Fena: Pirate Princess is the first co-production in a while between Adult Swim/Cartoon Network and an anime studio (in this case, Production IG), possibly the first major series since the second season of The Big O. With an animation style and plot that feels like it’s meant to evoke Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water and The Mysterious Cities of Gold, while leaning into the “anime-ness” in a way that feels similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender, except in the sense of an anime studio looking at Avatar and going, “We can do this.” The question then is – can they do this?
So, the answer to that question is—sort of. The show follows Fena, the daughter of a British noble who ends up being sent adrift after her ship is attacked by pirates, her father is killed, and her childhood friend Yukimaru (who is implied and later confirmed to be a ninja), saves her from certain death. Cut to 10-ish years later, where Fena is now in a brothel, and the ability to be her first (*ahem*) partner is about to be sold off to the highest bidder, and Fena is preparing her escape.
Fortunately, (since her escape plans are at a level that would imply a relationship to the Baldrick family instead of the Blackadder family), she’s helped by Yukimaru, now also about adult-aged, and a group of his fellow ninja in her escape. However, after getting free, she soon also learns that she has a Destiny – to find Eden – and she and her pirate companions will have to go forth to find Eden, while also being pursued by a mysterious group in a warship with sinister designs on Eden, and Fena, of their own.
The animation for Fena: Pirate Princess is fluid, the character designs are done to make for characters who are very expressive – who hit that right A:tLA middle ground of feeling somewhat grounded and realistic, while also feeling stylized in a way where exaggerated facial expressions don’t break the sense of verisimilitude. With this comes some also very fluid fight scenes, with some actual blood (unlike Avatar), though not at particularly heavy levels thereof.
The characters of our band of ninjas are also very charismatic – their characters aren’t especially deep, but it’s also a 12 episode anime original series that, currently, only has the one cour (as opposed to the US TV 24-episode season) so they aren’t necessarily given the time to get the level of depth that something like Avatar had.
This leads to one of the big issues with the show – it’s too short. I don’t just mean that in the “this show left me wanting more” sense either – that’s a complaint that is praising through faint condemnation. The 12-episode runtime means that this show is writing a whole lot of checks that it does not have time to cash. By the end of the series all of the pacing feels rushed and the show is desperately trying to wrap up all its plot threads because it was plotted for a single cour of television.
There are two great examples of this – the first related to the subtitle: “Pirate Princess”. At no point in the series does Fena become a “pirate princess.” Arguably she’s more of a “ninja princess.” Now, the plot may have originally intended for her to become a pirate princess (as there are a group of female pirates who show up early in the series), but with the demands of the plot, that element basically ends up getting shunted to the wayside.
The second is with the ending itself. The show’s ending feels like it – out of obligation to the last series that Adult Swim produced (again – season 2 of The Big O), or because the last Eva Rebuild film came out, feels obligated to go for the Gainax Ending. But, because it’s only got 12 episodes, once again when it happens it comes out of nowhere and has no real sense of payoff.
In short, Fena: Pirate Princess is a show that started with a great deal of promise, but was unable to spend the money and dedicate time on their airing schedule to give the show a payoff that felt earned.
Fena: Pirate Princess is currently available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
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