Great Pretender – 23 (Fin) – How the Sausage is Made

In its penultimate episode Great Pretender pulled the wool over our eyes as well as those of con artists’ hapless targets. The finale opens with Liu, Chen, Suzaku, Ishigami, and a couple henchmen adjusting to their new reality: stranded on a deserted island with water and emergency rations.

There’s an absurd surrealism to seeing Liu, typically perched in his gaudy Shanghai tower, sitting on the beach looking defeated, or Suzaku lighting up a smoke in her ruined red throne, no longer surrounded by her lacquered and gilded office. They were well and truly conned like they’ve never been conned before.

The question is, how? After that quick check-in, we rewind back to the morning of the job. Before waking up, Makoto dreams of the time she gave her mom a wizard figurine, and she hoped it meant she’d see Seiji soon. Abby visits Makoto unannounced, urging him to hurry up and forgive himself, noting she was saved by doing the same.

From there, we follow Makoto as he clandestinely puts a sleeping drug in coffee he serves to Suzaku and Ishigami, while Laurent drugs the champagne he serves to Liu and Chen. This way, the targets are asleep while they are transported to the island where they’ll eventually be marooned.

We learn that while only Eddie Cassano is involved in this game as a favor to Laurent (they’re apparently on good terms now), the similarly reformed James Coleman and Sam Ibrahim also tagged along. Another character from a previous arc who plays a role is Shougo, who provides the air transport to the island.

On that island, Oz has led the construction down to the minute detail of a replica of Suzaku’s Tokyo HQ office. He had Makoto order the real thing re-painted recently so that the smell of fresh paint could be explained, while Suzaku herself is too woozy from her “nap” that she shrugs off the presence of cat sculptures Cynthia included because she thought they were cute, but weren’t in the real office.

The gun battle from which Liu, Chen, Suzaki and Ishigami escape was really just the “police” and Cassano’s “henchmen” firing their guns into the air, making enough noise to cover their escape down the elevator. As for Makoto’s “slashing?” The sword was real, but Oz only cut deep enough to break the blood bag inside Makoto’s jacket.

Fast-forward to the immediate aftermath of the successful completion of the job, the con artists party on what turns out to be Cassano’s boat. Makoto feels good about getting one over on Laurent (as well as following Abby’s advice to forgive himself), while Laurent tosses Dorothy’s ring into the ocean, satisfied she was properly avenged.

In the epilogue, Oz visits his wife’s grave, and we learn she knew what happened to him all along, but never told Makoto. Oz dedicates himself to finding homes for all of the rescued refugees, though Cynthia takes one of the older ones under her wing, giving him the choice of what to do with his life.

Abby reaches the top of a rock in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon and sends a bird-flipping selfie to Makoto; I really liked how their relationship progressed, how they remain in touch even though they’ve parted ways as con artists. Laurent, meanwhile, is still in the game, and picks the newly inaugurated U.S. President as his next target. Four Seasons, anyone?

Finally, in a feel-good surprise ending, it’s revealed Dorothy is still alive after all, having apparently washed up in Taiwan with amnesia (she could be faking it, but then why did she never reunite with Laurent?). One of her adoptive parents presents her with a ring he found in the stomach of a fish—her old good luck ring, which Laurent tossed into the sea.

And that about does it. What a ride this was! Every arc of Great Pretender had its strong points and a distinct atmosphere owing to their varying settings and types of cons. It’s a show that seemingly got better and better, and this longer final arc brought everything together quite nicely, with its usual stylish cheekiness. I’d highly recommend GP, especially as a gateway show for entering the world of anime.

Great Pretender – 10 – Throwing Off Gravity’s Chains

When Abby asks Luis about his role in the bombings that killed her folks, he’s really in the mood to come away from the conversation with his life intact, so he says what he thinks will provoke her into killing him the fastest: “taking a dump” on Baghdad was doing his duty, and he couldn’t give two shits about whoever died because of it.

That does the trick; both he and were fully ready to let things end bloody. Then Makoto tackles Abby before she can do the dead. It’s his first step in, well, I can’t call it a “con” per se, but it’s definitely a scheme to create a different kind of end: One that could mean redemption for both tortured souls.

Taking advice from Cynthia, Makoto doesn’t pry into what happened with Abby and Luis, but is simply there for her as she looks out onto the city, wrestling with her grief, rage and helplessness, assuring her she’s not the only one suffering. Interestingly, he already had a bit of an effect on Abby when she spots a capsule toy dispenser and decides to buy one as a fortune good luck charm.

Abby thinks Makoto is full of shit, but she also doesn’t know what else to do. Fortunately, the figurine she acquires has special significance to her situation: historical “bad guy” Akechi Mitsuhide, who betrayed his lord like Brutus did to Caesar—presumably because they didn’t share the same values.

As Isabelle shares with Makoto (with Abby listening close by), Luis suffered PTSD after his tour of duty, and took up stunt piloting in order to satisfy his need to continue putting his miserable life on the line, a pattern virtually identical to the similarly-scarred Abby’s.

