Upon the release of Ranma 1/2 on Bluray, Mike takes a stroll through the world of Rumiko Takahashi.
Reviewby Theron Martin, May 26th 2005
DVD 1: Family Ties
15-year-old Pacifica Casull was born a princess, but a dire prophecy cast at the time of her birth marked her for immediate death because she is “the poison that will destroy the world” when she turns 16. Though quickly “scrapped,” she was secretly saved from her demise and passed into the care of a retired knight and his family, who raised her as their own. Pacifica's true identity could not remain secret forever, however, so when assassins killed her adoptive father she left her home village under the protection of her older siblings Shannon and Raquel—the former an indomitable swordsman, the latter a worker of potent magic. Now she must travel the land attempting to avoid notice and trouble while hoping to make new friends along the way. With the continuing existence of the Scrapped Princess now known, though, and her 16th birthday looming on the horizon, it seems like everyone from Special Forces agents to church fanatics to godlike beings is out to kill her. But what power could such a simple (if royal-born) girl possess which could make her such a threat to the well-being of the continent? And who or what is the girl Zefiris, who keeps appearing to the Casulls and offering words of assistance?
The world of Scrapped Princess is primarily based on an RPG-influenced European view of fantasy storytelling. Naming conventions are Western-sounding, with nary a hint of anything Japanese. As with many traditional fantasy stories, both a princess and a prophecy are involved, but this time around the main character is the villain of the prophecy rather than its hero. Pacifica's status as “the poison that will destroy the world” shapes everything that happens in the story, from the myriad efforts to kill her to the retired knight who, after throwing her off a cliff as a babe, abandoned his position after failing to find any sense of justice or chivalry in what he had done. The weighty reality of who and what Pacifica may be gives the story a somber tone broken occasionally by more light-hearted content. Pacifica certainly doesn't seem to be a monster—in fact, those who meet her without knowing her real identity quickly grow to like her—but still she's hated and feared because of what she's destined to do rather than something she's already done. How does a person bear up under an onus like that? How can one justify protecting a person destined to destroy the world, even if that person is a sibling? And how can someone whom everyone is trying to kill be effectively protected if the protector isn't willing to kill to do it? These are powerful questions raised, confronted, and ultimately answered in dramatic fashion by this series—though not all in this first volume.
Scrapped Princess succeeds by establishing an excellent blend of drama, magic use, swordplay, and humor within a compelling story. It also has a strong and diverse cast of characters to work with. Pacifica is one of the most interesting and endearing female leads ever to appear in a fantasy anime because she does not fall into any established mold. Though bratty, petulant, and incompetent at most things, she is also an outgoing and friendly spirit with an enthusiastic nature and a caring, forgiving, and deeply sensitive soul. When she says she loves her brother despite their squabbling, the viewer has no doubt that she means it, and her anguish over others being endangered or harmed because of her is palpable. Naturally she also has some kind of potent hidden power which only manifests in a time of great stress, though what its nature is and what it might have to do with the prophecy concerning her are unclear at this point. Of her sibling protectors, Shannon is the dour and much put-upon expert swordsman who sardonically defends himself against his younger sister's jibes but still cares deeply about her and rates protecting her against all threats as his top priority. Raquel initially comes across as a ditzy older sister who hasn't quite fine-tuned her magic, though she is no one to be trifled with in a fight, and can be quite sensible (and, later on, even coldly pragmatic) when the situation requires it. Leo, the young Knight Errant who falls head over heels for Pacifica (almost literally!), serves mostly as comic relief as he struggles to gain competence and learn what it is to be a knight, though his quest for the true meaning of chivalry and justice is already showing signs of leading him towards greater degrees of character development. Shy Winia is also interesting as the innkeeping girl who doesn't know how to make friends or have fun until Pacifica comes along, and the axe-wielding Weapon Master Chris soon shows that there's more to him than merely being a killer ordered to hunt down and dispatch the Scrapped Princess. Zefiris, in this volume, is merely an enigma, as is the meaning of her dramatic statement towards the end of episode four. Only future volumes will tell what she is really about.
