Lost at Sea.
What’s the Story?
Fena Houtman is an orphan. Eking out a living as a servant in a brothel, she just knows that this isn’t meant to be her lot in life, no matter how many times her escape attempts fail! When two aged knights attempt to rescue her from said brothel, it’s the first step on a journey to uncover her true destiny. First though she has to reunite with her childhood friend, Yukimaru, whose now a skilled swordsman and leads a notorious gang of samurai pirates. With a crew, a submarine and a mystery to solve, Fena will have to follow the clues and track down the place her father tried to take her to all those years ago, ‘Eden’. Fena isn’t the only one searching though, and whether its boundless treasure or something far more biblical waiting them at the end of this journey, it’s going to be one heck of an adventure getting there!
What. The. Actual. Fuck. I’m sorry, I don’t usually start off my reviews like this, and I usually try to keep the swearing to a minimum, but those are the only words that are flashing through my head as I sit down to write this review. I have no idea what happened to this show, the first three to four episodes were magnificent, the highlight of my week’s anime watching, and left me waiting with bated breath for the next one. Then the rot started to set in and it continued to set in until we reached a finale that just had me tilting my head. Of course that was when it wasn’t actively annoying me by trying to go for the big feels when it had in no way earned that right. I like Fena, I really do, and I like Yukimari too and under any other circumstances I’d probably be tearing up at their scenes in the final episode, but you don’t get to rush an adventure to its conclusion and act like it’s this grand, masterfully orchestrated tapestry. It’s like trying to tell the whole of One Piece in a twelve episode series and then being shocked when the emotional scenes don’t pay off! You’d have to be insane to think this would work!
Okay, calm down Joynson, let’s act with a little bit of professional dignity here. Taking a step away from that final episode, and the many, many, many, many issues I have with it, I do have to question how many of my problems with this show are mine alone. I am very keen on adventure stories, I’ve already mentioned One Piece which is one of my favourite series of all time. You give me a bunch of colourful characters on an epic quest full of strange lands and age-old mysteries and I’ll be very happy. You throw pirates and samurai into that and you’re pretty much guaranteed a five star rating from me, that’s why I loved the first few episodes of this series so much. They gave me that feeling that early One Piece gave me or any other adventure series I could name, but I think the key difference is that a lot of those series I’m thinking of are all either long-running or stories that haven’t finished yet. They don’t try and tell their whole story in twelve episodes and it’s making me really question, can you really do an epic quest in that short amount of time? Judging by this series the answer is a resounding no.
When I look back over this series it feels like there’s a whole middle chunk missing. We’ve got the beginning of the story and the ending, but we’re missing the part where Fena and the crew bounce around a few crazy locales and just get up to hijinks. There should be another twelve episodes in this series at least. None of the character arcs feel satisfying, when there even is a character arc. Sometimes story lines just come to a dead stop because the narrative doesn’t have time to deal with them any more. The all-women pirate crew who are build up as major antagonists at the start? Literally blown away halfway through the series ‘cause their main job in the plot is done, I guess. What about Shitan thinking Fena is a witch and being ready to kill her if she endangers Yukimaru? They just laugh it off and that’s over. Heck, what even happened to that subplot about the crew being on the run from their own people? That went nowhere! I can see the missing twelve episodes right in front of me, but they’re just not in this series.
That brings me, finally, to my last disappointment with this series, and that’s Fena herself. For a ‘Pirate Princess’ she does precious little pirating, but we’ll leave that to one side for the moment. Much like the series itself she starts off great and then quickly slides into mediocre. In the first few episodes she’s practically bubbling over with personality, bouncing around the place like an excitable puppy and super expressive. I was really falling for her, but then as the series went on the plot started to take hold and that personality began to fade into the background. She still had moments, but so much of her time on screen got taken up by either being possessed or just looking worried at whatever was happening around her. She became a plot device, a fact emphasised by the final episode. Oh it tries to make out like she’s been on this grand epic journey and had to make so many pivotal decisions, when in fact she’s just been to a couple of different islands and got rescued a lot. I can’t remember a single significant she did, a far cry from the girl who had dozens of plans to escape her life in the brothel. This show really needed those twelve missing episodes.
In the end, Fena: Pirate Princess is a crashing disappointment for me. It’s an adventure series with very little actual adventure, and a shocking lack of pirating as well so that’s two very major marks against it. It does look fantastic and has a great soundtrack, but that doesn’t make up for the stunted character arcs and abysmal finale. It tries so hard to be grand and epic, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the time it needs to build the proper foundation to pull that off. I’m raising the sail on this one and getting as far away from it as I can. If you choose to check it out I hope you have a better time than I did.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.