Pile of Shame
The Enemy's The Pirates!

by Justin Sevakis,

The Enemy's The Pirates! ~The Cat's Banquet~

There's a Japanese tradition of stand-up comedy duos known as "manzai (漫才)." Manzai routines are high-speed, rapid-fire conversations between one person, who's an idiot or a weirdo of some kind (boke), and a straight man (tsukkomi), who's constantly muttering or yelling corrections or otherwise trying to bring the idiot back to reality. The straight man is usually ignored, stymied, and/or continuously proven wrong by life.

This pattern of comedy is reflected a lot in comedy anime. Babbit in Kodocha is an example of a tsukkomi, while the rest of the cast is his boke, to name one example. But I can't think of another show where nearly the ENTIRE basis of the show is one long, drawn out manzai routine. But that's definitely true of The Enemy's The Pirates!, a 1989 6-part OAV series that was an early hit in the VHS fansub community here in the States, but never got a legal release. Based on the second in a series of sci-fi novels by Chohei Kanbayashi (of Yukikaze fame), the OAV casts its two Odd Couple leads, a boring, by-the-books space cop named Raul Latell-Satoru (called simply Latell) and his troublemaking anthropomorphic cat-shaped alien partner Apullo, as a manzai duo.

Back in the 90s fansub scene, a show like this was a perfect fit for anime audiences. It was a six-part sci-fi action series with masculine characters, cute girls, decent animation, and it was kind of funny. It also had a really awesome English 80s rock opening theme by the gaijin hair band Air Pavilion. Since the books were illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano (who's work influenced Takayuki Goto's character designs), there was a loose video game tie-in.

Latell and Apullo are cops working for the Division of Space Piracy (DSP). They're not particularly good cops, and spend most of their time bickering incessantly as the straight-laced and boring Latell keeps trying to get things done, while Apullo spends his time ignoring him while being a lazy, selfish piece of crap. The division chief can't stand either of them, but keeps putting them on new assignments. Latell is also trying to get in the pants of Marcia, the department Cute Girl who is sweet to him, but never seems to reciprocate.

The chief sends the two on a mission to stop a space pirate named Youmei, who runs most of the galaxy, from seizing control of a super-powerful AI, which he plans to use to cause lots of destruction and further his power. Apullo and Latel cause plenty of destruction on their own, of course. Comparisons to The Dirty Pair and a half dozen other destructive space authority shows leap to mind, as the two bumble and bicker their way through ultimately, somehow, saving the day.

I've always had a hard time getting through this show. The first episode is amusing, but Apullo's antics quickly become tiresome, and by episode 3 I was about as ready to strangle him as his partner was. By the time the inane baseball plot of the second arc came up, I was pretty much ready to give up. There are some fun sight-gags -- the Couch Potato Tree in episode 1, for example, but the action sequences are all over the place. Some of them aren't well blocked out, and following what's going on can be confusing.

Which is to say nothing of the whole manzai schtick. It's unique for anime to play with real rapid-fire back-and-forth dialogue in this way, and watching the two leads is amusing, in the same sort of way early Donald Duck cartoons are amusing: it's just an exercise in watching a jerk frustrate a loser. But after a few episodes, it becomes clear that this show is going nowhere. The story barely holds together, the once-fun opening theme is reprised so many times that it starts to grate after a while, and the whole thing just becomes sodden and forgettable.

The series was, and remains, an unusual project in the anime business. Produced by Kitty Films (of Ranma 1/2 fame), the six episodes are actually 3 individual stories, with each pair of episodes getting their own episode director and animation studio (Madhouse, I.G Tatsunoko and Watanabe Promotion). While technically an OAV, the show actually first premiered on the Japanese satellite channel Sky Port, making it the first satellite TV anime series. The show was then released on 6 VHS tapes and 3 Laserdiscs (and later, 3 DVDs).

While no North American release ever happened, the show got a dubbed VHS release in the UK -- the only dub ever produced by Western Connection. It's somewhat legendary, partially because it's so terrible, but mostly because, in a casting decision that today we would refer to as savagely racist, Apullo's voice is cast and directed to be a "black cat." You know, in the 1970s slang sense. This puts a particularly cringe-worthy spin on a scene where Apullo puts a blunt in his mouth and asks Latell to "light me up!" Needless to say, Mike Toole got a lot of milage out of this one for his Dubs That Time Forgot panels.

The Enemy's The Pirates, in its original Japanese form anyway, is bland and inoffensive. I can't imagine anyone hating it, but nobody's going to really enjoy it today. It feels like watching a now-forgotten big Hollywood comedy from the same era. 1989 had movies like When Harry Met Sally and Turner & Hooch, which people remember and still like quite a bit, even if they smell a little musty. The Enemy's the Pirates is the anime equivalent of The Gods Must Be Crazy II. A few old-timers remember it, a few of them fondly, but nobody really needs to see it in 2014.

Japanese Name: 敵は海賊 ~猫たちの饗宴~ (Teki wa Kaizoku: Neko no Kyōen)

Media Type: OAV Series

Length: 6 x 30 min.

Vintage: 1989

Genres: Comedy, Sci-fi, Action

Availability (Japan): A DVD boxed set came out in 2007 and is now out of print, but not hard to find used. It looks pretty good, despite not being remastered.

Availability (English): Just the horrid dubbed VHS release in the UK. There are fansubs aplenty.

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