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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Dimension W – an interesting mess

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Studio Studio 3Hz
Genres Action, Sci-Fi
Source Manga
Episodes 12
Season Winter 2016
Director Kanta Kamei
Music Go Shiina and Yoshiaki Fujisawa
     More times than not anime and manga are thought to be interchangeable. Usually manga precedes anime and the latter is meant to be more of a promotional material than a stand-alone piece of art. The fans of the manga expect the adaptation to be as close to the source as possible, as far as just animating all the existent panels without any additions or omissions. Because of that a fundamental problem arises since manga can go on as long as a mangaka wishes whereas the anime adaptation just can’t extend over a fixed time. Sometimes a second season or some OVAs are the answer but not every anime can do that good to earn it. As this quite roundabout introduction makes clear, Dimension W is one of the shows that suffer from the exact problem. As it turns out, it isn’t the only flop, but outside of that there are some positives, too, albeit they are not so numerous.

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     The premise of Dimension W may catch many an eye right on since in this day and age anime that doesn’t concern high-school or just teenagers is not that common. What else could you wish for, if not for some classic sci-fi with some new dimensions, robots and a cool looking protagonist? The start really looked promising – in the future some scientists somehow found another dimension and a way to harvest unlimited energy from it (sounds pretty dumb, but that’s not the end of it). The technology is monopolized, but as always, some illegal schemes are bound to show up. Enter our protagonist Kyouma Mabuchi, a gruff guy, who deals with these things for a living. During one of the operations, he finds an uncommonly well-made android Mira (well, it turns out we couldn’t escape teenage characters after all…) and those two unlikely companions wind up into some big business. Sounds good? Well, that’s when everything else comes up. As I already mentioned, pacing is not the strength of the show, as well as the composition. The first 3 episodes are pretty much a usual introductory stuff, with an almost-honorable thief called Loser introduced a bit randomly. Next 2 episodes contain one arc that could have easily extended over half the season – everything just happens without much explanation or meaning. I think this arc could have better been omitted rather that shrunk into this mad ride – it holds rather little significance to later events. All the rest of the episodes make up one large final arc when everything should come together and make sense. Would that it could. Still, the biggest problem probably is the Dimension W itself. In each arc it works like a different thing, overall turning out to be able to construct some abominations that could easily belong behind the Gate of FMA, to make some alternative realities with ghosts and zombies, to entangle various concepts like dreams, souls, time and almost everything that can come up to mind. It’s pretty much omnipotent. Having something like that without any limitations makes for an excuse to pull various Deus ex Machina stuff, but that doesn’t make a believable and, above all, an interesting thing to watch. Not to mention the depiction of the Dimension graphically. Come on, do you really think that a negative X axis contains unlimited energy? All in all, it’s just a poorly constructed game with a toy that can do anything, and that becomes worst near the end of the series, when random characters are tossed in, various fights begin and end, people remember things, people do things, the Dimension does things, conveniences happen and, well, that’s a trainwreck. I believe I could rewatch everything for the sake of understanding every single action and motivation of the characters but I just don’t have the will to go through everything again and I’m not entirely sure that it will actually answer many questions. Moral of the story – go read the manga, kids. At least it should have a proper pacing.

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     What is popular nowadays? Moe? Add Mira – check. What do people long for when they have seen enough moe? A badass guy that operates on the verge of law? Add Kyouma and – check. Actually there is hardly anything more to say about our two leads that could be positive. Mira is made to be cute, a bit clumsy and, of course, just has to become an object for some fanservice. Apart from quite memorable appearance, Kyouma isn’t the most original character, either. How can any cool character not have a dead girlfriend or convenient amnesia about some important past events whose absence would have probably saved much time for everyone – characters and the viewers alike. As a starting point all those characteristics are not that bad a thing – you must start somewhere. The worse part is that neither Mira nor Kyouma manage to advance their relationship the least bit – Kyouma still sees the android as a “pile of junk” after all the 12 episodes and she doesn’t really mind that. Supporting characters are plenty – just too plenty. Some of them have rather futuristic and flamboyant hairstyles and clothing (really, all the colors in the world does not make a show stylish), some look like they have hopped in form a wrong anime, but many of them are just not needed. Yes, manga probably manages to flesh them out more or less, but the anime just goes forward in full speed especially in the second half and just barely scratches any of 6 or 7 or I don’t even remember how many new characters that appeared at that time, but most of them barely say two words and virtually just steal screen time for no reason. When someone gets more spotlight, that doesn’t mean that we will get a decent character – I was unsure till the very end if Prince Salva was meant to be a relatable guy, some discarded protagonist or an up-jumped afterthought. Still, the main disappointment was due to the villain. A good story absolutely must have a villain, right? With a huge villainous smile, right? A mad scientist? Now we are talking. Well, he appeared near the end out of nowhere and looked very out of place. Not a Deus ex Machina bad a Villain ex Machina.

