Pumpkin Scissors

pumpkin scissors

PUMPKIN SCISSORS

Watched via fansubs/Funimation

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Pumpkin Scissors focuses on rehabilitation and revolution in a war torn country. The series begins with the announcement of the war officially ending. Three years later the Pumpkin Scissors unit, or Section III, is created in an effort to appease the public as a type of national guard, to serve and protect the people from the after effects of the war.

Ex-infantry soldier, corporal Randel Oland happens across Lieutenant Alice and the other commanding officers of the Pumpkin Scissors unit, while they are investigating a report of a rogue group with a tank taking advantage of civilians. Oland’s previous history in an anti-tank unit make him specially adept at taking on tanks and he eventually joins the unit as its one and only soldier. Over the course of the series Section III comes up against a large variety of corrupt nobles, gangs, government, and military personnel in the aims to return citizens to better living conditions.

The majority of the show is fairly episodic. There are a couple of arcs that span several episodes, but the gist of the series focuses more on just making the world a better place to live in. This hugely generalized goal ends up fitting in quite well with the shounen model of the series. In all honesty, the show could go on forever, especially since there seems to be no sign whatsoever of Section III having any real impact other than the occasional boost of morale.

In all seriousness, the series does feel like it drags on forever, and with very little in the way of results. The first episode works as an excellent hook, and then you spend the next five episodes waiting for the series to get serious again while they piddle away good air time with filler. I loved the few arcs they had, like with the Invisible 9, and the flame throwers, but there is little incentive to convince you to stick around long enough to see it. The one redeeming factor was how incredibly awesome Oland looks while taking on tanks. The insinuated promise that you’ll soon learn more about his mysterious split persona keeps you going, only to be slowly let down. At least in that small time frame you get drawn into the rest of the characters enough to wanna stick it out.

The general curse of shounen anime is that they have characters who are interesting enough to suck you in, but not enough plot to make your time worth it. At least Pumpkin Scissors only aired for one season, unlike Inuyasha or Dragonball Z.

PLOT: Let’s get this out of the way: Pumpkin Scissors has a goofy name. It’s even goofier if you watch the show in Japanese and hear the characters referring to “panpukin shizaazu!” The idea behind the name, though, is actually sound—I just wish the Japanese didn’t think all English sounds cool and thus give this series such a goofy name.

This series takes place in a world that parallels rather well with Europe after the second World War. In this world, the Royal Empire and the Republic of Frost have finally stopped fighting, but the Empire’s people still face problems like widespread starvation. Section III of the military, or the Pumpkin Scissors unit, has been created to help those people and cut through the corruption in the Empire like a pair of pumpkin scissors (because they’re really sharp and strong). The leader of Section III, Alice L. Malvin, is a noblewoman who’s more full of idealism than field experience, but she does her best to have her team work like a pair of pumpkin scissors and weed out the problems of the Empire.

Alice’s idealism strikes a chord with Randel Oland, a huge, kind veteran of the war who decides to join her unit in order to make a difference. During the war, Randel was part of a secret unit of anti-tank troopers who were trained to lose all fear and used their strength and size to take down tanks. Randel frequently uses his abilities during the series, and he still has to grapple with his past, especially since he’s a kind-natured man.

The majority of Pumpkin Scissors focuses on Section III facing various problems that are left over from the war. This is very interesting at first, since more series deal with war itself as opposed to the clean-up efforts. However, the series quickly devolves into a bunch of filler episodes that barely keep up the viewer’s interest until the excessively-drawn-out main story arc. This series’s main problem lies in the pacing, as it begins with good momentum and fascinating backstory about Randel, but after a handful of episodes the series peaks and then becomes a long, boring slog to a conclusion that I saw coming miles away. The show was still entertaining enough for me to finish it, but it’s like eating popcorn instead of a proper meal—you keep going, but you gain nothing of substance.

What I found most problematic about the plot was that the main antagonists and their antics are hardly realized before the season comes to an end. There’s an obvious part 2 to the series, but we never actually get to see it. Which is a shame, because it looked like it was shaping up to be a heck of a lot more interesting than the filler.

SETTING: Pumpkin Scissors is a fictional depiction of an European country, post World War II (or an equivalent unknown war). Really all the signs point to it being either Germany, or a close cousin, but that is never outright said. The text, technology, and history of the world all point towards Germanic origins, at least as a strong influence. This is especially noticeable with the chants and weapon technology that is displayed.

