What’s in a name? It’s a question any regular anime viewer must have pondered at one point or another. Call them innovative, colorful, or bizarre, but there’s no denying that those who name anime series and characters march to the beat of their own possibly extraterrestrial drummer. This leads to such ludicrously contrived names as Hellsing‘s Sir Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing; downright silly names like Dragon Ball Z‘s Mr. Satan; and wildly incongruent ones like Pumpkin Scissors. You might expect the last of these to share more with the uber-cuteness of Hello Kitty than the serious action of Trinity Blood or Le Chevalier D’Eon. The goofy title almost caused me to pass on the series, but then I recalled once liking a gritty military manga called Pineapple Army, and decided to take a chance. Four episodes into Pumpkin Scissors, I’m mighty glad I did.
The story, taken from Ryotaro Iwanaga’s manga, begins three years after the conclusion of a devastating war, and the Royal Empire’s scars are still far from healed. Poverty remains widespread, and less scrupulous types have appropriated military equipment for criminal pursuits. Imperial Army Intelligence Section 3, Pumpkin Scissors (PS), is tasked to provide relief for the struggling citizenry and deal with any troublemakers in their way.
The PS team, composed of 2nd Lieutenant Alice L. Malvin and Warrant Officers Oreldo and Martis, is first dispatched to monitor a rogue band of ex-soldiers who are terrorizing a small town. Inevitably the impulsive overachiever Malvin exceeds her mandate and mounts a commando raid on the bandits’ base. The PS team succeeds only thanks to the assistance of mysterious and fearsomely powerful veteran Randel Oland, who single-handedly disables the bandits’ tank.
In short order the lumbering, socially awkward Oland is made a formal member of the team, though, much to the delight of Oreldo and Martis, as a lowly corporal. A couple more “village in distress” missions follow. In the first, PS confronts a powerful noble who is using a high tech tank to hunt villagers for sport, and the team becomes an unwilling participant in this most dangerous game. In the second they attempt to repair a rail tunnel to revive the feeble local economy, but find the residents surprisingly skeptical and unhelpful.
Finally, in the fourth episode a deeper plot gets underway. PS is ordered to find out who supplied the noble’s tank with its top secret, experimental weapons system. Their investigation initially reveals little, other than that there seems to be a violent conspiracy to conceal evidence. Then, during an interrogation, Martis makes the unsettling discovery that Oland formerly served with the clandestine Anti Tank Trooper Unit, rumored to be inhuman killers.
|“Never bring a tank to a gunfi… wait.”|
Much like Zipang, it won’t take long for this series, directed by Thundercats veteran Katsuhito Akiyama, to strike a chord with WWII buffs. Pumpkin Scissors, though completely fictional, is set in what resembles WWII era Europe. All the technology (and, most importantly, weaponry) are roughly from this period. I’ve seen anime with a fetish for ships (Zipang) and aircraft (Area 88) before, but to my delight this one is obsessed with tanks. There’s even a tank designer on staff, which alone should be enough for an extra star.
When not drooling over the machinery, I found the stories engaging if not terribly original. They tend to come with well-worn morals, which the writers insist on shouting at the audience even when they’re quite obvious. For example, in the tunnel episode the simple peasants and elite PS soldiers learn through their joint efforts at saving a trapped child that, despite class labels, deep down they’re all pretty much the same. To some extent PS’s adventures serve as wish fulfillment for bored Japanese salarymen. The team is usually assigned bland administrative work, but inevitably encounters some peril in the process that requires them to play hero.
|“Lucky we didn’t say anything about the dirty knife.”|
The cast also sports its share of clichés. Oland is one in a line of countless mysterious, unstoppable warriors, and Oreldo is a typical ladies man. Admittedly Oland’s fondness for sleeping under a bridge (!) is an interesting touch, perhaps meant to evoke the Phantom of the Opera. Malvin’s headstrong female leader is fairly commonplace, but she’s so ludicrously gung ho that she stands out from the pack. She explodes when anyone shows up late for work, and once, determined to prove her aristocratic background doesn’t make her a Paris Hilton lightweight, she refuses food and water until nearly passing out. She’s also distinguished by a form of spider-sense, which literally sends a chill down her spine when something momentous is about to occur.
The series’ tank battles are quite thrilling and seemingly realistic, apart from Oland’s tiresome invulnerability. Once he flips on the little blue lamp on his belt, he goes all Solomon Grundy and marches inexorably toward his steel opponent, unfazed by wounds until he gets close enough to penetrate the thinner armor with his massive handgun.
|“The Hair Club for Men’s Best Friend.”|
As in Trinity Blood, occasionally the tense action/suspense incongruously gives way to a moment of zany comic relief. A lot of this revolves around PS’s mascot Mercury, a huge St. Bernard with a tendency to playfully sink his teeth into his coworkers. In an amusing touch, some of the comedic beats are punctuated with rim shots.
This is another nice-looking Gonzo show that saves up its energy for impressive action sequences. Vehicles, and in particular the tanks, are rendered in convincing though not seamless CG. Even less seamless is the hyper, goofy closing theme, which would sound much more at home in Urusei Yatsura or Fumoffu. Perhaps it’s intended as a buffer to calm kids down after 25 minutes of violence, and reassure inattentive parents that their kids can’t be watching anything too adult.
Surprisingly for an ADV release, no extras are included. Not only would I love to hear an interview with Iwanaga about the setting’s historical influences, I’d also love to see a design gallery of tank concepts.
Pumpkin Scissors is an easy sell to fans of Full Metal Panic and Zipang. It isn’t quite as creative or sophisticated as the phenomenal Chevalier D’Eon, but its carefully realized world and incendiary action make for good times. If only ADV could have included a replica of Oland’s lamp for the holidays. There’s nothing like family get-togethers for unleashing one’s inner zombie.