Mouretsu Pirates 16 – Piracy as performance

It has become abundantly that piracy in the Mouretsu Pirates universe has two distinct sides. On the one hand we have piracy as a performance, with pirate ships and crews employed to fulfil the role of an in ship performance, giving many people a chance to see something new and exciting. On the other hand, however, pirates are on the fringes of lawful society, taking jobs that may be illegal, dangerous and potential life threatening. That they can exist within these two opposing worlds shows the versatility and adaptability of those that call themselves pirates.There is an element of the travelling performer to pirates in this series, perhaps even a circus, complete with costumes bright lights and all manner of tricks. While circuses and other forms of travelling performers may be commonplace now, there was a time during the early part of the 20th century, and even stretching back into the 19th century, when they were the pinnacle of the exotic. It was a chance to see all manner of weird and wonderful performers, miraculous and dangerous stunts and acrobatics, along with exotic animals from all over the world. The stunts, the exotic people and animals, along with the energy, music and colours added up to create a spectacle that for many watching may have seemed to be eerie or otherworldly.

Pirating in Mouretsu Pirates can be viewed as an extension of this idea that certain travelling performers and attractions bring you an element of exoticism, it is the idea of the carnivalesque in these performances that draw people in. Pirates are scarce, and to be able to see a pirate up close, perhaps even have one rob you of your valuables can perhaps be best viewed as a life experience. Like the people involved in the circus during the late 19th and early 20th century, they are rogues, living outside of normal society, often with a lifestyle that has been highly romanticised by stories and word of mouth. That the shipping companies fully cover the effects of piracy in their insurance further suggests that this is considered a once in a lifetime opportunity for many. It might be akin to going on a safari, or even backpacking across the world, you are seeing new things, and yet still maintain an element of familiarity since you never really leave the company of other people in similar situations to yourself.

But, like all good performances, it is planned meticulously, and while there is an element of the anarchic in what happens, it is never left to get out of control. Everyone needs to know what role they will be playing, dress and act accordingly, but also, the way this performance is presented is important. However, this performance can be further seen as a live act, one where the audience may be aware of certain elements, but does not know where the actors may appear and what the performance fully entails.

The audiences reactions is therefore paramount to pulling off a successful performance, if you lose them, your act is a failure and all notions of the exotic and otherworldly charm of pirates may be lost forever. The act of piracy can therefore be viewed as a tightly choreographed performance between two different groups, with each fully understanding what the other is doing and acting accordingly. The audience may know that this is some sort of performance, and yet they are not certain, but their cooperation with the pirates is essential to pull it off. So, while elements of the performance may be highly choreographed, there is also an element of improvisation, with the pirate crew working off of the audiences energy, changing their performance to suit the mood.

The crew of the Bentenmaru have had a lot of practice in pulling off a flashy show with guns blazing and swords held aloft, they are masters of the theatre in a sense. Their theatrics brings back ideas of the frontier, the lawless areas of space, ideas of surviving on your wits and your weapons. They can create a notion of being attacked by outlaws, people who would be willing to kill if it meant getting hold of more loot, and yet have a delicate touch. Their performances with swords and guns have earned them a reputation for wonderfully deft swordsmanship, rugged charm, and exoticism that may be lacking from many peoples lives. It is this dangerous romanticism that helps to create what is the myth of the pirate, and while the reality of running a ship is completely different, it is necessary to maintain this illusion, it is their image as pirates that is important, not the reality.

The yacht club lack this, and yet they put on a performance that still maintains the exotic charm of piracy. However, instead of the circus, this performance is more akin to that of a fairground, or even children’s play. The people on board the space liner are amused, bemused and enraptured by the performance that unfolds before them. For many this may be their only chance to see a pirate, and the idea of teenagers as pirates may further add to the mythos of what it means to space pirate in their imaginations. That their costumes don’t match Marika’s adds to the otherworldly quality of this performance, it is cute, yet dangerous, childish, alluring, but also fascinating. The Yacht Club are parodying the Bentenmaru’s performance, there is still the exoticisms, along with the carnivalesque, but they are for entirely different reasons,and while the audiences reaction may be different, there is still an element of wonder and awe present.

And through all this we have Marika, the ringmaster, the conductor, the producer, she is the person at the centre of this performance, and yet also in the shadows. Her planning and leadership pull this performance off, and while her performers are grabbing everyone’s attention Marika, along with Chiaki are making sure that everything is going smoothly. Without these people in the shadows making sure everything is going smoothly it would not be possible to pull off these shows and things may even devolve into anarchy, this destroying any legitimacy the pirates have. The passengers can only really maintain their calm because they know that they wont get hurt, despite the idea that pirates are outlaws and dangerous, it is this curious balance that helps to maintain the performances throughout.

