"Pumpkin Scissors"" Pumpkins Have Layers OF EVIL! We Cut Them Down!
It’s hard to find a good, old-time war story anymore. They either have giant robots prancing around like ballerinas and playing with thirty-story-tall lightsabers, or they have some other giant robots shooting giant lasers at each other as everyone overacts their melodramatic stories like a Shakespearean opera or something.
So at least we’ve got Pumpkin Scissors, which is … Well, okay, it’s not exactly super realistic, but at least it doesn’t feature any dancing mechas.
The Great War. A war so great it was … great. Anyway, the Empire and the Republic had a big spat and starting killing each other. But then they decided to call a truce and the war ended. Three years later, the nobles are doing okay, but the commoners are still struggling. To help their PR a bit, the Empire establishes Intelligence Section III, a war relief squadron known as the Pumpkin Scissors. Under Lieutenant Alice Malvin, this squad will brave any danger to see that justice gets delivered. Luckily, she is aided by the shy bookworm Machs, the self-proclaimed ladies-man Oreldo, the cute and energetic Lili, the reasonable commander Captain Hunks, the loyal military hound Mercury, and the hulking Corporal Randel Oland, a kind and gentle brute who turns into a ruthless killing machine whenever he opens his lantern and spills out a chilling blue light. Together this ragtag band of misfits must uncover a secret plot to restart the war while keeping the poor commoners from going to war against the smug nobles. But when Oland finds that he must fight against his own kind, will he be able to pull himself together?
Pumpkin Scissors is quite the odd anime. Like certain other series, it tends to go from serious to comedic easily, with the more comedic stuff coming earlier in the series. But the time period it takes place in, where tanks are the most dangerous weapons on the land, is rather refreshing. There are no giant robots, no energy beams, no giant gatling guns, just old fashioned pistols and rifles. The setting lends a certain charm to the series that it just wouldn’t have if it took place in an apocalyptic future. Even the super soldier stuff feels natural, probably because this kind of thing was being rumored to have been going on in Nazi Germany during our world’s equivalent time period.
The show would like you to think Randal Oland is the star. He’s the one all over the opening, he’s the one with the mysterious past, and much of the show is told from his point of view. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. His kind and gentle soul make him a lovable lug that the audience roots for, and seeing him struggle with his nature makes for good TV. Then there are the scenes where he goes into his death killer mode, usually against tanks. In this mode he’s practically invincible, and the way he manages to take down all the tanks with just an oversized, one-bullet pistol is amazing to watch, especially in Episodes 2 and 4. This is the kind of stuff you watch with your friends for some good old fashioned ultraviolence. And it’s pretty amazing to see that someone so gentle that he sleeps with a bunch of kittens and feeds them everyday can be such a terrifying killer.
Not to say that the rest of the cast doesn’t measure up. Oreldo, Machs, Hunks, and Lili all have unique personalities and get along well with each other, adding some humanity to the cast and being more than the one-note caricatures one would imagine these guys to be. I was actually surprised when one of the early subplots was Machs not trusting Oland and actually being suspicious of his incredible powers, which everyone else seems to gloss over. This little bit of distrust serves to strengthen the early episodes and makes the story that much sweeter in the second half when things really get going. Hunks doesn’t do much at first, but his awesomeness gets displayed in the second half, while Lili is absolutely adorable in the origin episode as well as the scenes where she does her inspirational dances. Here I thought she was just cutesy ending theme fodder. Oddly enough, one character that surprised me was Schultz, a dim-witted noble engaged to Alice. At first he seemed like the series’ butt monkey, but during the final arc he develops an actual character, aiding in the story and making me root for the little pipsqueak. Oreldo is an even better character, as his street smarts and tough guy image serves as a great contrast with the other characters, providing a nice ground for the other characters to bounce off of. By the end of the first disc he had become my second favorite character in the show.
