by Ryotaro Iwanaga; adaptation by Ikoi Hiroe
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
The Empire is trying to recover from a long, devastating war, one that has left the country’s infrastructure in ruins and the civilians ravaged by disease and starvation. Pumpkin Scissors is the nickname for Imperial Army State Section III, a small unit dedicated to war relief and reconstruction. They travel the Empire restoring order to the landscape and the social structures. They encounter such obstacles as former soldiers turned into extortionists, collapsed mountain tunnels, a demoralized population, nobles turned into despots, and corrupt businessmen.
The platoon is lead by 2nd Lieutenant Alice L. Malvin. She comes from nobility, but she has chosen to be part of the military because she feels this is the best way to serve her county and its people. She is young, idealistic, and filled to overflowing with passion. She is deeply committed to the mission of Pumpkin Scissors and is one of the founding members of the unit. I have a real soft spot for characters like her, who are utterly sincere and driven by the highest ideals. (Perhaps because I wish I had that nobility of character.) Lt. Malvin is the heart of the series.
The soul of the series is Corporal Randel Oland. He’s literally a one-man anti-tank force, and his battle scenes are eerie. After the ceasefire, he wandered around for three years before becoming a member of Pumpkin Scissors. He’s quiet and socially awkward, which leads some in the troop (and the reader) to think he’s a little slow mentally. But when he speaks, he shows great wisdom and insight. He was trained to be a killing machine, but his heart is an endless fount of compassion. He desires to be a man of peace who builds instead of destroys, but this runs counter to his training and years of combat experience. Cpl. Oland’s struggle to reshape himself touches on the core issues of the series and can be heartbreaking at times.
There’s also a healthy dose of military intrigue as we learn more about Cpl. Orland’s past. His former platoon is one of nine covert military units that the Empire created. It’s hinted that the creation, training, and weapons of these troops were a violation of international treaties. Now during the ceasefire, the military refuses to acknowledge their existence. There’s also a creepy female military scientist lurking around looking to continue her undisclosed research. I have to admit I want to know more about what has and is going on in the military labs.
There are so many connections this series makes to past and present events. The condition of the Empire reminds me of Japan at the end of World War II. The Japanese imperial government was starving its farmers to feed the army. The American saturation bombing of Japan had left many cities devastated. On one level, the Pumpkin Scissors squad reminds me of the US and Japanese troops who spent years helping to rebuild Japan physically, politically, and emotionally. This makes me wonder what emotions and memories this series touches for the original Japanese audience. As Americans, we won’t have this kind of historical subconscious response to the series. Pumpkin Scissors could almost be read as a fictionalized reflection on the Japanese experience after WWII.
On another level, it reminds me of what American troops in Iraq and UN peacekeeping troops throughout the world are doing today. The opening page of volume one says, “There is no war, yet peace has not graced the land… This story is about the stage in between…” This was a perfect description of what is going on in so many places globally that are trying to recover and rebuilt after the chaos of war. Being a veteran myself, with friends and family still in the military, there’s a personal connection for me with the series. Pumpkin Scissors causes me to reflect on what it means to be a member of the armed forces commissioned with the construction of a nation instead of its destruction. When I served in the Navy in the 80s, we didn’t receive any training on how to be a peacekeeping presence. Now, I understand this is a work of fiction and isn’t meant to be a realistic portrayal of current military realities, but intentional or not, it does bring up these kind of questions for me.
The artwork for Pumpkin Scissors is interesting. It’s the first time I’ve read a manga series where you can actually see the art improving within the pages of one book and then from book to book. Initially, Iwanaga uses heavy lines, but as the series progresses the lines get thinner. Iwanaga isn’t adding more details as much as refining the art style over the course of each book. There’s still a lot of room for Iwanaga to grow as an artist, since this is your standard shonen house style. Hopefully, by the end of the series Iwanaga will develop a more distinctive style.
Pumpkin Scissors is a solid read. It’s a military manga with a different twist on the duties and responsibilities of being a soldier. I’m adding this series to my ‘things to read next’ list. (Complimentary copies were provided by the publisher for this review.)