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I love pirates. There is something about the right combination of the iconography of the sea and a scruffy band of outlaws, screams FREEDOM! Even if they aren’t necessarily pirates, per-se, the spirit of freedom is there in the series. Be they outlaws hunting for a legendary lost location or mercenaries scraping from paycheck to paycheck, there is something fantastic about their journey that captures the spirit. There is something wonderful there and, no matter how bad it gets for the characters, they never seem to want to give it up. It is a romantic ideal.

There are four anime that, in my heart, hold this spirit of romance to a higher level. Two of them are set upon an actual sea; two of them are set on a sea of stars. Two of them are a journey to a far off destination; two of them are wanderings around home. All four of them are a tale of a group of unlikely companions who, as the crew of a ship, forge a bond that makes them a family.

The most realistic of the four, Black Lagoon is a story that could have happened. Black Lagoon is a story that we wish had happened. It is a story about how ugly people can be in such a beautiful world, and how beautiful people can be in such an ugly world. The characters are amazingly well built and feel like real people, each with their own hangups, mysteries and surprises. Black Lagoon doesn’t spell out character development, nor does it hand you character backstory. Much like real life, each of the main characters has things they don’t feel like discussing and you only find them out through glimpses and references. Little peeks at the bits that make up a complex whole, that is one of the things I love most.

As for their freedom, well, they are a group of delivery boys that brush against the law from time to time. Their office in Roanapur isn’t really home so much as it is a place to wait for work. True home is on their little torpedo boat, with their companions. Do they get paid for their work? Yes, they are the single one of the three that seem to get paid on a regular basis. Will it ever be enough that they can all retire wealthy? Maybe so, but that isn’t the point. This isn’t a show about them making a living, this is a show about them living a lifestyle.

One of the themes of the show is the power of choice and, by extension, the value of choosing. When we are first introduced to our male lead, he has no real power over his life. He is a cog in a machine, moved, maintained and disposed of at the will of others. It is only when he chooses a life for himself that he can cast aside the life that has been forced upon him. He gained a sort of freedom then and it persists throughout the show. Even as the pains of his chosen way of life mount, the moments of guilt, doubt and regret he experiences, it is the life he chose to live. I doubt that very many viewers would say that he would be happier if he’d never chosen it. The pain is just the price of his choice.


One Piece is a great story about romantic ideals. It is about a journey to a legendary location containing a great lost treasure… on the surface. In truth, this is an anime about hopes, dreams and the bonds that connect people’s hearts. There is an amazing amount of One Piece out there and only more to come, so the characters have been given large amounts of time to develop. Throughout the series, we’ve learned about as much as there is to know about their past, one way or another, and we’ve gained a lot of insight into who the characters are as people.

The journey that they are on is really a metaphorical journey of the spirit. Each crew member is chasing a dream, not matter how small or big. They have a vision of a future that is better than their present and they are doing their best to reach it. They aren’t fighting for their dreams alone, however. Throughout the series, we’ve seen them fight for each-others’ dreams and hopes. We’ve seen them believe in one-another even when that crewmate didn’t believe in their self.

It hasn’t been an easy path, they’ve faced stumbling blocks and perils. Forces both external and internal have sought to tear them apart. In one sense, they even succeeded. Still, though the crew might be cast to the far corners of the earth, they are connected in their hearts. They work hard to find one another and rebuild what was lost. One Piece is an anime about trying for a brighter tomorrow, no matter how dark today may be.

 

Outlaw Star is about a crew that sails on a sea of stars rather than a physical ocean. That doesn’t diminish the imagery though, within our hearts space and the ocean are free and limitless. Their spaceship isn’t any less of a vessel for their journey than their ocean-going counterparts.  The difference lies in the meaning of their journey. Whereas One Piece was a story about the journey of striving towards a dream, Outlaw Star is a show about moving beyond broken dreams.

Throughout the series, things don’t go as planned. Whenever the characters feel that they almost have something worth holding on to, it shatters. What we keep seeing here, though, is them picking up the pieces and putting them together in a different way. They keep moving on from one broken hope to the next heartbreak. Their journey keeps ending and then starting anew. They keep arriving at their destination, only to find it isn’t what they were looking for.

Though that seems to be such a harsh fate, the characters don’t seem to get bogged down in the tragedy. As the series go on, again and again things don’t go the way they’d wished, but they don’t stop trying. No matter how many of their hopes shatter, they keep making new ones. It is a testament to the power of the human spirit. Even though they never seem to find their destination,  no man could say their is journey for nothing. The feeling of freedom, it’s still there. It is waiting, just beyond the horizon.


Cowboy Bebop is similar to Outlaw Star in a lot of ways. They are both series about a group of unlikely comrades, bound together by coincidence and gathered on a single ship, roaming space from paycheck to paycheck. They even share a similar theme. They are both shows about people who find that there is a large difference between what they hope for and what they receive. The major difference is in how they handle that theme. Cowboy Bebop isn’t a story of a journey.

The story of Cowboy Bebop is, like Black Lagoon, a wandering. The crew visits Mars in the same way the Lagoon Company visits Roanapur. It isn’t their home, it is just a place they find themselves between expeditions. Taking that into account, the Bebop isn’t so much a story about answering dashed hopes and dreams with a vision of tomorrow as it is a story about living in the day. Things go wrong and sometimes they can’t be fixed. Sometimes you find out that things aren’t what you expected them to be. This is a fact of life and Cowboy Bebop is there to remind you that it is in dealing with these losses that you define who you are.

If you examine the Bebop story, it is actually a tragedy, told in comedic form. We are led through a series of events, comings and goings. Our characters are disappointed again and again, but they never give in the that void in their hearts. Even in the end, when you would think that despair would consume him, Spike fires a shot to our hearts. “Blow away those feelings of pain. You’re stronger than that.” That is the feeling that I get from Cowboy Bebop. Whereas Outlaw Star is an anime about taking the next step after a fall, Cowboy Bebop is the story of rising back to your feet.

None of the four stories here were without pain or trouble. Certainly none of them could be called “easy” lives. Still, there is something about them that calls to the human spirit. There is something about them that shines, even through all the grime, tears and blood. When you ask a romantic “What did you see there,” they might answer…

“There lies freedom.”

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8 Comments

  1. Wow i’ve never used this one before but TS:R, kind of bad…

    • Agreed. Not my best and each one of these shows deserves multiple rants on their own merits. I suppose I wanted to try to make it something more meaningful than my first impulse, which was to to just write about how much I liked Black Lagoon… but I guess I should trust my instincts on this sort of thing.

        • Hartxenon
        • Posted December 13, 2010 at 8:21 pm
        • Permalink

        Maybe you shouldn’t wait til the last day to do it fucker…

      • Well, I haven’t really seen anything since last week’s rant that triggered a rant… I don’t know, man. Next week. Next week for sure, maybe, possibly, there is a chance of a surefire certain hit, potentially.

  2. I really liked this one. Struck my heartstrings deep. You’ve got a real way with words, Tom!

    • At least Andy liked it. ^_^

  3. I liked it. That Hartxenon guy is an asshole. One Piece isn’t a very good show, though.

    • I have to disagree with you. One Piece is everything a shonen anime can be if it sticks to its guns. The world is well built and vast, the themes are set, the characters are well developed… One Piece is a great show.


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