Great Pretender, the new con-artist anime from Wit Studio (Attack on Titan, Vinland Saga), just ended the first half of its freshman season in Japan. Pretender’s comedy comes together not unlike the machinations of the elite scammers it follows, making for one of the most exciting anime of the summer.
Makoto Edamura is Japan’s #1 con-man. Or so he claims, but his criminal resumé mostly consists of pickpocketing, consumer fraud, and scamming the elderly. One day he tries pulling a simple con on a French tourist, only to be tricked into a partnership with a true expert con-man, Laurent Thierry. From there, Edamura quickly finds himself caught up in a community of international confidence artists who exclusively target rich, power-abusing scumbags.
It’s frankly a bit hard to write much more about the show’s plot without spoiling the many twists and turns, but Great Pretender has a lot going on. There are heated car chases with the FBI, aerial races through the middle of iconic Singapore architecture, and high-stakes underground boxing matches. Each exhilarating caper is full of snappy dialogue, genuinely surprising twists, and beautiful direction from Hiro Kaburagi (91 Days, Hoozuki no Reitetsu), making for a fun, exhilarating ride.
The show’s art style is breathtaking, too, with angular characters cast against backdrops that are at once realistic to form and lushly hyper-saturated. The talented art team generates amazing scenery from its international settings, with each background looking like an oil painting. If the characters look familiar, it’s because their designs were done by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, founding member of Gainax and the character artist behind critically acclaimed anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL, and Summer Wars.
The only possible drawback (or con, haha get it) is the show’s character writing often feels less detailed than its environments. That’s not to say it doesn’t put in work. The characters do grow, change, and adapt with each rapidly escalating scheme they involve themselves in. We also see each of their journeys into the art of the confidence, all very much tied to the dangers and stigma of the societies they were raised in. But despite a few touching character beats and thoughtful moments, I struggled to feel much emotional attachment to any of the main characters. The cast remain likable and interesting, but still feel like archetypes meant to advance the plot and inspire wacky hijinks.
Great Pretender isn’t as deep as it is sharp, but it doesn’t really need to be. The show excels at telling exciting stories that keep viewers on their toes. Its brief forays into issues of sexual harassment, war, and broken criminal justice systems are passing moments of sobering calm before returning to the thrills of con-artistry and artful misdirection.
The show’s not meant to be rooted in reality, but in whatever it is that Hollywood comedic thrillers are made of. Great Pretender owes much to the caper genre, with each of its big con-jobs capturing the energy of a mad-dash heist. It’s often hard to tell where each con begins and ends, who’s in on which scheme, and how the job will turn out. Great Pretender’s adherence to the tropes and style of its genre doesn’t hold it back from being a genuinely exhilarating show, and one of the summer’s first must-watch animes.
Did I mention the show’s ending song is Freddy Mercury covering “Great Pretender” by The Platters set to cute animation of con-artist kitties? Because it is, and it’s great.
Great Pretender is currently streaming on Netflix in Japan and should hit the American service in the near future.
Chingy Nea is a writer, comedian, and critically acclaimed ex-girlfriend based out of Oakland and Los Angeles.