When they grudgingly meet with Makoto as a go-between, Luis points out that he and Abby won’t agree on much as long as they’re still alive, as if their beating hearts are anomalies in the universe that must be snuffed out in order to restore balance.

But again, Makoto thinks he has an equitable solution which will break both parties out of their respective funks. It starts with putting Luis back in the cockpit, in Abby’s place. When she pulled a knife on him he stood up from his wheelchair, leading Makoto to deduce that his physical injuries weren’t sufficient to keep him out of a plane. Instead, he needed an emotional reason to get back in: a chance to settle a score with his protege Clark.

When he’s back in the cockpit, it’s as if a switch is flipped. Having calmed down from their earlier scuffle, Luis brings Abby in close before he takes off, and says something she had no idea how much she needed to hear. It was only two words—I’m sorry—but they mean everything, because he means them.

Laurent put Makoto in Clark’s hanger so he could sabotage the engine when the time came to pit Abby against Clark, but he doesn’t sabotage it. In order for this race between Clark and Luis to matter, it has to be real, and make no mistake: Clark prefers it that way just as much as Luis having taken no pleasure in his role in the fixed results.

What results is the best race sequence the show has yet delivered. Photoshoppy color banding aside, the dogfighting planes against the vivid Singapore skyline have never looked better, and there’s a nice bittersweet symmetry to their air ballet being set to the same music as Abby’s last recital years ago.

In the end, Clark manages to eke out a win over his master, who after all hadn’t been in a cockpit in years. Still, it was close and thrilling. We know who wins because the color of the fireworks matches the victor’s plane color. Sam may have bet everything on Clark, but since Laurent arranged for a special doctored video feed and installed color-changing cellophane on the casino’s windows, Sam believes that Abby won, and that he lost everything…

Of course, he does lose—just not due to betting on the wrong pilot! In this regard, Laurent & Co. relied on quite a bit of luck in their win, as the winner of a no-holds-barred race between Clark and Luis was not altogether known. By the time Sam realizes he was swindled, Laurent, Kim and Kudou have already fled with the cash to a yacht.

In a way, just as Clark was able to learn through Luis how to be a better pilot (and let’s be honest, he’s definitely the more honorable of the two brothers), by watching Luis essentially regain his desire to live up in the sky serves a similar experience for Abby.

If that old fart can put the past behind him and take back his life, maybe she can to. His genuine apology also goes a long way towards her ultimately forgiving the guy, since that’s the first step in her moving on to whatever’s next.

When Abby and Makoto visit the abandoned casino, they are trapped and shot at by Sam and his men. Thankfully, Abby is still in her flight suit, so Makoto embraces her and leaps out the window to “give dying together a go”. The chute works and they land safely in the water for Laurent to fish them out.

It’s without doubt the scariest thing Makoto has ever done, and his face says as such, but damn it all if it’s not worth it to finally see Abigail Jones’ genuine, radiant smile! That makes for one hell of a strong ending to the Singapore Sky arc.

Great Pretender – 09 – Shock & Awe

In Singapore Sky we’ve had two storylines running in parallel: the Thierry gang’s efforts to bilk the Ibrahims out of their fortune through air racing, and the slow reveal of Abby’s Dark Past and her apparent ongoing death wish. While the two plotlines bear little in common, this week it’s starting to become clearer why they occupy the same arc.

The biggest issue for Laurent and Cynthia is whether Abby can stay alive long enough for their scam to pay off. Makoto proves he’s a born con man by effortlessly luring Sam and his millions into the phony underground casino, but Abby’s continued deteroiration concerns him, and not in terms of whether she’ll cost him money. He wants to learn more about Abby’s story, and help if he can.

It’s what sets Makoto apart from his more emotionally detached partners, but they haven’t gotten as far as they have with their conning if it weren’t for that commitment to detachment, or at least compartmentalization. Laruent and Cynthia may well care a great deal about Abby, but they have a job to do, and trying to break down Abby’s walls could threaten that job and Abby herself.

Meeting Luis Muller was a catalyst for Abby’s continued descent into her traumatic memories. While she had loving parents and early success in ballet, the 2003 bombing of Baghdad claimed those parents’ lives, and Abby channeled her physical talents into what from her perspective was freedom fighting. Unfortunately, this ended in abject defeat, and while her comrades died all around her she was cursed with the good luck to survive.

Back in the present, Makoto has Sam eating out of his hand, getting him to bet 2.5 million on a race he then loses because, deliciously ironically, Cynthia is able to successfully seduce the baby-faced young pilot he bets on, which lets Abby slip a compound into the engine that causes his plane to stall out.

Since this was the first time Sam trusted Makoto to wager his cash (having been banned from the casino by Laurent after “discovering” his secret identity) you’d understand Sam suspecting Makoto of being In On It. But when he points his gun at Makoto’s head, it’s not because he suspects Makoto at all—he’s just pissed off in general.

The gang may have made millions off him already, but Makoto didn’t lose his trust, so they can still milk him for more, knowing his frustration and insatiable greed for winning and money will continue to drive his actions.

