Friday, November 7, 2008

Pumpkin Scissors (manga, vol. 1) by Ryotaro Iwanaga

After a long and destructive war between the Empire and the Republic of Frost, a cease-fire is declared. Three years later, the Empire is still ravaged with starvation and disease and bandits are a common problem. The Imperial Army State Section III (aka Pumpkin Scissors) is supposed to help with relief and reconstruction and is generally considered to be something of a joke and a career dead end (no real chance for advancement). Section III goes to a town in order to stop some soldiers that had been part of a secret unit responsible for conducting illegal chemical warfare. Although the war is over, these soldiers aren't ready to give up and have been terrorizing the town. Section III stops them, with the help of Randel Oland. Oland is an enormous and mysterious veteran of the war who is somehow able to brave a tank on his own with the help of a blue lantern.

Oland, who desires nothing more than peace, is transferred to Section III. Section III then visits an arrogant viscount who eats well and wastes food while his people starve. The viscount has been using the village men as "prey" in special hunts - those who survive, which no one has managed yet, will win a fortune. The Lieutenant responsible for Section III is determined to fight this injustice. Instead, she is held at gunpoint while her people, including Oland, are chained together and forced to be prey in the next hunt. The Lieutenant convinces the maids holding the guns on her that they can turn their guns on a nobleman like the viscount, because they're already pointing them at one (the Lieutenant, Alice Malvin, is the third daughter of one of the thirteen Appointed Families and therefore a noblewoman). Oland activates his blue lantern and goes after the tank, while the maids finally stand up against the viscount.

In the final part of the volume, the Lieutenant becomes frozen by a desire not to be a hypocritical noblewoman. Because commoners don't get much to eat and don't have access to personal coaches, she doesn't feel she should have any of those things either. Section III's next mission is to dig tunnels near a town, and so they ask the townspeople to help them. The townspeople refuse, however, because they'd been asked to do the same sort of construction work before and then had never been paid. The Lieutenant is still feeling guilty about the benefits she receives as a noblewoman, but Oland convinces her that she can only help the Empire and its people to the best of her ability if she's in top form - if she wants to be at her best, she can't starve herself like the people around her are starving. In the end, the Lieutenant uses her status as a noblewoman to convince the townspeople to help with the work.

This volume was interesting enough that I think I might pick up the next volume when I get the chance. I hope that Iwanaga plans on developing all the characters in Section III some more in later volumes. I also wonder what else Iwanaga plans to do with this series - too many "Section III swoops in and eventually saves the day and promotes peace" stories will get old.

At the moment, the only characters that have gotten any kind of development are the Lieutenant and Oland. It didn't surprise me when the Lieutenant's noble status was revealed, because she's too naive to be a commoner - there's no way a commoner could've made it that far up the military hierarchy and still kept all that loud idealism intact. I found Oland to be much more interesting than the Lieutenant, if only because of the mystery surrounding what he did as part of his former unit. There's one short snippet at the end of the first part of the volume that indicates that what Oland can do with his blue lantern was something that was part of an experiment. Later, it's revealed that the lantern basically makes Oland impervious to pain and fear - while he has it on, he'll keep on moving forward until he can shoot the people in the tanks at point-blank range. It's not surprising that he's so scarred. In fact, it's amazing he's lived as long as he has. I wonder if the lantern has any kind of side-effects?

One of the other characters in the manga comments that Oland doesn't seem to be too bright, but I think he's maybe just slow and careful. It seems like a lot of big characters are, whether they're in manga or novels.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Bleach (anime TV series); Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo - Ichigo Kurosaki has been able to see ghosts for as long as he can remember, but it's not until he meets Rukia, a Soul Reaper, that his life really gets strange (not to mention dangerous). When a battle with a Hollow goes badly, Rukia tries to lend Ichigo some of her Soul Reaper powers but ends up accidentally giving him everything. Now a full-fledged Soul Reaper, Ichigo battles Hollows with Rukia's help and guidance and gradually becomes even more powerful. In addition to lots of action and a good mixture of humor and drama, Bleach has a character named Chad who's big, slow, deliberate and likable, much like Oland. Chad's not a main character, but he's one of Ichigo's friends and does show up fairly often.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie (anime movie) - In a world where alchemy is considered science, Ed and Al, two young brothers, have broken the primary rule of alchemy, the law of equivalent exchange, in an attempt to resurrect their mother. As a result, Ed lost an arm and a leg, and Al lost his whole body. Now they're on a journey to discover the Philosopher's Stone and use it to restore their bodies. Both the anime and the manga are good, although the anime is very different from the manga after a certain point. Once you finish the anime, there's also a movie that wraps things up in a grand battles and multi-world spanning way - it's not advisable to watch the movie before finishing the anime TV series. Those who'd like another series with fantasy elements that features humor, drama, and action may enjoy this series. As with Pumpkin Scissors, the main characters try to deal with people in a lot of war-torn places and must try to work with townsfolk who don't quite trust them because of their position in the military.
  • Last Exile (anime TV series) - In a world that looks like 19th century Europe with awesome flying technology, Claus and Lavie are pilot and co-pilot of a Vanship and act as couriers. When they rescue a little girl and complete the mission that involves her, they end up becoming crew members of the legendary mercenary ship Sylvana. As this series progresses, the powerful and often scary Guild also gets involved a lot. The look and feel of this anime are quite similar to Pumpkin Scissors - actually, I think Lavie and the Lieutenant look like they're related. This series has lots of battles, mainly between ships (which doesn't mean, of course, that the individuals on those ships aren't affected) and a steampunk feel.
  • Chrono Crusade (manga) by Daisuke Moriyama; Chrono Crusade (anime TV series) - Rosette is a nun who is part of a special demon extermination squad. As a child, she made a contract with the demon Chrono, allowing him to borrow her life energy in order to use his demon powers to their fullest extent. Together, Chrono and Rosette try to get Rosette's brother back from the demon Aion, an old friend and nemesis of Chrono's. Those who'd like another story with a historical feel (Chrono Crusade takes place in the 1920s), a loud, energetic, and naive main character, and some amazing technology might want to try this title.


  1. And is anyone else a bit reminded of the FMA cast when they look at Pumpkin Scissors? Especially because all I see when I look at Oland and Alice is the same kind of "are-they-a-couple-or-not" unanswered question that I always find myself thinking of when I see Roy and Hawkeye in FMA...?

  2. See, all those similarities to FMA are why it was one of the first things I thought of when I was trying to come up with a list of read-alikes/watch-alikes.