Scrapped Princess – when light novels weren’t so mainstream

Alternative title Haiki Oujo
Studio Bones
Genres Action, Drama, Sci-fi, Slice of Life
Source Light novels
Episodes 24
Season Spring 2003
Director Souichi Masui
Music Masumi Itou
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    What is your reaction when you hear that a particular anime is adapted from a light novel? Probably less enthusiastic than it would be if the source material was manga or, better still, it would be an original work. And today I chose to cover precisely an adaptation of a light novel series. But don’t shove it off as something generic – there’re three particular things I want you to remember – “Bones”, “2003” and “complete”. “Bones” is self-explanatory, as “2003” is since at that time light novels weren’t as common as they are now and naturally nowadays overused tropes were far less likely to appear. “Complete” should also sound good since this anime isn’t a usual ad for the source material – it follows the whole story, from start to the very end. So yeah, dear readers – Scrapped Princess.

    Before we get on with it, I think some clarification is necessary. Generally if you see some promotional art or a DVD cover with people clothed in supposedly fantasy anime attire, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the show will be Pure Illusion…sorry, I mean pure fantasy. Even if some dudes are wielding axes or swords. I say this because that’s precisely what happened to me with Scrapped Princess – I was mentally unprepared to encounter sci-fi in the show, but first things first.

     As the story starts, we find the titular princess Pacifica on a run together with her foster-siblings Shannon and Raquel. The reason behind all this is that it has been prophesied that once Pacifica turns 16, she’ll become “a poison that will destroy the world”. Naturally, nobody wants that, especially the church (yep, again an evil church trope). The church is pretty influential, and not least because it’s associated with some powerful and almost angelic beings named Peacemakers. Imagine then the situation of Pacifica, to whom it may seem that the only two in the whole world who don’t want to kill her are her siblings. Especially since it’s more than clear that Pacifica seems to be the least likely person to cause world destruction.

.     Where Scrapped Princess really excels is the characters, or, to be more precise, interactions between them. In the center of everything is of course our heroine Pacifica (as if you couldn’t guess from her colorful clothes). At first she seemed like a usual bratty and spoilt ojou-sama character who can’t stand traveling in a cart and doing anything by herself. It turns out (as expected) that Pacifica is able to grow a spine and act like a real princess (in a good sense). As the plot progressed, Pacifica didn’t get many opportunities to be relaxed and comfortable, and she grew accustomed to her situation quite quickly. Far more important than that is, as her name suggests, Pacifica’s desire to live in peace without causing trouble to anyone. That is made especially clear when Pacifica’s close friends and family are concerned – it’s even hard to believe that the same once whiny girl could offer her hand (literally, not figuratively) in order to find her siblings when they became separated at one point. Pacifica’s compassion for others makes it particularly hard for her to come into terms with the prophecy that she will likely be the end of all the people. Isn’t it quite a scary world when you just want to live and pretty much everybody else wants you dead? Still it’s not enough to break Pacifica – in every situation she eventually is able to find some inner strength and will to proceed, and that’s a trait that makes her worthy to be called a princess.

    Pacifica’s siblings Shannon and Raquel often just seem to be here and we rarely get a glimpse of their actual thoughts and opinions. They are primarily important to Pacifica as her guardians, almost parental figures, who look after her, give her strength and provide comfort. Of course I would’ve liked to see more of them, but even without any plot changes both Shannon and Raquel are integral to the story. Of all the other characters the biggest impression was made by Leo. Aspiring to become a knight but often struggling (for comedic purposes), he becomes enchanted with Pacifica and because of that sticks with the group. When he learns who Pacifica actually is, Leo is posed with a dilemma – on one hand he should behave as a good citizen and chop Pacifica’s head off, but he simply can’t do that after seeing what kind of innocent girl Pacifica is. I wouldn’t say this theme of an impossible choice (with one’s possible future career at stake) and the meaning of justice gets enough development but it’s a great way of making the world more morally grey.

