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

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo 2004

It must be daunting to take on such a classic – often adapted and widely revered, the Alexander Dumas novel is perhaps the ultimate story of betrayal and revenge.

(How’s that for a quick introduction for a change?)

So, if you’re familiar with the specifics of the novel then you’re up to speed with the plot in the anime… for the most part.

There’s a few significant changes overall – for one, Gonzo set this version well into the future with space travel and war-suits, though aesthetically it remains very lavishly European in terms of costuming and character. Teens take centre stage here too, which is perfect in terms of keeping the viewer one step ahead of the main character but still one step behind the antagonist/hero. Elsewhere there are hints of vampirism and alien or demonic forces at play, but with or without any of those things The Count of Monte Cristo is still a gripping drama that will feel a lot like the original story.

Most people discuss the visuals of this series and it’s clear why – they are astounding as well as, at times, utterly exhausting. It’s such a forceful and impressive blend of Gustav Klimt, typical anime aesthetics and Ukiyo-e that you’ll be both dazzled and confused at times, I reckon. For me, I couldn’t look away but the first few episodes were truly difficult adjustment periods. (Here, I tried not to share too much but also failed to capture what it’s really like – especially when all those clothing patterns move :D).

Beyond the art there’s a lot of angst and bitterness, but also perhaps a lot of nobility. At times it’s easy to get frustrated with young Albert’s naivety but he’s not the only character with something at stake here, so you’ll get to know other folks. For instance, I think most people would accept that Franz is just as important as Albert and the Count, along with the romances. In a way, it’s a large cast and you do get a bit of time with everyone.

While it’s mostly a story about the way Albert is manipulated into a role within the Count’s long revenge, the other plots are woven through the story neatly and toward the end, in impactful ways. [Spoiler here] In fact, for me the duel between ‘Albert’ and the Count is actually the high point in terms of drama, probably because you’re meant to be well-aware of what’s really happening. After that, the ending didn’t quite pack the same punch – and related, I would have loved something different or possibly more visceral for some of the revenges Edmund took.

I know there’s some discussion out there re: the ending of the anime vs the novel and each viewer will have their preferred approach but I wasn’t aghast by it or anything. Throughout, Gankutsuou will push you toward sympathising with the antagonist – and again, I’m reserving the word ‘villain’ for other characters here in some ways, but it takes a while before you’re given much of the Count’s back-story for context around his actions. From a storytelling point of view I think that makes a lot of sense, considering how well-known the source material is.

I know earlier I mentioned a large cast and I’ve touched upon a few of the bad seeds but there are bright moments (such and the purity of Valentine and Maximilien) but switching back to a more morally grey character, there’s one of my favs: Peppo who has an important role even if the screen time might not suggest it, precisely.

In terms of audience, note that themes of revenge, betrayal, incest and abuse are front and centre, and so despite the pretty exterior the series does a great job of revealing the depths of human villainy and weakness. In fact, when the visuals lean into the gaudiness I think it becomes at least partially a comment on the excesses of the nobility; that glittering veneer of honour that is so easily tarnished.

5 Stars

The CGI could be out of place but it often seems to fit the plastic/superficial world of the nobles in some ways.
I remember getting some Baz Luhrmann ‘Romeo + Juliet’ vibes from this scene.

Hellsing

Hellsing 2001

Hellsing is something of a classic anime series and it definitely has some really killer elements… but as a whole it doesn’t quite live up to its reputation for me.

That’s not to say that I didn’t really enjoy some episodes or that I think it’s bad series, but the show strays between genuinely atmospheric, creepy and exciting to kinda trashy and even a little shaky re: its animation. And yeah, trashy isn’t always bad and I know the production team were soon working ahead of the manga on a smaller budget (and that’s always fraught with risk) but I think I agree with the general consensus out there, which suggests that the anime didn’t live up to the source material and later, suffered in some ways compared to the remake in Hellsing Ultimate.

But back to the 2001 series – it’s got blood and tension, some interesting music, great voice acting and at times distinctive direction (especially in the opening episode) along with a memorable cast of characters in its favour. The gothic elements were really welcome too and I liked Seras’s storyline – her struggles definitely deserved a little more screen time. Alucard himself is of course a great menace and fits the ‘monster hunting other monsters’ role quite well but the pacing of the series felt off to me and I grew weary of the recapping. And a small thing that also bugged me – the endless repetition of ‘amen’ quickly became odd rather than fitting for the characters.

Still, what this series definitely did was make me curious about a more complete adaptation of the source material and so on that level at least, it really works. And that first episode is pretty stunning, really – it’s just a shame that the quality for me fell away not too long after.

3 Stars

Origin: Spirits of the Past (Gin’iro no Kami no Agito)

Origin: Spirits of the Past (Gin’iro no Kami no Agito) 2006

In the years after Spirited Away won its Oscar it seemed that mainstream western journalists and reviewers suddenly had a benchmark they could refer back to in order to measure any subsequent release against – and I understand, it’s a clear reference and hallmark of superb quality, and one that a large readership would have recognised.

And all reviews are probably at least a little bit of a reaction to ‘what came before’ and I certainly do that myself and I like that approach when it contextualises a film. But what I think bugs me a little about bouncing any movie or series off a high water mark is that invariably, almost everything will fall short and then not be wholly judged on its own merits, and instead be discussed in light of all the ways it didn’t match the seminal text.

So I’ll try not to do that here and instead try and say that while Origin will make some viewers think of Miyazaki and Ghibli, it has its own problems that are unrelated to how much or how little it evokes Studio Ghibli.

And it’s not the animation or art, which is at times breathtaking, especially during the opening forest scenes or the fiery climax, but for me, a general flatness to the story drags it down. And I know that’s a vague, essentially useless descriptor for a review, right? But despite some great action sequences and big themes (around environmentalism and cooperation), the story didn’t captivate me.

Maybe it was a little rushed, because I wanted more time with the characters. I wanted to see them explore the world and magic and new societies a little more deeply too. And there were a few folks introduced that felt like they could have had a bigger impact on the story – but were somewhat reduced to cameos, like Jessica and Minka.

Still, I enjoyed Origin: Spirits of the Past despite my largely critical review here and maybe I’m most disappointed in how close it might have come to a real classic? There are some fantastic scenes throughout and again, wondrous imagery and animation to enjoy too, if you don’t mind a storyline that’s a little generic at times.

3 Stars