Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 22nd 2013
Bodacious Space Pirates
Blu-Ray - Collection 1
In the far-flung future, the planet Sea of the Morningstar in the Tau Ceti system was one of the earliest colonized planets. When it came time to revolt against the overseeing Stellar Alliance, the planet revived the old concept of Letters of Marque and so used space pirates to beef up their military forces. The war ended a century ago when the Galactic Empire stepped in and absorbed both sides, but first-year high school student Marika Kato discovers that the pirates never completely went away when she learns that the father she never knew was actually the captain of the space pirate ship Bentenmaru (one of the original seven from the war of independence), that the mother she's been raised by was actually a legendary pirate who crewed on that ship, and that her father's recent death means that the Bentenmaru's Letter of Marque – and thus its captaincy! – falls to her. Though unsure if she wants to pursue such a career, she gets a chance to sample life in space when her all-girls school's notorious (Space) Yacht Club, of which she is a member, goes on a summer break space cruise, with mysterious transfer student Chiaki (who seems to know an awful lot about Marika's situation) in tow. A hairy turn of events becomes a proving ground of sorts for her. Later, Marika learns what all is actually involved with modern piracy, which can include helping a princess track down a legendary ghost ship despite some violent opposition from other factions from her own world.
Contrary to the series' questionably-worded name, the first half of this 26-episode light novel-based series is not primarily about space pirates performing bold actions of derring-do (although there is some of that present) or constantly getting into space battles. It also does not feature provocatively-dressed characters in a fan service fest; in fact, the series is so tame and devoid of bloody violence that the TV-14 rating that Sentai Filmworks has assigned it is surprisingly high. What we have here instead is a fun, usually light-hearted, and occasionally thoughtful look at a young woman who first must decide if the destiny laid out for her is, indeed, the proper fit for her and then must learn what piracy in her era is all about.
And what, exactly, constitutes a pirate in this setting is one of the series' most interesting aspects. Pirates in the domain of Sea of the Morningstar are, essentially, officially licensed freelancers, ones who are not allowed to engage in actual criminal activity but are capable of undertaking tasks that cannot be done through official channels or require a bit of extra muscle. They are also entertainers who stage mock acts of piracy on luxury liners that are arranged by the liners themselves via the insurance agency through which the pirates contract. Thus, essentially, piracy is a business, but it also packs many of the trappings and style points of classical piracy, including an appropriate pirate costume for the captain (albeit one which still allows her to wear a miniskirt!), sword-dueling with cutlasses as an accompaniment to blaster rifles, and so forth, and those involved in it take deeply-held pride in the long tradition they uphold. It is also governed by strict rules which only allow Letters of Marque to be passed down through bloodlines and require periodic activity to be maintained. Being a captain of a pirate ship also effectively makes one a VIP, hence the attention that Marika draws early on from various legal and criminal groups.
The series' other most distinguishing trait so far is its very methodical approach to storytelling. It tends to place more emphasis on small details rather than grand events, which on the positive side means that little happens in the series without a clear understanding of why it's happening or a believable amount of set-up; this can be seen quite clearly in the rigorous training program Marika must undergo as part of becoming the Bentenmaru's captain and the way she is constantly being tested and evaluated by her future subordinates, both before and after she assumes the captaincy. On the negative side, this approach also results in stretches where the story will advance too slowly for the tastes of many, such as most of episodes 4 and 5 involving nothing more than the yacht club preparing for and then executing an electronic warfare counter-attack plan against a ship which they expect to be threatening them. This also results in some atypical approaches to combat, too, such as a heavy emphasis on the role that electronic warfare can play in space battles (an aspect woefully overlooked in most space-based sci fi series) and a focus more on tactics than sustained action sequences. This does not result in the series lacking tension, however; on the contrary, both of the main story arcs in this half have periods in them that can get quite intense. The thoughtful aspects also play into this approach, such as a great scene in episode 2 where Marika's mother helps her understand the power that a pirate can hold.
