I watched Kaizoku Oujo (Fena: Pirate Princess in Japan) and like many, I couldn’t help but compare it to possibly the greatest pirate adventure fantasy story in modern times. I suppose that isn’t really fair, but it is increasingly difficult not to compare any pirate shows to the greatest pirate anime /manga of our time. Of course, I speak of One Piece, a series and story so alluring that even as the anime reaches 1000 episodes and the manga is now well past 1000 manga chapters, people are still hooked and some find it too short. But why is One Piece so well-received? I can only offer my own personal views, but I believe it has to do with the fact that each of the main characters has a personal goal involved, along with showing camaraderie among the crew, and it is usually established with satisfying personal narratives. Each of their character arcs when their pasts were respectively revealed (albeit with the exception of Sanji, who had his development in Baratie and arguably not the most recent arc in the timeskip involving his family), it allowed us to see their personal dreams and what held them back from pursuing them. Now, compare everything that I just said about One Piece with Kaizoku Oujo. Kaizoku Oujo’s initial plot conflict frankly doesn’t make any damn sense. Fena gets rescued by her friendly secretive Samurai clan who live on a mystery island that isn’t located on any map within a setting that is the real world, but with some unexplained soft magic fantasy elements and a lot of mystery. The clan basically tells her to hurry up and remember things from her forgotten memories of what her father told her, so they can get to the mystery island of Eden to uncover a lost Japanese treasure and some secret about Fena herself that her father alluded to before he died. That may sound alright as a plot set-up, but . . . did anyone else find it absurd that they were asking Fena to hurry up and recover lost memories from when she was like 6-years old? What if it had just been completely impossible for her to remember? How would the story have worked out then? Now, while the story is good with building mystery and tension (obviously, because it is written by a Japanese person, so we can expect competent story beats unlike if modern Westerners were writing it), and the different sides are dynamic, compelling, and intriguing to witness the conflicts of; I still can’t help but feel that it misses one key ingredient that both One Piece and Atlantis: The Lost Empire had. It has plenty of mystery, compelling characters, and an interesting (although seemingly contrived) plot, but it doesn’t have the thrill of adventure and fun. It isn’t about meeting new people, exploring a new culture, having fun while going on such a whirlwind of new exciting places and people, finding oneself involved in the political conflict of the area due to a protagonist’s purposeful motives, and so on. Fena already knows Yukimaru (the male love interest of the show) and probably knew some of his family beforehand; when speaking to Fena, Yukimaru talks of how life is about finding a purpose within the context of fulfilling a role that life gives you. Not exactly breaking the shackles of other people’s desires for you as a person so you can go fulfill your own heart’s desire like in an adventure story, is it? Kaizoku Oujo and One Piece are certainly in different genres despite sharing similarities with mystery. One Piece is about personal tragedy, friendship, adventure, and fun while getting entangled in a global conspiracy and the political intrigue of rival pirate groups; Kaizoku Oujo seems to be about mystery and a sense of belonging. One Piece emphasizes making a purpose for your life by following your heart; Kaizoku Oujo’s main theme seems to be about fulfilling the purpose that the world has given you. The audience seems to be different too: One Piece seems to be for people who have personal dreams they want to follow or who believe this is a good way to live life, Kaizoku Oujo is for people who have no idea what they want to do in life and found no purpose in it.
Treasure Planet similarly failed because the focus was on a boring redemption arc with the main character’s mother being part of the journey instead of having an actual compelling character with personal goals that they do out of their own volition. Feeling guilty about life isn’t fun, nor is it a particularly rewarding theme for viewers, and it offers no compelling reason to meet new people, explore new cultures, and work on improving your life. Guilt is just meant to shackle people on events they cannot change; to have your life influenced and controlled by others. Guilt is a form of emotional torture that often doesn’t comport to an adventure story. Above all, guilt is boring. Treasure Planet failed as a film because it was boring. What the hell is the point of a massive setting with different, varied cultures and conflicts when all the main character does is mope around and feel sorry for events that he cannot change while his mother is there to pamper him? Dull wouldn’t even begin to describe how boring Treasure Planet is. Whereas Atlantis: The Lost Empire brings mystery, adventure, meeting a new setting of people, and having a nice little love story between two different cultures. It’s arguably generic, but it is still vastly more interesting than Treasure Planet.
To conclude, adventure stories – especially those involving pirate adventures – should be composed on the basis that the characters actively want to go on an adventure for fun reasons and not due to duty or having their purpose predetermined for them. Having their purpose predetermined is an utter bore that goes against the whole point of wanting to move past your life’s hang-ups, change yourself to go for what you really desire in your heart, and embrace it fully. Embracing destiny is fine only when that destiny is a self-given choice. Plot contrivances, motivations involving guilt, and other such concepts don’t mesh with an adventure story and don’t offer anything of value to them. They’re especially annoying for the audiences who want to read and watch adventure stories. If the basis of your adventure story is plot contrivances based on having their purpose predetermined without any meaningful choice on their part or motivations that poorly contrast with embracing an adventure like guilt, then you’re in the wrong genre and the audience you’re looking for isn’t going to be there for you. You’re not writing an adventure, you’re writing something else that people who want to experience adventure stories don’t care about.