Why do we need more anime about pirates?

By Gregory Vendramini

What would it take for them to be back in the spotlight?

Raise your hand if you would love to see more products about your favorite topic. Are you into dinosaurs and would be thrilled to see more anime featuring them? Do you enjoy stories set in Ancient Greece and wish there were more shows about it? I feel you. I’ve been on this boat for a while. I miss anime about pirates.

Hold on, I know what you’re thinking: “There is always One Piece”. Don’t get me wrong, One Piece fans, but your show is not about pirates. It has pirates, yes, but it’s as much about them as Dragon Ball Z was about the eponymous balls. I’m not saying it’s bad – in fact, for something to last over 700 episodes it has to be at least average – but it’s definitely not what pirate fans like myself are looking for.

Sorry, One Piece, but you're not what I was looking for.
Sorry, One Piece, but you’re not what I was looking for.

The current situation

The last ‘good, relevant’ anime about pirates was Takarajima, which was released in the 1970s. Not only is it based on Treasure Island (perhaps the most classic pirate story ever), but it has been over 40 years since it aired. Nowadays, there are a few scattered mentions here and there, but the majority of anime or manga about pirates feature modern versions (Black Lagoon), or space/future interpretations (Outlaw Star). But classic pirates, the ones that raided ships, drank rum and shot flintlock pistols, don’t get the treatment they deserve.

During the last decade, the movie saga Pirates of the Caribbean has been the flagship of pirate-related content. Thanks to the astonishing popularity of the franchise, pirates saw a brief moment in the spotlight again. But ever since then, they’ve retreated back to the shadows and were forgotten by the public. There were very few movies, live-action TV shows or video games about them: only ‘Black Sails’, ‘Crossbones’, and ‘Assassin’s Creed Black Flag’ come to mind. Of course, not a single anime, which is a shame if you ask me. The Golden Age of Piracy is a rich setting for an adventure to unfold. Conspiracies on the deck, magnificent battles between ships, betrayals and disputes over treasures, and a whole lot more would be interesting things to see in anime. Which leads to our next question.

Note: Not actually an anime show, but Kaizou Sentai Gokaiger definitely deserves a mention, even though it’s a tokusatsu (Japanese live-action) and its pirates are more of the ‘space kind’.

Gokaiger, which aired in 2011, was a huge success in Japan.
Gokaiger, which aired in 2011, was a huge success in Japan.

Why aren’t there more anime about pirates?

I think the main reason for the lack of anime about pirates is that, as with anything based on a certain historical event or period, there needs to be a lot of research to avoid mistakes. The Golden Age of Piracy was at the beginning of the Eighteenth century and only occurred in certain parts of the world. While most people can name a few pirates, very few can actually say what happened to them, when, and where. Yes, Blackbeard was a real pirate and a very famous one even back then, but his career was much shorter than what people think.

On top of that, the pirates we know about were quite popular in the West, but not so much in Japan. And we can’t forget that anime is made there. Just as we are not familiar with the relevant commanders during the Battle of Sekigahara, the everyday Japanese viewer probably has no idea of who Benjamin Hornigold was. Naturally, they don’t know why a show based on such a character would be worth watching.

Another problem is that anime are almost always based on successful manga. As far as I can remember, pirates are not the most popular thing in manga at the moment. Everything comes in trends and anime is no different. Fortunately, this usually follows a chain reaction: if a single show about pirates manages to get good views, more are definitely going to follow in its steps. So don’t give up, pirate fans, there’s still hope!

Would there be any interest in a show about pirates?

Some visionary once said that people don’t know what they want until they see it, and I believe that is definitely the case with anime and manga. The viewers don’t know what they want to watch until they watch it. A few years ago nobody would have said that a show about chefs would be getting as much attention as Shokugeki no Souma has nowadays. Much like what happened after the success of Pirates of the Caribbean on the big screen, a bold anime show about pirates could open the market to more – and even better – adaptations. All it takes is a bold contender to raise the flag and make pirates popular again to spark the audience’s interest.

Out of the blue, 'Black Sails is having very good ratings on TV.
Out of the blue, Black Sails is having very good ratings on TV.

I truly think the Golden Age is one of the best time periods to set a story. It’s rich in characters like Blackbeard or Hornigold, has thrilling battles like the one Black Bart led against the Portuguese Navy, or interesting conspiracies like the struggle for Puerto Royal between Spain and Jamaica. I believe it’s a matter of time before we see an anime about classical pirates again. Trends come and go in waves and sooner or later, someone is going to try pitching a story about them to see how it goes. If the viewers like the show and more decide to follow the wave, we may be in for a treat: our own ‘Golden Age of Pirates’.

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Gregory Vendramini

Translator, author, and piñata enthusiast. Greg currently writes about anime, videogames, and pop culture while working on his next books, "A Long Halloween Night" and "The Fifth Archangel". He avoids social media a little, but is very open to exchanging ideas through emails or comments. Or in person, if somehow you find his house in the woods and get past the cat guards.

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