Pumpkin Scissors Complete Collection (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, August 25, 2009
As bad as war can be, dealing with the fallout from it afterward can be far more difficult in the long run, which is what the group known as the Pumpkin Scissors has to deal with.
What They Say
In the wake of the Great War, Lieutenant Alice Malvin assumes command of the Imperial Army's Intelligence Section III - a ragtag bunch of pencil-pushers used to spread military propaganda. But Malvin, an idealistic soldier who refuses to rest while her people suffer, yearns to cut through the thick skin of deception perpetrated by power-crazed nobles. When her investigation reveals a clandestine super-soldier program known as The Invisible Nine, she finds herself trapped in a whirlwind of deadly secrets.
The closer Malvin gets to exposing government corruption, the less likely her beloved IS3 is to survive. With the fate of the Empire hanging in the balance, Malvin turns to an unlikely ally - Randel Orland, a hulking veteran who may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of The Invisible Nine. In a world where nobility and power make the rules, the truth can get an honest soldier killed.
Contains episodes 1-24.
This series features a solid bilingual presentation that does a good job of using the atmosphere of the series both in the creepy quiet moments as well as the big action scenes. The original Japanese stereo mix is encoded at 224 kbps and has a good design across the forward soundstage. Depth is well placed, directionality is fairly regular across it and it has a fair bit of overall impact when needed. The English 5.1 mix is bumped up to 448 kbps and adds a bit more in terms of bass and impact as well as some enhanced directionality. In listening to both language tracks, we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006 and 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This release is spread across four discs with six episodes to each disc with plenty of space considering there aren’t any extras of note. This show was originally authored and released by ADV Films and FUNimation appears to be using those encodes, as it’s structured as an episode per title on the disc which is how they did it and not FUNimation. Pumpkin Scissors is fairly traditional for Gonzo’s animation style in that there isn't any special processing going on or visual tricks to heighten the look of the series. It's not plainly or poorly animated but it doesn't have some of their usual signature standout aspects. Colors look solid and rich when needed while also having a murky and dank look when appropriate. Cross coloration is very minimal with only a few brief instances alongside some aliasing. There's very little visible in terms of noise in the background or within the characters themselves which results in a very smooth and pleasing presentation.
FUNimation has put together a nice package for this release with the standard slipcover holding two clear thinpak cases inside it. The front of the slipcover runs with a good piece with the ruined countryside in oranges for the background while the core group of characters are in the foreground. This series has had some unfortunate luck with its covers in the past as the colors just aren’t all that appealing and it’s made apparent here again that the uniforms, while good for what they are, aren’t exactly attention grabbers. The back of the slipcover is nicely done with a good shadowed shot of Oland along the top while below we get a look at various soldiers making their way across the war torn landscape. The center is where the bulk of this is as we get several shots from the show that highlight the military angle nicely while providing a lengthy but good summary of the shows overall premise. The runtime and disc count along with the extras are clearly listed which definitely makes it an appealing show by having as much content as it does. The technical information is on the bottom of the slipcover, a practice I don’t like since the shrink wrap can obscure things, is accurate and well represented.
Inside the slipcover we get a good pair of thinpak releases that utilizes the artwork from the single volumes with much better backgrounds that allows the artwork to look dark and serious. The first volume has a good shot of Alice and Oland with their respective weapons while the second volume plays up Alice a bit more with her sword while her dress is shredded as Oland is in the background. The back covers are decent if plain with a marble look from the front cover carried over with a breakdown of the discs with their respective episode numbers and titles. There is some good artwork on the reverse side as well with a group shot for the first volume with the cast against the stone pavement. The second one is my favorite though with Alice in her dress that’s spread out on the bed around her along with her sword. No show related inserts are included in this release.
The menu is done in theme rather nicely if in a simple way as it features a file folder from which various items have spilled out from. The single piece of artwork is that of a group piece of artwork that was originally intended to be the front cover done up as a photo. The piece of paper clipped on top of the folder has the navigation strip while a few other odds and ends are strewn about the screen. The music used is perfect for the setup here as it builds up nicely before it starts to cycle over again. Access times are nice and fast and the disc correctly read our players' language presets.
The extras are minimal in that all that is here are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based off of the manga by Ryoutarou Iwanaga, which is getting a very slow release from Del Rey in North America, Pumpkin Scissors is a twenty-four episode series that is mostly episodic. It’s the kind of show that details the lives of the people living in this post-war nation and the things that are dealt with, though it does bring in some overall plot elements along the way. That series has only reached about twelve volumes worth in Japan, six of which were published at the time of the anime series being made, so we get about half of the show done up in animation for which isn’t that bad but it means we don’t get anything serious in terms of a real conclusion, especially as the manga is still ongoing. Pumpkin Scissors starts off with some striking similarities to Fullmetal Alchemist through its designs and layout but there are few similarities beyond that.
