A ceasefire put an end to the long war between the Royal Empire and the Republic of Frost. Three years later, the Empire is still plagued by starvation, pestilence, and soldiers turning into bandits. To aid in the war relief effort, the Empire created the Intelligence Army State Section III, also known as the Pumpkin Scissors.
Considered a waste of resources by some, and just an instrument of propaganda by others, the Pumpkin Scissors still takes their role in the country's reconstruction seriously. One day their life starts to change when a certain corporal with a mysterious past joins the team.
This is absolutely typical. Oooh, I thought, something about a post-war relief squad. That has some real potential, it's original, good setting, chance for some great stories, those shots look nice, and - Oh nuts, it's Gonzo.
Studio Gonzo have this amazing effect; I suspect they have some kind of quota system in effect. For each really good thing they put out, there seem to be a bunch of things about which you end up thinking "if only they'd just done that differently, that could've been so much better...". Every excellent series like Bokurano that they put out is outnumbered by flawed
or downright shoddy fare like Strike Witches, Full Metal Panic and Chrno Crusade - and most often, the problem with Gonzo series is the story. Pumpkin Scissors is, sadly, not among the excellent exceptions, but part of the quota-filling compensation.
One thing that's hard to fault Gonzo on, by and large, is their art; true to form, Pumpkin Scissors is pretty good looking generally, with its well-realised and highly atmospheric post-war setting. Animation, while not exceptional, is uniformly fluid throughout, and high in production values. Its fictional war-ravaged state very much resembles post-WWII Europe in temporal setting, appearance and level of technology, and visually, it is credible and detailed. Having a small military unit as its main cast, there's lots of military paraphernalia around too, and mechanical design and animation is very good, appropriate to the period and highly credible. Military uniforms are also well designed and seem believable, while the ornate clothing of various nobles also seems fairly well designed, if sometimes a little risque for the women considering the setting and the series' audience (possibly; more on this later). Character design absolutely screams Gonzo; that's not necessarily bad, but in this case only the male lead, Cpl. Randal Oland, really stands out as memorable, visually, and that's mostly due to his resemblance to Frankenstein's monster.
Otherwise, characters are perfectly serviceable but by and large nothing amazing or charismatic - and that goes for both appearance and actual characterisation. The central cast are Lt. Alice Malvin, a manically enthusiastic, verbosely idealistic and stupendously irritating noblewoman who serves as Pumpkin Scissors' officer in the field, Hunks, the terminally laid-back old guy who is her boss, the rest of the unit comprising Oreldo, a serial ladies man, Lili and Mercury, a mascot-type girl and messenger dog pairing, and Martis, a quiet, nothing sort of guy with no notable qualities other than wearing glasses without a bridge. Add the hulking yet timid and pacifistic newcomer Cpl. Oland as a main protagonist and that's Imperial Army, State Section 3, Pumpkin Scissors Division. Except! Oland has this Special blue lantern, which is Special because it's a relic from his Mysterious Past, and when he turns it on, he becomes nigh on invincible. Sound like a familiar idea? Certainly it does, just like all the characters, who are, frankly, a bunch of one-dimensional stereotypes who seem worn after barely an episode and barely develop across the whole series' run.
Now, with a theme and setting like this, even bearing such characters in mind, you might expect some fairly serious, complicated, grown-up sorts of stories. You might also expect that, with 24 episodes to play with, some kind of overarching plot might develop. And you would be right - in a way. However, here, the curse of Gonzo falls on Pumpkin Scissors hardest. I am forced to wonder if, at some stage in development, the powers that be suddenly decided to dramatically decrease the age-range at which this series was aimed; out goes the violence, out goes the complexity, out goes any scope for grittiness or ambiguity in keeping with the setting, and instead, in come the stereotypes, the boundless, unceasing optimism and the chirpy ending theme. For all its laudable efforts to tell serious, grown-up stories and ask serious, grown-up questions, the series cannot help but be heavy-handedly moralistic, predictable and universally pedestrian and preachy in tone and approach. Despite being armed soldiers, and contrary to what Lt. Malvin's incessant shortsword-waving might suggest, it's extremely rare that any of our heroes actually hurts anyone, let alone kills them, however hard their opponent is trying to kill them; not even when seven foot Darth Maul-style swords enter the picture is anyone actually harmed. It somehow always falls on Oland and the Specialness his lantern grants him to simply soak up the damage long enough for the bad man to be arrested by everyone else, the end. Worse, every time anything like an ethical question arises, it's always dealt with in starkly black and white terms that completely conflict with the setting; if ever there was a setting in which the morality of almost every action is shrouded in uncertainty and ambiguity, this is it. The Pumpkin Scissors unit, however, always does the right thing, and can always tell what the right thing to do is, and never, for example, has Malvin's unyielding idealism cause something dreadful to happen. It's spineless storytelling, the kind common in substandard things designed for kids, and the series suffers from it.