Pirates have managed to maintain their position by adapting to the times, and they have gained legitimacy through these performances. But, there is an element of smoke and mirrors within these performances that allow the pirates to maintain legitimacy, while also still living on the margins of society and the law. Their jobs entertaining passengers aboard spaces cruise ships give them a public face, nut in the shadows they are carrying out more dangerous, perhaps even clandestine missions. They are very much like the circus’ of the past, providing entertainment, while living on the margins of society. No one truly knows who they are, no one necessarily cares, they go where they like, arriving with a big fanfare, but disappearing into the night leaving only memories of colour, noise and something that is beautiful, yet dangerous.

This ability to come and go as they please make pirates dangerous, that there presence is also almost intangible, like seas mist further creates an air of danger around them. The Letter of Marque is a means of controlling piracy and pirates, and while it does give them legitimacy, it also ties them into these performances. And yet, in order to maintain the freedom that pirates have come to live with and love, they must maintain their place within the boundaries or society. But, as we see at the end of this episode, pirates walk a very fine line between the legitimate and illegal, meandering between the two as they see fit. That The Bentenmaru can move from providing entertainment for the Princess Apricot, right into a request to kidnap Jenny Dolittle further underlines this precarious position that pirates have in the universe of Mouretsu Pirates.


About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

3 Responses to Mouretsu Pirates 16 – Piracy as performance

  1. chaostangent says:

    The idea of piracy as essentially theatre is something I’ve been trying to get to grips with for a while now with Space Pirates. Am I right in thinking you to take the angle of them finding a place or a niche within society but still remaining as outliers.

    I’ve wondered whether it has to do with Japan’s history with the performing arts (Kabuki, Noh etc.) and the fringe idea (by Jake Clennel of “The Great Happiness Space” fame) that much of Japanese society is theatre and everyone just plays their assigned roles in a kind of improvised performance. It certainly seems that way given what we’ve seen of the Bentenmaru crew with hosts happily handing over loot and laughing without it would seem real concern for their lives, or the yacht club dancing to a, ahem, different beat.

    In Space Pirates though their requirement for a “public face” as you put it is necessitated by their marque provided by the government – classical pirates didn’t have a need for this kind of public interfacing, so perhaps here it’s more pragmatic and to keep a steady income rather than maintaining face?

    Regardless, great post!

    • illogicalzen says:

      I think there may be an element of the performing arts such as Kabuki and Noh to this series, but at the same time it is another aspect of the carnivalesque that we have seen in many countries around the world. I wouldn’t ascribe to the fringe idea actually, seems a little too convenient and doesn’t allow the Japanese people any form of agency.

      In terms of this performance, I still think it has more in common with earlier travelling performers, both in Japan and europe during the 19th and 20th centuries, since they are both within the law, but also outside of it.

      And as far as I see, the passengers are handing over their possessions due to the nature of space pirates, it is a once in a lifetime experience to be robbed by a pirate, and the shipping company covers all losses. It’s just one more element of this curious performance that the space pirates put on in order to allow them the freedom that they have become used to.

      The idea of legal pirates is not new though, during the Tudor period in England for example, half of the royal navy at the time were ‘Privateers’ who were effectively legal pirates. They had an official letter from the monarchy stating that they were working on behalf of the English crown, and that a percentage of any spoils they acquired would be owned by the crown. So, this Letter of Marque is hardly new or unique to Mouretsu Pirates, and they need to keep it in order to maintain their current way of life, similar to the original privateers.

  2. chaostangent says:

    I hadn’t made the connection with the idea of privateers – not a topic I’m especially knowledgeable of so was good to do some research. It certainly sounds like they were the primary inspiration for the Pirates here but I was expecting a lot more story from the rather wordy opening on the war for independence that gave rise to them. I suppose with a full story arc to go there is room for that yet.

    As for their relation to travelling performers, I agree your interpretation is a lot more robust. Especially as the Japanese didn’t seem to really have pirates in the sense of looting and pillaging on the high seas. Their closest analogue, the Wokou, seemed more politically motivated and akin to smugglers than anything.

    When it comes to the handing over of possessions, I guess when you’re dealing with the affluent clientele that a cruise deals with, you’re unlikely to be wearing anything of significance if it isn’t a large event. If it were me, I’d be mightily annoyed if some brigand made off with my watch – once in a lifetime event or not!

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