     Fun fact – for some reason many characters are named after specific guns. You may not even notice that at first, but after some time weird naming choices of gods Mauser and Browning as well as characters like Winia Chester among others become more apparent. I’ve no idea why the names were chosen like that. It almost makes as little sense as everyone named after eggs and egg-dishes in Mardock Scramble. Yep, “scramble” also counts.

     After the initial succession of great episodes Scrapped Princess seemed to have run out of gas, but at that point everything became more complicated when some sci-fi elements were introduced. It wasn’t totally unexpected – some skyscraper ruins were already seen quite early. Also, these elements never become the focus of the story – you can never forget that everything that happens, does so in a primarily medieval setting. Inevitably coexistence of swords and lasers called for some explanation, and naturally we got that, only in a form of several exposition-heavy and rather boring episodes.

     Then another change (for the better) occurred when Pacifica, her siblings, Leo and a few other important characters (scattered after their initial introduction) inadvertently and independently came to the capital city. The characters are the main force behind the likability of the show so more interactions between beloved dudes were nothing more I could’ve asked. The only questionable aspect of this mini-arc was that an amnesia plotline was introduced. I wouldn’t say it was absolutely uncalled for, and it did provide some great moments but in the grand scheme of things the amnesia disappeared as suddenly as it came, and with a puzzling side effect of erasing memories formed during the amnesia period. I’ve no idea why the story played out that way – I can only see a great opportunity for further development lost without any reason.

     Many of my previous criticisms may be dismissed simply as preferences, but there’re some bigger issues. Until the story starts moving at full speed near the final third, temporary villains weren’t particularly impressive – they either lacked believable (or just known) motivations or were defeated way too quickly to have any lasting impact. Later on, sometimes I found it hard to believe that the villains really wanted to achieve their goals since communication problems or simply avoidance of seemingly logical actions happened quite often. Another problem became apparent when the sci-fi became more prominent – it was told that people who chose to help Pacifica were at least strongly encouraged to do so by some specific genes they possessed. That a bit undermined their resolve to swim against the stream and help Pacifica as they were kind of preprogrammed to do so and behaved not entirely due to their free will. Yet the finale posed the biggest head-scratching moment – some characters were confirmed to be dead and then magically revived without any explanation apparently for none other reason  than that they just deserved a happy ending.

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Pacifica's cooking is excellent, right?

    Talking about the visuals, the most obvious attribute making the show look way older than it deserves is the aspect ratio 4:3. Yeah, Bones didn’t think that out enough. Still, it’s Bones, and even if actual fighting scenes aren’t a frequent sight, everything is done adequately, especially considering the time period it aired. More impressive than action scenes are some (sadly rare) moments of character animation that usually perfectly conveyd the precise emotion that was needed. Some tiny scene of Pacifica rolling her eyes or a brief cut of a hand gesture could make me replay it half a dozen times to fully appreciate the craft. Character animation was especially well used for comedic purposes, and, frankly, pretty much all the comedy in Scrapped Princess was to my liking, and that is a rare case. Returning to the visuals, character designs need to be mentioned. You can argue that they are very generic and usual for their time period but I can’t completely agree with that. Especially Pacifica looks unique with her one-of-the-kind hairstyle and colorful clothes that instantly make her the center of attention. Sure, women’s physique may seem a bit odd at times, but oh well.

 Excerpt from the OST: Suin Nazo no Syoujo by Masumi Itou

 

     The OST does its job ok. Its composer Masumi Itou you should probably know for her vocal works. Her usual style is quite recognizable – apart from singing the ED of this show, she also did the same for Azumanga Daioh, and more recently heavily contributed to the ED of Flip Flappers (I still can’t get that tune out of my head). The soundtrack of Scrapped Princess however is a bit different. I always appreciate some orchestral music, and it generally suits these high fantasy/sci-fi tales. I can’t deny that the soundtrack is able to enhance calm moments and battle scenes, but to me it wasn’t very impressive on its own. As if it lacks more pronounced themes and some cohesion between the instruments. Speaking about the themes, there’s one that sounds exactly like a rip-off from Howard Shore’s Isengard theme from The Lord of the Rings. As much as the soundtrack is able to do its job well, I’m afraid I’d rather listen to anything by, say, Youko Kanno anytime.