The appeal of the characters should not be underestimated, either. The pirates may be woefully underdeveloped beyond Kane and Misa (i.e., the two that Marika has regular contact with before joining the Bentenmaru), but Marika is a cheery, intelligent, insightful, and quickly decisive girl who hides her full competence and Type A personality behind a mask of ditziness. Chiaki makes an adorable complement as the more serious-minded and snarky girl who easily gets irritated by being called “Chiaki-chan” and the image Marika projects but gradually comes to respect her ability, too; she and Marika have such great chemistry together that they are a delight to watch as a team. Marika's mother Ririka also impresses as a woman who still has a hint of the edge she developed in her glory days even while seemingly having adapted to a domesticated life. Amongst the yacht club members, initial club leader Jenny Doolittle and her right-hand woman/eventual replacement Lynn both get just enough development to suggest that they are strong enough individuals not to be trifled with; their time in the series' sun will not come until the second half, however. The later addition of Princess Gruier fits well without getting bogged down too much in typical princess trappings.
The series also looks great. The production effort comes courtesy of Satelight, which uses their expertise in 3D CG modeling to produce some excellent ship designs (although the knife-shaped Stellar Alliance ships look more than a bit corny) and animation. Character designs are also varied, appealing, and distinctive – a tall task, given how broad the teen girl cast is – with Marika and Chiaki being the visual highlights, especially in the pirate get-ups. Gruier's appearance also continues the blatant homage to Sailor Moon established by her title (she's a Princess of Serenity, you see), as she has very long blond hair usually done in a hairdo somewhat similar to Sailor Moon's. Fan service is limited to one very brief scene of a character in a bra and some figure-flattering spacesuits, and that combined with a generally bright and cheery color scheme gives the whole series a warm, happy feel.
The musical arrangement by Elements Garden also stands in the series' favor. It is very effective at evoking a sense of awe about space in its prologues, enhancing its mundane content with themes influenced by Renaissance Fair styling, and capably supporting its most intense moments without ever getting heavy or dreary; its soundtrack would, on a whole, make great light background music for a family gathering. Its bold, intense rock opener, which is just cheery enough not to run counter to the spirit of the series, is most distinguished by one superb scene where a spacesuit-clad Chiaki watches a meteor shower and by ex-Megadeath guitarist Marty Friedman participating in its recording. Regular closer “Lost Child,” which is used for all but episodes 9 and 13, is an additional upbeat number which emphasize the duality of Marika's new role as a pirate captain while still trying to finish high school. Also listen for an appropriate insert song in episode 9.
The English dub for this one presented some interesting challenges, as Mikako Komatsu's original performance of Marika was very distinctive and a broad female cast is required. ADR director Christopher Ayres solved the first problem by calling on Luci Christian, perhaps the only American voice actress who could accurately pull off the blending of self-effacing ditziness, youthful enthusiasm, and impressive, authoritative competence required for the role. Chris Patton and Shelley Calene-Black are also excellent fits for Kane and Ririka, respectively, Monica Rial is (as expected) Gruier, Carli Mosier brings a very different but still pleasing delivery style to the table for Misa, and most of the pirates sound fine. The yacht club girls are much more of a mixed bag, however, with Chiaki being shaky in the hands of a newcomer and Shannon Emerick never sounding convincing as the whip-smart Jenny. The dub, whose script usually follows the subtitles fairly closely and does generally retain honorifics, is also plagued by occasional moments where actors seem to be struggling to match timing or add in awkward ad-libbed filler lines. This is not a big problem, and should not interfere much with appreciation of the series in dubbed form, but this is definitely not one of Sentai's smoothest-sounding efforts. The subtitles also have a couple of grammar issues.
For this Blu-Ray release (a simultaneous DVD release is also available) Sentai has used an AVC encoded 1080i transfer, which does show a few minor defects on top-end equipment but not enough to likely bother anyone less than videophiles. It does still bring out the vivid colors and visual quality of what was originally an HD-broadcasted series quite nicely. Both audio tracks feature DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes which offer excellent sound, although the English dub is stronger at the ends of the audio range and brings out the sound effects a bit better. Extras are, sadly, limited to clean opener and closer.
Bodacious Space Pirates is hardly a typical space series. It carries traits reminiscent of simpler kids' fare in its generally clean and optimistic look at this particular future while also stressing a level of attention to detail that would put it more in the realm of more mature fare like Starship Operators. Its slow, deliberate story development and shortage of true battles is also practically the antithesis of the thrill ride that fans typically seek from sci fi fare, which has resulted in a mixed reception from the anime community. However, if you don't go in expecting it to be rowdy then you may find an enjoyable 13 episode experience.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Strong first two episodes, Marika is an impressive heroine, soundtrack, Chiaki.
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