Most calamitous of all is the pacing. Episodes plod, by and large, with lots of unnecessary exposition and little by way of progression. Generally, most stories take only one or two episodes to conclude, with the effect that each fiendish, cut-and-dried plot by the evil noble to defraud the commoners out of what they rightfully deserve, essentially the thrust of all these mini-arcs, becomes the Monster Of The Week (or fortnight). It takes a long time for the main plot to develop into any more than a vague concept hanging around in the background, and development from then on is glacially slow - too slow, in fact, for it to actually come remotely close to a resolution by the end of the series. And what an end - never have I seen such an artificially stretched batch of episodes. Events that should take two episodes at best in fact take six; what occurs covers half, maybe three quarters of an hour of real time, stretches to over two hours in practice, and in the end, gives nobody any answers or resolutions anyway. No, the series carefully creates links between almost every incident Pumpkin Scissors have hitherto been involved in, weaves in an enigmatic antagonist that works behind the scenes to orchestrate these incidents - and ends. Worst of all, it does so twice; as well as not actually providing any end to the actual plot, it creates a huge anticlimax by slowly, piece by piece, revealing the truth behind Oland's Mysterious Past, then doing virtually nothing significant with it.
Even the music is disappointing. You could have all sorts of evocative, classy music in here - some classical or classical-based pieces, maybe, or some soulful folktune-based stuff. However, most of the background music is brassy and march-like or otherwise military themed, and adopts a peculiarly stiff, simplistic flavour of waltz for scenes dealing with the nobility. The opening theme is brash and not much cop, and the ending theme is completely inappropriate in its hyper, overhappy energy and nonsense lyrics.
So yes, this is one of Gonzo's lamentable also-rans. It's not impossible to enjoy, provided you expect little of it, but I'd find it very hard to want to watch any of it again. The fact of the matter is, you just can't help but think of Pumpkin Scissors as something that might have been so much better, if only... If only they'd decided whether this was for kids or for adults... If only they'd finished the storyline... If only the relentless optimism didn't grate so much against the setting... If only it had left some room for ethical ambiguity... If only it had somehow managed to dig up some characters with charisma and some motivations that worked in more than one dimension... If only it didn't wait until the tenth episode before it explained its amazingly contrived and silly name... If only...
Was a good anime, but had the potential to be great.
The story takes place in a parallel earth that looks like Europe in the 20s and 30s. A cease fire has ended between Royal Empire and the Republic of Frost. Three years later the Empire is still plagued by problems from the war, soldiers becoming mercanieries, starvation, and disease. To help solve the problems the Empire sets up Imperial Army Section III nicknamed Pumpkin Scissors. Led by 2nd Lieutenant Alice L. Malvin and a special forces soldier Randel Oland set out to change the empire.
Almost everything about this anime was great. The story wasn't original,
but had a good twist to the usual stuff. The characters were interesting. The animation was done by Gonzo, and was great. The music was ok. Now you're asking why if I thought it was great, why did I just give it 7. That's because it's story was to broad and ended to soon. It was a 24 episode anime, but the story could have covered 48 episodes. The story was really open ended even for anime, the characters had some developments, but should have gone deeper. I am really hopping there will be another season.
