Reviewby Theron Martin,
BD+DVD - The Complete Series
For 15 years Pacifica Casull lived peacefully and obscurely in a rural town, with no one but her adoptive family aware that she is actually the dreaded Scrapped Princess, a princess of Leinwan born under such an ill omen that prophecy at her birth proclaimed her to be “the poison that will destroy the world” when she turns 16. Long thought dead from being dropped off a cliff as a babe, she has to go on the run when she is discovered to still be alive. But her situation isn't hopeless, for she has strong protection in the form of her two older siblings: the swordsman Shannon and the flighty but powerful sorceress Raquel. They later gain help (of a sort) from an amorous nobleman's son who is questing to be a knight, a mysterious being called Zefiris, and later others, too. They'll need it given that it isn't just the military of Leinwan and the church of the god Mauser after Pacifica; powerful servants of Mauser called Peacemakers, whose Providence no normal human can resist, also have her in their sights, as does the princess of a neighboring kingdom who sees the Scrapped Princess as a tool for revolution. What actually concerns Pacifica and her siblings the most, though, is surviving to see if she really is the harbinger of the world's destruction or not.
This 24 episode light novel adaptation originally aired during the Spring and Summer seasons of 2003 and saw its first DVD release in the U.S. in 2005-06, with its last Complete Collection rerelease being in 2007. Its original DVDs have aged rather poorly, as they are notorious for showing numerous flaws on current HDTVs, so a proper Blu-Ray rerelease which cleans up all of those video flaws is welcome indeed. (It's also welcome for getting rid of the obnoxious video clips embedded into the menus on the original DVDs, which caused unskippable lags in menu screens showing up.) This series is definitely a worthy candidate for rerelease on its own merits, too, as despite being overshadowed by the megalithic Fullmetal Alchemist (which began airing right as this series concluded), it's still one of the top fantasy anime series of the 2000s.
The story of Scrapped Princess is one which can catch attention based on its basic premise alone: the titular character isn't the destined savior of the world, but instead its destined villain. Nothing about Pacifica's nature or abilities seems to suggest that she is such an evil monster, although one running joke in the series involves any drawing of her portraying her as being remarkably, villainously ugly. In fact, Pacifica is such a gregarious soul that many who meet her – even those who initially try to kill her – come to question whether or not she really is “the poison that will destroy the world.” That Pacifica does, indeed, have some kind of special power eventually becomes clear, but the exact nature and purpose of that power, how it could lead to the destruction of the world, and what her turning 16 has to do with it does not get fully revealed until the final episode. (What seems to be a full reveal on this midway through the series actually turns out to not be the full picture.)
The story being told is a powerfully compelling one, with the ability to firmly lock in viewers by the end of the first episode. It isn't so much grand drama which has that effect (although the series definitely has some!), but rather the very personal nature of how it plays out. For all the twists and turns, for all of the grand plotting going on at various levels, the story is at heart a tale about two siblings desperately seeking to protect the little sister whom they adore despite that putting them in opposition to the rest of the world. Former friends may betray them because of the discovery of who Pacifica really is, and potential new friends and allies may be shaken by the revelation of her identity, but they remain firm in their conviction that they can only go by what they have known about their sister for the 15 years that they have grown up together. This results in a number of fairly potent emotional moments over the course of the series, including one heartbreaking early scene where Pacifica asks Shannon to be the one to kill her should she prove to really be what prophecy proclaims her to be. That the writing can smoothly work bits of levity into content which can become so heavy is all the more remarkable.
Also key to the success of the story is the core cast of characters. Pacifica is a winning lead protagonist, one who distinguishes herself from most established anime archetypes. Her cheerfully outgoing personality – she's the kind of person who can quickly make friends with just about anyone – mixes with a bratty nature which clearly indicate that her mental and emotional maturity level hasn't quite caught up with her physical maturity. And yet that brattiness isn't accompanied by the haughtiness that is almost invariably associated with it in any other teenage anime girl who has that trait, as despite being borne a princess Pacifica is still a very down-to-earth girl. Such behavior never reaches an annoying level (or at least not for long) because it is tempered by Pacifica's achingly deep recognition and regret that she's not good at much of anything except winning people over and that her very existence causes trouble for people. She's also far from the smartest of characters, but that never feels like it's being played as a common moe gimmick, either. She's one of those rare characters who can win people (both viewers and characters in the story) over without the use of carefully calculated gimmickry. Her elder brother Shannon, who is virtually a co-protagonist, is also well-fleshed out as a sardonic young man resigned to putting up with his sister's crap because he really does love and cherish her as a sibling. Sister Raquel gets much less attention (we never hear inside her head, as we sometimes do with Shannon), but the way her normally-flighty disposition contrasts with the coldly practical side which can come out when she's really pushed shows that she's not so simple as she often comes across.