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Excerpt from the OST: Coulisse to Shannon no Tatakai by Kenji Kondou

     You might look at Scrapped Princess and see many various tropes like some characters looking like they rather belong to a JRPG, or the fact that Winia is simply an Ayanami-clone, looks included. You might also laugh at some weird narrative choices (a convenient window between separate cells in a dungeon? Why on earth would you do that?). Still, in the end it’s the characters that matter, and there the show has me fully satisfied – even the villains receive some moments of humanization, and that’s only the bottom line. Instances when Pacifica is put in a hard situation were particularly strong. That heartfelt momentary despair and ultimately resolve to set things straight even if there is no obvious and easy solution will probably remain in my memories for a long time as the best thing I can recall about Scrapped Princess, and that’s not even taking into account the main theme – a conflict between what a person is perceived as and what he really is – being executed very well.

    I believe, this anime is

 1

Decent

     Anyone who is tired of all this isekai stuff but still enjoys adventure shows should at least try this one. As well as anyone who loves well-crafted characters but isn’t afraid of some tropes or for the most part rather unimpressive animation.

     Have you seen Scrapped Princess? If yes, what are your thoughts about it? Have you encountered any other anime whose characters carried the show whereas other aspects weren’t that impressive?

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Kino no Tabi – it’s old but is it gold?

Alternative title Kino’s Journey
Studio A.C.G.T.
Genres Drama, Slice of Life
Source Light novel
Episodes 13 + OVA + 2 films
Season Spring 2003
Director Ryuutarou Nakamura
Music Ryou Sakai
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    Why do people create imaginary worlds and stories? The answer would be because they think our own world lacks something. It might be that a person just wants to experience an alternative choice in his life or to see what would happen if some specific conditions would be provided. It doesn’t change the fact that even those stories that have very little in common with the everyday world are still built upon the rules that we know – sometimes they are altered, sometimes completely broken or created anew, but the fact persists. Then a person (other than the creator) who wants to experience such a new world needs to know what are the rules there. And because our world inevitably is the reference, the imaginary world by default works just like our own, unless stated otherwise. And that’s a statement I want you to remember because this time let’s delve into the world of Kino no Tabi (the old one), similar and yet vastly different from our own.

     The basics of an adventure story is to make someone travel somewhere and encounter some interesting people along the way. Kino no Tabi plays right into this vein – the protagonist Kino spends her time visiting various countries and noting their differences. The creator of the original light novel series Keiichi Sigsawa loves to travel himself and usually does that on his motorcycle so inevitably his heroine Kino does the same. The unusual thing is that Kino’s motorrad Hermes (yep, that’s how it’s called) talks from time to time. I don’t know how it’s portrayed in the light novels but judging from the anime, there’s a possibility that Kino’s wrong in the head (no wonder concerning her troublesome past) and because of that she imagines a completely normal machine talk. Sure, it’s only a minor possibility, but I can’t remember any scene where Hermes would have said anything important to any third party that Kino couldn’t. It’s never directly addressed, so think what you will. Still, Hermes only exists to keep company for Kino. To some extent it was a smart choice to have a talking motorbike – in this way Kino has someone to talk to but on the other hand Hermes doesn’t look like anything human so in that sense Kino still travels alone, so generally Hermes is there just to make Kino talk and express her opinions.

