Marika is living the normal life of the average girl in space: attending her school's yacht club, keeping up with the latest trends, and working part time at the Cafe Lamp. One day can change a lot, however, and Marika is about to find out first hand the horrors of life interrupted. Not only was her late father a notorious space pirate, but he was also the Captain of the equally notorious Benten Maru! What's worse, she's just inherited his position and the pirate's life that comes with it. Join Marika and her crew for a swashbuckling adventure through the galaxy, where crude turns to cute and mini-skirts are mandatory in Bodacious Space Pirates!
It's funny how you can go full circle with your love of a genre. I got into sci-fi like Star Trek, Blake 7, Arthur C. Clarke novels, Doctor Who and more. As my vocabulary for concepts such as other worlds, higher dimensions and life outside Earth expanded, I had hoped that my generation of writers and creators would step up and make works of equal measure. Sadly, except for a few examples, I found the strength of their efforts lacking. So going into anime I found that, for the most part, things were the same. Fluff is the order of the day not substance. So, what if you jammed both good sci-fi and fluff together? Hopefully, you'll get more series like Bodacious Space Pirates.
Usually, sci-fi series set in space happen during or before the start of an interstellar war. Blake 7 and Serenity are examples of stories set after a war. Bodacious Space Pirates is also cast in the same mold. After a war of independence between the Colony Federation and their overseers, the Stellar Alliance, both groups lost to the Galactic Empire who overwhelmed them. The Empire imposed their will and that was that. Fast forward over a hundred years. Life has gone on. People live peaceful lives, and the only real remnant of that war are the pirates for hire. Previously, they received Letters of Marque from the Federation for fighting the Alliance, letters that allowed them to raid, attack and plunder ships and bases to hinder the Alliance. Now pirates are hired, legally, for ferrying jobs, fake pirate raids on rich passenger cruisers and generally don't kill anyone. But still people find life as a pirate fetching to say the least. One such person was Captain Gonzaemon Kato. Gaining a reputation as a great pirate he gets into a relationship with fellow, and equally fearsome, pirate "Blaster" Ririka. For reasons unknown, Ririka decides to retire from the life to raise their daughter, Marika on the former Federation world, Sea of the The Morningstar. So when Marika is starting to attend Hakuho Academy and working in a retro-maid café in town, she is visited by two of her father's former crew, Misa and Kane. When Misa and Kane visit her home, they inform her and Ririka that Marika's father has just died (from food poisoning of all things!) and not years ago as she had been told. Not only that but by right of succession, Marika has just inherited her dad's crew and his pirate ship, the Bentenmaru. So no pressure, kid. If nothing else, Marika's evolution as a pirate captain is natural and doesn't happen inside of two episodes. It takes time for her to get used to the duties. That's one of a number of things that I discovered I liked about the show.
A good concept and good main characters are nothing without a good supporting cast. Marika gets three sets of these in the show. The first set come from the Bentenmaru. Kane and Misa seem to be a couple based on Misa's familiarity with Kane and also Kane telling people that he's married. They are the people Marika spends the most time with once they infiltrate the school. But I love Coorie, their electronics warfare officer, who wears pyjamas on the bridge and snacks constantly or Schnitzer, a big hulking cyborg with horns and that nobody seems to bat an eyelid about. The crew constantly worry about Marika, not doubting her abilities, just whether she is taking on too much. But at the end of the day, they are her crew and there's nothing she wouldn't do for them. As she learns more about them, they start moving as a cohesive group. The second is her friends from Sea of the Morningstar, specifically in the Hakuho Yacht club. While only a new student and therefore not in charge, Marika, once it's revealed that she's a pirate, when she's on the bridge of the club yacht she takes orders from Jenny or Lynn. When she's on the Bentenmaru, the girls from the yacht club follow her. It's a curious role reversal but it adds a flavour to proceedings. Now to the subject of Chiaki. Chiaki is the daughter of Captain Kenjo Kurihara, another pirate ship captain. So she and Marika are similar to each other. But whereas Marika is green about piracy, Chiaki has grown up with it and is adept at all its trappings. Add to this Chiaki's apparent indifference as to whether she and Marika are friends, coupled with her continuingly coming into the café for Marika's parfaits and we have ourselves a tsundere character. Despite there being nothing romantic between the girls. This brings me to another point but I'll hold off on it for a while. The rest of the girls including her friend and café co-worker, Mami Endo, love Marika and are supportive of her juggling school/café/pirating but we don't see that much of them until the second half of the season which is a shame as they're brilliantly written, neither flimsy not parachuted into the story. Finally, we have the sisters, Gruier and Grunhilde who are two princesses from the Royal family of Serenity. Gruier finds Marika when she contacts her during one of the Bentenmaru's cruiser raids about a job on her behalf. Turns out Gruier knew Marika's dad. After a messy situation with Grunhilde, Gruier and she join Marika at the Hakuho Academy. Really, along with Mari and Chiaki, Gruier and Hilde are the closest friends Marika makes and as the series progresses, we learn some of Marika's strengths and foibles by learning about the other girl's ones. Really rock solid writing here, I feel.
Outside of that, I think I'm impressed by the show's rigid adherence to both real science and fake science. Real science in the form of what zero gravity is like or sub-light speeds and theories. Fake science in that whenever they use Faster Than Light travel, they don't forget how it works in next week's episode or in how they depict space/time events or what a stellar quake (look it up) might look like. Only once does the show falter in its science and that isn't until the second half of the series so I'll save it until that review. The music is a mixture of standard instrumentals for life on Sea of the Morningstar or Irish jigs and vocal airs for the Bentenmaru or the next episode previews. The opening music is so infectious despite changing tempos twice in the track and having different styles. The voice cast is good with Yuko Kaida (Ririka), Mikako Komatsu (Marika) and Kana Hanazawa (Chiaki) standing out as the best performances. The light novel series upon which the show is based is, of course, not available in English but can be yours from fine Japanese booksellers everywhere.
Now, I said I'd address something later and I'll simply say that there is a storyline coming after episode 13. I didn't see it coming. I heard about it but it's one of my favourite arcs in the season. I won't spoil it for you and I suggest you don't read episode reviews after episode 13 if you don't want it spoiled.
It's not one single thing that makes this an awesome show in this spring anime season. It's a whole bunch of stuff. The way no one character is trivialised for the sake of the fanbase. The solid friendships that develop between the girls. The mix of the science fiction and ordinary fiction. The way Marika holds herself and matures. A supporting character's surprising arc that left me thinking there is hope for anime after all. In the end, it's about a teenage girl coming of age all while becoming something as amazing as a pirate. Simple as that, really. And yes, the series holds together in the second half. Love it!
Bodacious Space Pirates is available from Crunchyroll worldwide (for the most part) and also exclusive to North American fans from the Anime Network. Physical media fans can rejoice because the fine folks at Sentai Filmworks are releasing it on DVD and Blu ray at the end of the year, hopefully. It's a great series and is at least stream worthy if not, purchase worthy.