The largest difference from the world of Pumpkin Scissors to our own is the use of technology. I wouldn’t say the series is “steam punk”, but it has a lot of archaic technology in an era that has the potential for more advancement. Not only is the use of technology all over the place, but it is unequally distributed. The nobles ironically have the most archaic use of technology, going so far as to have carriages drive them around, maybe they’re just hipsters. Then the military has the second highest technology, with tanks, amphibious vehicles, and advanced weaponry. Of course to make the series interesting, the gangs and other nefarious organizations have cutting edge technology like semi-automatic rifles which are mysteriously gifted to them by a large unknown.

SETTING: As I mentioned above, this series is set in a world that parallels to Europe post-World War II. When I first watched this series back in 2006, this was intriguing for me. I hadn’t watched as many anime series, so the concept of anime events paralleling real world events was new and interesting. By now, Pumpkin Scissors’s setting seems cliché, using real-world elements more for the sake of fetishizing history than to make a statement. Furthermore, Pumpkin Scissors’s use of World War II lacks proper development. Series like Fullmetal Alchemist do an excellent job of creating parallels to real-life events for a reason and making the viewer think, while Pumpkin Scissors’s setting seems to exist solely for the uniforms and the ability to include fun German words. This may be okay for people who love war series or World War II, but it leaves me feeling like this show doesn’t live up to its potential.

I agree, as a history study, the show falls short of its mark. The only real strength, of the world being military centered, seems to be its ability to emphasize PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). The combat chants and training, that are typical in the military, only strengthen the viewer’s empathy, while remaining alienating. It may be romanticized, but the world building does focus on some deeper issues on combat.

CHARACTERS: The first notable aspect of the cast of characters is that the whole of Section III is just a bunch of officers. Oland, the newest recruit, is the only soldier. As my veteran husband put it, “there is no way that more than three ranks of officers would ever be in the same place at once like that,” making the whole scenario of the officer ladder of importance seem rather idiotic. There is no real point in constantly emphasizing the ranks when they are being inadequately represented.

Usually shounen series work primarily off of their strong iconic characters. In that regard I feel that Pumpkin Scissors is weak. Oland is the only real interesting character. He’s massive, kind-hearted, and a trained tank killing machine, which are all wonderful traits for a protagonist. 2nd Lieutenant, Alice Malvin, is fairly interesting herself. Being born into nobility, she brings naivety and a strong moral conviction to the group, that would otherwise be lacking.

The rest of Section III’s members stand out, but in a way that is unoriginal. Several of the filler episodes focus on each of these secondary characters, and they were the weakest and most embarrassing to watch. The “book worm” of the group, warrant officer Martis, gets a whole episode devoted to escorting a princess, and sergeant major Lili Stecchin gets focused on solely to show off how immature and useless she is (essentially she’s only a cheerleader and tea server.)

Probably the worst characterization is warrant officer Oreldo, who is shown as the womanizing knight in shining armor, who ends up saving women from themselves, and their horrible ties to other men. Of course he has to first sexually assault them a little, otherwise it wouldn’t be funny. Really I found all of his actions and the justifications of them to be super sexist and pandering.

While the motivations of the protagonists seem a bit ridiculous, those of the antagonists are wonderfully convoluted and question pride, greed, dedication, and humanity. My favorite character, the flame thrower, is shown as driven by an overwhelming desire to live and murder. His story arc is beguiling and tragically awe inspiring.

If only the entire series were filled with stories like the flame thrower’s, instead of focusing on filler about the group’s stereotypical members. Part of what makes this series so frustrating is knowing that it could be better if the writers just tried a little harder and weren’t content with mediocrity.

CHARACTERS: Alice is the reason I finished this series, I think. She’s definitely my type, as she’s blonde and idealistic. I love her skill with weapons and her fierce devotion to her job in the military, when other nobility don’t care at all about the plights of the poor. I love military characters who actually care about the people of a nation instead of being corrupt with power and wealth, plus Alice is totally cute. Her character and relationships don’t develop as much as I’d like, but that’s probably because the original manga is still ongoing. That’s not much of an excuse, but anime adaptations of ongoing shounen manga tend to turn out this way.

