Saturday, August 7, 2010

Scrapped Princess: Song of the Forgiven (book) by Ichiro Sakaki, illustrated by Yukinobu Azumi

Synopsis:

Three rowdy siblings named Shannon, Raquel, and Pacifica are staying at an inn in a small town. Other than being really noisy, there's nothing too objectionable about them, but Winia, who takes care of chores around the inn for her grandmother, is pretty sure they're running from something.

And they are. Pacifica is the Scrapped Princess, the girl who prophesy says will bring forth the Day of Destiny and destroy the world when she turns 16. Although she was supposed to have been killed when she was just a baby, she was instead saved and raised along with Raquel and Shannon. Raquel is a powerful magic user, and Shannon is a skilled warrior. Together, they're determined to protect Pacifica from the Purgers and everyone else who's been sent to kill her.

The three of them do try to enjoy themselves when they're not fighting for their lives, though, and that's what a lot of the beginning of this book is about. Shannon and Pacifica bicker, and everyone tries to keep Raquel from destroying everything by trying to use her battle magic to do even the simplest tasks. After Shannon and Raquel pretty much destroy Winia's family's inn while protecting Pacifica, the group is about to leave, in order to ensure that they don't endanger the townspeople any more than they already have. However, Winia won't let them go, because they're the closest things she's had to friends in a long time. Trying to pay for the damage to the inn, Winia and Pacifica get jobs selling baked goods in amusing (Pacifica) and sexy (Raquel) costumes. Later, when Raquel gets a cold, Shannon is forced to pretend to be her and spend an evening singing and playing a lute at a tavern.

Of course, the happy, relaxed times don't last forever. Instead of going directly after Pacifica, Christopher Armalite, one of the people trying to kill Pacifica, kidnaps Winia. With a little magical help from Raquel, Shannon saves Winia, and Chris declares himself defeated. It should be the end of any further contact between him and Pacifica and her siblings, but the four of them find themselves having to work together when a horrific Purger-monster enters Winia's town and starts absorbing any human that touches it. There's a terrible moment when the Purger-monster takes over everyone's minds, forcing everyone, even Raquel and Shannon, to try to kill Pacifica. At the last second, something inside Pacifica breaks the hold the monster has over everyone, although now everyone knows she's the Scrapped Princess.

The monster still needs to be defeated, and Raquel knows it'll take more than one sorcerer. She could temporarily turn Shannon into a sorcerer, but it would be too complicated to do that and keep her other spells and defenses going at the same time. Fortunately, there are sorcerers in town, members of the military's intelligence division like Chris. They were there to spread nasty rumors about Pacifica, Shannon, and Raquel in order to get them chased out of town, so that it would be easier to deal with them without having to kill any townspeople. The monster's presence changes things, and the sorcerers team up with Raquel. Together, Raquel, the sorcerers, and Shannon kill the monster.

Chris's superior decides to let Pacifica and her siblings be, until the next time. As Pacifica, Shannon, and Raquel leave town, they are surprised and pleased and the number of well-wishers who see them off and give them gifts.

Commentary:

I had to do some searches online to confirm this, since all the book tells me (on the copyright info page, or "verso of the title page" in cataloger-speak) is that it's the second book in a series, but it looks like this book and the others in the series inspired the anime and not the other way around. I've seen the first few episodes of the anime, so some of this book felt very familiar to me.

I must say, overall, I prefer what I remember of the anime to this book - maybe it's due to sloppy translation, but it reads like clunky fan fiction. I can see why someone might read this and think it would make a great anime, though. The interaction between Raquel, Shannon, and Pacifica is often a nice combination of sweet and amusing. When Raquel used her powers, particularly when she temporarily turned Shannon into a sorcerer and combined her powers with his, I wanted to hunt the anime down so that I could rewatch those parts. Shannon's fight scenes had the same effect on me (and I couldn't help but imagine everything he said in the book said in Crispin Freeman's voice). The bittersweet moments that came up occasionally were nice too, like the revelation that Shannon gave up his dream of being a musician in order to devote himself to keeping Pacifica safe.

So, there are flashes of things in this book that excited me, but all they really did was make me want to watch the anime. The book itself was, overall, mediocre. Were there no anime counterpart, I'm not sure I could've gotten past the clumsy, clunky writing. And the thing is, there's a reason why I didn't watch the entire anime, even though I like the artwork, thought the fight scenes were pretty good, and love Crispin Freeman's voice (yes, he is one of my voice actor crushes). I'm not a huge fan of series that start off looking like pure fantasy genre stuff and turn into some kind of strange sci-fi/fantasy mix. Liking the first few episodes of the anime got me through this book, but I can't see myself managing to get through however many others have been translated into English with just that to sustain me. From what I can see, only the first three volumes of the series have been translated into English and released in the U.S., so I guess it's a good thing I'm not craving the whole rest of the series.

