Review for Bodacious Space Pirates: Part 1
Anime distribution keeps on changing and usually for the better, but I do on occasion keep getting caught out, with my perception of the way of things stuck a few years behind the times. I like to stagger my re-watches of shows, leave a couple of years in between to let the experience fade, and perhaps get a new perspective on things the second or third time around. Back at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, people were raving about Bodacious Space Pirates as it was streamed on Crunchyroll. I let the hype die down a tad, and left it till late summer to actually watch it, and I have to say that the hype was justified. But me, still being stuck in 2009, had the thought that it would take a good couple of years for it to go from streaming, to licence, to dub, and then from the US, to Australia, and eventually and hopefully to the UK. These things used to take time, and if you take a look at the 4th Bleach movie disc out this month, you can see that Kazé are still advertising Bodacious Space Pirates as part of their European streaming service.
But times have changed, and in the four months since I watched Bodacious Space Pirates on-line, not only have Sentai licensed, dubbed, and released its first part, but it’s also received the PAL conversion for Australia, and it’s now coming out in the UK, courtesy of MVM. Time between US release and UK release... 4 weeks. That gap used to be over a year. The only thing that we are not getting is a Blu-ray release, but from what I can gather, the Japanese with their usual reverse importation fears, have made sure that the US and AU Blu-rays released are 1080i as opposed to the 1080p released in Japan, slightly degraded in the visual department.
As well as the shorter release gap, this title is another first in that it marks the UK debut of a new Australian company, for what it’s worth. The UK distributors all largely rely on foreign companies to source PAL masters for their DVD releases, and while in recent years a few titles have come our way from Kazé in Europe, most of our DVDs come via Australia, which for a long time was just Madman Entertainment. For the last few years, more and more titles have come from Siren Visual, but last year saw the debut of a new Australian distributor, and Bodacious Space Pirates is the first title that we in the UK will see, that has been mastered by Hanabee. Having heard of some of the titles that they are releasing in Australia, I can only hope that we’ll be seeing more Hanabee mastered discs coming to the UK in the near future.
Seen on the face of it, Bodacious Space Pirates is a bit of a redundancy. After all, ‘bodacious’ is a portmanteau of audacious and bold, and who’s ever heard of a timid pirate? But pirates are fun, something which Johnny Depp has taken pains to remind us, and even with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, there is still a relative paucity of pirates on our screens. If pirates are cool, space pirates would be even cooler, swashbuckling with lasers aboard starships, instead of fighting off scurvy and poor hygiene on the high seas, and at the end of 2011, Satelight delivered with Bodacious Space Pirates, although it does follow a couple of stereotypical anime conventions. Notably, the main protagonist is a high school girl.
Bodacious Space Pirates begins on the planet Sea of the Morningstar around Tau Ceti. In the future, mankind has colonised outer space, spreading across the stars, and as with any such expansion there came a fraught period of confrontation and consolidation. When Sea of the Morningstar became a target for a fledgling kingdom of worlds, they naturally raised a military to stop them. To bolster their ranks, they issued Letters of Marque, recruiting pirates to their banner as privateers, legal pirates. And then along came the Galactic Empire, absorbed the lot and put a stop to all that nonsense. But after the conflict the pirates remained in business, passing down the letters of marque from generation to generation.
100 years later this is all ancient history, especially for high school girl Marika Kato, whose sole concerns amount to passing her exams, doing her part time job, and partaking of her school’s yacht club, which affords her the chance to go into space. It turns out that how she performs in the yacht club is of interest to certain people. When a knock on her door reveals her new homeroom teacher and the new school nurse, she learns that they aren’t who they appear to be. They’re actually the medic and helmsman of the pirate ship Bentenmaru. What’s more, her mother Ririka also used to be a pirate. And the father that she never knew was actually the captain of the Bentenmaru. He’s just died, and since she’s his sole offspring, and since the captaincy of a pirate ship can only be passed down through family lines, they’re here to offer her the job. And time’s running out. If they don’t engage in some legal piracy soon, they’ll forever lose their Letter of Marque.
The first thirteen episodes of Bodacious Space Pirates are presented here across two discs from MVM.
