glaurung_quena: (Default)
The original series of pulp novels is called "miniskirt space pirates," and the anime was released in English as "Bodacious Space Pirates", so you'd think this was a crappy sexist production full of fan service aimed at appealing to arrested adolescent males. It's absolutely not, which is why I'm using the Japanese title up there in the subject.

This is a fun, lighthearted space opera series focusing on girl power, girls working together to overcome adversity, and girls achieving their dreams (which have nothing whatsoever to do with boys or boyfriends). And it is completely devoid of the T&A fanservice bits that marred "Read or Die." The endemic sexism of the Japanese anime industry had to express itself somehow, though, so this lovely feminist series has a title that is almost guaranteed to drive away some of the people who would most appreciate it.

Backstory: In the distant future, humans have colonized the galaxy. A planet orbiting Tau Ceti called Sea of the Morningstar gets tired of being a colony subject to the homeworld, and they launch a war of independence. Lacking a space fleet, they take a page from the 17th century and issue letters of marque to pirates willing to harass the homeworld's fleet. The war is a success, but some bureaucrat made a minor mistake: the letters of marque have no expiration date. Issued to the captains of the pirate ships, they are passed down from parent to child, and you have pirate dynasties, operating with legal sanction.

100 years after the conclusion of the revolution, dozens of the pirate ships chartered during the revolution are still in business. In addition to taking on odd jobs too irregular or too risky for the taste of regular space merchants, the pirate ships get hired by the insurance companies that underwrite interstellar cruise liners. The pirate crews dress up in traditional pirate costumes, raid space liners with guns and swords drawn, and steal valuables from the high class passengers. This is deemed part of the entertainment provided during the voyage, and the cost of hiring the pirates and replacing the stolen valuables is factored into the first class ticket price.

Just prior to the first episode of the series, the pirate captain of the Bentenmaru, one of the first pirate ships commissioned by Sea of the Morningstar, dies. His partner Ririka seems to have decided that a pirate ship was no place to raise a child, so it comes as quite a surprise to 16 year old Marika Kato to learn that she can, if she wants, become the new captain of an honest to gosh pirate ship.

Marika thought she understood her life: she waitressed at an ice cream parlour, attended a fancy girl's high school, and belonged to the space yacht club at the school. Now she has to deal with a pirate crew that isn't quite sure if she has what it takes to command them, and various government agencies and rival pirate ships that are extremely interested in whether or not she plans to assume the mantle of her father (if she doesn't take over the letter of marque, the Bentenmaru's commission will expire and there will be one less pirate ship in the galaxy). Not to mention keeping up with her schoolwork and getting enough sleep.

Fortunately Marika's mom is awesome, her yacht club is full of resourceful girls who have her back, and the Bentenmaru's crew wants her to succeed because they want to keep their pirating gig.

While Read or Die had a few short story arcs to establish characters and then launched into a high drama, high stakes story that took over a dozen episodes to tell, Mouretsu Space Pirates sticks to shorter 2-4 episode stories throughout. The tone is light, the drama and the stakes are real but less nerve-wrackingly intense. Stories alternate between adventures with the yacht club and adventures with the Bentenmaru's crew (which appears to be half female).

Every so often I see people complaining about how North American SF has become too grimdark, too obsessed with dystopias. Japan is one of the places to go for optimistic SF, and this is one example. There doesn't seem to be any poverty in Marika's universe, and crime seems to have been made so rare that people pay to experience the thrill of being robbed. When it is revealed that the president of the yacht club is a lesbian and one of the Bentenmaru's jobs is to aid her lover, this is accepted by everyone without question (although there's quite a bit of blushing and looking away when the reunited lovers embrace).

I strongly recommend this series (26 episodes, plus a movie that feels like another standalone story from the series with a bigger animation budget) to anyone looking for girl-heavy SF that breaks away from the grimdark tone of so much Anglophone SF these days.
glaurung_quena: (Default)
Casting around for something to watch that wasn't all boys all the time, I googled for lists of feminist anime a while back, and this was one of the recommended series. As a book person, the title jumped out at me. Having finally had a chance to check it out, I can now say that it's mostly quite good.

"Read or Die" started out as a series of pulp novels, then became a manga series, with a second spin off "Read or Dream" manga series set in the same universe, and finally got made into a direct to video miniseries, followed by a 26 episode TV series. The novels have never been translated into English, and I have not read the manga. But I have now watched both the miniseries and the TV series. Knowledge of the manga or novels is not necessary to enjoy either anime, but the extensive print based backstory appears in small unexplained details and lends the anime series a lot more texture and depth than it would have if it was a totally original creation. Also refreshingly, nobody brings the story to a halt to explain what is going on, yet at the same time, it's perfectly possible to figure out everything you need to know (Hollywood scriptwriters could learn a lot from this series).

Set in an alternate universe in which rare old books containing esoteric knowledge are the key to global power politics, Read or Die follows the adventures of the agents of the Special Operations Division of the British Library as they guard the UK against biblio-based threats. Like Mission Impossible meets the Avengers, as imagined by bibliophiles, with James Bond movie style villians.

The miniseries, mostly spoiler free )

The TV series is in some ways superior to the miniseries. There's less fanservice (a few moments every few episodes instead of every episode), the characterizations are sharper, and 26 episodes gives room for a bigger, more varied story. again, not many spoilers )

All in all, It's a very nice melding of sisterhood and girl power with high stakes spy action. I'm very glad to have watched both series, and I might even try to read the manga someday.

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