The series is also blessed with a strong supporting cast, many of whom are allowed their own crises of faith, and it's through them that the series' subthemes come into play. The meaning of chivalry and justice, and whether a universal version of the latter is ever attainable, are explored through Pacifica's would-be suitor Leo and the knight who was responsible for throwing Pacifica off a cliff as a babe, whose values were so upended by the act that he changed professions. Other characters explore issues of personal freedom, self-determinism, who has the moral and ethical right to make certain levels of decisions, and some other issues that are more spoilerish in nature. The philosophical bent of the series never gets too weighty, and at no point does the series dwell on it to the point of bogging the story down; like with the humor, it is smoothly mixed in to the regular episode content.
The series also has a few other quirks which help distinguish it from competitors. While not immediately obvious as such, the series is actually more properly labeled as sci fi/fantasy genre, as the setting is a variation on the “post-apocalyptic world where magic has developed” trope and some high-tech elements do gradually creep in. It has some curious naming conventions, as many characters, mounts, locations, and even currency types are partially or fully named after guns, gun components or ammunition types, and/or their manufacturers. (Winia Chester is probably the most obvious case to someone who isn't a serious weapons buff, but there are many, many others if you look for them.) Other naming conventions – especially for spells and advanced technological items – are references to Norse mythology. The nature of the magic system and how it's visualized, though not explored in great detail, is also heavily distinctive.
This was one of the earlier animation productions by BONES, lodged squarely in between Wolf's Rain and Fullmetal Alchemist, though it bears little visual resemblance to either one; in fact, the only other BONES production it heavily resembles is Chaika - The Coffin Princess, with which (perhaps unsurprisingly) it shares a common original creator and director. It features a number of distinctive design oddities, including some weird concepts on more low-tech mobile tanks and gunships and curious ideas on how to portray the outlines of breasts under clothing on female characters. Clothing styles tend to favor flowing fantasy capes but generally practical cuts, although it can produce some impressive visual results aside from its strange attempts at swimsuits in one early episode. (A red dress that Pacifica dons late in the series especially stands out in this regard.) Many of the base character designs are pleasing ones, especially the boyishly handsome Chris and Pacifica, who almost literally shines at times with her wide range of expressiveness; her depiction only reinforces the appeal that her personality can have. The expressions of some other characters are at times also classics. Sadly, the quality control is not strong here; off-model slips are frequent in some parts of the series. Balancing this out is some sharp animation in action scenes and spell effects, and in places character and scenery shots are especially strong, but overall I'm downgrading my evaluation of the artistry compared to my original 2005 reviews. It has its moments but just hasn't held up as well over time. Graphic violence is present in bursts (especially towards the end) but isn't heavy overall and what little the series has for fan service is very tame beyond the bizarre aesthetics on drawing breasts.
The music, however, remains a strong point. Opener “Little Wings,” which starts off as a Scottish march before seguing into a folksy rock number, easily makes my short list of all-time-great anime openers, as its wonderfully-animated visuals and great song combine to serve as a prologue for the series and promote a sense of beginning on a journey, which is exactly fitting with how most of the series plays out. More melodic closer “Daichi no la-li-la” also has a distinctive and memorable sound. In between the soundtrack gracefully mixes more dramatic orchestration with both lighter comedic numbers and more heartfelt pieces featuring a harp, in the process invariably setting the right tone for a given scene.
This was one of the first anime series that I fully saw subtitled before I saw it dubbed, which in retrospect may have influenced the occasionally-negative impression I had of some of the dub performances in my original 2005 reviews. Those performances have stood up well over time, however, so I now have fewer nitpicks about them. The only performance I still find a little disappointing is Michelle Ruff's too-deadpan take on Winia, but more than balancing that out are numerous strong performances and/or interpretations, including Crispin Freeman (who also directed and wrote the script) as Shannon, Bridget Hoffman as Raquel, the late Bob Papenbrook as the priest Berkens, Steve Staley as Chris, and Karen Strassman as the Peacemaker Steyr. Some grammar flaws in the subtitles for the original DVD releases seem to have been corrected, though wording discrepancies remain; one character who is referred to as Cin in both the Japanese dub and subtitles but later revealed to be Cz is consistently called by the latter name in English throughout, for instance.
The Funimation rerelease of the series included both Blu-Ray and DVD versions of the series. A fair amount of grain still remains on the Blu-Ray episodes, and they are still in 4:3 aspect ratio, but otherwise these are significant improvements in visual sharpness. Extras are minimal, including only clean versions of the opener and closer and a collection of in-character video piracy warnings. (This was a fairly common feature for series which originally came out in Japan around the same time as this one; see also Kiddy Grade and Full Metal Panic!) The original DVD releases were bare-bones themselves, though, so nothing is actually missing.
If Scrapped Princess has a major flaw beyond its sometimes-quirky design aesthetics, it's that some of its major fight scenes are anticlimactic in the way that they play out. The numerous action scenes are really more sidelights than the main focus of the series, though, so that isn't as much of a detriment as it might be. The places where the series succeeds most strongly – in its characters, its sentiment, its fine balancing of action, comedy, drama, and philosophizing, and its sense of the helplessness of being caught up in events far beyond your understanding – are timeless factors sufficiently well-crafted that the series not only stand up well 14 years later but may have even gotten better with time.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Compelling concept and central character, excellent balancing of story elements, opener, Blu-Ray release is a distinct improvement over earlier DVDs.
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