Moretsu Pirates Episode 1

KIRABOSHI~

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!

20 Comments

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20 responses to “Moretsu Pirates Episode 1

  1. Blackholeheart

    I think the most important point in favor of this show is the simplest, it’s just plain fun!

  2. You know, V, I knew you would be blogging at least one of the new shows this season. You’ve taken me by surprise. I thought you would have picked Aquarion EVOL; a debut that takes the sometimes typical sub-text of sexuality and death present in Mecha anime and uses every single trope it can find to make it TEXT. Only to set the TEXT ablaze and send it firing across the Heavens. Or you would have picked Ana Natsu for being the spiritual and thematic successor of both Onegai Teacher and Ano Hana. Both have a fair share of their own anachronistic qualities.

    But you picked this one ( and you made a Firefly tie in). You could have stayed in the medium and gone for Coyote Ragtime Show; the anime that almost could.

    I am excited, much like you are, to see how this show develops. It has pretty much everything it needs to deliver the promise of high adventure.

    • Aquarion EVOL is a pseudo-sequel to a franchise that I had never watched, and despite the fact that many of my favorite anime of all time feature robots and mecha pretty heavily (Eureka Seven, Gurren Lagann, Giant Robo, Diebuster, Evangelion, Time of Eve, FLCL, etc), I don’t primarily identify myself as a mecha fan.

      As for the other show you mention, Ano Natsu, I haven’t seen Onegai Teacher and honestly don’t think too highly of Ano Hana because of the creepy sexualization of Menma at the very beginning and the lingering Male Gaze on Anaru when the show simultaneously was asking to be regarded as a serious treatise on loss during adolescence. I have difficulty with anime that are too casual with flaunting sexuality, since I myself am not terribly attracted to female depictions in that way. I can appreciate the idea of a sexy girl in an anime, but I am not titillated by one that is trying to obviously elicit a specific reaction in me. I find it incredibly distracting from the overall narrative. Ano Natsu was mostly charming, but there was enough of what we call “fanservice” for it to be too distracting for me to write anything of significance about it.

      As for Coyote Ragtime Show, never saw it. Maybe I’ll look into it! As it stands, I’m pretty darn excited for Pirates as it is. Thanks for coming back, pal.

      • jreding

        VucubCaquix, it’s a bit off-topic but good to know that you think the same way as me about Menma! I found this aspect of Ano Hana quite creepy and out of place. It might be the reason why I couldn’t develop much empathy for Menma. With Naruko it’s different imo b/c this is a main part of her tragic situation (just take that nickname of hers!).

      • As I said, it was the little anime that tried (almost could). Had a promising beginning. I will refrain from further comment, as I don’t want to taint your introduction to it. But I guess we’ve all had our fair share of entertainment that didn’t deliver like we wanted it too.

        Your views on Ano Hana: I find that I don’t agree with them. Sexuality is a very important part of growing up, as is facing mortality. They kept Menma’s sexuality in the first few episodes direct (but in a lower key that could have been done) but it told a part of the story. This is a girl that would never ever look like that. She wouldn’t grow up. If she imagined herself like this, why did she imagine herself so slim, less developed than her living peers. I found it was part of her character.

        Anatsu’s sexuality was very important to her character development. Everyone around her acknowledged it. But she barely did. Of all the female characters her’s was the one, as you point out, that captured the Male Gaze. I think this was done on purpose. Because I saw a character that hadn’t mentally grown in to that body yet. She was with her school mates, but distant. Her image was a cheap, commercially available put-on. When that put-on, came off, when her eyelash extensions slipped….That was when everyone else let’s their own pretensions slip away. And she was able to laugh with them about it.

        And yes, I’m back. This was one of the shows I was most looking forward to. I was happy to see the “new blog piece from altairandvega” pop up in my mail, and was happy and surprised to see Pirates attached to it.

        Raise the Colours, girls!

  3. I don’t think a male version of Ririka would work as a character with Marika as she is. I just think character types have evolved in anime enough to allow for a single father to be both responsible, strong and compassionate at the same time. That could just be me though, and I’m more than welcome to see some examples of that.

    • Right off the top of my head, I can only think of Kiritsugu from Fate/Stay Night. But the older, badass, protective (almost fatherly) male is still pretty ubiquitous in anime to this day, to the point that it’s almost an archetype. Kamina, Charles Beams, and even who I actually had in mind yet Fosh mentioned before me-Rider.

      Emily mentioned that if Ririka’s gender were to be reversed, the character would still be interesting, but the audience would approach them differently. If she has anything to add, I’ll let her answer.