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     A sci-fi premise should mean lots of futuristic city-scapes, cool gadgets and stuff, right? Not in this case. All the energy coil stuff is interesting, but the show just doesn’t show its (theoretically) strongest point – how society has changed with all this technology. The futuristic environment factor is hugely underplayed and, to be frank, out of all the art form the Dimension W I would probably remember just Kyouma’s character design. Well, Loser’s also, but just because he’s just another character that looks to be in a wrong anime. The Easter Island makes a slight impression, but mainly because it’s just a refreshing sight to see some huge rocks instead of, say, a ghost house in a middle of a sea of mist.

Excerpt from the anime

     Dimension W is not the first anime whose soundtrack is one of the better parts of it. Done by not a single person – Go Shiina and Yoshiaki Fujisawa worked together – it provides some very diverse tunes that, when not overshadowed by visual information, work well with the scenes they are attached to. Sometimes when the story went overboard music really was factor to make me give the anime just another chance. It’s a good OST, but maybe not the great one. Yes, there are some very enjoyable and cool tracks, but there are also some instantly forgettable ones. If not this one, at least check some other of Go Shina’s works. The man knows how to write music.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Osoi Kuru Mizukara no Teki' by Go Shiina

     After all, I can’t really say Dimension W is bad. Yes, it has plenty of missteps – over the top abilities of the Dimension W, confusing story, not very relatable characters that are underdeveloped at best, also some of them just don’t add anything to the plot. The list continues but some credit must be given to the quite an interesting start of the show and sometimes the soundtrack. Overall rough experimental feel also adds some delicious spice. Still, it looks like the director Kanta Kamei was suited better for Usagi Drop, and that says a lot.

 I believe, this anime

1

Could’ve been worse

     If you are interested in the story (well, you probably should be), I believe you’ll be better off going straight to the manga. I can’t vouch for it, but it shouldn’t suffer as much of absence of worldbuilding and overabundance of not that elegant, messy and disjointed storytelling as the anime. Well, at least as a promotion the anime works.

Suisei no Gargantia – a mix of everything that, well, quite works

Alternative title Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
Studio Production I.G
Genres Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life
Source Original
Episodes 13
Season Spring 2013
Director Kazuya Murata
Music Taro Iwashiro
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     Would you be hyped if Production I.G announced a new anime that has a giant robot? Not enough? What if the composition of the series and some scriptwriting would be done by Gen Urobuchi? I believe many, if not the majority of anime viewers would at least check it out. Yet, the spring season of 2013 also had Shingeki no Kyojin, Hataraku Maou-sama! and Oregairu to offer among others, so it’s not really a surprise to see that Suisei no Gargantia hasn’t created a large fanbase and isn’t the show to be talked about very frequently. So, is it worth checking out?

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     Behind the two lead characters in the key visual of the series looms a giant robot so naturally many people  thought that Suisei no Gargantia would definitely be just another usual mecha show, maybe, knowing Urobuchi’s involvement, many characters will die horrible deaths. The first minutes of the show didn’t surprise anyone – massive space battle where no viewer can understand what’s going on wasn’t offering anything new. Well, at least the animation was decent – it’s Production I.G after all. Nonetheless, as our main character soldier Ledo woke up from artificial sleep after some trans-galactic travel (the battle didn’t go very well), all the mecha-ness disappeared. By the end of the first episode Ledo finds out that he and his robot Chamber have arrived to planet Earth – long lost to the civilization that Ledo is from.  The Earth is quite flooded – everyone lives in fleets made of many connected ships and boats. So ended the first episode that managed to unnerve many people – some loved the first part with the mecha battle and complained about nothing happening towards the end of the episode. Others conversely preferred that more peaceful and atmospheric part while murmuring about almost senseless beginning. It turned out that as the parts of first episode looked like day and night, the whole series also had some segments that screamed of either slice of life or action. Slice of life segments came first, as Ledo (and Chamber) tried to adapt to the living in the fleet named Gargantia, while trying to grasp the differences between his own very organized and strict civilization and this happy-go-lucky style of life that local people like the lead heroine messenger girl Amy led. At first it may seem quite pointless to throw away precious time that could be used for mecha fights and stuff, but in the end the peaceful time spent on Gargantia was crucial to Ledo’s decisions in the later episodes when all the action and drama began. It could be argued that even in terms of slice of life the show uses its time inefficiently – there is an episode (and a bit of another one) that is just filled with mild fanservise. It’s possible to think that it was meant to show Ledo’s development from a Rei Ayanami type of person to a more humane one, who is able to feel at least something when some girls start dancing in the attire that is quite revealing. Everything just boils down to personal preferences, but clearly the amount of fanservice was a bit bigger than the plot needed. That aside, a big praise must be given to the creators who thought that after Ledo arrived to the Earth he would need some time to learn the local language. Such details really add to the realism of the whole story. The later part of the series focuses mainly on action with some twists, but it’s nothing really Urobuchi-like as the amount of dead characters doesn’t reach your typical Urobuchi level. It isn’t unheard of to make a story that doesn’t belong to just one genre and changes throughout the season, yet it isn’t such an easy job to make everything run smoothly. I believe the transition from the first action sequence into the peaceful slice of life environment was done pretty well, but the opposite didn’t look that effortlessly to me. Still, both parts were quite enjoyable and, even if some things in the story aren’t that original or unguessable, everything was executed pretty well.