The series revolves heavily around the military which means lots of uniforms, lots of soldiers grousing and plenty of civilians who are generally upset about things. The world that's presented in this series is one that's suffered from a long war which had finally ended three years ago. The ravages of that war are still afflicting everything however and the country has not recovered much at all. The poor are still poor, many towns are still disconnected from the central government and people simply don't trust the military. They have good reason for that since not only did the war go badly but a large number of soldiers turned into bandits when it was over and now roam the countryside.
It's into this setting that we're introduced to Section 3, a part of the Imperial Army's Intelligence Division. Strangely named as Pumpkin Scissors, the group under Captain Hunks is setup to handle mostly peaceful missions that involve war relief. While Hunks is the Captain of the group, he rarely leaves his desk during these opening episodes and leaves most of that to 2nd Lieutenant Alice L. Malvin. A noble by birth who lives rather affluently, she has dedicated herself to the war relief effort as a way of giving back and having an understanding of the people. Her view of nobility is unlike most others which causes a fair amount of grief among her family and generally keeps here away.
The group is rounded out with a pair of Warrant Officers named Martis and Oreld who had grown up together and have a certain kind of give and take with each other. Along with Sergeant Major Lili Stecchin, the group has a small and simple feel to it but is usually eager to do their jobs and perform them well. They're not exactly black sheep of the military but they're not all that high up in its rankings either. What the group is missing is some serious muscle and that's where Corporal Randel Oland comes into play. A soldier who retired after the war, he runs into the Pumpkin Scissors group during one of their missions and ends up helping out simply because he's a good natured and "gentle" person. With the state that the country is in, Alice doesn't have to do too much convincing to get him to join the group and help them.
Much of the series is pretty familiar and there’s a sense of predictability about it as the group heads to various missions while slowly uncovering some of the mysteries about the various Invisible 9 groups that exist yet don’t. During the war, a series of 9xx troops were created that dealt with special functions, such as tank troopers, chemical warfare and so forth. These groups were never officially part of the military, at least to the knowledge of the rank and file and most officers, as they were all being dealt with either in experiments or controversial elements. Oland, being part of the 901st, brings this mystery front and center as others in the Pumpkin Scissors group slowly realize what’s out there and how it’s impacting the empire now that the war has ended. This is the thread that ties much of the show together outside of the war relief efforts and the way people live.
One of the main themes of the series is that life in the Royal Empire simply sucks, though State Section 3 is working to try and change that. Unless you're in the military, your life is basically just an effort to scrape by enough to live another day. And if you by chance have something good going, it can be lost in the blink of an eye due to something as basic as getting ill. One episode illustrates this clearly as Oland is in the hospital recovering from events in the previous incident. Since he has a penchant for sneaking out of his room, he's been moved to another room with a patient named Wantz. Wantz is one of the lucky citizens whose held a job during all of the warring, a job he's had for nearly twenty years now. But now that he's ill for the first time in his life and has to take a short vacation for it, he finds himself out of a job. All of this occurs while Oland's comrades in State Section 3 are trying to unearth his past and understand what he's been through since he may pose a threat to their existence.
Where the show succeeds is in presenting some interesting stories in a way that feels realistic and honest. The downside is that they may not exactly capture your complete attention as there often aren't all that much in the way of surprises. One batch of episodes, taking us up through the middle of the series, brings in a pair of background stories on a couple of the characters, the origin of the name of the group and then it delves into a bit more intrigue that goes back to the Invisible 9 storyline. What is very consistent throughout these tales is the idea of how the war has affected everyone and the different manner through which people try to cope. There are plenty of tales to tell both from the commoners’ point of view as well as the military, especially as both sides are corrupt in their own way, and that gives the show plenty of material to mine.
When it comes to the background stories, both of the ones we get here are pretty good. The opening tale has one revolving around Oreldo and his penchant for beautiful women. He spends a lot of time hanging out at an escort place where he's familiar with a lot of the women and the owner. What draws him deeper into it is a particular woman he thinks initially is trying to kill herself but is instead simply dying inside as she awaits the return of her boyfriend from the war. A war that ended three years prior and one where she already received notice of his death from the military. Oreldo gets some nice growth through this as we start to understand his mindset more and why he's so drawn to these people and tries to help them. The healing process is central to a lot of things in this show and this episode has him trying to get the distraught shell of a woman to realize that she has to live now for her boyfriend rather that wait and wither away.
