Reviewby Theron Martin,
Bodacious Space Pirates: Abyss of Hyperspace
Kanata Mugen's father was a famous hyperspace diver, but he disappeared on one of his expeditions. After receiving a strange package from his father that could change into a mechanical parrot, Kanata found himself on the run from individuals in search of Dr. Mugen's legacy. Fate led him onto a particular space liner, one that just happened to have been assigned to the Bentenmaru for a pirating job. In accordance with a promise her father once made to Kanata's father, Marika assists Kanata by “taking him hostage” and bringing him back to Sea of Morningstar. Trouble follows, on both physical and electronic fronts, but Marika has both powerful and capable friends, relatives, and crew. The race is on with Dr. Mugen's legacy – and quite possibly smooth sailing in hyperspace – at stake.
Abyss of Hyperspace is the 2014 movie follow-up to the 2012 TV series, at least in the sense that it continues the timeline of the animated part of the franchise; its events are set during a break before Marika's third year of high school, so it takes place few weeks after the TV series ends. It does not, however, continue with – or even address in the slightest! – the plot threads established at the end of the series, so those seeking further insight about what change is in store for the region's pirates or what Quartz Christie meant when she told Marika that someone was waiting for her will be disappointed.
That being said, the movie fits with the style and temperament of the TV series quite well, to the point that established fans of the franchise are unlikely to be too disappointed. The only major storytelling difference this time around is that newcomer Kanata is the central character, and he effectively costars with Marika. That does not ultimately have much impact on how the story is told, though, as this is still a tale which provides a carefully-measure mix of action, showmanship, and more cerebral technical endeavors, all while maintaining a tone which never gets too heavy or threatening. Sure, there are some intense moments, but the TV series was never a show driven much by intensity, and the movie exactly retains that attitude. This is lighter, cheerier, even fanciful storytelling, where teenage girls can have adventures that put them in danger without them ever actually seeming seriously endangered.
The story being told is less remarkable than how it is carried out. At essence, the story is about a boy who carries a MacGuffin which is the key to his father's legacy, and Marika and her associates are the means through which he can pursue his quest. The MacGuffin comes in the form of a puzzle which must be solved to enable anyone to find the goal, and once the puzzle is solved, it becomes a race. The boy trying to understand a father whom he had grown to disdain (because his father being famous had forced his identity to always be defined in terms of his father) is a key subtheme, and naturally there is at least some room for fledgling romance. (His interactions with Grunhilde at least suggest some potential is there down the road.) On Marika's side of things it's just another pirating adventure, one which (also naturally!) gets the Yacht Club and the Barbaroosa involved, too. Notably, though, she apparently obtained her shuttle piloting license (which Kane had suggested to her late in the TV series) in the interim since the end of the Grand Cross affair, as she is shown flying herself up to the Bentenmaru early in the movie.
Because the story focuses so much on Kanata, there's little room for significant character development for anyone else. Personalities mostly conform to established patterns from the TV series, with the only new elements being Grunhilde warming up to Kanata in her own way and a seeming emphasis on Marika's lack of awareness of (or, at the very least, appreciation for) her sexuality; various scenes with Kanata suggest a child's innocence in that regard, though Kanata very definitely notices – and is intimidated by – her unconscious sex appeal. For a franchise which has studiously kept fan service opportunities for non-fully-adult characters to a minimum, this is an interesting direction perhaps meant to suggest how close Marika is to adulthood. The rest of the gang is also present, as nearly every recurring character (here defined as appearing in more than one story arc) of any significance makes at least a cameo appearance, whether it be Ririka, Show, Jenny, Mami, Gruier and Grunhilde's heady bodyguard Catherine, Chiaki's father Kenjo, or the array of Yacht Club members. About the only established character who doesn't appear is the chef Oyaji. And it probably goes without saying that Chiaki makes a significant appearance, too, although Kanata being in the mix pushes her more into a minor supporting role.
The biggest difference compared to the TV series is in the technical merits. Satelight's production effort on the series was (usually) pretty strong, especially on the CG front, but the movie is at a whole different level. It almost entirely lacks the occasional stumbles on characters looking a little off-model, the animation is crisper, and the colors are a little sharper. Most significantly, all of the characters get a redesign thanks to new character designer Osamu Horuichi (Burst Angel, Full Metal Panic! franchises). The differences are not radical, but anyone who has watched the TV series will immediately notice the subtle differences; faces are generally a little rounder and many characters look cleaner and shinier but not quite as warm. The only big change is a complete revamp of the Barbaroosa bridge crew, and the handful of new characters are very anime-typical.
The musical score repeats some of the themes from the TV series but does also broaden its scope. The clearest example of that is a collection of early scenes which use decidedly jazzy sounds. The original TV series opener by Momoiro Clover Z (the one featuring ex-Megadeth guitarist Marty Feldman) is reused early in the series, albeit with sound kicked up a notch for a slightly more theatrical feel; it sounds even better with a surround-sound system than it did during the TV series, though it plays over scenes from the movie and so does not retain the cool visuals.
The English dub does have a couple of changes from the TV series cast, but they are in such minor roles that telling the difference is difficult. I had voiced concern about Caitlynn French as Chiaki during TV series reviews, but she seems more settled in the role this time around and other problems which occasionally nagged the TV series dub – like some occasional timing issues – are also gone. Amongst important new roles, longtime veteran Kira Vincent-Davis is an excellent fit as Kanata and Mark X Laskowski makes a very fitting Flint, but really, all of the casting choices for new roles are solid. A particular bright spot continues to be Andrew Love's hipster interpretation of Show, and I am starting to like Luci Christian's Marika more than the original performance by Mikako Tomatsu (Neko in K).
Sentai Filmwork's Blu-Ray release of the movie isn't quite a bare-bones release, but it only includes Japanese promos and clean opener and closer. Curiously, a slight echo effect was evident at times in the Japanese dub that was not present in the English dub.
Ultimately Abyss of Hyperspace has the feel of an original story written specifically for the movie, though I cannot confirm that this is actually the case. It is satisfying in its technical merits and in the sense of giving viewers more time in a lovable universe, and the story is well-crafted and smoothly-paced (by franchise standards) for what it is. It not being the continuation of plot threads established in the TV series will always leave a little to be desired, however.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Strong technical merits, retains the feel of the TV series, good casting choices in the English dub.
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