The artistry for Scrapped Princess, produced by the up-and-coming studio BONES (the same people who did RahXephon), uses a bright and varied array of colors for foreground artwork against more subdued and finely-detailed backgrounds. It's sometimes a bit too obvious when animated figures are set against backgrounds, and characters sometimes have a little bit of an unrefined edge to them, but overall this is quite a good-looking anime series. The designs for the lead characters are very appealing: Shannon and Chris are both handsome figures sure to appeal to female audiences without looking too blatantly bishounen, Raquel is striking with her long hair (and quite sexy in the rare occasions when she can show off her figure), and in a rarity for 15-year-old female characters in anime, Pacifica is drawn more pretty than cute, with distinctive curls on the sides of her face that actually become a plot device much later on. The character designer seems to have some odd ideas about how to draw the outlines of breasts under clothing, however, especially in the case of more amply-endowed characters like Winia. This can be off-putting until you adjust to ignoring it. One female character who appear only briefly in this volume also has an incongruously weird hairdo. Costume and armor designs mostly favor medieval European styles, though the military uniforms worn by Major Sturm and Prince Forsythe (both of whom appear only briefly in this volume but have significant roles as the series progresses) resemble something more from the Napoleonic era, and the clothing worn by main characters, with a tendency towards prominent shoulder pieces and cloaks with high, stiff collars, is pure fantasy.
The animation in the series is well-done, with the short-cuts taken on the (lack of) animation for background characters balanced by the fine work done with managing fluid fight scenes. The series avoids the use of most standard anime animation conventions, which makes Scrapped Princess very accessible for novice anime viewers. Good use is made of meaningful but not overly-exaggerated facial expressions, a lesson which the artists and animators of many other series could stand to learn. Also watch for shots of animated clouds in the backgrounds of some scenes and a beautifully animated opener which not only uses all-original footage but serves as a lead-in to the main story—an approach not unfamiliar to those who remember old-time American TV but one very rare in anime, where a collage of action shots of all the significant characters is the norm.
The understated but highly effective soundtrack is bookended by two great songs. “Little Wing,” the opener, starts off as a Scottish march before segueing into a folksy rock number with hopeful, upbeat lyrics, while “Daichi no la-li-la,” the closer sung by Yoko Ueno and Masumi Ito (perhaps best-known to American fans for doing the opener and closer for Azumanga Daioh) is a gentler and more melodic tune.
At first I wasn't sure about the wisdom of the casting choices for this BANG ZOOM! dub, but by the end of the volume I was satisfied with most of them. Bridget Hoffman (aka Ruby Marlowe and Ellen Wilkinson) is a particularly good fit as Raquel, as is Steve Staley for the role of Chris. While Kari Wahlgren's rendition of Pacifica lacks some of the poutiness of the original Japanese performance, she has Pacifica's brattiness and deep sensitivity solidly pegged, and Crispin Freeman (who is also the ADR director) does an excellent job capturing Shannon's resigned, put-upon tone. Most of the performances successfully capture the spirit of their characters as portrayed in the original Japanese vocals, with the sole significant disappointment so far being the normally-solid Michelle Ruff, who can't seem to hit the right tone as Winia. The English script never substantially strays from the subtitles, with the only questionable point of translation involving references to “Soopy-kun” as “Mr. Soopy.” Overall, it's a solid but not spectacular dub.
Fan service in Scrapped Princess is limited to shots of Pacifica and Raquel in swimsuits in the second episode, and graphic violence in this volume is minimal—although there is still a good amount of it and a lot of people do get killed in one scene. The “13 and Up” rating on the packaging is present more for some stronger content in later volumes.
The regular edition carries only minimal extras in the form of company previews and a textless opener. The Special Edition also includes a Pacifica figurine. Hopefully future volumes will fare better in this category.
Scrapped Princess ranks with Twelve Kingdoms and Fullmetal Alchemist as one of the best fantasy anime series of recent years. Its first volume provides a strong introduction into the series by featuring a great premise, snappy dialogue, and appealing, plausible characters. While it doesn't quite reach the dramatic peaks of FMA, its drama holds its own, and it presents its humor without descending into silliness. If you like fantasy anime but want something a bit more even-tempered than FMA, this volume is sure to fit the bill.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Great premise, succeeds without resorting to stock anime conventions.
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