Anime Primer: Bodacious Space Pirates

They are known by many names: Pirates, Buccaneers, Privateers, Corsairs, Raiders, Filibusters, Freebooters. Their modus operandi is pretty much the same across the board: independent acts of robbery or violence, typically taking place on the sea, committed by one vessel against another vessel or town. Sometimes they are romanticized and revered, other times demonized and reviled; how they are seen depends on who they ultimately serve.

Piracy has been around for just about as long as ships have traversed the seas. At some point in the mid-13th century, King Henry III became the first known monarch to grant commissions to the captains of private sailing vessels giving them sovereign right to act on behalf of the issuing nation to attack and plunder the ships of enemy nations as acts of war. After about 50 years, this royal writ came to be known as a Letter of Marque, and thus the privateer (or corsair, if you were French) was born.

Pirates, no matter what flavor they came in, had to be uncommonly resourceful in order to be successful and survive. In the case of privateers, they may have had the blessings of a nation, but they didn’t necessarily have their backing; those who operated illegally had to also evade or face off against pirate hunters and military ships alike. As such, pirates often utilized various tactics and ruses de guerre (or ruses of war), such as psychological warfare, to deceive their target or collect valuable intelligence from them.

One of the new shows streaming on Crunchyroll this season, Bodacious Space Pirates, uses many such ruses de guerre to lull its viewers into complacency, leading us to believe one thing while the show aims for something else entirely. With its title, its origin (this series is based off of the light novel, Miniskirt Space Pirates), and its early promos, it was easy to believe that the show would be little more than action-oriented fluff, with cute girls flashing high-tech weaponry to get what they want.However, what it delivers has so much more substance and promise that many were stunned by its initial assault.

Rather than your typical action/adventure space fantasy, Bodacious Space Pirates ventures closer towards space opera territory, and even incorporates some elements of hard sci-fi into its storytelling. Sure, there are still a few aspects of silliness, such as the girls’ perfectly starched sailor fuku (though, when you think about it, is probably even more appropriate in a show about space pirates than in many other shows),keeps them modest even in zero-G.

Marika Kato is a naturally talented sailor, as demonstrated by her performance in space skiff simulators, who discovers that she is the onlychild of the former captain of the space pirate ship, Bentenmaru. As of Captain Kato’s passing, she is, by law, the sole inheritor of his ship and its Letter of Marque, issued by her home planet, Sea of the Morning Star. Until that point, she thought of space pirates as an extinct artifact from a war over a century past, but upon learning that they were still around – and still legal – she reluctantly embraces her calling, and demonstrates that her pedigree has granted her much more than just the ability to sail a ship.

Her mother, once a space pirate aboard the Bentenmaru herself known by the moniker “Blaster Ririka,” teaches Marika that a major part of being a space pirate is psychological. A pirate’s ability to convince her target of her strength and superiority can often end a confrontation before it leads to combat, though having a big gun handy really helps. Such is another ruse de guerre that a pirate must master.

Marika doesn’t jump into her new role straight away, instead taking time to mull over her choices. In the course of the events that gradually lead her to her final decision, the show takes the opportunity to introduce us to the world around her and that despite the obvious technological advances, many other things have survived through the centuries. Some of the newer tech seems to be a perfectly natural progression from today’s gadgets, such as the integration between an analog magazine and digital displays, but what the show likes to remind us is that there is nothing quite like good old human effort and ingenuity.

As the heir-apparent of the Bentenmaru, all eyes are on Marika, and her days of living and playing as a normal schoolgirl are gone. Marika tests her sailing chops with her school’s yachting club, where many of her fellow club members turn out to be hiding a few secrets of their own. Some of Bentenmaru’s crew members infiltrate her school to pose as staff members, going so far as to become her homeroom teacher and advisor to her club, and they plan a voyage to sail the school’s own yacht, the Odette II, around the solar system.

This is where some of the more interesting aspects of the series come into play. Unknown belligerents attempt to infiltrate the Odette II’s computer systems and instead of confronting them head on, Marika and one of her club mates,the transfer student Chiaka Kurihara, engage in electronic warfare to fend off the invasion. Marika begins to demonstrate superior judgment, leadership, and decision-making abilities at this time despite being out of her element with respect to EW. As the final confrontation approaches, many other ruses de guerre come into play: transmitting false data, feigning inactivity, masking unit identification, deception, and ambushes. There are so many more dimensions to standard space combat.

Besides the unconventional display of space naval tactics and warfare, another thing to watch out for are the subtle displays that characters exhibit throughout the series. Watch for characters’ reactions to certain events – are there hidden meanings to their expressions that speak to more secrets, or are they another ruse to throw us off guard? Kane McDougal, Bentenmaru’s helmsman who is posing as Marika’s homeroom teacher and club advisor, drinks plenty of beer, but also seems to enjoy a good tea. Chiaki seems cold and distant, but often reveals a more girly side and is embarrassed by Marika’s display of affection. These little character quirks do more for character development than exposition ever could.

Then there’s the series’ setting and how the use of technology and environment can really tell you a lot about the world and the era it’s in. Observe the wasteland that Ririka takes Marika to during their mother-daughter chat. All those wrecked ships speak to a horrendous war resulting from Sea of the Morning Star’s declaration of independence. The existence of a tank shows that the fighting wasn’t just up in space either. Given how powerful a handheld weapon is in Marika’s time, one wonders how much destruction had to have been unleashed during the war.

Bodacious Space Pirates is a show that has surprised and will likely continue to surprise as the season goes on. You’d better keep an eye on it or it might hit you when you least expect it to. After all, deception, surprise, and ambush are just how pirates do things.

Joe Chan is A-Kon’s Director of Marketing and PR as well as a regular contributor to the Crunchyroll newsletter. He likes to think he has a pretty good grasp on all the anime that’s out there, but in reality, he’s forgotten more than he’ll ever remember.

This article was originally published in the Crunchyroll newsletter on March 26, 2012. Reprinted with permission.