Abby, meanwhile, quietly does her job when she needs to, and one night she goes out for a walk with Luis Muller so she can confirm what she suspects: he was one of if not the fighter pilot who dropped the bombs on her hometown, killed her parents, and ruined her life. Her knife is literally out when she broaches the topic, which means whether Luis denies it or not, she’s ready to exact revenge.

Extremely strict Singaporean laws notwithstanding, murdering Luis is most definitely not on the list of things Laurent and Cynthia want to happen just as they’re ready to finish cleaning the Ibrahims out. And while we saw what she did to a dummy with her knife, I believe we’ve yet to witness Abby definitively kill anyone, even in the past where the fog of war throws all in doubt.

That would make Luis her first, and who knows how that will affect her in or out of a cockpit. As Cynthia tells Makoto, knowing someone’s story is different from understanding how they feel. Well, it looks like we’re poised to find out just how Abby feels about a great many things, and what if anything Makoto can do.

Great Pretender – 08 – Tinker, Gambler, Soldier, Fly

The plan is to get Sam to join an underground casino the gang controls and squeeze him for all he’s worth. When Cynthia’s honeypot angle fails (Sam likes ’em young), and Abby refuses to be her replacement, Laurent is ready with a backup: Makoto. Specifically, his skills as a mechanic. In order to sell him, he brings in Luis Muller (Clark’s rival in the air who was nearly killed in an accident) and his attractive, patient wife Isabelle.

Thing is, Luis is only interested in one thing: revenge. He wants Sam and Clark dead and their entire race burned to the ground, but isn’t willing to stoop to a con to accomplish that. He’s also a bit…unbalanced since the accident. Fortunately Isabelle is steady as a rock and comports herself well in selling Makoto as a desirable mechanic, even though it’s her very first time participating in a con.

Clark is eventually sold by Makoto’s mechanical know-how, but Sam is on the fence. Clark thinks he’s a cheeky but otherwise “nice guy” but Sam, being a self-professed “bad guy” can sense that Makoto is more like him than he lets on. That belief is confirmed thanks to Laurent’s use of Mrs. Kim and some goons to pose as Muller’s “patroness” who are looking to hang Makoto out to dry for double-crossing her pilot.

Sam eats right into their hands, claiming Makoto as his “property” and “buying” him off of Mrs. Kim. The kicker is when he hears about the underground casino to which Makoto has connections. Sam may not fall for pretty faces like Abby’s or Cynthia’s, but he certainly falls for the prospect of betting on pilots and making more money on the side, especially as it caters to his bad-guy image.

One thing I like about Sam (who is otherwise a scumbag) is that you’re never 100% sure whether he’s buying what the con artists are selling, or simply going along for the ride to see where it goes. As for Abby, she’s interested in learning whether Luis was really a soldier, and when and where he operated, as he may have played a role in her own dark, traumatic militant past. That said, you can only have so many shots of Abby staring stoically out of windows!

Great Pretender – 07 – Skybrawl

Team Confidence heads to Singapore, where Makoto sees the Ibrahim brothers in action for the first time. While Clark plays the flashy playboy, Sam is the ruthless wheeler-dealer. The pair bought up the struggling race and have since made it a fixed affair a la WWE—all the winners and losers are chosen ahead of time.

Watching racing planes swoop over around and through Singapore’s futuristic skyline is fun, but the pulse-heightening action is once again hurt by a lot of obvious CGI and harshly posterized photo-based scenery. It’s an aesthetic that works sometimes, but often comes off as cheap.

The night after prelims, in which Abby just manages to qualify for the race by the skin of her teeth, she and Cynthia to the brothers at the rooftop pool of the iconic Marina Bay Sands. While Abby skinny dips and plays hard to get with the already-smitten Clark, Sam proves a more stoic nut to crack, but Cynthia seemingly convinces him that she’s enough of a rising star to promote—and ensure she’ll win the next race.

While we often see Clark carousing with ladies, this is still a PG-13-equivalent anime, so it call comes of as pretty chaste, especially when he doesn’t push for a more intimate rendezvous with Abby. She retires early for the night, but probably doesn’t get much sleep, as ever since she started flying she’s been getting flashbacks from her Dark Past.

The next day, Sam doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, and the veteran pilot steals the lead from Abby. When Cynthia gently protests, Sam drops any semblance of a nice guy act and tells her he neither promised nor owes Cynthia a damn thing, and proceeds to go into a bitter misogynist rant that you know he’ll pay for later. Abby has another flashback in the cockpit, but Makoto is able to snap her out of it via radio headset, and she ekes out a photo-finish victory.

From what I gather, Abby was at one point an award-winning ballerina whose life was suddenly turned upside down. At some point she became separated from her parents, ended up in a terrorists training facility, and got caught in a fierce battle where her comrades were cut to ribbons. When Makoto asks why Abby is in the con artist business at all, Laurent’s answer is simple and devastating: Abby is trying to find the right way to die.

We’ve seen her flashbacks and heard a bit about her from Laurent, but the fact remains Abby’s said very little herself—either about herself or anything else—in the past seven episodes. Will Makoto, con man with a conscience, seek to talk her out of her apparent death wish? Will Abby ever be in the mood to listen? All I know is, they’d better inspect her plane thoroughly for sabotage before her race against Clark.