My favorite character? That would be the real star of the show: Alice Malvin. Her gung-ho attitude never gets old and her unwavering spirit brings to mind the stereotypical knight character that I love so much. Her craziness on the battlefield during the early goings often carry the entire episode, making a weak plot that much stronger just by charging in head first into a situation which would leave most other platoons dead in minutes. I also like how she’s not a fanservice character. Sure, she does get a generous amount of cleavage when she dolls herself up during the final arc, but for the most part she’s not just a pin-up. Her hairstyle is very unique, she almost always wears her military uniform (which, unlike Gundam unis, doesn’t accentuate her curves) and she doesn’t have any of the usual trappings of the typical anime heroine. But by far her best scene is in the middle of Disc 3, where she brandishes her giant, 7-foot double-bladed cavalry sword. All alone, she faces off against the specially-trained members of Section 1 and goes all Darth Maul on their asses, leaving me to mutter “Awesome” at the end of the scene.
Unfortunately, there are some gashes on this fine series’ body. The first two discs follow a largely episodic formula. The gang goes to rescue some commoners, they find the bad guys, there’s a big fight, Oland turns his lantern on and kicks some bad guy butt. While many of the individual stories are interesting on their own, their reliance on the same formula tends to drag the series down. Luckily the formula disappears in the second half. Another problem is the introduction of hanging plot threads. An important character is introduced during the first half of the series, but she never comes back, and an on-going subplot regarding the Silver Wheel is never resolved. Considering how much of the plot these guys are generating (including their mascot Lionel, a guy who set off my “bad guy radar” almost immediately), it’s a shame the core members not only get so little screen time, but that the Pumpkin Scissors never even cross paths with them. The end of the series makes mention of a possible Season 2, but I haven’t heard anything about it being made. Hopefully if that gets made we can also get a second season of Tactics.
Visually, the show boasts some of Gonzo’s best and worst animation. The show isn’t nowhere near as pretty as Basilisk or Trinity Blood, but the attention to detail in the backgrounds, weapons, and vehicles, as well as the movements of Oland when he’s possessed, are all top notch. Unfortunately, much of the action consists of manipulated stills and limited-frame movements, creating a jarring feeling after a while, especially when you contrast them with the beautiful movements of the opening. Things get a tad better in the second half, especially when the fireman comes into the spotlight, but even then, very rarely does the animation reach out and grab you. The coloring may seem a bit drab to some, as all the members wear varying shades of brown, which mix in with all the dark greens and browns of the wasteland backdrop, but it’s done in a way that actually adds some charm to the series, unlike pretty much every other World War II video game in the past ten years.
This series was originally dubbed by ADV Films, who tend to be up and down in terms of their dub quality, but luckily this film is an up. Kathya Coker is not a name I’ve heard before, but her Alice is simply wonderful and is unbelievably perfect for the role. Likewise, Grey Haddock, Blake Shepard, and Adam Dudley are perfect in the roles of Oreldo, Marks, and Oland. I’m hoping that with ADV doing fewer dubs that these guys will move over to FUNimation, as it would be a shame to have these voices in only one series. In fact, the dubbing is so good you would think FUNimation did have a hand in the voice work, which wouldn’t surprise me. The Japanese cast is also excellent, with Shizuka Itou’s Alice equaling Coker’s, but I prefer Dudley’s Oland over Kenta Miyake’s; the latter’s voice is a bit too deep for the role. The music tends to blend into the scenery well enough, though none of it is particularly memorable. All in all, it does the job and nothing more. The opening theme, “Aoki Flamme,” is a bit odd-sounding at first, but the cheesiness of the constant yelling won me over as I listened to it more and more. Unfortunately, the super-cutesy “Mercury Go!” isn’t all that great and in the second half of the series does not fit at all.
C’mon FUNimation, you’re disappointing me with the extras here! All we get are the standard textless songs and trailers (many of which are other former ADV license rescues) scattered all over the boxset. I’m not sure if ADV had planned to or actually did make any special features for their original release, but if they did, I wish FUNi had gone to the effort of acquiring them. Even a commentary or two would’ve been nice to listen to. At least the packaging is nice, even if the art isn’t as good as some of FUNi’s other boxsets.
Overall, Pumpkin Scissors is a nice, oddball anime that’s a bit different from its harem and shonen brethren. While I wouldn’t put it in the “Essential Anime” section, it’s still a solid title.