Are there circumstances under which I would recommend this book to someone? Sure. If I met someone who was a huge fan of the anime, I might recommend this book. I might also recommend this to general fans of anime and manga - after all, that's the reason I picked this up. It's a quick read, short and very fast-paced, so it's not like it's a huge trial to get through. I didn't like it that much, but it didn't involve so great of a time commitment that I resent having read it. And reading about Shannon in a dress was kind of fun. If that part was in the anime, I can't remember it, so I had lots of fun imagining it.

Extras:

I don't know if this is just a characteristic of light novels - every single light novel I've read so far has had illustrations so maybe it is - but this book has illustrations. Those who've seen the anime will definitely recognize the characters, although I prefer the artwork in the anime to the artwork in this book. There are 9 illustrations total - you get to see Winia, Shannon, Chris, Pacifica, and Arfi (I didn't mention her in my synopsis, because she doesn't really do anything worth mentioning - all she does is act mysterious). I think Raquel is the only major character from this book not pictured in any of the illustrations.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Scrapped Princess (anime TV series) - Of course, if you like this book even a little, you must watch the anime.
  • Scrapped Princess 1: A Tale of Destiny (book) and Scrapped Princess 3: Requiem for the Infidels (book) by Ichiro Sakaki - Likewise, if you liked this book, you should probably read the first and third. Try not to cry when you're reminded that the rest of the series has not been released in the U.S.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - Those who'd like something else featuring traveling siblings and magic (which is viewed in Fullmetal Alchemist as being a science) might like this. It's got a similar feel, with its mix of humor, action, and sweet and bittersweet moments. The manga came first and spawned all the rest. Do not watch the movie if you haven't see the TV series - you might do all right if you've at least read the manga, but the movie takes up where the TV series, which differs quite a bit from the manga after a certain point, left off. There's also a new TV series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which is still ongoing in Japan and has therefore not been completely released in the U.S. yet. From what I've seen of it so far, I would recommend the first TV series or the manga instead. There are also several light novels based on the Fullmetal Alchemist series - the writing quality is similar to that of this Scrapped Princess book and would probably have similar appeal to anime/manga lovers.
  • Chrono Crusade (manga) by Daisuke Moriyama; Chrono Crusade (anime TV series) - Chrono and Rosette's squabbling reminds me a lot of Shannon and Pacifica, and, like Scrapped Princess, there's quite a bit of energy and action in this series. This is another series that has some very light moments, even as it gets a bit darker and more bittersweet as the series progresses. I haven't seen all of the anime, but I've read all of the manga. I don't want to spoil anything, but make sure to have a box of tissues handy when you read the last volume!
  • Strait Jacket (anime OVA) - This is based on a light novel, although, as far as I can tell, the light novel has not been translated and made available in the U.S. If you liked the action and horrific monster in this volume of the Scrapped Princess light novels, but you wished there was a little less "funny sibling bickering" and other humorous bits, this may be just the thing for you. The main character is a sorcerer who kills a bunch of horrific monsters that are the result of sorcery-based technology gone bad. It's pretty gory.
  • The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series); The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol.1: Sea of Shadow (book) by Fuyumi Ono - This one's for those who thought the Scrapped Princess book wasn't bad but wanted less silly and more serious. In addition, this series is a lot more complicated than Scrapped Princess, spanning hundreds of years, set in a complex world, and featuring tons of characters. What this series has in common with Scrapped Princess: magic, sword-fighting, a struggle to survive (particularly in the first book/first few episodes of the anime), and (particularly in the anime) sappy friendships. The books came first, but if you try them and find yourself confused about all the names and even when everything is supposed to be happening, try the anime. The nice thing about the books and the anime is that they make up for each others' weaknesses - the books are more interesting and less cheesy, while the anime presents the timeline and characters in a more coherent manner. Be warned, though: the anime stops suddenly, covering the events of what I think is only the first four books.
  • Moribito (anime TV series) - I'm suggesting this for the same reason I suggested The Twelve Kingdoms - try this if you'd like something that deals with similar themes but contains less silliness. The main character is a prince who's on the run from assassins sent by his father, because the boy is possessed by a spirit that may bring a terrible drought to the land. He's protected by Balsa, an awesome spear-wielding female bodyguard. This was a series of books before it became an anime (the anime is based on the first book in the series), but the anime, which spends more time of the threat to the young prince's life, is more like this Scrapped Princess book than the first Moribito book is.

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