The release of the final 9 episodes of Great Pretender brings back more than just 2020’s best anime so far. It’s also the return of the dilemma over what to do with it in blogging terms, which can be a frustrating one. I’m certainly not going to wait til Netflix releases it internationally to cover it, but beyond that it gets complicated. Especially since the remaining episodes (which Netflix is calling “Season 2”) are apparently one long story arc, it doesn’t lend itself to any obvious blocks, but I don’t have the time or inclination to binge it all and cover it in one mega-post. I guess, as ever, I’ll go with “as time permits” and play it by ear.
I’m not crazy about an extended recap sequence (as a cold open), but I guess under the circumstances it kind of makes sense. After that we more or less hit the ground running, with some suggestions of what “Wizard of Far East” will be about. There are more hints that we’re finally going to delve into Laurent’s past (I still suspect he’s the cat in the ED), as he dreams of showing his (ex? late?) wife the Aurora Borealis (or Australis). But we quickly dive back into Makoto’s life. He’s back in Japan, still dreaming of going straight, still carrying his Hideyoshi Gachapon (though he ends up giving it to Laurent).
No question, this is the recurring theme of Great Pretender to an almost Sisyphean degree. Makoto tells Laurent he’s quitting the racket, Makoto looks for a job, Laurent cons him back into the game. This is a pretty complicated dynamic at work here, no doubt. Laurent seems to – or at least needs to convince himself he does – believe that he’s ultimately a source for good. A sort of confidence Robin Hood, righting the wrongs of the world and skimming some off the top in the process. I’m sure in his mind he’s justified in manipulating Makoto the way he does – convinced he’s doing it for Makoto’s own good.
There’s more to this somewhere – maybe a connection between Laurent and Makoto’s dad or some other complication we’re as yet unaware of. I can’t shake the feeling that in the end Great Pretender is going to come down to a showdown between Makoto and Laurent, but for now the latter is pretty easily drawn back in to Laurent’s latest con. He manages to get Makoto working for a trading company, for a seemingly benevolent boss named Ishigami (Seki Tomokazu, great as usual) – a man willing to give Makoto a second chance despite his criminal record. That alone should have clued him in that he was being hosed again…
I’ll say this for Laurent – he has no qualms when it comes to getting what he wants, and what he wants is usually Makoto. Using human trafficking was below the belt – given his father’s situation, there’s no way Makoto can walk away from that. Things seem fine at the trading company for a while, and Ishigami even introduces Makoto to the frightening chairman, Suzaku Akemi (a steely Takashima Gara). But once Makoto has her stamp of approval and becomes a real employee, Ishigami takes him on a trip where the truth of what the company trades in is revealed. And no punches are pulled here – this is not an adoption ring by any stretch of the imagination.
So far, at least, Laurent has always gotten what he wants. I have to say that if Great Pretender ends without breaking that perfect record it will be kind of a letdown, but for now he looks to be fully in control. With Makoto back on-board he turns to his next target, Singapore Sky’s Clark Ibrahim. Suzaku and her sex trafficking ring would seem to be the target, though the nature of the scam itself has still yet to be revealed. With roughly twice the episode count of any of the first three arcs this is clearly the biggest con yet, and no doubt the most dangerous. I just hope it breaks Makoto out of his endless life loop and shows us something of Laurent beyond the cheshire Svengali we’ve seen so far.