No Pirate's Life
Anime originals are an exciting thing. It's a pain to get them greenlit as opposed to manga adaptations, they can be a source of unlimited creativity and use of talent, and for that reason, most of my favorite anime are originals. But for some reason, writers of anime originals can sometimes completely miss the mark on their subject and write like they're flailing around on a stage, getting all their lines wrong, and then expecting applause by the end.
How I picture it going down was, the idea for this show was pitched just as the title, Fena: Pirate Princess, and the writer who was at the meeting fell asleep halfway through hearing it, and only heard "Fena". Because that's the only one of those three words this anime actually has in its focus. It technically has a character named Fena. That's it.
Then, after his three day bender in between writing the script, somebody must have noticed he wasn't including any pirates and/or princesses, and told him one day before the deadline, so he had to cram a few pirates in around the edges just so they wouldn't get sued for false advertizing.
Too bad it didn't work, because I want to sue them anyways.
There are no Pirates. The pirates is a lie. The main character isn't a pirate. In fact, none of the main characters are pirates at all. The closest you get is a british dude, in terms of main characters. The only thing the main characters have in common with pirates, is that they float around on the water. But, in a submarine, not like, a pirate ship, because they couldn't even give us one goddamn thing, huh?
This is probably the part where fans of the show are either saying "now wait just a minute, I watched episode three, there totally were some pirates" or "who cares if there's no pirates, that alone shouldn't make you hate this anime"
Yeah, there were some pirates in the background, and there was that crew of female pirates who hijacked the show for a grand total of maybe the ten minutes they were onscreen for the entire twelve episode series, and that isn't enough. It just isn't. The pirates can't just be some passing thing, in a show with pirate in the title. This show is up against Treasure Island, Black Sails, Pirates of the Carribean, and even One Piece in terms of pirate portrayal and it comes up short on every account, even though it has pirate in the name!
Also, even if that isn't enough to call this a bad anime, it still sucks anyways, there not being pirates just makes it easier to see that.
The characters are all insufferable. They're ninjas on a submarine that all have some random agenda that I can't decipher. One of them is just an asshole who physically abuses the main girl, and otherwise, sits there with a dumb as shit look on his face, doing nothing.
The rest are just... kind of there. They try and make them quirky and likable but in doing so, actually make them boring and unlikable, because they're all dicks to each other for no reason, and are just sock puppets in the shape of anime characters. More importantly, they aren't pirates, so I don't give a shit about them.
Fena herself is eye-rollingly boring. As randomredneck on the forums pointed out, she could actually be replaced by a literal device, like a macguffin or something, and she would be just as much of a benefit to the show. She's just some magical thing with no real personality or emotions.
The pirates show up, they be women, be less clothed, and do something, not much of import, but just enough of a something so you know they're there and you can't say there aren't any pirates at all, and then they disappear. They get blown up like team rocket.
The story is just hogwash, if I'm being honest, I can't make heads or tails of this thing. Fena's father and mother died protecting some place called Eden or something and fena found a glass map that will lead them to it and the ninjas want to help them because reasons, and there's a british guy who wants to stop them because he was in love with fena's mother, but fena is actually a witch who will bring doom to all, but actually not because she's the only one who knows the way to the promised land, and there are pirates fucking around in the background while all this stupid garbage nobody cares about is explained in-between the characters quirkily ribbing each other in the balls about mundane shit.
When they finally get to where they're trying to go, there's lots of emotional music and everything feels like it's supposed to be climactic. I'm just sitting here thinking, what did I miss? Was I supposed to care by this point? I was still waiting for a reason to care and the story's already over?
I don't mean to disrespect this show so much, but, actually, I do, and I don't respect it, because it was clearly made with zero passion or talent on the part of the writers. So much potential is wasted here, on... nothing! Twelve episodes of the most hamfisted plot you've ever seen, and it's not even clever or entertaining in execution. There's no story hinges, nothing unexpected happens, it's all "go here, do this, now go here, do this" for twenty minutes a week.
Ugh... The animation and music are good, okay? I'll say it. They're fine. But this needed some real chops to be a good story, and I just don't know if it's just that anime can't do it, if Japanese writers just aren't culturally aware, but for some reason, anime just can't write good fantasy anymore. It always has to be isekai, or, in the case of this anime, something completely contrary to the title because they don't know how to write a good pirate adventure story so they just write a mediocre samurai action story. I don't know what it is. But this ain't it, chief. Most mediocre and disappointing anime to come out this year.
TL;DR - Watching Fena: Pirate Princess is like watching a novice play a $5,000 guitar poorly.
In other words, the production values are top-notch, but the writer(s) are complete amateurs. Gorgeous animation, a decent soundtrack, and quality voice acting wasted on a terrible story and nonsensical characters.
