When I first saw the previews for Moretsu Pirates I was instantly excited. Space! We get so little anime about space these days that I will take anything I can get. Of course, being deep in the moe era of anime we can’t have an anime about space that isn’t also about cute high school girls doing cute high school girl things, but it’s also about space so it’s going to be different, right? Space is awesome. Statement of fact.
Well, yes and no. Moretsu Pirates suffers from the industry’s attempts to chase after a duality, create the perfect anime that will appeal to not only moe fans but also a larger audience. The goal is to break the anime industry out of their small group of a few thousand dedicated fans but at the same time not alienating that audience. Because of this goal, the show suffers from balancing its two opposing sides. Time spent with Marika Kato in school and at her job at a maid café is standard high school anime fare, enjoyable because the character is a ball of energy but avoids any interesting narrative steps. The show will go from those school scenes and jump right into semi-serious space pirating, where Marika has to deal with intergalactic conspiracies, lead massive fleets, and make split second combat decisions. The two sides of the show collide when it is “necessary” for Marika school girl yacht club to take control of the pirate ship. The merging of the two sides becomes the most enjoyable arc of the show. The original crew, unable to join with the ship, panicky had to prepare documentation for the inexperienced crew to man the highly customized pirate ship. The use of the girls was fine, again far too silly for the overall tone of the space parts of the show. Watching the mostly serious crew freaking out over the new crew of teenage girls attempting to figure out how their precious space ship worked and becomes a good analogy for the show. The serious side of the show bends to serve the moe aspects of the show, to facilitate its existence.
The costume design also harms the shows chance of being taken seriously. Marika has one awesome outfit which radiates her authority as a Pirate Captain and that appears in the series finale. The outfit she uses the most is a stylized 17-18th century era pirate outfit with her school uniform miniskirt prominently displayed. Again, this serves to highlight exactly how the show is designed: Moe with a space pirate skin overlaid on top.
The “piracy” that Marika and her crew are involved in walks in line with the light tone of the show. This isn’t a group that goes out and maliciously attacks innocent ships. They have a letter of marque and with that are technically a part of Sea of the Morningstar’s military, but they are allowed to pillage ships at will if they wish. With no war currently being fought pirates may lose their letters of marque if they do not engage in piracy. The answer comes in entertaining cruise liners. They ally with insurance companies and set up mock pirate attacks in order to entertain the upper class who can afford cruises through space. This justifies their letters of marque without having to do actual piracy, allows the audience’s perception of the characters not to be muddled by brutal and illegal action but justifies them being in space when they are called into actual jobs that involve real combat. Again, the tone remains light while they are going through the actions of space pirates.
I’ve hammered the moe criticism home, and due to the moe Moretsu Pirates will never be taken seriously, but that isn’t what the show wants. The show is out to please its duel audience and I think it fails to even start appealing to that broader audience. Unlike some shows that attempt to walk into the duality model non-moe fans will find little to love about Moretsu Pirates. The first four episodes of the show feels like school girls playing space captain. Afterwards, the show becomes much better, but someone looking for space drama and not moe is going to find it difficult getting past those episodes. After the first serious arc, the show bouncing back and forth between its two modes is jarring at best even for moe fans.
While I enjoyed Moretsu Pirates I wanted there to be more of the serious arcs. Using so much moe to appeal to the hardcore anime fans dragged the show down and obscures some of the interesting ideas that it set up for Space Pirates in an otherwise peaceful world. I hate to conclude a review this way but Moretsu Pirates is simply fun. In most places the show is horribly hyperbolic and silly, but it justifies itself so well and takes itself seriously while becoming completely self-indulgent. It wins on pure entertainment value, even if it’s empty on an intellectual level.