     As far as the characters go, the cast isn’t that big and diverse. The main focus of Suisei no Gargantia is to show Ledo’s development from soldier that knows only war and drill to a decent and humane person. Also, there is Chamber. Normally a robot wouldn’t be considered a proper character, but it just happens to grow and change throughout the series as well as his pilot does, even if it’s barely noticeable. There’s nothing really exceptional about all the supporting characters (who actually look pretty flat and aren’t that developed through the series, though it doesn’t really grab much attention as a negative trait and sometimes might even work as a contrast to Ledo’s changing) – we have some girls (suitable for fanservice, how else?), some wise old men, just everyday workers and one particular character who caused me many a headache for being an idiot. Well, I can believe that in the whole enormous fleet there should be some idiots around but when the idiot starts giving orders out of the blue that go against the basic common sense and everybody has absolutely no problem with that and just happily complies, I start to lose patience. Also, there’re some inconsistencies like changing the view whether killing could be justified, or simply conveniently forgetting that people that didn’t mean anything good at first place later shouldn’t be trusted.

Excerpt from the ED; animation by Yoshimichi Kameda
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     If there are some problems with the story and characters, there hardly could be any complaints about the visuals. The character designs look really refreshing after all the high-school stuff that just overflows the market. The colorful clothing that sometimes resembles some Native American trends, sometimes goes with the full Hawaiian look, looks well with the whole setting and vibrant backgrounds. If I have to condense all the artstyle into just one word, it would definitely be ‘colourful’. Sometimes bashing almost all the colors together looks like a true nightmare, other times it can turn into the absolutely amazing gem that Mononoke (not that Princess one) is. Suisei no Gargantia manages to use all the means and effectively make a pleasant almost heaven-like atmosphere. When it wants, it can transform and do a great job representing darker themes and more complex character emotions than just happiness. Still, at times I just began to ask how the same show can capture such a great shot one time and some episodes later look like there was no effort put in drawing faces. Nonetheless, more times than not animation was done really well as far as I can tell. The Mecha parts (yes, there are some, but clearly not enough to call the show full-mecha) done by CGI also didn’t look like abominations from hell, and that is something even in this day and age.

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     Another thing that is crucial to the success of the show is music, though sadly it is often overlooked. Even when the story of Suisei no Gargantia wasn’t going that well, the music kept me just glued to the screen (well, actually to the headphones). Taro Iwashiro, who hasn’t done that much anime work, managed to capture the right atmosphere perfectly, be it a battle theme or just a calm breeze of the wind. Not to mention that a symphonic orchestra used to its full potential is a rear sight in the fields of anime soundtracks. I believe that the music of Suisei no Gargantia can rightly be called the best part of the whole show, and would not be shamed after comparison with even the best live-action film scores or works by Yuki Kajiura or Youko Kanno.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Before Proceeding'
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Excerpt from the OST: 'I Like the Ocean Breeze'

     Gen Urobuchi’s name attached to the show may have done more wrong than right, as this isn’t your normal UroButcher series. Suisei no Gargantia tries to combine slice of life elements with some action later on and even if has some mecha elements, they are really not the center of the story. After all, it was quite a fun ride, not to mention that it was wrapped pretty well, and even if the show isn’t flawless and pacing clearly isn’t the strongest part, Suisei no Gargantia was entertaining enough, and in the end that’s all that matters.

     I believe, this anime is

 2Decent

     There are shows that are certainly better. Also, the themes and the whole changing of the style thing might not be for everybody, but I think it’s worth checking out, at least for the soundtrack and beautiful scenery.