    As the story is episodic, the characters constantly change so it’s crucial to form a bond with anyone featured more prominently in order to connect with the show. Apart from Kino there’s only Hermes that may remotely be called a character. And it’s a talking motorbike, yeah. Even then Kino remains a mystery to me. Many people have compared Kino no Tabi to Mushishi and not without a reason. In both series the protagonists mainly act as lenses to enable the viewers to see their respective worlds. Sure, there’re huge differences as Ginko tries to help people while still hiding his personal thoughts and Kino usually is just an observer, trying not to interfere with anything. To measure anything you inevitably need to interact with it and as Kino usually avoids that, I’ve only gathered the tiniest and often contradicting impressions of her. One time Kino may ponder if it’s alright to kill some rabbits in order to feed a few famished travelers, a bit later she can actively make dozens of people (and maybe more) fight in a death match, so I just couldn’t form a consistent opinion on her – does she value life? Why is she behaving the way she does? Only a few times Kino formed a connection with other people and I can assure that during these times she was the most relatable and human. And I rather watch a show about humans and not some undefined entities that only observe. Especially if what they observe doesn’t really make sense more often than not.

      Now we come to the main point I have against Kino no Tabi – there’s not enough proof that all the different countries in Kino’s world work otherwise than countries in the real one (and why is that). You come expecting normal people who are able to think and come up with logical answers to their problems but it isn’t the case. People in Kino’s world are prone to be extremely oversimplified or just transformed in such a way that for me most of time they’re not even recognizable as people that I could relate to or care about their stories. And that’s even worse than, say, in a typical harem anime where no character can break from stereotypes. Kino typically spends an episode (or even less) in one country but in each and every one of them apart from one or two forgettable supporting characters other people make up a mob, a mass, devoid of personality and smarts. The simplifications of people, employed to act as devices for portraying specific ideas, don’t allow a single person from the mob to behave the tiniest bit differently compared to the majority. I don’t think it’s very realistic to travel to, say, Sweden and find that everybody is named Olaf, likes to play ice hockey and has a pet squirrel named Thor. Even worse, the mob usually acts in unbelievably dumb ways. For example (and beware of spoilers), two countries decide that rather than warring between themselves they would save some lives by regularly massacring a third underdeveloped country as a kind of sport. That way, everyone is said to be happy in these two countries because no more people are killed in war and they’re able demilitarize quite a bit. Why doesn’t anyone remember the land that the countries initially quarreled for anymore, why neither of the countries takes an opportunity to destroy the other one if the opponent’s power is diminished, why the people of the third country simply endure being massacred and neither retaliate nor leave is beyond me. And wasn’t a more simple choice JUST TO MAKE PEACE? It’s probably the worst I’ll remember about Kino no Tabi, but it’s just plagued by such more or less illogical complications that sure, do serve the exploration of thought provoking ideas, but on the other hand throw away all the relatability and realism. Maybe I’m an idealist, but come on, people can’t be THAT retarded, can they?

   Another interesting aspect of Kino’s world is that it’s very segmented. There’re practically no ties between the countries. It’s quite strange to have countries with hover-boards and also countries where a mere wish to invent something is frowned upon. Well, our world isn’t that different at a first glance, but I guess even someone living in the farthest corner of the world has heard that planes do exist. Technology usually like to spread, countries also tend to conquer as much territory as they can but in Kino no Tabi the countries are rather more like city-states that have no plans to expand, open trade routes or just explore further from their thresholds. I find that strange and it only adds to my confusion that Kino’s world initially seems just like our own but is certainly not. I guess if an animal has cat ears, cat nose, cat paws and even behaves like a cat, it should be a cat but in this anime even an object having all external human characteristics feels nothing like human.

    Sometimes it’s clear that the anime was adapted from a light novel, even if at the time light novels weren’t as popular as they are now and the market wasn’t oversaturated with similar stories with little artistic quality. Why does Kino always have to ask if she can ask a question? It’s pretty annoying to say the least. Annoying as well are the questions exactly repeating the statements (just like “I’m a plumber” – “Oh, you’re a plumber, right?”). It might work to start conversations in the light novel but in the anime it definitely feels wooden or at least outdated. After all it’s sort of understandable since at the time typical anime used to be that much slower paced.

