is super stylish and even hints at all the cons they’re going to pull throughout the season. But it’s the closing song, using Freddy Mercury’s powerful version of The Great Pretender is the standout! It’s not the full song but that quick bit when we get his awesome initial vocal performance and when the cat busts in is just so perfectly timed and just makes me happy when I watch it!
If you like heist films and television shows, you’ll definitely like Great Pretender. If you just like good anime or well-written stories with fantastic characters, you’ll also like Great Pretender. Netflix will release the final batch of episodes of the anime sometime at the end of the month. You can probably scrounge around the Internet and watch them right now but I feel I owe it to Netflix and myself to go wait for the streaming service to release it. That’s because, if Netflix notices a lot of people watching it, maybe they’ll put up the funds for another batch of episodes! I hope they do because Great Pretender is that good!
Have you seen Great Pretender? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!