Longtime anime fans have seen it all. Giant robots are a norm. Talking pandas make them yawn. Planet sized fireballs are a thing of the past. While I may not be the longest running anime fan in North America, I will admit that I’ve watched my fair share and there are times when the same ol’ setup just doesn’t cut it for me. So whenever an anime comes out of the woodwork with a semi-original setting, I can’t help but take notice. The moment I plugged the anime version of Pumpkin Scissors (originally serialized in Monthly Shonen Magazine) into my DVD player, my curiosity was definitely piqued.
For those unfamiliar with the manga, Pumpkin Scissors takes place in a world very much like the one that existed for German citizens after the events of World War I and before the rise of the Nazis in World War II. Economic decay and unemployment are everywhere in the world of Pumpkin Scissors, and the soldiers that had once been fighting to expand and glorify their nation are left without purpose. Crime and moral depravity are fostered by rich nobles and scheming military leaders.
One area of hope for the impoverished nation lies in the Imperial State Section III, code-named the Pumpkin Scissors by one of the series’ main protagonists, 2nd Lieutenant Alice L. Malvin. The duty of the Pumpkin Scissors is to provide war relief for the destitute citizens of the empire while also cutting through the layers of corruption and greed that surround many of the royal families in the empire. Although many characters consider the Pumpkin Scissors to be a waste of resources or a piece of marketing propaganda, the entire squad takes their duties very seriously for various reasons.
While it may not sound like an entirely captivating storyline for some readers, to me the story of the Pumpkin Scissors was something I could take a vested interest in. As a student of European history, it was intriguing to see how an entirely different culture viewed that aspect of a largely Western war. Not surprisingly, the original creators of the Pumpkin Scissors manga opted to toss in a number of supernatural elements for good measure, the most striking of which is the hulking character of Corporal Randel Oland.
After joining the Pumpkin Scissors team after episode one, Oland clearly is no normal soldier. Not only can he withstand full tank rounds to the face and acid-filled bullets, but he also uses an enormous gun that can pierce tank armor. As the show progresses, it’s revealed that Oland was a part of a mysterious “unsanctioned” unit named the 901-ATT or Anti-Tank-Trooper. Despite Oland’s background and mysterious super-soldier abilities, the Pumpkin Scissors take him in and give him a chance to reclaim his life from the war that left him penniless and without purpose.
Almost without hesitation Lieutenant Malvin and Oland quickly strike up a seemingly unbreakable bond. Although Oland does save the young Alice’s life again and again, it seems almost cliché to make their situation arise so quickly in the anime. That said, the dub cast for Oland and Malvin do a fantastic job capturing the essence of a relationship that lies somewhere between familial and something much more.
While Oland and Malvin are definitely the main characters in the show, I’d contend that the voice work done by the two supporting characters, Warrant Officer Oreldo and Warrant Officer Machs, really brings the show to life. Whether the now defunct ADV Films meant to or not, the characterization provided by Gray Haddock and Blake Sheppard often steal the show from the single-minded Alice Malvin and the dour Oland. The womanizing Oreldo has some of the best English one-liners I’ve ever heard in a dub. I nearly died when he used the term “sweater kittens.”
From an art standpoint, Pumpkin Scissors stands on an above average platform, yet often teeters on the brink of falling into mediocrity. All of the major characters in the television series are easily identifiable; Oland bears wicked scars all over his body, Machs is an effeminate nerd, Oreldo dons the “ladie’s man” guise, and 2nd Lieutenant Malvin looks surprisingly elegant in both a uniform and a dress. However, the numerous “filler” episodes that plague the series often take shortcuts in some of their scenery and animation style. Perhaps the most obvious occurrence is in Episode 8: “Burn in the Snowfields,” where a bandit and his troop of snowboarding (pretty lame!) hooligans try to outwit and outlast Malvin and the Pumpkin Scissors team. The avalanche in this episode is nowhere near as dramatic as it could have been, and many of the scenes seem more than a little hasty.
The music and sound effects in Pumpkin Scissors, on the other hand, are incredibly impressive. Gun shots vary depending on their caliber and sword clashes have a definite weight behind many of them. Oland’s “open lantern” theme is incredibly spooky and definitely sets the mood whenever the action gets a little more dark and dismal. Episode 17 has a number of striking moments that are turned up a notch with a haunting score.
While the animation and music are certainly above average in Pumpkin Scissors, the main storyline never really gets an opportunity to build up any sort of momentum. When Gonzo originally began developing the anime, the manga series had not yet been completed, and this fact is clearly evident to anyone watching the series. While a second season has been hinted at, a gratuitously large number of questions were completely unanswered in this “complete series” boxed set. Chief among them is Oland’s ominous background and clearly unresolved past sins. On top of that, Alice’s fiancé turns out to be something of a criminal mastermind, yet his subplot never comes to any sort of fruition.
Due to its failure to find a true resolution, Pumpkin Scissors won’t be right for every anime fan. However, if you enjoy a series with a different setting and a social commentary that goes beyond the simple post-apocalyptic diorama that we see so often, definitely check Pumpkin Scissors out. The North American dubbing crew did a fantastic job, and it’s certainly a series that will remain memorable for years to come.
Rated: Not Rated