(season 1) This anime, pumpkin scissors is about military section 3, pumpkin scissors helping people after the war. I have to say, even I was skeptical at first and had a hard time picking up the manga, or the anime to watch or read it. But once I got started, I couldn't stop. It has a subpurb plotline, and the characters are VERY believable, it's almost like you mourn for them when something bad happens. It's very realalisting even besides the fact that they have a litle bit of fantasy genre in there. The fantasy genre was so beutifully mixed into the reality that it
was hard to tell witch was witch. Of course if your looking for something outright fantasy, this wouldn't be for you. But if you have a compassionate heart, I'm sure the main character, Randel Oland, will take a place in your heart, and the story will inspire you to do something in your life. Very touching. The story is about cleaning up the war, but I only hoped it wouldn't be dreadfully sad. (like one of those anime you can only watch an episode at a time) but it wasn't. It's one that has a great balance, and kudos to the creator, Ryoutarou Iwanaga. Even though the second character Alice L Malvin looks like your typical shounen girl character, Iwanaga defies the odds, and makes her just as unique as you and me. In fact, Iwanaga makes ALL the characters unique. (hm, well machs is kind of lacking, but still) I hope they come out with a second season too. It's one of those shows that you can ABSOLUTLY NOT wait for the next season to come out, and if you could, make it come out faster; or rather, right now. ^^ I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
While I believe that a responsible critic should judge each creation on its own individual merits, there are times when the existence of a comparable alternative that surpasses the subject in question on just about every level is evidence enough that it could have been "done better". That holds especially true in this case, where said alternative is widely considered to be essential viewing for anime fans. I mention this because from the military-ruled state to the lower class that's still suffering from the wounds left by war, right down to the noticeably similar art style, Pumpkin Scissors comes out looking an awful lot like
a poor man's Fullmetal Alchemist. Take Ed and Al out of the equation to focus almost entirely on Roy and his gang, and then switch Roy out for an idealistic novice, and you pretty much have Pumpkin Scissors, complete with a dog as their team mascot. Oh, and replace Armstrong with a stoner (okay, not really) who lives under a bridge. Having said that, if you know my opinion of FMA (it's a high one to say the least) then you'll know that my saying Pumpkin Scissors isn't as good is hardly a condemnation. If you didn't like any iteration of FMA you almost certainly won't like this, but for the 99% of you who are still here there is an actual review ahead.
I really didn't want to have to make fun of Gonzo again, and indeed this show isn't nearly as ugly as Glass Fleet, but that's not saying much. It's not terrible; the use of CG is minimal, the lighting and backgrounds are competent, but the character designs have a tendency to get sloppy and uneven at the drop of a hat, the movements are stiff, fights aren't especially well-choreographed and lacking in dynamic action, and it's a pretty rough package all-around. The only moments the animation really shines are the mind trip sequences where we get a look into Randel's head and how it's been tampered with, which sport excellent color choices, good use of shadows and some minimalistic but surprisingly effective design work, and members of The Invisible Nine are genuinely creepy and threatening. Other than that, this show sits comfortably at the lower end of okay.
The music is a mix of military trumpets, whistles and drumbeats with a few wind and orchestra pieces mixed in. This sounds fitting in theory, but in execution it’s unfortunately a bit on the forgettable side, and I guess that’s all I have to say about it.
I just wish I could call the English dub forgettable, but that would be a generous compliment. Oreldo is pretty good, but Alice is just okay, Randel sounds stoned half the time (I'm not sure if that was intentional), and about a third of the tertiary characters are downright unlistenable. Apparently ADV was undergoing a merger at the time and they ended up with a lot of voice actors who, to put it bluntly, can’t act. A few shows got the short end of the stick, and this is definitely one of them. Awkward accents and ridiculously slurred speech patterns abound. The Japanese soundtrack, while not outstanding, is at least much more consistent, so I'll have to recommend going sub over dub for this one.
Setting aside the (unfavorable) FMA comparisons for a moment, Pumpkin Scissors does have a lot of good to offer, and the first pleasant surprise is its characters. Alice initially comes across as something of a female Naruto: she's brash, straightforward and charges in headfirst with little strategy, complete with an orange outfit. Thankfully, it quickly becomes clear that Alice is not as naïve as she initially appears; she clings to her child-like idealism not because she doesn't understand how the real world works--she's the daughter and probable heir of a high ranking noble house and fully understands that responsibility begins at the top--but because she believes that such idealism is simply what the world needs to make their time of peace really mean something. It's not realistic, but both she and the show are aware of this, and that turns into the show's biggest saving grace; while FMA was much better at moral ambiguities and gray areas, a little idealism really can be a refreshing change of pace every now and again. That said, Alice should be flayed alive for giving her team the name Pumpkin Scissors (she tries to explain what it means to her but utterly fails to make it any less stupid). Her subordinates Martis and especially Oreldo also have hidden depths, and while they're not given as much time as I might've liked they're still far better fleshed-out than many lackey characters in similar positions. It's clear, however, that Randel is supposed to be the real meat of the story. I'll get back to him in a moment.
