Pumpkin Scissors Vol. #2 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What They Say
As deadly as the minefields of the shattered Empire may be, the most dangerous threats lie buried within each survivor’s soul. Tortured by his past as a chemically-enhanced super soldier, Randel Oland must now fight a war on two fronts… both to restore peace to his war-torn nation and against the demons that haunt his memories. Meanwhile, Alice Malvin desperately fends off attacks from all sides as her new command, the elite Pumpkin Scissors unit, comes under a staggering blitzkrieg of combined enemy and friendly fire… including what could be the most personal assault of all: a family forced marriage! Bullets fly and fields of snow burn, but will wedding bells ring? The costs of war will be felt by all in the second volume of Pumpkin Scissors!

The Review!
While not touching much on the larger storyline, Pumpkin Scissors does its best to show how the country is surviving after the war.

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. Having seen so many Gonzo series in the last couple of years I really wasn't sure what to expect anymore in terms of visual presentation. Pumpkin Scissors is fairly traditional for them 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.

The orange shading continues, which of course isn't a surprise, and that works fairly well for the artwork even if it is all rather muted. The design for it is rather simple as it features the main characters of State Section 3 moving right along together. The background works in the black and orange shades while including a rather small logo along the upper left corner. The bottom strip contains the volume number and title as well as the Gonzo and ADV Films logos. The back cover, a sideways piece, featuring several shots from the show at a different angle while below is more orange in which the summary and production information is contained. The very bottom has a decent long technical grid that covers everything you need to find on the fly. No insert is included with this release nor is there a reversible cover.

In addition to the disc only release, there is a disc+box version so that you can get more Pumpkin love. The heavy chipboard box is quite nicely done even if it does focus a bit heavily on the obvious Alice fanservice. One of the main panels features her in a dress which is torn away to reveal some rather nice legs while you have Oland behind her as he's in his serious mode. The devastated countryside forms the background here which adds to the overall dark nature that's only offset by Alice's gams. The other main panel is similar in nature as it has the same kind of background but it only has a shot of Alice on it. She's in the same dress but it's not quite so torn which doesn't really change the feeling of it too much. The side panel is nicely done in that it has the main core cast of charaters with happy looks for the most part while also bringing in the ATT folks as well. Again, the background is the same as the other panels which helps to balance it all out well. This box is pretty solid all around though the lighter nature of the fanservice sort of throws things off just a little bit.

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 the character artwork from the cover done 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)
The second installment of Pumpkin Scissors is one that isn't a surprise as the focus is more on examining the world that these characters live in than anything else. Some small elements of a larger plot were introduced in the first volume, and there are a few nods towards it throughout here, but for the most part it wants us to get to know the land, the people and for the main characters to come together more as a real group. In this effort, Pumpkin Scissors succeeds rather well.

One of the main themes of these episodes is that life in the Royal Empire simply sucks. 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. The opening episode illustrates this clearly as Oland is in the hospital recovering from events in the previous volume. 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.

The issue of trust and belief is foremost here, first between Oland and Wantz as he tries to convince him to live since life is worthwhile. The other is between Oland and the rest of the group. Though he's been reassigned to State Section 3, he hasn't been readily accepted by everyone yet, especially because there are so many unknowns about him. The path that Martis and Oreldo go through to understand his background is something that explains a few of the inconsistencies. More important than that however is that it shows just how good of friends the two of them are and that, as they realize the scope of Oland's transfer, they start to trust him more and want to hear the truth directly from him rather than through their digging. It may be obvious and clichéd, but the trust level between them starts to go up through the simple method of talking.

The themes of how bad life is continues through all of the episodes, ranging from a woman who gives up her baby to the military to a duke who is fearful that his citizens may rise against him so he hordes all the rations. The episode revolving around the baby is unfortunately very clichéd as the little one clings strongly to Oland and basically adopts him. That leads to a standard range of jokes which plays well with the way Lili can't get on the right wavelength with the baby. Of interest in the episode however is that we do get some new background on Oreldo as the group has to investigate in the surrounding town. This brings them into contact with some unsavory characters who Oreldo used to run with in his pre-military days. Though he's never come across as a gung-ho soldier with a can do attitude, this small bit of explanation goes a long way towards explaining some of his craftiness and adaptability. It even goes to the point of heightening the respect he gets from his friends as they understand the road he traveled.

While most of these episodes have had the characters working in smaller groups or separately, there is one episode where they all go out on a mission together. This proved to be my favorite of the batch since it really pushed their bonding together in a strong way but also forced them to actually work together in a life or death situation. The group sets out to a northern village that needs medicine that they need but are afraid to have it go through normal means because of bandits in the area. This also allows the group to determine just how serious the issue is there with the bandits while doing something good for the citizens of the area. Everything goes to hell quickly when the good sized group of bandits come to steal what they're transporting and the group has to make off on foot once their transportation is destroyed. As a blizzard sets in and they find shelter in an abandoned cabin, Alice gets a chance to really lead her men while figuring out how to survive and accomplish the mission. The mix of comedy into it is appropriate while the action side of it comes across as mostly realistic and in tone with the rest of the show. It also avoided having Oland go into ATT mode for the most part so that they have to figure out how to survive without that.

In Summary:
These episodes weren't exactly a surprise with what they bring to the table. Most series of this length go through this stage where they try to build the world up a bit more and expand on the characters some. Pumpkin Scissors runs through this with relative ease and other than having a weak episode revolving around a baby they do it without making me want to hurl. Some of the smaller moments, such as Alice's family relations, help flesh it out a bit more and the few moments we get about the ATT past and the larger storyline give enough hint about what's to come to keep you interested. At this point though, the show is still something of a hard sell because it's fairly average. It does everything very well in terms of execution but there isn't a giant hook yet.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
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: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV PG
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Pumpkin Scissors