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[MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
Toonami has dealt with some rough patches in the past year or so, but we are finally getting to see the first series in their latest slate of original content. Tonight, we have not only experienced the formal introduction to Fena: Pirate Princess, but also the start of many collaborations that will breathe new life into the block. Similarly, thanks to the partnership between Toonami Squad and Swimpedia, our hope is to further promote this promising venture between Adult Swim and Crunchyroll by providing a review of the first two episodes of the show following their premiere. However, for those who haven’t seen the episodes yet, be weary of potential minor spoilers ahead, although clear information about the plot was limited to the descriptions that were currently publicly available online beforehand. That said, if you continue to read, we hope that our thoughts spark further excitement, interest, and discussion around this promising new anime!
Speaking more broadly, Fena: Pirate Princess, which was led by Production I.G and director Kazuto Nakazawa, revolves around Fena Houtman’s journey across the sea to find herself and figure out the mystery behind her deceased father’s final mission. As depicted in the official trailers for the series, the anime begins with Fena escaping a burning ship, then the story jumps ten years later to present day, where she is orphaned on an unknown island. Yet, Fena is eventually able to escape, setting out with her childhood friend, Yukimaru, and other samurai, to discover the origin of a stone left behind by her father Franz. Ultimately, the anime appears as if it will play out as a fun pirate adventure with potential secrets and treasures along the way. On the surface, many longtime anime fans may notice various similarities between this show and One Piece given this description, but other than both being pirate themed anime, the two mostly diverge beyond that basic premise, as is clearly seen during the premiere episodes.
Beginning with the first episode, “Memories,” the anime does not waste any time, getting right into the action on the burning ship featured in the official trailers. Although there are pockets of downtime throughout this and the following episode, if you are looking for an anime that is always going, this will be a great time for you. Nevertheless, following a fun anime opening that features some potential future plot points, the show turns to probably the best aspect of the series thus far, the background artwork. Covered in a glowing purple light, the island at night contrasted against the different colored outfits of the townspeople pops right off the screen. Likewise, in closed spaces, such as Fena’s room at the start of the episode, there are so many little details that can manage to keep you glued to your TV. Next, after we’re given this taste of gorgeous backgrounds and details that continue throughout both episodes, we are formally introduced to Fena herself. At first, she seems a little too bubbly, if not borderline air-headed, but even just in the span of these two episodes it’s clear that the series is setting her up for character development while also using the overall fun journey she’s about to go on as one of self-discovery and personal exploration. However, her often positive and upbeat personality does successfully bring more joy to potentially darker scenes where she stands out throughout.
Additionally, in this same character introduction scene, we are also given a view into the comedic side of this series. Likely to be a continued point of contention between Toonami fans, the anime has somewhat of a wacky side, throwing humor in throughout more serious moments. There are even certain jokes that when established are brought up again, which some may see as great callbacks, while others may see them as regular disruptions to the plot. That said, many of these scenes actually add a lot to the series, such as Fena’s drawings used to explain her plans to someone else, yet certain viewers could easily not enjoy this. The action was more so the focal point in the trailers and is certainly strong even in the brief moments during these episodes, so it’s interesting to think about how viewers may react to the rarely before seen comedic side of this series that may help or hurt the overall anime for viewers.
Nonetheless, later in the episode, in the process of escaping the island, Fena was helped by different individuals, one who proves to be a potential love interest going forward. This is important to note because the director of the series, Kazuto Nakazawa, outlined his fondness for shojo manga, and its influence on the series, during Virtual Crunchyroll Expo 2021’s The Making of Fena: Pirate Princess panel. Although Fena features the stereotypical action and adventure elements expected in shonen works, the shojo elements are made clear regarding emotion and romance. Not only are we consistently provided with a view into what Fena is thinking and feeling throughout both episodes, but everything changes in such a romantic way when these individuals are alone together. Thus, along with fantastic artwork, the potential for character growth, humor, emotional depth, and the potential early formation of a romantic relationship, there is a lot of take in just in this first episode.
Then, the second episode, “An Inherited Journey,” builds on many of these elements, but more importantly creates the foundation for the story to come. Admittedly, although there is a lot of potential in the plot, with all these strong supporting components, the story as it stands on its own leaves something to be desired. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but it is somewhat standard, more so relying on these other factors to prop up the show—even the musical elements, for example, make this anime more interesting and add to the overall emotional feeling. Yet, specifically in “An Inherited Journey,” the episode thrives in moments such as the visual introduction of the next location, the differentiation between the newly introduced characters that saved Fena, and even the feelings all of this creates for those involved. That said, as seen in the official trailers, the mission provided in this episode can be boiled down to something as simple as solve the mystery behind this stone and Fena’s father’s last mission. In other words, going into these two episodes, one should focus on these other features, as they can be stunning, entertaining, and a real joy to take in, but when turning to the actual story, it’s too early to tell much about it. However, the second episode is still successful in serving as a second introduction, the first episode being how Fena escapes, and the second episode being about her mission and setting off on it. Also, it’s interesting to note that much of what has been shown so far from this series has been predominantly from these two episodes, so there could be many potential story details, action, and of course humor ahead that we don’t know of but could be great.
Altogether, Fena: Pirate Princess, does not have the strongest start, particularly in relation to its more so average seeming plot, but it’s still a lot of fun to watch. When the story potentially leaves you wanting more, which may still work out in the end, the anime does manage to succeed through its visuals, humor, characters, emotion, music, and budding romance. It is especially interesting to see when the elements of shojo and shonen come together, creating a world with room for both exciting action and human depth. Either way, the anime is a well-suited addition to Toonami, with a lot of potential if the story further develops alongside these interesting characters and other features. The future seems promising for both this series and the future of Toonami originals!
Season 1 Episodes 1 and 2: “Memories” and “An Inherited Journey” (7.5/10)
Fena: Pirate Princess continues next Saturday on Toonami at midnight with “Bar-Baral”