***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Great Pretender. Reader discretion is advised.***
Makoto Edamura (voiced by Chiaki Kobayashi) believes himself to be Japan’s greatest confidence man. His quick wit and smooth personality have never failed to turn a profit from a mark. Or, at least, that was the case until he met Laurent Thierry (voiced by Junichi Suwabe).
In an embarrassingly short amount of time, Laurent bests the cocky Makoto. However, rather than trying to put him in his place, Laurent wishes to recruit Makoto for his world-class group of con men.
Just like that, Makoto finds himself traveling the globe, taking on some of the most powerful crooks, gangsters, and villains on Earth. Although the work is dangerous, the rewards for a job well done are incredibly tantalizing.
In reference to what I am about to say, there are two considerations I have not forgotten:
- There are a lot more 2020 anime still to watch.
- I intend to do plenty of reflection before I make any call.
With that said, if Great Pretender isn’t the best series of 2020, it sure as hell is a top contender. This show was awesome; I’m not sure where to begin.
I suppose the best place to start would be with the superficial, a.k.a., the animation and music. As such, mother-of-everything, Great Pretender was a gorgeous spectacle for the eyes and a phenomenal symphony for the ears.
It is also about time I acknowledge Netflix-partnered anime. There has been a number of these types of shows this year – BNA: Brand New Animal, Dragon’s Dogma, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, Japan Sinks:2020. If trends continue, the platform will become a staple of the medium, assuming it isn’t already. Although I haven’t liked everything coming out from Netflix, I feel a tinge of excitement whenever I encounter these series.
Anime has slowly been trying to change its long-established formulas and plotlines, and I mean slowly. Netflix has been helping boost this transformation since it is a platform that allows things to be different. I’m not sure how a show like Great Pretender would have played out five years ago, but I do know this:
This series exuded a sense that it had a story it wanted to tell in a particular way.
The globetrotting nature of Great Pretender was among the primary reasons I instantly fell in love with this show. To me, it sparked a childlike sense of adventure, one I don’t remember the last time I felt from an anime. This series’ outstanding visuals and music got me wanting to travel the world. Remarkable considering I’m from Los Angeles (one of the locations in this story). Thus, I found it even more impressive that Great Pretender built a unique air of mystic around my home city.
It should also be noted: This series was fun, simple as that.
Was I expecting or even looking for realism from Great Pretender? No, and this show did tend to lean into the elaborate. However, this series never crossed into being ludicrous. Sure, the fourth storyline, “Wizard of Far East,” was undoubtedly out there, but by and large, the reality this story built for itself was easy to accept.
One thing Great Pretender did well was make its actions seem possible. The amount of preparation, insight, forethought, and sheer luck that went into the show’s cons only suggested they were unlikely to work, not impossible. There was a logical – or, more appropriately, an on-the-surface conceivable – path between points A, B, and C. Assuming someone had the resources and proper skill sets – both of which were present in this show – then there would be no trouble in suspending my disbelief and enjoying the ride.
Plus, it helped that Great Pretender has a great cast of characters. The entire Laurent Gang had fascinating backstories, as well as insanely entertaining personalities that made watching them work together a blast. They allowed this show to be hilarious and tension-filled at the same time.
It is impossible for me to tell you who my favorite character was. One, because I don’t want to make such a choice. Two, because choosing a single person doesn’t really work. Individually, there were terrific, but their real strength came out when they were a unit.
In a sense, Laurent Gang were a bunch of goofballs; there were moments when it was questionable how serious they were taking some rather dire situations. At the same time, though, they were professionals through and through; you always knew they were in control.
This was a series that was impossible to put down; I’m actually kind of shocked there were only twenty-three episodes. In fact, I would be even more flabbergasted if Great Pretender doesn’t get a sequel. I am more than happy to return to this story should it think of more things it wants to do.
I had too much fun with this series to find much fault with it. Granted, “not much” is not the same as “none.”
Great Pretender’s first three story arcs, “Los Angeles Connection,” “Singapore Sky,” and “Snow of London,” were as solid as can be. Incidentally, I would have to list “Snow of London” as this show’s high point.
As for the fourth story arch, “Wizard of Far East,” let make it clear that it wasn’t bad. However, it was Great Pretender’s weakest link, and it was that way for three reasons:
- It was too long.
- It was – mostly – in Japan.
- Its resolution was the most convoluted on any of the story arcs.
To start, the first three storylines were only four or five-episodes long; they were over and done with quickly. Thus, their pacing was much faster, which was in the wheelhouse for a bunch of smooth-talking con men. These arcs were exciting because there conclusions were always right around the corner. “Wizard of Far East,” at nine episodes, practically slammed on the brakes.
To be fair, this was the finale arc. Thus, it is not surprising that it would be the most extensive. Nevertheless, the change was noticeable.
Next, there was the whole being-in-Japan thing. This “issue” was more of a personal problem with me. Since I both live in Japan and watch a ton of other series set in Tokyo, it was like coming home after a grand vacation around the world. It is true that some of the time spend in “Wizard of Far East” was in Shanghai, and that is my whole point.
When the story was in China, that same sense of adventure present in the previous three narratives returned.
Lastly, Great Pretender did not end with a bang. It tried to, but here was the only time I thought this series was on the verge of going too far. The final con’s resolution was insanely complicated. That by itself wouldn’t have been that bad. What caused everything to sour a tad was how many callbacks it tried to shove in. There was a ton of unnecessary fluff that weighed down an ending already operating at capacity.
All that being said, the same charm, personality, and fun that made the rest of the series so great was alive and well in this conclusion. Had this been any other show, things might have turned out differently. Fortunately, this was Great Pretender, so it was never in any real danger of collapsing.
One thousand times, yes. This series was great.
The animation, the music, the characters, the stories, everything about this show was on point and excellent. Once you start this one, I am confident that you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down. It sinks its teeth in early, and it never let’s go.
You best believe this is a contender for the best anime of 2020.
Great Pretender has earned a massive recommendation.
But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise Great Pretender? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.