SoltyRei

SoltyRei (2006)

[Spoilers appear further below]

Two things bugged me about SoltyRei, although otherwise I really enjoyed the series – but I’ll get to those two storytelling issues in a moment.

SoltyRei has a lot of aspects that I tend to seek out in an anime; a futuristic setting, mechanised gear, even an android to go with the other science fiction tropes. It also features bounty hunting and conspiracy plotlines, and there are some moe elements that bring a fun balance, though I could see some folks making the argument that those aspects clash with the more serious bits. 

The series is quite character-driven, featuring a fairly large cast, but remaining mostly focused on Roy’s compelling struggle as a father, along with Solty’s adjustment to human society. While the large cast means certain storylines rise and fall in terms of importance and screen time, they certainly do tie together in the end.

The anime has an episodic feel in terms of cases that the unlikely pair of Roy and Solty must solve (at first), but the main storyline does come to the fore quickly enough.

Tonally, there are a lot of lighter moments (it was fun seeing Solty learn to cook for example) and while her solo-travelling arc stood out too, it’s not wholly uplifting even if it was among my favourite episodes. Above all other elements, I think Roy figuring out how to take emotional risks once more was the thing that hooked me most. There you can see the classic ‘detective with a troubled past’ trope, but I’m one to dig anything vaguely film noir 🙂

I’m about to get to my two main issues, which will include spoilers, but firstly, the fan-service can present another drinking game opportunity if you’re watching the direction. (Partial spoilers right below too).

Before they kill off a few of the female characters, Gonzo and AIC never miss an opportunity to get the girls into showers, baths or pools. And if you do need to get drunk (to borrow that game from Irina) just take a drink each time there’s a low-angle panning up Rose’s legs or a shot framed to ensure Solty’s shapely butt is visible.

Okay! To the problems I mentioned earlier – I think I’m extremely forgiving when it comes to most shows, and I know that not everything I consider a fault is a deal-breaker (or even a problem) for each viewer, but I wanted to raise two character issues:

  • Our villain, Ashley Lynx has a reason for being what he is, but that information is rushed in at the end, in time for his death scene. It seemed like this was done to evoke some last-minute sympathy – but I didn’t care about him so it didn’t land for me. Had some of this info been delivered earlier, I think his ending would have packed a punch – because there’s some sincere tragedy going on, but it ends up tied to a generic villain that doesn’t get the chance to be much more.
  • Rose is presented in quite an inconsistent way for such a vital character. Her motivations are both contradictory and/or hidden from the audience at different times, making her actions seem bizarre instead of mysterious. And while things were half-explained retroactively, during the period where the audience was kept in the dark, I lost some interest in her future. (This obviously lessened the impact of the ending episodes for me).
  • Half the time, as I watched her playing at villain I was thinking you have no reason to do this and you’re far too smart to fall for this tosh. And I remember thinking those things because previous episodes had taken some pains to establish Rose as clever and as having her own stubborn moral code. When she went ‘off-script’ for no reason, I didn’t find it intriguing, I found it an example of poor charactarisation – not the choice to have her essentially switch sides, but what I thought was a failure to present her motivation onscreen.

Now having spent all that time attacking the way important info about Rose was presented, I’ll also say that I reckon some things about her certainly are foreshadowed well.

Elsewhere, there were enough hints of upcoming things to keep me satisfied in that department overall, but for the anime as an entire story, I’m not sure whether my rating below is slightly reactionary.

For instance, I thought SoltyRei really was ‘great’… save for those two flaws, and so maybe my disappointment drives it down to ‘good’? I dunno, what’s in a rating, right?

(Again, the general sci-fi elements and Roy’s struggle were real highlights for me, in spite of the issues I mentioned above; in fact, those things rise above my doubts about the charactarisation in the end anyway – and there’s a great final episode too.)

3.5 Stars

Pumpkin Scissors (Panpukin Shizāzu)

Pumpkin Scissors (Panpukin Shizāzu) 2006

Pumpkin Scissors is a sadly unfinished series that seems often to be recommended to FMA fans, though there are obvious and clear differences.

Still, if anime featuring teams of military heroes, state secrets, mysterious powers, conspiracies and a vaguely WWII-era European setting sounds like your thing, then I think you’d enjoy Pumpkin Scissors a good deal.

Maybe so much so that, like me, by the end of the season, you’ll be disappointed that so much is left unexplored. Because while Pumpkin Scissors has a clear and satisfying ending, a second season (or more) would have been ace, allowing Alice and her company to uncover so much more!

In terms of production detail, I don’t know whether Gonzo had plans for another season… As ever, maybe the show just wasn’t popular enough, or maybe it was always meant to lead people to the manga… but I did find some trivia re: licensing costs for the US. (You can compare a few other shows here) but Pumpkin Scissors cost ADV around $780,000 by the looks of things.

Again, I definitely don’t have a comprehensive understanding of what any given show would cost a company generally, but it’s interesting to assign their (possible) expectations around the success of an anime back in 2006, based on those figures.

Okay, so I should backtrack to the story itself – the anime follows a small military section (Section 3) focusing on ‘post-war’ recovery, in a time of great hardship. Yet, as you will see in more than one episode, the ruling class certainly has less of a hard time than the ‘regular’ citizens of the nation.

To make things a little more complicated, fieldwork undertaken by Section 3 is led by a noble herself, Alice Malvin, and a certain amount of the series follows her struggle to deal with dual responsibilities and self image, as someone who believes nobility should help people.

She’s joined by other young officers, and while you do get time to know them – especially Oreldo, most of the focus there is on the mysterious Corporal Randel Oland and his past as an anti-tank trooper. And ‘anti-tank trooper’ is pretty much exactly as impressive as it sounds – foot soldiers who take out armoured tanks with a serious-looking handgun, and a little help from something we get hints about, but no true answers.

And boy, there’s a lot hinted at across the episodes, but again, to my disappointment, it’s mostly still hidden by the end of the anime. However, you know that this gentle-giant type character has been scarred heavily by the war will easily infer from what has happened to other soldiers, that Oland had been experimented on.

Other than the grim subject of war and intrigue, along with some great, explosive action sequences or fantastic duels throughout, there’s room for comedic moments in Pumpkin Scissors too. A lot of the lighter stuff comes from the chipper Lili and her messenger dog Mercury, but there was a running joke in regards to Oland’s size that was handled pretty nicely with props.

If you seek out Pumpkin Scissors (it might still be with Funimation) there is an ending to the season, despite me noting that I would have loved more.

The series has an arc and resolutions to certain plotlines, but it does feel like a first novel in a series, the one that sets everything up: revealing that there are more villains lurking further in the dark. Villains you won’t get to meet properly, unless you pick up the manga however.

Still, Alice’s final stand-off in the ballroom is a high-tension duel indeed, and a satisfying big finish.

While Oland’s hesitance in these episodes kinda bugged me, it makes sense and the character development is welcome at that moment. If I had to find another fault… I don’t know if I can! I liked pretty much everything about Pumpkin Scissors even the ending theme, which at first seemed to clash in tone, but it’s nice to have an oddly-comical ‘company song’ instead of something super-dramatic.

4 Stars