Admittedly it’s been probably the worst anime year of the century, but Great Pretender is pretty much its own sole competition at this point. This show is out in unincorporated territory compared to most 2020 anime, those places where you have to drive to the tackle shop to get your mail. The only question is whether its final arc is going to measure up to its first three – if the ending proves unsatisfying it will almost surely only be when measured by that standard.
Still, that means the pressure on “Wizard of Far East” is pretty high. It’s still not absolutely clear what Great Pretender intends to accomplish in this arc, but it’s certainly off to an intriguing start. Makoto’s role in this is fairly straightforward so far. He’s being forced to confront his self-loathing head-on, as he deals with the same sort of atrocities his father was secretly committing, Laurent’s place isn’t yet clear though, and it would be strange indeed if a series as thoughtful as this one checked out with his character remaining the grinning caricature he’s been up to this point.
The scam here is initially as straightforward as Makoto’s role. Cynthia (played in English by Reba Buhr – interestingly, not the actress playing her in the dub) comes to town posing as the head of a trading company looking to sell an Arabian princess to Suzaku-san. She even takes Ishigami (Seki-san is killing it here) and Makoto to the desert for the “kidnapping”. Abby is a natural to be the princess (though 16 is a stretch), and now we know what Clark was recruited for. Lickity-split a price is agreed (a billion Dollars, not Yen), and it’s pretty easy to see how Laurent has drawn this up.
The complicating factor here is, of course, the children. Rescuing Abby isn’t terribly complicated, but the kids are another matter – and Laurent seemingly has no interest in doing so. Neither do they, which is a real problem. They were sold by their parents so where do they have to go? I’m not 100% convinced by this development – I suspect the kids would have jumped at the chance to escape even under these circumstances – but their refusal to leave ends up scuttling the initial attempt to free Abby.
Things come into much sharper focus when “Shanghai Trading” enters the mix. A startup offshoot of the Suzaku organization, they soon outgrew their parent company – a common story as China’s economy boomed while Japan’s has remained stagnant for three decades – and began to operate independently. They’ve come to town for a come to Jesus meeting – though the boss sending his lieutenant in his place has Akemi pretty pissed (let me note that the civet coffee is a great touch – a distasteful and ostentatious gift that fits perfectly) – and Akemi orders Makoto to translate. But it’s the interpreter on the Chinese side, Oz (Sakuya Shunsuke) who’s of most immediate interest.
Still to be determined at this point is Laurent’s role in all this, but I know this much – that punch was extremely satisfying to watch. Whatever his motives the way he manipulates Makoto to his own ends is extremely irritating, and I imagine the latter enjoyed this as much as I did. It’s pretty hard to imagine Laurent drew Makoto into this operation for any reason other than to get him face to face with his father, but that seems to have blown up in everyone’s face as “Oz” betrays his son yet again at the first opportunity. Did Laurent know that was coming as well – is this all part of his Svengali act?
I’m going to be very interested in where Great Pretender goes from here, because there’s some thematically complex stuff at play. This idea of forgiveness has some obvious merit, but I’m not prepared to say it applies in all situations. Should Makoto really be so forgiving to a man who was involved in unspeakable crimes against human decency, never mind betraying his family and directly causing Mahoto’s mother’s early death? Where was forgiveness where Eddie Cassano is concerned, and Sam Ibrahim? Or James Coleman? Laurent had no problem conning these men out of everything they had and leaving them broken, and I don’t recall anyone speaking out in their defense.
That takes us back to square one. Which is to say, the question of what Great Pretender is trying to do with “Wizard of Far East”. We’re three episodes in and that’s still very unclear – the plot is straightforward enough, but that’s just the skeleton of the narrative – the meat and sinew has yet to be revealed.