Pumpkin Scissors Vol. 1

Fullmetal Alchemist was one of the best anime to come along in years. Not only did it have relatable characters and a good mix of humor, pathos, and intense action, it also presented the audience with true moral dilemmas and situational ethics where the answers weren't simple. It's a hard mix to master, but it wouldn't take long for someone else to try it. For its various differences, Pumpkin Scissors appears to be (at least in its first volume) a Fullmetal Alchemist clone. It's not a terrible thing, and while Pumpkin Scissors has a plethora of problems, not to mention a certain sense of déjà vu, I have hope that it will get better as it progresses. 

The Empire is finally finished with war. Three years before the start of the series, a long and protracted conflict between rival nation-states has ended. However, the ravages of said conflict have greatly diminished the food supply, and while life was perilous during wartime, the end of hostilities brought its own set of problems. Petty tyrants, nobles, and warlords have terrorized cities and towns across the Empire, taking advantage of a scenario where law enforcement was next to naught. Rebuilding a country from its ashes is difficult, but it has become next to impossible for those under the grip of these outlaw factions.

This is where Pumpkin Scissors comes in. Pumpkin Scissors (otherwise known as Section III) is a military unit designed for war relief. Its soldiers are assigned to go into the nether regions of the country and to assess how the Empire can re-establish control and help average citizens begin life anew. The head of the Pumpkin Scissors squad is 2nd Lieutenant Alice L. Malvin, a brash young noble who is convinced that she and her men can make a difference in their world. Her group may not have much firepower, but (sword in hand) Alice will die trying to bring hope to the war-weary populace.

On one of Pumpkin Scissors' first assignments, they run into a wandering soldier whose division has disappeared. Corporal Randel Oland is a lumbering yet friendly soul who soon becomes a great asset to the company, saving them on numerous occasions. But who exactly is Randel?  He was once a part of the 901 ATT, a group of soldiers trained as an anti-tank unit. When he switches on a blue lantern he carries at all times, Randel goes from gentle giant to ultimate warrior, unafraid of death and unaware of injury as he makes his way to destroy whatever foe is in his way. Technically, the unit doesn't even exist, but Randel certainly does. As the Pumpkin Scissors start investigating exactly who is supplying some of the township dictators and their links to the 901 ATT unit, Randel, Alice, and their companions begin to learn that they are treading on dangerous ground.

While Pumpkin Scissors is a joint venture between Gonzo and AIC, it is clear that the character designs and military regalia owe a debt to the folks at BONES. Whether or not the manga of Fullmetal Alchemist and Pumpkin Scissors looked alike, I cannot say, but there are times when one looks at the Pumpkin characters in uniform and can't help but flash back to the other series. That said, the animation is reasonable if not stunning, and the musical choices are also fine. A few scenes with tanks stand out because the gear is obviously animated with CGI and the characters are standard 2D, and the mesh isn't perfect.  But on the whole, the only real technical distraction is the obviously comparible artwork.

Pumpkin Scissors makes the good choice to stay focused on two major characters and a crew of only four minor characters (five if you count the dog who likes to bite people on the head). What I liked about the show was what I liked about the people involved. Alice is not a wonderful person -- she spouts platitudes like an idealistic crusader from MoveOn.org -- but her brash enthusiasm leads her to acts of heroism. She has room to develop, and we start to see those proverbial seeds planted. Meanwhile, Randel provides us with the story's central mystery, and he is such a lovable guy that his changes back and forth into a battle-hardened killer are difficult but compelling. To tell the truth, if I return to the world of Pumpkin Scissors soon, it will be primarily because of Randel.

The reason why Pumpkin Scissors gets only a reserved recommendation has little to do with its similarities to its elder cousin anime. Instead, it has to do with lazy plotting. All four episodes on this disc end the same way, for one. The details are different but the resolution to each problem is the same. The fact that this ending always feels like a deus ex machina doesn't help, either. And on top of that, the first two episodes might as well be the same story told twice. Good characters can hold up bad plots for only so long, and I'm concerned whether or not this series will continue to be so slipshod in the plot department. In a related concern, while Pumpkin Scissors seems to have a concern for ethics, it gets a little preachy. It's worse because Alice tends to speak in banalities anyway. The dub makes this all the worse, and I recommend the sub for a bit more subtlety. Finally, the show is occasionally funny, but the humor seems out of place. For the show's sake, I hope that the comic relief appears less and less as the series progresses.

If you're like me, you'll wind up liking the people of Pumpkin Scissors and wishing they had better things to do with their time than what the scriptwriters came up with. Admittedly, there are some interesting plot strands in episode 4 that may be developed, and if they do, I tend to think that Pumpkin Scissors will be worth the effort as a whole. But for right now, I see this as a good rental with a "wait and see" approach on additional volumes.

Pumpkin Scissors Vol. 1 -- violence -- B