REVIEW: ‘Great Pretender’ is one of this year’s best new shows



Laurent Thierry (Jun’ichi Suwabe) and Makoto Edamura (Chiaki Kobayashi) are the two stars of the crew in “Great Pretender.

Living through the lens of a swindler makes one realize life is not what it seems. The anime series “Great Pretender” demonstrates this beautifully through the eyes of small-time Japanese swindler Makoto Edamura who ends up working with international French trickster Laurent Thierry on a series of scams against various powerful celebrities. The show, which was picked up by Netflix, illustrates the blurred moral lines that exist among the wealthy and elite, and how the world runs differently from how we might think. 

“Great Pretender” released in July of this year, directed by Hiro Kaburagi and written by Ryōta Kosawa. The show blends a unique art style, suave characters and a fresh structure that makes it one of the best new shows on TV.  

Makoto Edamura is a compelling main character, who ends up working for Laurent as a way to get out of Japan, where he no longer has any family. Laurent takes him to the United States on a job trying to scam Hollywood producer Eddie Cassano into buying a fake Japanese party drug called “Sakura Magic.” 

Edamura finds out that his small-time scams on unknowing elderly people and ignorant tourists pale in comparison to the multi-million dollar schemes being run by Laurent. Self-prescribing himself as “the greatest swindler in Japan” is not enough, as he has to pretend to be a Japanese doctor who created the fictional Sakura Magic drug. 

Through the scam, Edamura meets the rest of Laurent’s gang and has to maneuver around a new landscape and stomach the act of scamming a man out of his money. It’s a moral dilemma for Edamura, as the viewer finds out more and more about how he got to that point and his background with his parents. But the viewer should find Edamura to be an interesting vehicle traveling through the world of international crime. 

The show has to toe an odd, blurry ethical line. One wants to support Edamura and Laurent, as it seems the great lengths they go to are all working against people who have amassed their fortunes through dodgy practices, but they still aren’t painted in a one-dimensional light. Instead, the show focuses on how Laurent and Edamura pull off their elaborate schemes, with the audience not seeing everything and everything they see not being 100 percent real to the senses. 

The structure of the show is extremely important. Of the 14 episodes on Netflix, they are separated into three different cases, with each acting like its own season. With each arc being just a few episodes, the pacing is quick and effective. The perspective of the characters is put front and center, and the audience sees the world through those eyes. 

There are three different settings for the story: Los Angeles, a Singapore air race and the underground art scene of London. All three of these settings ooze coolness and make for excellent variety in the show’s locations. 

What results from this is a show that creates the rules of its world as it goes. Each character is hiding something, that the audience doesn’t get much of a look at until the time is right. The backgrounds of all the characters tie together and explain their positions and actions in the world of their scams. 

There are a few big “pull back the curtain” moments that will blow you away. These aren’t even cheesy twists though, or twists that seem vulgar or too quick. The show makes its plot decisions very quickly, and each direction an episode takes is different from what would be obvious or even logical. 

The animation style almost reminds me of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” with its choppy frames, sharp lines and bursts of color that make each location really pop into a fusion of reality and fiction. Each character is so distinct and fits into a group of misfit toys that scam the shady elite of the world. 

The show blends comedy and action very well too. It’s got the quirkiness that comes from Edamura being a fish out of water and struggling to adapt to American culture and the life of an international swindler. This is amplified with the craziness of every scenario the crew gets themselves in. 

Overall, what sets the show apart from other anime that I’ve watched and other Netflix original shows is the creativity in story structure, voice acting and character design. “Great Pretender” has nine other episodes that have been made but are not available on Netflix in the United States, only in Japan. Hopefully we can get them soon.