Another good background story revolves around the origins of Section 3 as Stecchin tells Oland about how everyone came together one by one after it was formed. The focus is heavily on that of Martis however as we see how he was originally in a different group and was running up against corrupt senior officers who were gaming the system for their own benefit. A chance meeting with Oreldo brings him into Section 3 which comes just before the time when Alice transferred into it. Her arrival was what really solidifies the group as she has such a sense of naive justice and intent to bring relief from the war to everyone. She started off with such a sense of strong willed innocence that's pretty amusing to watch here but it's also easy to see why it inspired those who were already there and helped to give the group some real cohesion.
Pumpkin Scissors does have a major arc towards the end, one that starts to introduce very slowly something bigger out there. An investigation into the waterways below the city has Section 3 coming in to help people move out to a state farm where they can get some work and try to rebuild their lives. It's all very positive, if somewhat forceful, but it's the kick needed to help these people out. What surprises the Section 3 group is that very few of them want to leave and insist on staying. Even worse is that employees from the waterworks company are milling about down there and intimidating the rabble. That leads to a few dustups between the two groups and Alice discovers that the waterworks guys are actually selling Himmel, an illegal drug that many are addicted to.
This has Alice taking the waterworks guys in on charges only to find them being released on bail within hours if not less by the man behind the company. This actually goes on during all three episodes to one extent or another as they're continually brought in and set free. It becomes an accent point to everything else going on which ranges in some very different directions. The first is that Section 1 is actively investigating what's going on as well but they aren't interested in the drugs, but rather something else that's not really being disclosed yet. They're far more aggressive than Section 3 but they don't make a move for quite a while. And when they do, it turns brutal and cold which goes completely against how Alice intends to try to make war reparations.
The other point that comes into it is that the man behind the company, Mion, has someone very interesting working for him. Known only as Hans, he's in a special protective suit of armor that allows him to utilize a flamethrower, a weapon that was effectively banned from production within the Empire because of how inhumane it is. Hans is eternally cold and only feels right when he gets to use his flamethrower, but he isn't wild about it or psychotic. He is becoming strangely unhinged though and does whatever he's told to do by Mion, who in turn is serving another man under a group known as the Society of the Silver Wheel. It's there that the drugs are coming from and the purpose of which is still pretty much unknown. A few decent teases make it into the last episode here that point to the Society becoming bigger in the next two volumes though.
Combining that with having Hans be part of the mysterious 908 HTT group, there is a lot to like about the larger mythos being built around the series. The strange and unusual 90X sections that we find out about are fascinating in how they're done and this one is no exception as Oland learns exactly what's gone into making an HTT soldier. With his own life having been twisted by things, he gets very intent about it and wants to make things right. It's also interesting that Alice seems to be sensitive to those that come from these groups as her first encounter with Hans reminds her instantly of her first encounter with Oland. Her sense of justice is rightly piqued by these men and meeting someone who gives her that same feeling gives her plenty of reason to pause.
The shift within the series from the relatively standalone pieces from early on to the lengthier arc is definitely welcome. The individual stories were interesting enough to be sure and they helped to establish a lot of the groundwork of the series, but it’s these kinds of episodes that help to push it forward with a stronger narrative about what they really want to cover. With more time for the characters to react to the situations they’re facing, they become far more interesting and engaging.
As much fun as this storyline is, since it does give everyone a chance to shine in their own way and work through some of the social issues going on, it’s not the best way to cap off this series. In fact, I almost wonder if they would have been better off keeping it to the smaller single episode stories instead, where we wouldn’t be so deep into something that in the end doesn’t have as big of an impact as it should for a series ending. Some of them do come across better here now that we know them, Alice in particular really defines herself and Oland really becomes a full member of the group after this, but it feels like a weak way to bring things to a close. It’s almost like it was stretched out more than it should have been.
In the end, what’s frustrating about Pumpkin Scissors is that it has laid down a good deal of groundwork for what it wants to do, adapting as it is from the manga, but it doesn’t have enough material to really carry through on it. The show managed to work well through most of it because it was doing standalone stories that showed us the country and how the State Section 3 folks were working to fix things as they could. Along the way, it brought in a larger story working through the background that came across as intriguing. And it also brought about the fascinating story of the corporal himself and his role in everything as one of the Anti Tank Troopers that shouldn’t exist. But none of this really has any payoff here. Pumpkin Scissors is all about the decent small stories but simply can’t capitalize on the bigger stories that it has in its back pocket. And that’ll keep it from really being anything more than a nice, simple series.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 14 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 600
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Pumpkin Scissors