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Bodacious Space Pirates (Moretsu Pirates) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 23 August 2012 10:47
Marika's a high-school kid with unusual lineage - both her parents were pirates. Her mom quit the pirating game quite some time ago, but unbeknownst to Marika, her father had been captaining a pirate ship right up until his death. And now that he's pooped his clogs, tradition - and the ship's operating license - demands that Marika fill his boots...

The time: the far future, naturally. The place: the planet Sea of the Morningstar, a beautiful planet on the fringes of known space. Centuries previously, the planet had been at war with its neighbours - the natural efforts of frontier worlds to gain independence from their colonial masters - and as part of that, the government had enlisted the help of privateers: pirates, operating under Letters or Marque, government licenses that made their operations legal. The war ended when the Galactic Empire arrived on the scene and put dreams of independence to an end, but beyond that they left the frontier to more or less run its own affairs, and for reasons unknown the Letters of Marque issued to the pirates remained in forced. The pirate ships are still operating to this day - although their work is more along the line of theatrical insurance scams than what you might consider real piracy.

Say hello, then, to the Bentenmaru (not, you'll be pleased to know, the personal ship of Ben 10). Formerly captained by Marika's father, it's crew now have to recruit Marika to take his place, as required by the ship's Letter of Marque - which would be a lot easier if Marika's mother, who once went by the pirate moniker of Blaster Ririka and has a fearsome reputation in certain parts, had ever bothered to tell her about her family heritage. Marika, meanwhile, is at least showing an interest in a life in space, having signed up with the (space) Yacht Club at her school, the prestigious Hakuoh Academy, where even the shadiest family backgrounds are no problem. And she's showing a remarkable talent for it...

The split between pirate and school is something that persists throughout the series, and it works surprisingly well. At school, there are Marika's Yacht Club friends, led by Jenny Dolittle (no relation to the doctor), while her part-time job at retro maid cafe Cafe Lamp brings up cosplay-mad best friend Mami. On board the Bentenmaru, we have a varied bunch as crew: hacker genius Coorie, playboy helmsman Kane, fount-of-all-knowledge navigator Misa, and a few more besides. Straddling the gap between the two worlds are Chiaki, herself the daughter of a pirate captain and who's taken an interest in Marika's progress; and Princess Gruier Serenity, who calls on the Bentenmaru's services early in the series and quickly strikes up a friendship with Marika - one of the few people she knows who completely disregard her royal status.

And so the scene is set. The series is split into a number of distinct story arcs: Marika's first training cruise with the Hakuoh Yacht Club, which ties in with her deciding whether to become a pirate in the first place; the hiring of the Bentenmaru by Gruier, who arrives on the ship as a stowaway looking for help in dealing with some family issues; a fun little arc where the Hakuoh girls take over the running of the Bentenmaru while the real crew are in medical quarantine; and a closing arc where the fate of pirates everywhere ends up in Marika's hands, where the small place in the universe of the pirates around Sea of the Morningstar is made clear. There's a logical progression to the arcs, as Marika comes to terms with her new role, takes time to learn the job and find her feet in it (something that happens so rarely that it's worth pointing out), and earns the respect first of her own crew - naturally wary at first of being led by a schoolgirl - then of other pirate ships. These are all steps that need to be worked through if you're to believe, come the final arc, that Marika could take the lead of a rag-tag fleet of ornery pirates. And by the time you get there, you do.

It helps that the show's universe is well-enough developed to provide a believable and appealing backdrop to events. Time is taken throughout the series to explain how things work, to spell out the tactics that are being used, making sure that when you're watching you're not being left wondering about the "whys" of anything, and this is a large part of its appeal. That said, the show also has a strong streak of silliness about it: the whole Hakuoh Pirates arc is really just glorified fanservice, Mami exists purely to get people to wear silly outfits, Chiaki and her reactions both to Marika and to any sweet treat are comic relief - and these are all aspects that, if you were feeling uncharitable, you could argue don't really belong in something that seems to have pretentions of being a serious space opera show.

That's a fair point. When, during the Hakuoh Pirates arc, the girls launch a raid while dressed in Mami's elaborate cosplay outfits (she insisted), I cringed. I still don't see the point of Cafe Lamp, other than to get Marika into a maid outfit for the benefit of certain parts of the audience. These are things that the series clearly doesn't need to do what it's trying to do. But some of that aspect of the show is also undeniably fun - as the name kinda implies, Bodacious Space Pirates doesn't take itself too seriously, it wants to have a little fun with its subject matter and it would be quite so appealing without it. Yes, some of it's cringeworthy, but it's still central to the show's feel.

For the most part, it's a feel that works really well. The story arcs are mostly enjoyable and engaging. The very large cast doesn't have a dud character in it. The relationships between Marika and the various members of her "harem" are fun to watch and bring something to the storylines. It's visually impressive. For the full length of its run, it was one of those rare shows where each new episode got pounced on as soon as I had the opportunity to watch it. Part of me wants to give it five stars, because it's just that much fun to watch.

But it's not quite perfect, mainly because of the stuff that's in there that doesn't need to be - the fun diversions work for me, but they're equally as likely to put other people off, and that bumps the show's overall score down a bit. It's also clearly incomplete - the "ending" is a good point at which to leave it, but there's obviously more to be told - and from what I understand, the Japanese reaction to the series possibly wasn't good enough to make a second season likely. But: still definitely worth seeing. A lot of fun, in space, with pirates. I couldn't ask for more.

Rating - ****