There is a promise being made here. Through girls in pirate outfits, shiny tech in somewhat familiar settings, the juxtaposition of the romantic mores of pirating society with that of the mundanity of adolescent schooldays and the high adventure of the most open frontier.
Moretsu Pirates is concentrating on the idea of anachronism. That is, the deliberate placing of items or ideas that have no right to be near each other in historical chronology. Two of the characters introduced in this first episode even utter the word itself when they entered the place of employment of our main heroine, Katou Marika. Indeed, why operate a maid cafe when the world that these characters inhabit has access to robots and androids? Was it meant as a one-off comment to quickly characterize the participants in the conversation as somewhat aloof outsiders? No, the idea of anachronism runs deeper still. Think back to the cold open of this first episode and pay attention to the dialogue and the setting that it’s presenting.
Does it remind you of anything?
If Firefly had a scenario in which the Independents were successful in their rebellion, I believe the universe that it was set in would’ve looked remarkably similar to that of Moretsu Pirates, or perhaps vice versa if the government of the Sea of Morningstar was unsuccessful in its own rebellion. This isn’t a commentary on the quality of the world building in this anime. Rather, it’s through this association that I’m trying to get you to make with a series that is lauded for its anachronistic sense and style that I mean to illuminate to you the care with which Pirates has presented its own world.
What Firefly and Moretsu Pirates are drawing from is a period in history known as the Age of Discovery. It was during this time that several great European powers sought to expand their influence and explored the world from their point of view. There was expansive cultural exchange, and rapid advancement in technology that existed alongside older tech that had been in use for centuries. Pirates does a lovely job of whimsically portraying the presence of advanced technology set against some more traditional things like bicycles and cobblestone archways and street vendors and performers.
What they both also share is the sense of political upheaval that characterized the end of the Age of Discovery, with the uprisings and rebellions of colonies that were originally founded with extractive economies at the service of their particular Crowns. These scenarios are not indefinitely tenable nor sustainable, and history has shown countless times the bloody end result of wars for independence. Pirates, digs further into history by introducing the concept of the Letter of Marque. This is what enabled many merchant vessels on the sea to attack and capture other ships for captured prize under the express direction and protection of their Crowns. While any crew may have been “legal” to the Crown that issued them their Letter of Marque, they were still pirates by any other name and viewed your ship as a prize only if you sailed under a different banner. The Bentenmaru of Moretsu Pirates has one of these Letters of Marque presumably from the government of the Sea of Morningstar, but with no apparent ongoing conflict, the story affords itself the avenue to which the audience can inquire about the direction of the plot and the narrative from here on out.
The setting is lovely, and the themes well thought out, but what good does this do us if we don’t have interesting characters to populate this world and drive the story forward? If there’s a singular aspect that niggles at me from this first episode, it’s the comparable dearth of characterization of Marika in comparison to the thought that was given to the world she lives in. It’s not as though she wasn’t given ANY, after all we see a diligent girl who does research on concepts and ideas that are initially beyond her, a girl who blooms behind the wheel of a ship, who wilts under the gaze of a handsome stranger. A charming, if a bit of a hapless girl, who has lived all of her life within the confines of an artificial solitude that her mother had fashioned for her.
Marika’s mother Ririka however, is an example of a character whom I was immediately drawn toward. The low timbre of her voice has a somewhat weary quality to it and her initial physical presence betrays a confidence and subtle ferocity that is communicated through her design alone. But her shock and slightly violent reaction at Marika’s mention of people who know her and mention space reveals a history that she has yet to fully come to terms with. All that within a span of forty-five seconds. The dinner scene a little later in was an even wealthier source of information on her character, since it’s here we learn not only of her past through the exposition of another character, but of the deep sense of respect for tradition that she has in drinking a toast to the death of the man who fathered her daughter. Despite calling him good-for-nothing, I heard no malice in her addressing of him. One presumes no enmity between them, and perhaps even a lingering affection, but they were no longer together in his last days. Why? What happened? Circumstance? Distance? Choice? That is riveting for me.
Ririka is an example of talented characterization at work in this series, and one that alleviates the bit of concern that I had about Marika. I was initially accepting of Marika’s light strokes because I think I was predisposed to like her, as it wasn’t until after I was finished that the doubts began to creep. How much of my affection for her as a character was a consequence of her gender and attractiveness? It’s not an invalid reason to like a character, but it’s a fuel that doesn’t last too long for me. A lot of the situational comedy presented in this episode was dependent on her being an adorable maid in a maid cafe, which is rife with a set of tropes for the creators to work with, but what of it when that’s removed? It feels that there will be enough situation there to provide ample room for the growth of Marika’s character, but I’m basing that on the care with which Ririka’s character was handled. Think for a moment about Ririka. What if Ririka was not Marika’s mother but her father? There was nothing about what was presented about Ririka that was locked into any kind of gender role, and while the audience may approach a male Ririka slightly differently, I don’t think he’d be any less or more interesting. I think that’s ample cause to extend the benefit of doubt to the creators in their handling of Marika in this early going.
But you know what? In any case I have to accept that the veneer of my intellectual regard for Marika was pierced through her easy and disarming charm, and she may only be the latest infiltrator after I had been thoroughly bowled over just a few weeks earlier. I’m yet comforted by the care afforded to the building of the world in Moretsu Pirates, and the talent the creators have displayed in setting up Ririka and her background. I am opening myself to this show and bestowing an affection that I reserve for the likes of Tiger & Bunny, in the hopes that I’m not spurned for the investment that I’m making. There is a promise being made in this opening and in this premise, one of adventure and spectacle.
What does Marika see and experience that will kindle the fire in her eyes below? Who does she meet? Who does she lose? What does she desire? There is promise in this series in these next 25 episodes, I can just feel it. Despite whatever I read into the characters and the world they inhabit, in the end it all boils down to me wanting to see them go off on grand adventures and being one of the many who will be going with.
Time for some piracy!