Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor
Co-produced by Crunchyroll and Adult Swim, “Fena: Pirate Princess” follows the titular Fena Houtman, who escapes an arranged marriage to uncover the secret of her late father’s final mission to search for “Eden” and become an independent woman. She’s accompanied by a troop of ninjas who are all sworn to protect her family.
First announced back in 2020, this show caught my attention immediately with good reason. Who would miss out on a show about a young woman becoming a take-charge, kickass pirate captain? With the first two episodes, I couldn’t help but find myself charmed by the main character Fena Houtman herself. She’s wonderfully enduring and optimistic, possessing a fierce will to survive. Her positive personality served as a good contrast for the dark world around her, since she starts off treated as an object to be claimed for the first three or four episodes.
Regrettably, the show was just a bad gift in pretty wrapping.
While the show had potential to be great, it seemed risk-averse to truly embrace the fun and excitement of its own premise. The show didn’t just fail to live up to the hype generated by last years’ announcements. It also seemed to vehemently refuse to even approach the expectations my friends and I set for it. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the devolution of Fena herself.
After episode four, Fena’s agency and initiative was slowly stripped away from her. She turns into a passive plot McGuffin in need of saving throughout the series; it was downright infuriating. Instead of using her brain or thinking of ways to fight back, she would rather sit around and be spoon-fed exposition. I went in expecting a Nami or Nico Robin from “One Piece” only to get a Kairi from the “Kingdom Hearts” game series. Fena would rather just scream for her love interest to rescue her and summon him into battle. She never becomes an inspirational leader, just a typical, useless damsel in distress.
Of course, Fena isn’t the only problem in this show. Many characters, from Fena’s samurai crew to a band of female pirates, were criminally underutilized and in a longer show would have been far more interesting to watch. The main villain in Abel Bluefield was bland, generic and when it came to his motivations and interactions with Fena, unsettlingly creepy. A 0lack of actual pirate action left me wondering why this was even called “Pirate Princess” in the first place.
In 2020, we were promised a swashbuckling adventure story reminiscent of “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Treasure Island.” Instead, apart from the likable female pirates who were unceremoniously cut halfway through the series, all we got was an overly complicated fantasy narrative with shades of meta being thrown in at the last minute.
The show even had the gall to pull an “Evangelion-style” twist at the end that left me feeling, baffled, insulted, and cheated. I came into this for the pirates, so where the hell are they? Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” did a much better job in portraying pirates indulging in their endeavors and that show’s been running for 30 years now!
This is not to say the anime has nothing going for it. The art direction and animation were consistently high quality, fluid and distinct. The music was always a pleasure to listen to as well, particularly its opening song “The Sea and A Pearl” by JUNNA. However, it’s hard to appreciate the superb art and sound direction when the story is so narrow and mediocre.
Good writing can save bad animation, but bad writing can never be saved by good animation. Mediocrity is perhaps a lesser sin than being outright awful. For my three months being spoiled by a golden setup with unimaginative storytelling became a much severer offence, worthy of walking the plank.
“Fena: Pirate Princess” aired from Aug. 15 to Oct. 24, 2021, on both Adult Swim's Toonami and Crunchyroll.