01. Pirates Coming Through
02. My Power, The Power of Pirates
03. The Odette II Leaves Port
04. The Final Battle is at Midnight
05. Marika Makes a Decision
06. Marika’s First Day at Work
07. The Peace Does Not Last
08. The Princess and the Pirate
09. A Beautiful Launch
10. Battle in the Storm
11. Wanderer of Light
12. A Return from Eternity
13. Marika Sends an Invitation
Bodacious Space Pirates gets an excellent transfer in this collection, indicating that Hanabee are starting at the top of the learning curve when it comes to releasing PAL anime. The image is clear and sharp throughout, and obviously sourced from an HD master to make full use of the 576i resolution of PAL SD. It’s a quality animation from studio SATELIGHT, with familiar, but memorable and well animated character designs, and future world designs that really bring across the atmosphere of the show. Most impressive are the spaceships and vehicle technology, brought to life with CGI that blends in seamlessly with the 2D animation. On top of that, space is beautiful in this show, and we get nebulae, planets and stars and all sorts of astronomical phenomena that take the breath away. Of course Blu-ray would have been preferable, but this DVD should not be sniffed at.
You get the option of DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with translated subtitles and a signs only track to go with the English dub. The discs default to the Japanese audio option, which makes me happy at least. The subtitles are in a nice discrete white font with a bold black outline, making them easy to read. They are timed well and free of error, and once again Hanabee get things right on their first time of asking. Of course with an action packed show like Bodacious Space Pirates, a 5.1 surround track would have been preferable, but given a little Prologic magic, the stereo does give a sense of dimension to the show.
I went with the Japanese audio with subtitles and was very happy with the choice, the dialogue was clear throughout, and there were no problems with dropouts or glitches. The cast are well suited to their roles, and the action is conveyed with impact but without overwhelming. I had a go with the English dub, and found it to be a curiously lifeless effort from Sentai, certainly lacking the energy and individuality that would better serve this show. It sounds much like your average anime dub. Incidentally I noticed on one forum that Sentai had apparently forgotten to loop one line some 18 minutes into episode 4. I checked this release, and sure enough, there’s a silent lip flap where a “Right” should be.
Bodacious Space Pirates gets a music soundtrack that does full justice to the premise, giving it the full pirate. Mandolins, accordions and violins make their presence felt, and the show has a very piratical and nautical feel without ever becoming a parody. It also has a couple of great theme songs to go with it. Bodacious Space Pirates gets one of the best music soundtracks an anime has seen in quite a while, one which may not see a lot of play in a CD player but suits the show down to a tee.
Both discs get nicely done animated menus, while the only extras are on disc 2, the clean credit sequences (only the main closing theme though), and a legacy of the Hanabee release, a trailer for Arakawa Under the Bridge. Judging by the trailer it looks like a mellow FLCL, which instantly makes me want someone in the UK to licence it.
As I wandered through the Internet, searching for anime titbits, rumours and opinions, I occasioned upon the thought, expressed by quite a few, that Bodacious Space Pirates was the best show of late 2011 and early 2012, and given the quality of the rest of the season, that was faint praise. Well, having seen it on a teeny-tiny little computer screen, and now having watched it again on a proper TV, I completely agree that Bodacious Space Pirates is brilliant. But it’s most certainly not faint praise. This is a strong show by any standards, and watching it all over again in such short order, I still found more to appreciate the second time around.
Bodacious Space Pirates is directed by Tatsuo Sato, the director of Martian Successor Nadesico, but other than a space setting, and the quality of the writing, there is little in common between the two shows. Bodacious Space Pirates’ main thrust comes through in its title. It’s a show that is unadulterated fun. It’s vivacious, lively, energetic and wholly positive an experience, with characters that live their lives to the fullest and that portray that joy through the show. After all, it is a show about a schoolgirl that becomes a pirate captain. You’re not supposed to take it too seriously.
Thankfully however, the creators did take it seriously; seriously enough to make characters that were familiar enough in their tropes to be comfortable for anime fans, but not too evocative of those tropes to register as fan service. Sexy characters (such as the medic Misa) are sexy enough in their attire to inspire cosplayers, but aren’t overtly so in their personalities. Tsundere characters such as Chiaki do enough to get the point across, but that hard shell, soft centre stereotype isn’t all that there is to their characters. As a result the cast is more rounded and interesting. This isn’t a fan-service show; this is a fun show, where the detail is in the stories and the characterisations.