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Excerpt from the OST: some track featuring Pachelbel's Canon in D

   Kino no Tabi also definitely looks like it was made quite a while ago. The visuals do nothing but scream about belonging to early 2000s. Character designs can be very simplified, as much as something come straight from some Masaaki Yuasa work, only the animation isn’t as impressive. Kino herself looks very bubbly and gender neutral (which has some point), far from Kino in this new ongoing reimagining of the story where the protagonist didn’t manage to withstand the attack of moe. Having nothing but pastel colors and especially many browns might make the old Kino look muddy but usually the show just feels cozy. Well, mostly color-wise, because there definitely are some unsettling stories. Still, the overall aesthetic is a consistent one, and that’s for the best. If we discount that weird scanline filter. You know what I mean.

   Moving on, it’s difficult to say anything about the soundtrack because it hasn’t been released for some reason. Yep, there’re some bits and pieces scattered on the Internet but even so I’m not inclined to spend time looking for it. As far as I recall, the soundtrack was good in a sense that it seamlessly fused with the stories, that is it wasn’t noticeable at all. On the other hand a great soundtrack should be able to stand its ground alone and be an equally important part of the story, and I can’t say that about Kino no Tabi. The single memorable scene sound-wise was when the famous Pachelbel’s Canon in D was used. That music may suit pretty much any non-action scene anywhere so it fit here well also. It’s just funny that a single more prominent track wasn’t made by Ryou Sakai who’s responsible for the whole soundtrack.

    If you haven’t seen enough of Kino, it’s not over after the TV series – there’s also an OVA and two films (each half an hour long). The OVA is half an episode long and feels different from the main show only because of that. Just like the creators at the last second found out that what they had made doesn’t extend to the full length and then nobody had any idea what to do with the remaining time. The first film defers from the usual formula by being sort of a prequel. Remember girly Kino with long hair and a dress? If you liked that, the first film is a must. It’s interesting to see how Kino started travelling but as with the TV series (as well as the OVA), the mob just isn’t smart at all. It’s nothing but annoying when people are so pedantic that a problem (that can be lethal to someone) isn’t dealt with properly with only because some in this case ridiculously unimportant rules say so. The second film signified the first time when Kino no Tabi left its initial studio – it was produced by Shaft and it feels hardly like a Kino. The character designs are updated (Kino’s coat is very battered for example) and Kino looks far more mature. The story also isn’t anything to write home about. It has some interesting elements but in the end it’s unfinished and feels just like the rest of unsatisfying episodes of Kino. As you probably know the ongoing reimagining of Kino no Tabi is also an option, but at least for now its quality doesn’t feel that satisfying.

Updated Kino from the Shaft film

    It’s immeasurably hard to tell a story that has some philosophical elements that would be thoroughly examined only in one episode, a decent wrap up and relatable characters included. Probably each episode of the series could be extended to its own separate show because the ideas behind are truly capable of that. Now it’s sadly quantity and not always quality. For me simply abstract ideas weren’t enough – they only can reach a viewer when they are organically embedded into the world of the story, and that’s precisely what I feel the anime lacks. Almost every episode I can summarize in a way of “Oh, that’s a rather interesting thought… but why the hell is that person so dumb?..”. I guess if Kino had been less of an enigma and the inhabitants of the countries had been less simplified, it would’ve been a show to my liking. Still, I must acknowledge that there’s a gold nugget in probably every episode, only it’s covered with a huge layer of dust. It’s up to you whether you have enough commitment to find it and not be too judgmental about the dust.

    I believe, this anime

 1

Could’ve been worse

     I think Kino no Tabi is worthy to be experienced. Sure, there are many more enjoyable shows but if you find yourself drawn to some deeper stuff and have some free time  – do try out the show. Despite my rather harsh opinion many people appear to have enjoyed Kino no Tabi quite a bit, so at least in order to broaden your general knowledge of anime the show is recommended.

     Have you seen the old Kino no Tabi? Are such older shows able to stand the test of time? How do you think the old show compares with the new anime?