Pumpkin Scissors Vol. 1-2 (Del Rey)

pumpkin-header.jpgA ragtag band of soldiers fight to rebuild a nation shattered by war in this awkwardly titled new action series.

 

 

211-228 pgs. B&W; $10.95 ea.

(W / A: Ryotaro Iwanaga)

If war is hell, then the Empire is trapped in purgatory, a seemingly endless reconstruction effort three years after the Thin Ice Treaty ended hostilities with the neighboring Republic of Frost. Though open combat has ended, the countryside is still decimated, with noblemen and bands of rogue soldiers exerting a feudal-like control over the nation’s isolated villages. Struggling to reestablish its authority, the Empire created the Imperial Army State Section III to head the reconstruction effort, a ragtag bunch better known by the nickname "Pumpkin Scissors."

The cover to the first volume of Pumpkin Scissors by Ryotaro Iwanaga. Click for a larger image.Led by the well-meaning but naïve nobleman’s daughter Lt. Alice Malvin, the members of Pumpkin Scissors take their job seriously despite having very little power or authority to act on their purpose. Until, that is, they are joined by Cpl. Oland, a hulking veteran with a scarred face and a mysterious blue lantern. The group knows little about Oland; though he seems kind of heart, he becomes a beast during battle, fearlessly leaping onto moving tanks to take out their crews at pointblank range. How did he get his scars? And what happened to him as a member of the Gespenster Jägers, a fearsome group known as "Death March Soldiers" that the army insists doesn’t officially exist?

The first volume of Pumpkin Scissors flows chronologically but without much forward momentum. Instead, author Ryotaro Iwanaga spends his time world-building, following the Pumpkin Scissors team as they battle soldiers holding a small town’s dam hostage, defeat a malicious nobleman who hunts the local townspeople for sport, and help another town repair a vital tunnel destroyed during the war. It’s not until the second volume, however, that the series sheds its episodic tendencies and the story gets cooking. The book becomes much more of an ensemble piece, with Malvin and Oland sharing time with the other members of the squad, particularly the meek, bespectacled Warrant Officer Machs, who starts digging into Oland’s sordid past. Things reach a head in the two-part arc that wraps up the second volume, where the team must shut down a military-run drug ring while evading a brutal assassin armed with a flamethrower.

The cover to the first volume of Pumpkin Scissors by Ryotaro Iwanaga. Click for a larger image.At times, Pumpkin Scissors feels very much like a spiritual cousin of Hiromu Arakawa’s stellar Fullmetal Alchemist series. Both present a fictional world that blends a classic European sensibility with a modern twist, though Iwanaga aims more toward a 1940s military style than Arakawa’s turn-of-the-century aesthetic. Both share a similar character design approach, drawing soldiers with squat physiques and pentagonal faces in bulky trench coat-like uniforms. Both present a similar conflict, that of good people working within a corrupt governmental and militaristic hierarchy that has gone rotten to the core. And neither is afraid to shy away from occasional bursts of brutal violence to get their point across.

But where Fullmetal Alchemist built to become one of the best series in recent years, Pumpkin Scissors seems on track to be a solidly enjoyable, but only slightly above average, action series. The heroes are interesting but Iwanaga is reluctant to take them beyond simple stereotypes, while the villains are less complex, more cartoonishly evil. The stabs at comedy almost always fall flat—Sgt. Major and her precocious pup Mercury try to bring the funny, but it comes off as if Officer Hooks from Police Academy walked onto the set of Training Day.

Then again, this is only two volumes in. Iwanaga’s still got plenty of time to elevate this awkwardly-titled series beyond its slightly formulaic beginnings. And even if he doesn’t make it, the book is enjoyable enough that it’d still be worth taking the trip. | Jason Green

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