Even though Pumpkin Scissors is supposed to be about war relief, I think its greatest strength is addressing separation of the social classes, a problem that can become especially apparent during war and its immediate aftermath--after all, nobles have the resources to endure through hard time and the crafty ones can even profit from them--but it's a far cry from exclusive to wartime. Still, the increasing tension during a postwar depression and the lack of work and rations is definitely truth in television, and I think it's a pretty nice touch. The show does a pretty good job of portraying the discontented masses who are tired of being abused and mistrustful of those born into riches. I'll also applaud the show for not making all the nobles look like pompous assholes (though there are certainly a few like that), in some cases they even show genuine guilt for not taking more responsibility for their fellow men. Again, Pumpkin Scissors is a very idealistic show, but it still manages to feel honest about it without feeling like it's trying to strongarm the audience into listening, and while it can get a bit corny and on-the-nose with its messages, you still want to believe in the ideals it's pressing.
Now to talk about the downside, namely: Randel Oland. He's Pumpkin Scissors' newest recruit and the only member of the team who actually saw any action in the war. What's more, he's actually a very gentle and peace-loving soul at heart, but he's been brainwashed to transform into a terrifying human juggernaut who can single handedly bring down a tank, a side of himself he clearly wishes he could leave behind but keeps tapping into either out of necessity or sometimes just a pure uncontrollable urge. This, unfortunately, makes him sound a helluva lot more interesting and well-developed than he actually is. One problem with the show is that it can't really decide how much self-control Randel is supposed to have when he's in his blue lantern state. Most episodes seem to indicate that it turns him into a complete killing machine, but there are multiple occasions where the show breaks this rule, seemingly on a whim, and it's never treated like a feat of willpower or personal fortitude. It just sort of happens whenever the writers feel like he needs to come and save the day, and this really keeps his personal struggle from having the gravity it feels like it should, it just feels forced and makes his character feel needlessly mopey. He's seven hulking feet of missed opportunity.
Perhaps a guilty conscience might've made up for it, but he doesn't seem to have one of those either, or if he does we never see it. We get the impression he's deeply hurt by what he saw during the war, but most of the show's attempts at developing him are focused on his half-baked existential crisis as a human weapon, all else ignored. Now yes, it is charming to see him slowly warming up to his teammates and forming a tighter bond with them, but even his casual interactions are pretty dull, and it doesn't help that the show has a crappy sense of humor. For every one heartwarming moment there are ten that just leave you scratching your head wondering how you're supposed to react, and the show even makes frequent jokes about the other big gun Randel is implied to be carrying... enough said. It just doesn't have FMA's finesse when it comes to balancing different tones, and in half as many episodes it manages to include a few nearly pointless filler episodes with lame plots. The worst part is that the show peaks at episode 17, the climax of a really, really good arc that seemed to be setting Randel up to face what he is and what's hidden in his past, only for him to get over it the very next episode in a resolution so forced it leaves a bad taste for the rest of the show, just when it was about to reach new heights.
I really need to stop reviewing manga/light novel adaptations with ongoing source material, because complaining about read-the-manga endings is getting old, and Pumpkin Scissors has just that. Honestly, though, it's astounding how much in this show goes absolutely nowhere; In addition to Randel's inconclusive character arc there's the implied government conspiracy surrounding the Invisible Nine, Alice's relationship with her enigmatic fiancé Lionel, her implied sixth sense, and a myriad of other loose plot threads hanging around waiting for a second season that, if sales are to be believed, will probably never happen. No, all we're left with is a six-episode arc with enough staring contests that it probably could've been cut down to three, and it certainly wasn't the right place to end the show. To be fair, the arc actually got a pretty heartfelt resolution, but that's like sticking a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Not a lethal wound, mind you, but the damage is done, and what's left feels like it's long since bled out the best of its potential.
But maybe I'm being too harsh. While Pumpkin Scissors certainly isn't anywhere near as refined as Fullmetal Alchemist, it does have heart. It really cares about what it has to say, and tries to say it in a memorable way. This may be an "if you have nothing else to watch" recommendation, but I'm recommending it nonetheless, for better or for worse. The characters are surprisingly easy to care about, it's somehow charming even when it's stumbling around meaninglessly, the setup is a good one, and on the one in a hundred chance it does eventually get a second season I'll be rooting for it all the way through, even if I have to chuckle every time I hear them say the name "Pumpkin Scissors" with a straight face.