If Moretsu Pirates suffered any problems, its biggest would be one of perception. That can mostly be blamed on its title: Bodacious Space Pirates. By that first word, most folks expected a whiz-bang rollercoaster of space action, voluptuous teens, and piracy up the wazoo. Similar issues persisted even if one referred to the show by its original name, Mini-Skirt Space Pirates. Whiz-bang, mini-skirts, space action, etc.
That's not what most folks got. They got the other definition of "bodacious", the portmanteau of "bold" and "audacious", but were too busy expecting the pop-culture interpretation to see it. That's not entirely their fault, as really, Bodacious Space Pirates is a great title. Anything more accurate to the show's true nature would sound boring. For example, What I Did This Summer Vacation, Me, A Space Pirate, or I Was A High School Space Pirate. Booo-ring.
Instead, we got a show that was bold, remarkable, and spirited, but definitely not audacious.
Moretsu Pirates distinguished itself from most other shows in the same way that many American news commentators admired President Obama's 2008 campaign: It was drama-free - or rather, melodrama-free (political reference!). Its characters and plot resisted pigeonholing at almost every turn, and remained in control throughout the whole affair. It almost felt as if Marika Kato herself had an executive producer credit, and was able to tell everyone, studio and viewer alike, that "No, I wouldn't do that."
That might sound boring, but it's actually refreshing, and even inspired. Too often our protagonists are helplessly flung along the course of destiny, powerless to change their fates, with little to do except whine about their lack of agency. Case in point: Shinji Ikari. Where Shinji "Mustn't run away," Marika strolls toward, because she wanted it to happen and was ready.
And all the while, the true success is that it didn't feel contrived. Marika wasn't a superhero, like Medaka or other characters so hyper-competent that reality itself warped in their favor. That, we owe to the aspect of Moretsu Pirates that led many to get bored: Its relaxed pace.
For two whole seasons we watched Marika grow into her role as Captain of the Bentenmaru. At first unsure and somewhat confused that her father could be a space pirate, she takes it all in stride, training and studying and learning the ropes, with help and encouragement from her friends and crew. By the end, she leads a whole frontier's worth of space pirates in defense of the Pirate Way, and by then you knew she was up to the task. Hell, she was so confident that she could schedule the epic final battle with time to spare to attend her exams.
Marika is so strong a protagonist that she can slam the brakes on the tide of destiny and declare that she will finish school, then go off and be a pirate. Anyone else would have dropped out.
Admittedly, the pace was at times too relaxed. Some characters we barely knew got development we didn't need, while other characters we loved were reduced almost to cameo status (Chiaki-chan~), but in the end, all of it paid off when Marika - and the Pirate Way was put to the test, in genuine crisis.
Moretsu Pirates is a story about growing up, but like the rest of its archetype-defying cast, it doesn't conform to convention. In a more typical show, the conflict would be between old, inflexible fogey pirates and the youngsters with a vision of the future, another metaphor for the lost generation's anger at Nippon's tyrannical gerontocracy. No, not here.
Instead, Moretsu Pirates stresses a theme of "anachronism". From Misa's observation that Marika's maid cafe job is "old-school" for using flesh-and-blood service, to the far future computer's employment of full, near-archaic kanji, like Japan's navy pre-WWII.
Even the space pirates themselves were flying anachronisms, decades-old relics of an inconclusive rebellion, clinging to licenses inherited over the generations. The Original Seven fought in a war barely anyone remembers.
Yet, an old-versus-new conflict does arise, once the "villains" ask the Tau Ceti pirates what they fight for. Will their legacy be one of showmanship, anachronisms with no purpose but to excite the universe with visions of the old-school way, or the proactive, rebellious spirits of old. Nevermind the irony that the opposition advocating the new way were quite the opposite of rebellious, working as they were for the Empire.
And then, said the Space Pirates, "No." The true legacy of Space Pirates wasn't to fade into obscurity or rail in futility, but the independence to define oneself, and maybe have some awesome dessert at an asteroid hideout.
Just as Marika could bring the show to a near-halt so she could attend class, the pirates could band together to keep the Grand Cross and Ironbeard from defining their role. The anachronism had its place and value, and even a new generation of teen, mini-skirt wearing pirates could recognize that, even as they rerecorded the old pirate rallying song to something much more idol-friendly and adorable.
Moretsu Pirates itself is something of an anachronism: A relaxed, low-tension program with bantamweight sci-fi realism, nearly absent lascivious pandering. It's a tradition worth keeping.
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