Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 16th 2007
DVD 1 - Honor & Blood
The devastating war between the Empire and the Republic concluded in a peace treaty just as Alice, the idealistic, gung-ho third daughter of the noble Malvin family, was graduating from military school. But much was left to be done in the ruin remaining from the war, so three years later finds Alice as a Second Lieutenant in Military Intelligence Section 3, aka Pumpkin Scissors. Though her section's mission to provide “war relief” is considered propaganda by some, Alice has devoted herself to providing war relief in the truest sense of the word, even if that means recklessly facing down rogue soldiers or dealing with abusive noblemen. Her dedication and mission attract the attention of Randel Oland, a calm, scarred giant of a man who was formerly a Corporal in the dreaded 901 ATT, a supposedly non-existent anti-tank platoon legendary for their zombielike fearlessness and combat prowess against tanks. Drawn in by the potential good that true war relief could do, Randel agrees to join Pumpkin Scissors – fortunately for them, since they seem to keep running into tanks and soon find themselves on the cusp of some secretive scheme involving advanced tank technology.
One has to wonder what Ryoutaru Iwanaga, the manga-ka for the manga on which this anime is based, was thinking when he named this series. Did he just stick together two English words which sounded cool as a combination without understanding that they not only don't fit together, but sound positively silly?
And does anyone actually think it's a coincidence ADV is releasing the first volume of its anime version only a week before the most pumpkin-oriented date on the calendar?
Ragging on the name aside, the first volume reveals a good series only one small step from being a great one – and it leans in that direction with episode 4. Its penchant for heavy-handed moralizing about social status and responsibility and initial “problem of the week” format almost distract from a great central concept: a military unit which, guided by the indomitable spirit of one young woman, devotes itself to solving the problems left over by a massively destructive war. The way her spirit and idealism unwittingly provide both purpose and salvation to one of the greatest monsters left over from the war is only an extension of that, but an important one. Oland's realization that he can use what makes him a terror on the battlefield to help and protect people, instead of just defeat enemies, and the nature of his dreams early in episode 4 give the series a depth it might not otherwise have achieved, and its execution raises the quality of the content above the typical shonen gimmick of a bull-headed hero inspiring others through sheer determination.
The first three episodes present a series of apparent stand-alone scenarios while introducing the key characters and presenting issues not historically uncommon in the wake of wars: the delicate handling of forbidden chemical weapons, soldiers turned into bandits, a noble treating his subjects like playthings (Viscount Wolkins, despite appearing in only two episodes, is a prime contender for Complete Bastard of the Year), and a community disillusioned with military involvement in a civil project. What appears to be the long-term underlying plot starts in earnest with episode 4, although episode 2 actually leads directly into it. Over the course of the volume the content gradually succeeds at playing up the horror aspect of what Oland can do, which makes the action more intense and compelling than it might otherwise be; you might not think that a man staring down a tank while armed with a 13 mm hand gun would be that intimidating, but through a great combination of appropriate music, visuals, and writing the series makes it work. Balancing such scenes are the infrequent light-hearted moments, which come up most prominently in episode 2.
The first volume also demonstrates a promising array of core characters. Alice's pairing of compassion and idealism with fierce determination (and an occasional need to be restrained from letting gung-ho moments get the better of her) hardly breaks new ground but nonetheless makes her an appealing character. Oreldo fills the requisite laid-back ladies' man role, while bespectacled Martis initially serves just a put-upon subordinate but develops much more in episode 4. Unlike most characters of his type, Oland normally maintains a calm, respectful, and even-tempered demeanor, and even when he goes into battle mode never becomes demonstrative. Stecchin, the pigtailed soldier, and messenger dog Mercury provide the main sources of comedy relief.
The sharp look of the series could sell itself entirely on the striking character design for Alice, who looks great whether seen in formal dress in the opener or in the vaguely pumpkin-colored military uniform she normally wears, which sets a nice contrast against the drab green of the typical uniforms. Most of the other character and equipment designs look good, with well-drawn background art and detailed CG renditions of tanks and other armored vehicles providing support. The art also shines when attempting to promote the eerie aura Oland gives off in combat mode or using visual effects to enhance the action scenes, and it does serve up a fair amount of bloodshed for those seeking more graphic content; fan service is non-existent, however. Above-average animation also contributes.
Rarely do anime warrant mention of their use of sound effects, but this volume does an exceptionally good job with its vehicle sounds, deflecting bullets, and ejected shell casings, even its cat meows. The musical score itself mixes military themes with the occasional light-hearted ditty and darkly dramatic numbers that sometimes achieve horror movie intensity, especially in the action scenes. The opening “Aoki Flamme” packs an intense, heavy industrial sound, while the fun, fast-paced closer “Mercury*Go” features an accordion in a silly piece focusing on the dog Mercury.
ADV's English script rewords some parts by making the dialogue sharper and/or simplifying details; “three hots and a cot” replaces a more verbose line about what a former soldier misses about his military service, for instance. Only in the Next Episode previews can wholesale changes be found, however. Viewers not obsessed with original Japanese dubs should find a lot to like in the English performances; Adam Dudley hits exactly the right note as Oland, and Kaytha Coker uses a voice that could be mistaken for Colleen Clinkenbeard to capture Alice's forceful tones reasonably well. Other performances, especially relative newcomer Monica Passley as Stecchin, also sound right for their respective roles. Given the German naming conventions, attempts at German accents abound.
Extras on this volume include only clean opener and closer, although it does sport some of the best cover art of any release yet this year.
Gonzo, who co-produced this one with AIC, pulls out its “A” team for this job, with impressive results. If the series can move away from some of its early foibles then it offers a lot of promise.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Superb sound effects, sharp artistry, interesting concept.
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