Fena: Pirate Princess
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Fena: Pirate Princess ?
Community score: 4.2
How would you rate episode 2 of
Fena: Pirate Princess ?
Community score: 4.2
The 18th century was a great time for pirates. The Golden Age of Piracy (golden for pirates, that is) lasted from about 1650 to 1720, and a lot of the most (in)famous names we know today came from those years: Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts, Grace O'Malley (Gráinne Mhaol), Anne Bonny, Mary Read…as you may have noticed, those last three names are all pirate women, and that puts Fena: Pirate Princess on the right side of history, even if the story takes place in an alternate version of the 18th century. In fact, judging by the one historical reference made in the second episode – a mention of “the Spanish War” – we can pin this show down as taking place sometime towards the waning years of the Golden Age, since the war referred to here is most likely the War of Spanish Succession, which took place between 1701-1714.
So that makes my not-so-inner history nerd happy. But the more important question is, of course, whether it was worth the wait for this show to premiere. As of right now, I'm going to say yes. Watching these two episodes is like reading a particularly good YA pirate novel (or maybe a pirate romance novel), because it's got everything: a heroine who, despite having been forced into sex work (bad in the 18th century), is no one's damsel in distress, a hero who's gone from childhood friend to broody tsundere ass, a dog, a mysterious treasure, ninjas, and an adventure on an anachronistic steam vessel to find said heroine's lost family legacy. What more could you ask for?
There are answers to that question brought up by these episodes, of course. One is certainly for Yukimaru, Fena's long-lost childhood friend, to stop whacking her on the head, but in terms of getting the story rolling, these episodes do a good job. After the flashback to what happened ten years ago – Fena escaping a ship under attack when Yukimaru puts her in a jolly boat and cutting the painter so that she alone floats free – we find Fena being prepared for her “prime noctis,” i. e. the selling of her virginity to the highest bidder at the brothel where she's been living. Needless to say, Fena is less than thrilled about this, but she's also woefully ill-prepared to hatch any escape plans that might actually work. This tells us a lot about her as a person: she's determined even in the face of certain ugly deflowering and unwilling to give up, even if she knows that she has no real chance of escape. She knows that she's really the only person she has right now to rely on; even her friend Angie, an older sex worker who has clearly been acting the big sister, doesn't believe that Fena can get away, nor is she really willing to help. In fact, when we first meet Angie, she's dressing Fena in the wedding gown she's supposed to wear to her own upcoming rape, a detail that feels very gross.
Luckily for Fena, two of her late father's now-elderly retainers are on hand to affect a rescue. Otto and Salman may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but they do manage to get Fena out of the brothel, at which point she and the secret band of ninjas who have also come to save her have to take things into their own hands, because the two old guys couldn't get out of a paper bag that was open at both ends. All of this is basically to get Fena to the mysterious Goblin Island, a perpetually fog-shrouded land where a colony of Japanese people live, and from there on to her journey to complete her father's mysterious mission. It does feel a little rushed, but only when you stop to think back on it; like any good adventure, things are coming at you just fast enough that you can keep track of them while watching without quite noticing that events are hustling past. The two moments that sort of brought me up short were Fena cutting off all of her hair off-screen and the sudden appearance of Brule the dog, whom we had last seen on Angie's bed. Neither of them are completely out of left field – Brule presumably got out with the rescuers and tracked Fena down, while her hair was almost certainly a representation of the life she escaped – but in a show where rice ball grilling gets its own scene, the lack of explanation does stand out.
Now that Fena and her ninja crew have set sail, however, we're likely where the story wanted us to get to. While I'm a bit sad that they aren't on a sailing vessel, there's still enough nautical flair to make this able to settle into being a good old-fashioned seafaring adventure, and of course the relationship between Fena and Yukimaru is ripe for development. Why is he so obnoxious now? What happened after he set her jolly-boat free? Did he know where she ended up and feel guilty about it? And what will Fena do with her newfound freedom and lack of flowing locks? (They were beautifully animated, but I can't deny that the new look is more practical.) What is the strange stone her father left, and where is Eden? With so many questions to answer and possibilities on the horizon, this could be the combination of cartoony goofiness and Golden Age piracy story that hits the Treasure Island sweet spot. I'm definitely looking forward to finding out.
Fena: Pirate Princess is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and broadcast on Adult Swim.
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