This review would turn into an essay if I were to pick it apart episode by episode, so let me sum up a list of core problems (WARNING: Major spoilers. If you don't want spoilers, just read the bold sentences):
1) Pirates make up maybe 10% of this show.
The main crew isn't really a "pirate" crew, they're all Japanese ninja. They don't really do any pirating. They man a god-damn submarine for god's sake! Fena's maybe a pirate for a couple years as a child (happened before this anime) but then her father's entire crew is wiped out. And Fena never really becomes a pirate either, so the "Pirate Princess" in the title is a complete misnomer.
This ended up being about 1800s Japanese culture vs. 1800s British culture. We're watching samurai and ninja fight against a bunch of Englishmen with bolt-action rifles. The only actual pirates in the show get killed off by a nuke (not kidding). And they make mentions of European history that allude to the 1700s. So right off the bat they can't even figure out what era this show takes place in.
2) The main antagonist digs MILFs and has no other real backstory or character arc.
The entire show, he's chasing after the shadow of Fena's mother (Helena), who was his childhood friend separated by circumstances. Somehow Helena and Fena are "fated" to this giant treasure trove called Eden (and also a million other things) but our antagonist doesn't care about any of that. They all find Eden and then he finally hears the ghost of Helena tell him she loves him before they both fade away (WTF?!).
3) Plot holes like Swiss cheese.
So, who are the Goblins? Why do they exist? What actually happens with the semi-evil father figure that kinda sorta threatens them and rules the Goblins with an iron fist? Who the heck is The Observer and why did they "weave" Fena's life like it was a toy? Why did Fena suddenly turn Asian at the end after losing her superpowers and her memories? Why is this paradise without death only mentioned in the very last episode?
Why do we have a convenient "Vault of the Earth" treasure trove that also contains like 10 other fabled/legendary treasures? The Vault of the Earth is also Eden and apparently, it contains the San Miguel's treasure, the treasure from the ship Captain Kidd captured, it's also The Holy Grail, it's also The Ark of the Covenant, The Knights Templar (?? wasn't that a group of people?), La Noche Triste (that was an event?)...
Someone literally just Googled a giant list of famous treasures/organizations/events throughout history and shit it all out in a single sentence (@ 4:36 in episode 11).
4) They tried too hard.
There are several moments that are supposed to be heartwarming, but it ends up awkward because the characters don't make sense. Fena has no personality, and our male lead is a stoic asshole for no good reason. Lots of bipolar personality disorder - the show rapidly flips back and forth between trying to be really serious, action-packed, and thought-provoking and comedic slice-of-life.
There are so many mythical references (see above) and they tried to make the last episodes hit you super hard with fantasy elements and self-sacrifice and man vs. god conflict and morality and sudden betrayals but it's ALL SO EFFING AWKWARD BECAUSE IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE.
Gah. I really wanted to like this but holy lord the writing quality is comedic. Save yourself 5 hours of your life and pass on this show.
SPOILER AHEAD (JUST IN CASE)
Fena: Pirate Princess was, to be quite frank, a delusion. The story was interesting in the first three episode, it did a well job by playing on the mistery behind Fena and the place she had to find, but that was it. After the first episodes i began to notice that no one actually grow, characters remain quite static through the whole serie.
Forget the "Her goal: forge a new identity, free of bondage" because at the end of the serie we discover that every - and I mean EVERY - choice she made was already written down in an infinite cycle that will never stop. She didn't break the chain because after her there will be another "Fena" as well as another "Yukimaru". Every emotion that the character feel is false.
A true pity.
Honestly, it's a very good show with beautiful animation, captivating scenes, and some likeable characters too! It's only downside is that the writing for the story is a complete mess. It takes what should, or could, be a 20 episode series and condenses it into 12. Thus resulting in long drooled out episodes with too many plot holes along the way, even at the end of the series when almost everything seems resolved, we are left with a few major and minor plot holes left as unanswered questions. Nevertheless, Fena Pirate Princess was still enjoyable to watch and kept me on edge as to what would happen next in each episode. It still could have been done a lot better though had they had more time in production perhaps. But if one is able to overlook the gaps and crams of the story, then they too can find this show to still be a rather enjoyable and worthwhile watch. And yes, most of the characters do get a happily ever after (well, almost most).
To be perfectly honest, I didn't quite get the end of the story. But does it even matter? Is it really that important to understand the ending completely? I think this story is not unique because of the ending, but because of the message it conveys. I like this anime and although I've seen similar ones before, the story of Fena and Yukimaru made me feel touched. I'm not going to evaluate the plot, because as much as I liked it, it was a little confusing at the end. What I have to rate is the camera, the editing and the overall work with the image and the music. I really liked the action scenes because they were well crafted. The music sat well with the story. And the transitions between scenes? I have nothing to reproach either. I think if you like funny anime about friendship and adventure that has a romantic ending, this is just right for you.