Friday 6 July 2012

Anime REVIEW: Mōretsu Pirates

Even before Gokaiger aired, if there was one thing that could get me interested in a show it would be space pirates. So when Mōretsu Pirates, or Bodacious Space Pirates to give it its English title, was announced it was a show that quickly fell onto my "to watch" list. But as perhaps a lesson in not to judge a book by its cover, this 26-episode series is not quite the space pirate experience you might expect from something based on a light novel series called "Miniskirt Space Pirates".

In the distant future, a war of independence was waged between the Galactic Empire and the third planet in the Tau Ceti system - Sea of the Morningstar. To compliment their meagre fleet, the Sea of the Morningstar issued the Letter or Marque, a document legalizing piracy. The pirates made a great contribution to the revolution's success, and over 100 years later still exist.

Meet Captain Marika...
The series focuses on Marika Kato, a high-school girl who is one day approached by subordinates of her dead father Gonzaemon. Marika learns that her father was the captain of a pirate ship named the Bentenmaru, and that her mother Ririka had also been a space pirate. In order for the Bentenmaru to continue legal operation, the ship's captaincy must be inherited by the former captain's closest descendant - Marika. As Marika juggles life as a space pirate, high-schooler and member of the yacht club, she realises that space piracy has changed a lot over the years and also her gifted abilities as a captain.

So how has piracy changed? Well to begin with the inclusion of the Letter of Marque makes them more akin to privateers than actual pirates, but the title of 'pirates' lends itself well to what has become of the lost art of space piracy has mostly become - an entertainment. The pirates still tackle escort missions and the like, but most raids tend to be for show, arranged beforehand with cruise companies and such. The subject of how the pirates have decayed over the years is a subject tackled at the end of the series, but in the early stages its harder to appreciate what's on offer if you might have been expecting something a bit different (I know I was). Not necessarily a bad thing as it does make Mōretsu Pirates a cleverer show overall,  but it does fall into the pitfalls of becoming rather mundane on repeated occasions.

...and her pirate crew!
Much like the vastness of the space it occupies, Mōretsu Pirates has a TON of characters. In only 26 episodes there isn't enough time to give all the characters equal focus, and the show chooses wisely which ones deserve more screen time than others. However this doesn't change the fact that sometimes the cast feels too big, leading to too many characters you don't really care about and ones that come and go as the story chooses which element of Marika's life it's focussing on (the pirates or the yacht club). Marika herself is a very likeable protagonist, but often delves too deeply into being the "perfect" captain. The fact she learns through asking questions presents positive development, but rarely does she seem to make mistakes - something that might make her rise to space piracy more believable.

A long with her highschool yacht club,
The series is split into very defined story arcs - some of which are more successful than others. Early episodes pay close attention to world building and establishing the mythos of the show, but can feel like a drag as they also move at a snail's pace. Each arc has a considerable amount of build-up to keep interest flowing as they draw close to their climax, but most simply fizzle out rather than end with a bang. Filler episodes (and there are quite a few) are often painful to get through, featuring the yacht club who are a pretty generic and uninteresting bunch save for a few little twists.

The real area Pirates excels at is in the animation department, courtesy of studio Satelight (Macross Zero/Frontier, Aquarion). There is a distinct look at the two elements of the series - the seemingly prestigious school life and grimier pirate underbelly, with great character designs that inhabit both. The crew of the Bentenmaru all have looks worthy of the term "space pirate" and Hakuoh Academy's Yacht Club provides everything you'd expect from "shojo in space". The fluid combination of traditionally drawn characters and backgrounds with CGI spaceships that Satelight showed off in Macross Frontier once again makes an appearance here, making the space sequences among the finest modern anime has on offer.

Marika faces adventures in space aboard the Bentenmaru!
So Mōretsu Pirates isn't quite a high-flying space adventure about a band of galactic pirates, but a character-driven space opera that delves more into political climates and high-school hi-jinks than it does shooting and looting. A beautifully animated series, but one of subject matter which will either grab you or not. With a movie announced to follow the show (unless it simply turns out to be recap film), and plenty of source material to carry on into a second season, Marika's band of pirates may not quite be done with yet.

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