Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 25th 2013
Bodacious Space Pirates
Blu-Ray - Collection 2
While Marika is away attending to school, a cargo of diseased monkeys being transported by the Bentenmaru goes awry, sickening the entire crew. With everyone but her in quarantine, Marika must find a substitute crew to carry out the monthly pirating job necessary to maintain their Letter of Marque. She soon realizes that she has a quite capable crew close at hand, but when a job that is much more than just piracy-for-entertainment – and involves a familiar face – also comes along, will the girls of Hakuoh Academy be up to the task? Later, the Yacht Club decides to enter a space dinghy race that it has not attended for several years, only to discover that their Yacht Club has only recently come out of a five-year ban for an ugly incident that they were responsible for in a previous race. With the Bentenmaru also being called on to provide extra on-site security, what could possibly go wrong? Later still, as Marika prepares to wrap up her second year of high school and Ririka moves on to a new job, a threat to all of the pirates in the area appears in the form of a mysterious, highly-advanced spaceship which seems to be engaged in pirate hunting. Facing a foe that not even the most well-armed pirate ships can defeat alone, Marika seeks to renew a century-old tradition by calling all of the pirates to work together. But a couple of other players also seem to be involved, and again, at least one of them is quite familiar. . .
The first half of this light novel-based series spent its 13 episodes establishing Marika both as a character in general and as a pirate captain-in-training, so the second half offers the promise of more glorious pirate adventures. To an extent the series delivers, as its final arc, which covers episodes 22-26, certainly fits the bill. The other two arcs, however, show a dogged determination to not leave behind the school side of Marika's life (for better or worse), thus getting the Hakuoh Academy Yacht Club involved once again. As a result, two of the three story arcs in the second half stand as the series' weakest but the remaining one is its strongest.
The weak ones are the first two in this half. The “Crew Quarantine” arc, which covers episodes 14-18, partly reverses the biggest positive development of the previous arc, which finally connected Marika up with the crew of the Bentenmaru and had her doing genuine (for the setting) pirate stuff with genuine pirates. Having the Yacht Club girls serve as fill-ins is cute (nauseatingly so when the “cosplay pirates” scenes hit) but largely unsatisfying for anyone who does not buy into the cute factor of the scenario. However, this arc does offer a few treats: seeing the crew fuss over what the girls are doing on the Bentenmaru in their absence can be amusing, a revelation about the relationship between two of the Yacht Club members is a nice surprise, Chiaki getting involved is always fun, and the dealings and scheming of the girls to master their situation can be quite satisfying. Thus the arc is hardly a failure, but all of it is too fluffy for its own good. The second arc, which covers episodes 20-21, largely draws a similar reaction, although in this case at least the Bentenmaru's regular crew is involved and hints are dropped about a bigger scheme going on. (We also finally get to learn what kind of hacking Rin got in trouble for in middle school, and boy, is it a doozy.)
The “Pirate Hunting” arc, which rounds out the season, is where the series truly shines. It has everything that viewers have been hoping for from the beginning: flashy, dynamic space battles; encounters with other pirates; intrigue; strategic planning; surprising revelations; stronger hints of a bigger picture; more snippets of Chiaki; and Marika getting to show off her mettle in big doses with her crew in tow. It still has significant amounts of the general silliness which underlies much of this season, but even at their most corny the humorous notes are enhancements rather than centerpieces. As sputter-worthy as the second rendition of the pirate song is in episode 25, as ridiculous as the whole business with the “legendary chef” is, and as gimmicky as some of the other pirates are, the emphasis on being pirates, and what it means to be one in this setting, still remains and predominates. That refocusing is something that the series sorely needed.
One continuing disappointment is that the series never really much explores its pirate cast. We get more details about the backgrounds and behaviors of Yacht Club members Rin and Jenny and get some good insight into new member Ai, a tiny but quite capable girl who, along with Chiaki's father, is the most interesting new addition to the cast. We get further insight into why “Blaster Ririka” was such a highly-regarded pirate and see her move on with her life, further tidbits about Chiaki, and of course more development of Marika, who may seem a little too competent at times but shows just enough flaws to be credible and impresses with her dauntless attitude in the face of challenges. About the Bentenmaru pirates, though, we learn little. We find out singular facts about most of the bridge crew - that one collects plushie bears, another has an identical twin, another hides her true beauty behind normally-frumpy apparel, another doesn't care about anyone but herself, and another has the nickname “Bloody” associated with her – but that's it. Tantalizing hints are dropped about additional stories to be told here but they are never addressed in detail.
The artistic standards set by the first half largely remain intact, although this half shows a greater propensity to allow an occasional quality control slip. CG-heavy renditions of the space battles are dynamic, good-looking affairs, and CG ships even actually show damage when they have been through the ringer. (This has been a common failing of CG-created vehicles in anime over the past 15 years.) Some of the designs for new pirates are more than a little kooky, although Chiaki's father impressively looks the role, and the new girls fit in appropriately. While the cosplay costumes are a little much for the first of these arcs, other outfits – such as a business suit that Marika wears at one point and her form-fitting, pirate-themed spacesuit – are quite dashing. Animation is generally good and the only hint of fan service is the occasional sexy apparel worn by a couple of characters. Even with that, though, few anime treat their female cast members more tastefully than this one.
Although the soundtrack continues many of the themes that worked well in the first half, it does show some more variety here. Earlier arcs more heavily use synthesized numbers, while the last arc shakes things up by adding in rock-themed pieces and a couple of insert songs. The opener from the first half remains the same throughout, while the closer continues for all but episodes 16 and 26, each of which uses alternate options.
Sentai Filmworks' English dub is still not flawless but is more stable in this half. Performances that were shaky in the first half are a little smoother and more credible here, there are no significant timing issues, and filler verbiage sounds less awkward. Casting for new roles is quite solid; Margaret McDonald does a great job as Ai in her first substantial role and Genevieve Simmons, who also voiced the Serenity “maid” Catherine in the first half, is a strong choice for Quartz Christie. Some of the male voice actors get reused a bit too obviously a bit too frequently, but this is not a big deal. The script stays tight, too.
Audio and video standards for the Blu-Ray release of the second half are comparable to those for the first half. Extras are once again limited to clean opener and closer. Normally the company trailers included on disks are not noteworthy, but in this case an included trailer for the upcoming Blu-Ray of Kids on the Slope breaks Sentai tradition in that it is both an actual, produced trailer (instead of their normal use of openers as trailers) and done with subtitles. According to a Sentai rep, though, this should not be taken as any indication that Sentai is not intending to dub that series.
Some vague hints dropped in the last couple of episodes strongly suggest that this franchise has more story to tell, and indeed, a movie due out in 2014 (which will presumably explore that angle) has been announced. For now, though, viewers will have to be content with these 26 episodes. The overall tone may be too light-hearted for some tastes, and the sense of danger that some of these activities entail never really manifests, but the series as a whole nonetheless offers a playful treat operating within an interesting milieu and using both some logical considerations and one of the most meritable of all female leads.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Final arc, solid new characters, some English dub improvements, more Chiaki.
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