There is enough thought and attention to detail in the universe to make it look like an actual society, living, and breathing and with a viable history. The quality of the animation remains unblemished throughout, and the production values remain high, particularly in the space scenes and the space hardware. When the Bentenmaru goes by, or jumps into hyperspace, you wind up wishing this was a movie (indeed a Bodacious Space Pirates movie is due). Personally, I’m also glad that the space ships in this show behave more like space ships than fighter planes, using thrust to change course, while the show’s battle sequences offer the best use of strategy I’ve seen in a space sci-fi since Starship Operators.
Bodacious Space Pirates works as a series of story arcs that flow into each other creating a larger narrative, and in this first half of the show, we get three such arcs. Episode 1 introduces the main character Marika Kato, a fairly normal first year in high school, and then proceeds to drop a bombshell on her head. It turns out that her father was a pirate captain, and she’s just inherited his ship. The way that legal piracy works in this future world, the legacy of a brief age of privateers in a long ago war, is that the government issues Letters of Marque to pirate captains, and these privateer rights are passed down through inheritance alone. For the Bentenmaru crew, the only choice they have if they wish to remain pirates is for Marika to accept the Captaincy, as no other heir is left. Fortunately for them, she loves space travel, and is a member of the school’s yacht club, while at the same time, she’s pragmatic, and has inherited a keen strategic sense from her parents.
She also gets an early indication of the dangers of the profession when it becomes clear that she is to inherit the role, and suddenly a whole lot of forbidding looking men in black are visiting the cafe where she works. Another pirate’s daughter, Chiaki comes to her rescue, and while Chiaki doesn’t approve of Marika’s easy attitude, they soon become friends. It takes some time for Marika to decide on her course of action, and that begins with a practice cruise for the school’s yacht club. The school’s practice ship is a converted pirate ship called the Odette II, which makes it convenient when a nefarious ship starts shadowing the cruise, again targeting the potential new captain of the Bentenmaru. They have a couple of the school faculty aboard as advisors, in actuality two of the Bentenmaru crew, but Marika enlists the aid of the rest of the club to deal with the problem herself, and puts that strategic mind to use.
Not only does she impress the crew of the Bentenmaru, but she also realises that she has what it takes to become a pirate captain. Piracy is easy in a future where the targets are tourists on space cruises who expect a ‘pirate attack’ as part of the holiday experience. And Marika decides to juggle school life with piracy, making her the only pirate ever who has to make sure she gets her homework done on time. It turns out that pirates serve a more serious purpose than just entertainment though, offering their services to those who want less than legal activities performed, or for governments who need sensitive cargoes transported discretely. The second arc in the show is a brief couple of episodes that sees Marika adjusting to life in the space lanes, and this segues neatly into the third and final arc in this collection of episodes, which sees the Bentenmaru get involved with the Serenity Royal family.
After a peculiarly serious mission where they find their target escorted by battleships, they find a stowaway aboard the Bentenmaru, Princess Gruier Serenity. Her homeworld is in a state of political upheaval, and she’s come to hire the Bentenmaru to find a ghost ship that should resolve the crisis. In her absence the crisis deepens and when they find the ghost ship, they also find that racing them to the prize is Gruier’s younger sister Grunhild. With both sides representing political positions at loggerheads, it will take a pirate’s unconventional approach to resolve it.
We close the collection with a bit of slice of life, as the second year of high school begins for Marika, the school begins trading on her new found notoriety as a pirate captain, and gains some new high profile students. There are also some new recruits for the school’s yacht club, including the debut of my favourite side character, the utterly adorable Ai Hoshimiya.
Bodacious Space Pirates is brilliant stuff. It’s the kind of anime that you’ll point to years down the line as one of the best of the decade. And like the best of previous years, it isn’t because it is the pinnacle of any particular genre, nor is it pure otaku fan service. It works because it’s the type of show that is rarely made these days, one which attempts to appeal to broad audiences through strength of character, and quality of writing. That it has production values to die for is merely the icing on the cake. And while this first half of the series is good, thanks to Crunchyroll I know that it gets even better for the second half. It’s also the first UK release to come via Australia’s Hanabee, and they’ve started off ahead of the game when it comes to the technical qualities of the transfer. This is one of the finest looking anime DVD releases I have seen in ages, and I hope we see a lot more from them in the future. Indeed MVM have Dream Eater Merry lined up for release next month.