TL;DR – a group of con artists work together undertaking heists all around the world, and in the process, revealing pasts that seek to catch up with them.
Review (warning: spoilers)
Wit Studio is on a roll. One would think that being a relative newcomer on the anime scene (they were founded in 2012) they would need some time to build an audience. However, they have a significant leg up because they are actually a subsidiary of IG Port and producers from their other subsidiary anime studio, Production I.G, founded Wit Studio. Production I.G was founded in 1987 and has a long history of churning out quality anime series, OVAs, and films.
So, when Wit Studio, released their first anime series in 2013 and it turned out to be Attack on Titan, it should have been no surprise that the series was a local and international hit. In between generating the first three seasons of Attack on Titan they also released several other series including Vinland Saga and After the Rain.
In 2020, Wit Studio released two new anime series – GARUGAKU. Saint Girls Square Academy and Great Pretender. I have not seen GARUGAKU but from the limited reviews it appears to have rated poorly. It may be because the series is aimed at young children and each episode is only three minutes long.
On the other hand, Great Pretender has been a critical success and lauded for its animation style and music. But what about the plot?
The story revolves around a group of con artists and is broken up into four arcs:
- Case 1 – Los Angeles Connection (episodes 1-5)
- Case 2 – Singapore Sky (episodes 6-10)
- Case 3 – Snow of London (episodes 11-14)
- Case 4 – Wizard of Far East (episodes 15-23)
The four main characters are Makoto Edamura, Laurent Thierry, Abigail Jones, and Cynthia Moore. Edamua is a small-time Japanese con-man who gets roped into working with Laurent, a French con-man who masterminds the group’s heists. Abigail is Laurent’s right-hand, physically skilled and guarded about who she is. Cynthia was a stage actress and works in Laurent’s team using her feminine wiles and acting skills to win over and influence targets.
While the heists themselves are interesting and introduces a cast of colourful individuals ranging from a movie director who is actually a drug lord, to a pair of Arab oil-tycoon brothers who operate a rigged racing airplane tournament, to a dodgy English art appraiser, and finally a Shanghai mafia boss that are all targeted by Laurent, it is the four main characters that lift the story.
This is done cleverly by exploring the pasts of each one during each case. Case 1 focuses on Edamura, Case 2 on Abigail, Case 3 on Cynthia and Case 4 on Laurent (Case 4 also progresses Edamura’s story-line as it crosses over with Laurent’s).
It is this exploration that is fascinating and leads to an understanding for the viewer as to how each one came to be a con-artist. Tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal, and violence all feature to varying degrees, and it is their histories combined with the present day tie-in to the heist they deal with that makes Great Pretender a notch above other anime series.
Case 3 – Snow of London which focuses on Cynthia is a particular standout for me. I thoroughly enjoyed her character and her backstory is fascinating.
However, for all its strengths (i.e. music, character development, animation (the colours and artistic style are outstanding) and intriguing back stories) the series trips over at the end.
Yes, it is the final act surrounding Laurent where things unraveled for me. While the Edamura storyline concludes in a satisfying way, Laurent’s story (which arguably is the most intriguing) turns a bit silly. Each heist has a bit of twist. The final heist involves twists that turn into knots that ruin the sense of harmony and integrity of the group
Firstly, all the ‘villains’ in the previous cases end up assisting Laurent. In fact, we find them sitting on a luxury yacht (when they should all be serving time in prison) playing cards and drinking. These ‘villains’ now apparently helping the group of con-artists and are friends when logic dictates that each ‘villain’ would want revenge and has a serious vendetta against Laurent and his crew. This leap in the story was totally illogical to me.
Secondly, the final case involves staging a con that requires a fake building on a remote island that collapses when the con is revealed. Not so much far-fetched as it is less sophisticated than what the twists/reveals are in previous heists.
Lastly, it is revealed that a critical event in Laurent’s past is actually not completely true. This event is so pivotal that it is the sole reason why he is sent down the path he takes of being the ultimate con-artist. The event surrounds a woman named Dorothy, the woman responsible for teaching Laurent the skills to be a con-artist and who he falls in love with (they eventually get engaged). However, she gets killed during a con in front of Laurent driving him into depression with only the ring she wore around her neck to remember her by (the ring is a motif used periodically throughout the entire series).
Once the final case is over, Laurent throws the ring into the sea as a way of closure and satisfying himself that he has avenged Dorothy’s murder. However, in the epilogue it is revealed that Dorothy is alive, has amnesia, and finds the ring after it was swallowed by a fish and caught by fishermen. She then puts on the ring and the series ends.
I have mixed feelings about this final reveal, on one hand it allows for a sequel to the Great Pretender to be developed. On the other hand, the story was far more effective and emotionally moving if Dorothy actually was killed.
Still, even with the flawed final act, the series is plentiful in many other ways that makes it a must-watch on your anime list.
8 out of 10