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L. Neil Smith's
Number 650, December 25, 2011


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Pumpkin Scissors: A Review
by David M. Schmidt

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

"Pumpkin Scissors—The Complete Series" is an anime released by Gonzo/Funimation Entertainment ( in 2008. Besides being an entertaining story, it has several themes of interest to libertarians.

"Pumpkin Scissors" consists of 24 episodes set in a mythical western European country several years after a terrible war. The country, referred to only as "The Empire," has a distinctly Germanic feel—street signs are in Schrift, and backgrounds are reminiscent of German cities and countryside. The level of technology portrayed in the series places it in an alternate early twentieth century: tanks and bolt-action rifles feature prominently, but there are no aircraft in evidence and long-range military communication is by messenger-dog. Autoloading rifles are considered to be new technology.

The story follows Second Lieutenant Alice Malvin, a young noblewoman who, to the consternation of her family, joins the military during a time of war. On the day Alice graduates from the Imperial Military Academy, an armistice is declared, and she finds herself assigned to the Imperial Army's State Intelligence Section III: a propaganda unit intended to boost civilian morale by providing "war relief" to those still suffering from the ravages of war. To the dismay of her new subordinates in Section III, who were comfortable in their "easygoing little unit," Alice is an idealist, and decides that Section III will begin providing real war relief by fighting corruption and oppression. She gives the unit its unofficial name of "Pumpkin Scissors," vowing that, since corrupt people protect themselves behind lies, power, and money like the rot behind the rind of a pumpkin, Section III will cut through the rind and expose the corruption within. Alice's idealism, quick temper, and rage at injustice soon put her and the rest of the Pumpkin Scissors in danger both from outside and inside the government.

The other main character is Corporal Randel Oland, a war-weary veteran whose hulking frame and hideous scars hide a gentle soul. Randel is a survivor of a clandestine military research program intended to make foot soldiers capable of fighting tanks. Usually gentle, Randel has been conditioned to become a single-minded killing machine in battle. When his conditioning is triggered he becomes immune to pain and fear, able to stride up to a tank and disable it with a single shot from his "Door Knocker," a massive handgun firing an armor-piercing projectile at point-blank range.

Other characters include the bookish Sub-lieutenant Martis, ladies' man Sub-lieutenant Oreldo, and would-be musician Sergeant Major Lili Stechin. Alice's superior officer, Captain Hunks, is an unflappable, middle-aged career officer who uses his political savvy and connections to try to protect Alice and her charges from the more dire consequences of her headlong attacks on the powers that be.

"Pumpkin Scissors" has a number of themes of interest to libertarians. War is presented as horrific, and its long-term consequences are shown: Alice and her unit must fight not only the dislocation, disease, and starvation still plaguing her country even three years after the end of the war, but former soldiers turned to banditry and local officials corrupted by absolute power. Several episodes also deal poignantly with another survivor of the clandestine super-soldier program that produced Randel. Military and government institutions are generally shown as incompetent, destructive, or actively evil: In episode 13, "Crude but Elegant," Sub-lieutenant Oreldo remarks at the disappearance of street vendors from the city being due to government taxes. The sinister "Invisible Nine," the secret program Randel is a survivor of, features prominently in several episodes. And members of the political elite are depicted, with few exceptions, as either ineffectual buffoons or evil power-mongers. In addition to its political themes, "Pumpkin Scissors" has strong idealistic elements. During episode 1, Randel, having just met Alice, tries to dissuade her from attacking a bandit stronghold, predicting that she will only die in vain. Alice's response—that if Randel can witness oppression and do nothing to stop it, it is he who has let his human feelings die in vain—sets the tone for the entire series. Lastly, the series has a strong individualist sense. The triumph of individual will over circumstance or birth is shown repeatedly and addressed explicitly.

Visually, the character designs are appealing, and the world of Pumpkin Scissors is well imagined and engagingly portrayed. The tanks and military hardware are highly detailed, well designed, and visually interesting. The animation is smooth and the battle scenes are dynamic and exciting. The only obvious flaw in the animation is the less than perfect integration of the computer-generated images of the tanks with the other animation. The musical score also adds to the series. For example, during the battle scenes, the music captures well the single-minded desperation of Roland's lone attack on a tank, and the terror of the tank crewmen when they realize they are facing a fabled "Gespenst Jaeger" (Ghost Soldier). As with many anime, Pumpkin Scissors may be viewed in the original Japanese with English subtitles or with English voice dubbing.

Although generally well done, the series does have its flaws. While the lyrics and music of the opening song fit the tone of the series well, the ending song represents an attempt at humor and seems jarring in context. Some viewers may take offense at the portrayal of one of the series villains, who is stereotyped to the point of caricature. Finally, although there is some subtle humor, the series does occasionally lapse into slapstick, which seems out of place given its general tone.

Overall this is an entertaining, imaginative series with likable characters, an interesting setting, and themes that will resonate with libertarian viewers. It is available on DVD, or may be streamed free of charge from

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