      • Break

        did seriosuly nobody notice just how much ririka seems like the classical pirate-bride, you know, just from her looks and her attitude towards her former crewmates? it seemed pretty dammn obvious to me…

      • Having only recently gotten back into anime (little to no knowledge of anything ,save Azumanga, from about 2003 to 2010), I cannot say Ririka reminded me of any one character or another. My first reactions were: a she-wolf. The female of the species is more deadly than the male. That she would be cooking me something awesome in that kitchen, but if I made one false move she would find a unique aesthetic in fondue forks that I would not be able to personally appreciate.

        Some in this commentary made reference to the pirate-bride. I had not thought of that in this viewing, but upon reflection I find it an interesting idea, and one that I will be looking for in future episode.

  4. animekritik

    Let’s hope our hopes are well founded :)

    Part of me would like Marika to have no desires other than to be happy…

  5. -redux

    I definitely had a particular interest in this show, as well- space pirates! Firefly and Cowboy Bebop! Who can refuse? But your commentary has already made me click the download button. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

    I do agree with Tyler though- I was suspecting that you would be blogging about EVOL or even Another, but then again, I haven’t seen either of those as of yet (I’m behind after coming back from vacation- I still need to finish Fate Zero and catch up with Last Exile 2!), so. But this definitely looks interesting!

  6. I guess by leaving Marika to be plain, they’re setting the stage to see her bloom as she becomes a pirate. I’d like to see her stay cheerful even as a pirate though, it’ll be a nice contrast to the stereotypical gruff pirates.

    Though like Blackholeheart said, the most important thing is that it’s just fun!

    • You know, honestly I think it’d be HILARIOUS to see such a pretty girl act just as tough and gruff as any other pirate, and pull it off well, too! I see much comedy from that potential juxtaposition in the future.

      As for Marika being plain, I had a small talk with Emily after we had watched it together. I had a theory that Pirates has some shojo-esque trappings in its storytelling and presentation (it even used a very shojo-like visual gag with Chiaki Kurihara and the parfait in the cafe) and that because of this, Marika can be viewed as a bit of an insert character, the kind which you’ll see in a shojo romance. As opposed to the type of insert character you see in the gender-opposite shounen harems. This is all theory and conjecture on my part so I didn’t include it in the post proper because I’d leave myself open for criticism that I can’t defend myself from, but the comments here I can play a little looser with. Heh.

      But yeah, as long as it maintains this air of fun, there’s no way I can look too harshly on Pirates. It’s going to be a blast!

  7. Wooooo hooooo! Great write up Vuc! Sooo much info but all great stuff, after reading comment after comment on a few blogs I liked how there are small bits of real pirate “lore” thrown in! Like the the whole Letter of Marque, and listening to the Fiefly intro! Damn that really is close to this minus a moe-ish-maid-girl for our new captain.

    If Ririka were male I would just picture Rider from Fate/Zero! He likes to drink and doesn’t really think about a whole lot other than world conquest, but I think Ririka is a great character male or female I think fans would enjoy that character. As for Marika! Yeah she is a interesting case especially when she learns about her father and his line of work…Maybe she doesn’t know how to react just yet? If I learned info like this I would want to dig up every bit of info…on him xD

    One side note at least Marika is not another Madoka clone from Rinne no Lagrange! I bet that hyper active personality would kill this series for most, but I want to see more of Chiaki and why she glared at Marika…There has to be something there.

    • YES! YOU WIN BEST COMMENT OF THE WEEK! Rider was EXACTLY who I had in mind when I thought of a gender-reversed Ririka. Someone strong, driven, charismatic, a drinker, and protective.

      And yeah, I’m glad Marika isn’t as hyper as Madoka from Lagrange. I don’t find her as annoying as some other people do and I think she’s a little charming even, I can see how that would get on people’s nerves and it wouldn’t fit well with the very careful and specific tone that Pirates is setting up. Marika is bright, cheerful, and optimistic, but not overly so. There’s just enough so that it doesn’t make her annoying, and instead just a lovely young girl.

      Doesn’t hurt that I think that Marika is totes cuter than Madoka anyway…

  8. Guh. So much to talk about!

    @foshizzle, @Emperor:

    Ririka works precisely because of the tension between the “male” pirate role and her more traditionally domestic role as mother. There’s a reason why we see her first in the cutesy apron instead of the outfit she’s wearing at the end of the episode. IRONICALLY, the apron’s presence would allow a similar tension to emerge had she been genderswapped. Instead of Rider, I picture Isshin Kurosaki (although with less doting).

    It’s clear that Ririka has turned in her cutlass/bazooka for the sake of her daughter who is the most important thing in her life, but she hasn’t changed much. This actually informs Marika’s characterization a little, as you notice that she’s a touch reckless, but not clumsy or irresponsible. I would speculate that it’s because Ririka doesn’t tolerate a lot of guff in her household, but that’s stretching the text a little.

  9. Pingback: Moretsu Pirates Episode 7 | The Untold Story of Altair & Vega

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