Randel is very interesting due to his dual personality. Most of the time, he’s a gentle giant, but when he turns on his blue lantern from the war, he becomes a fearless, terrifying solider who will stop at nothing to complete his mission. Part of my initial excitement about the series was because of the hints about his backstory as a “Gespenster Jäger” (“Ghost Hunter”), but that doesn’t develop very far within the series, again probably due to limitations of the source material. The series also has a strange ongoing gag about the size of Randel’s junk which always fell flat for me.

The other members of Section III all fit into various types, who are all likable enough. My favorite of the group is Lili Stecchin, who’s young, hapless, and tasked with taking care of the unit’s messenger dog, Mercury. The series’s ending song is all about Lili and Mercury, and it’s completely adorable, if you’re into that kind of thing. <3 The villains, meanwhile, are serviceable but nothing new. I was more impressed with the characters back when the series first came out, but by now I recognize them as the stereotypes they are.

Not only was the penis joke not funny the first time, but the second, and third times as well. :/

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Pumpkin Scissors so desperately wants to be an iconic action series like Hellsing. There is so much potential with plot and content, for amazing shots and battle sequences, but rather it falls flat for the majority of the series. Every time I saw a gun or tank I was hoping for a lavish gun shot akin to Hellsing, but instead I got piddly slice-of-life action for the majority of the series.

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 10.44.13 PM

Just like the plot, which is severely torn between slice-of-life and action/drama, we see a huge shift in art between the dramatic and banal. The majority of the series is slightly low budget with shortcuts from time to time, with the occasional luxury of seeing some interesting action footage. In particular, we are given highly dramatized shots of Oland ripping apart enemy forces. These sequences are blessed with limited color palette choices and high contrast to emphasize the inner psychosis and turmoil Oland goes through when slipping into killing mode. Really this is the only reason I kept watching the series; I wanted to see more of Oland dealing with his PTSD hand-in-hand with dynamic battle sequences of man vs. tank.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Gonzo animated Pumpkin Scissors, and the show turned out unevenly, as you might expect. Some episodes look great and are visually imaginative, like the beginning of episode four, when Randel dreams of the war.

Pumpkin Scissors - 04 - Large 02

The colors and shading in this sequence are perfectly unsettling, a feeling which is amplified by the audio to really entice the viewer to learn more about Randel’s past. I kept watching the series, hoping for more content like this, but it never returned.

The rest of the show looks decidedly average. The character designs are all very standard, which you might expect based on how closely the characters all fit into basic types. Randel’s war-torn appearance is the closest the series comes to being inventive, but even that kind of appearance and personality mish-mash seems to have become old hat.

OVERALL: I re-watched Pumpkin Scissors again for this review, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The characters are mediocre, the plot hardly advances in the time frame depicted, and the setting is hardly original, but there is just something about it that is charming. This series has so much potential, it’s hard to put down. If you’re looking for a well resolved series, then this definitely won’t do the trick. In fact, I could see fanfiction as being a better use of time to see any sort of real development with plot or character growth.

Pumpkin Scissors will be entertaining, and a decent way to pass time, but it’ll be mostly mindless filler. If you already have a long list of series to burn through, I’d say you’re better off leaving this one alone. If you’ve got a minute to spare, go ahead and give it a try. The military antics and good natured spirit of the series make it charming and addicting. Not to mention I’m totally moe for Oland.

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 10.17.29 PM

OVERALL: Pumpkin Scissors is the kind of anime series that appeals to viewers who are new to the genre or like all World War II-esque series. This series sticks very close to accepted practice in the world of manga, meaning there are many surprises along the way for seasoned viewers. Furthermore, the anime has so much filler and lacks so much plot that it doesn’t execute its central premise very well, knocking it down another notch.

Despite all that, I still find Pumpkin Scissors to be strangely addictive. It might be the ending song, which is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It might be Alice, who hits all the right spots as a female leader in the military. It might be Alice and Randel, who I shipped a lot, even though it goes almost nowhere during the series. Regardless, Pumpkin Scissors is a mindless good time, if you like this sort of series. There’s not enough substance for it to be anything more, but if you like the characters and are up for some pointless post-war shenanigans, go for it. Just know that the plots you’re most interested in may never be resolved.

FINAL SCORE: (7/10) FINAL SCORE: (6/10)
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