Judge Steve Power urges fans of good anime to ignore the bizarre title and read this review!
"It's not how you're born, it's how you live…"—Cpl. Randel Oland
From the creative minds at Studio Gonzo (Last Exile) comes an original series that presents a unique spin on war and humanity. It wears its anime heart on its sleeve, and hiding beneath the silly title is a series that just might be worth your attention…if you like this sort of thing.
Facts of the Case
Pumpkin Scissors drops us into a fictional European Empire, in the aftermath of a Great War that bears a strong resemblance to World War I. The Empire has established a special unit within Army Intelligence known as Section III. This rag-tag group of desk jockeys and misfits serves as something of a PR and propaganda unit under the guise of War-Relief, until their new field commander—the idealistic and naïve Lieutenant Alice Malvin—makes it the team's purpose to right the wrongs of the war and help society rebuild. On one particular outing, they meet Randel Oland, a gentle giant and veteran soldier, who belonged to a secret unit that specialized in Infantry vs. Tank combat. His combat prowess seems fueled by the lantern he carries on his belt, a lantern that, when lit, emits an eerie blue glow and turns him into a zombie-like killing machine.
With the Empire hanging in the balance, it's up to Alice to uncover a vast conspiracy and shed the light of justice on a corrupt bureaucracy and their covert experiments during the war.
All I knew about Pumpkin Scissors going into this was that it had a ridiculous title. It's the kind of title that would have kept me from ever glancing at or taking any interest in viewing the series. Shallow? Maybe, but come on…Pumpkin Scissors? It's a mistake anyone could make. Hell, I doubt you're even reading this review, having made a cursory glance at a ridiculous title while scrolling through your RSS feed, the Verdict's daily newsletter, or perusing the front page. I can't blame you. However, silly title aside, I assure you, Pumpkin Scissors should not be ignored.
At the forefront is the overreaching plot about a division of secret soldiers from the "Great War" called The Invisible 9, and who was responsible for their creation. As the series moves on, we discover more and more about the hulking behemoth that is Randel Oland and his connection to the 9. The main plot does often take a back seat to episodic storytelling which gives us a window into the world these characters inhabit. The majority of time is spent dealing with how society at large has been affected and continues to suffer, even years after the armistice was signed. These are often dramatic plots that work well, even though they come off as a little heavy handed at times. Of course there are some great action scenes to go along with the drama, but the rapid pace of the first few episodes can be a little misleading, as things settle down after that and the action becomes intermittent.
The main protagonists, Randel and Alice, are given a hefty amount of focus, from Alice's struggles with her noble born family to Randel's dark past as a walking superweapon. The other members of the unit all get their time to shine as well, and by the end of the series you'll find yourself pretty attached to them. There's definitely enough meat on these bones to keep you entertained. While there have been comparisons made to Fullmetal Alchemist—and I can partially agree—Pumpkin Scissors is a different beast that stands on its own.
After Last Exile, Basilisk, and Samurai 7, Gonzo has established itself as one of the stronger creative forces in modern anime, and the quality of work present in many of their shows puts them a few notches above most of their peers. Pumpkin Scissors only helps in cementing their rep as top notch artists and animators, character designers, and writers. Funimation's treatment of this set serves the source material well. The transfer is solid, with no real glitches or hang-ups to speak of, and the sound mix is fine though not spectacular. The English dub, provided by ADV Films for the original DVD release, isn't top drawer, but it's well written and casted.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The story here, while definitely well executed for an Anime TV series, doesn't really do much to forward the genre, and many of the quirks and offbeat humor that come with the Anime parcel are in full effect. People less used to typical Anime storytelling may be confused or frustrated by the sudden and often bizarre tonal shifts. The show may be dealing with important issues in one scene, and shift to a joke about Randel's *ahem* manhood when a frustrated nurse attempts to secure a Urine sample in the next. Then there's Section III's faithful pooch/courier, which happens to have a penchant for biting people's heads. Yes, it's bizarre and jarring, but it's Anime, for better or for worse. The series also lays the ending on rather abruptly, and while the last three episodes are devoted to a resolution, it still feels like it kind of sneaks up on you, and leaves you a little wanting for more (though that's probably a good sign rather than a bad one.)
Pumpkin Scissors has no real extras to speak of, just a textless opening and ending.
Pumpkin Scissors doesn't do much that would endear itself to anyone but your average Anime fan. It's got that typically Japanese sense of offbeat humor, and yet beneath the silly name and clichéd comedy lays an endearing group of characters, a refreshingly engaging premise, and a final act that leaves me hungry for more. Studio Gonzo again proves that they're one of the most creative forces in this particular industry.
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