LAB Notes #3 – Scrapped Princess

Target: Scrapped Princess
Studio: BONES
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Notable Themes: Mystery, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
Episodes: 24
Fanservice Level: Average

Reasons to Watch:
A mysterious story that transcends genre
Broad appeal without sacrificing substance

Reasons to Not:
Main characters are somewhat one dimensional

Similar to: Turn-A Gundam, Last Exile, Avatar: The Last Airbender

It kind of baffles me that Scrapped Princess doesn’t get mentioned more often.  The series is a nearly perfect example of how anime can tell interesting stories that would do well on U.S. television.  It has action, mystery, comedy, drama, cool concepts, and solid characters.  Combine that with the above average production values and decent dubbing and I just don’t understand why this wasn’t picked up by some U.S. network during the anime boom in the late Nineties and early ‘Aughts.  Regardless, Scrapped Princess is one of those rare series that has something for everyone and doesn’t really compromise to get it all packed in.

The story opens up with introductions to the Casull siblings, Shannon, Raquel and 15-year-old Pacifica, who are on the run from the Church of Mauser.  It’s revealed that Pacifica is the Scrapped Princess, the subject of a divine prophecy issued by the church, who feared that she would become “the poison that will destroy the world” on her sixteenth birthday.  When the royal family of Leinwan tried to kill her as a baby, her mother conspired with the Casull family to save her.  Everything was going fine, until someone saw her and kicked off a witch hunt.  Fortunately, Shannon is a top-tier swordsman, and Raquel is probably the single strongest mage in all of Leinwan.  The first half of the story is mostly about the siblings fighting or fleeing from whatever immediate danger they are in, while trying to make their way out of the country and to safety.

Almost immediately, it becomes clear (to the viewers) that all is not as it seems in the world of Dustvin.  What appears to be a world firmly in the Middle Ages is clearly something much stranger.  Magic produces visual effects that resemble circuit etchings.  Odd mechanical ‘bugs’ live in underground caves of obvious human construction.  Mysterious creatures that call themselves Peacemakers speak in what can only be described as computer syntax and wield phenomenal abilities that defy the known laws of magic and science.  The axiom that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic is in full effect here.  This revelation isn’t intended as a spoiler, since it should be obvious from the start, but as way for me to avoid the actual spoiler: us finding out what Pacifica’s real role is.

If you strip away some of the details, Scrapped Princess strongly resembles one of the most successful American cartoons of the last decade: Avatar: The Last Airbender.  Both shows feature a singular child who is destined to change the world.  Both of these children are joined by powerful allies who seek to oppose the status quo.  Both worlds are ruled by powerfully oppressive forces and both casts of characters mask the pain of their respective settings with humor and silliness.  The correlations keep cropping up and get really specific at times, but the point of the comparison is that both series offer similar stories that have similar broad appeal.  It’s that broad appeal that makes Scrapped Princess a perfect show for people who don’t have a lot of experience with anime.  It also rejects the more serialized plots of anime that has been popularized in America, (Sailor Moon, DBZ ect.) and proves that anime series can tell meaningful stories, in spite of the stereotypes.

Of course, ScraPrin isn’t perfect.  While many of the supporting characters are interesting and well developed (or at least funny) the Casull family are all a touch too flat to be really compelling protagonists.  Raquel is the worst offender, but Pacifica will get on your nerves more.  The show goes out of its way to not develop Pacifica beyond her somewhat helpless and useless starting persona.  Some of this is to preserve her status as an ‘innocent victim’ so that the final moments resonate more strongly, but she just gets obnoxious toward the end.  A telling moment in the twenty-third episode features her whining about doing chores around the camp while the capitol burns in the distance and the churches fill up with the sick and wounded.  In contrast, Raquel just isn’t given any real major plot opportunities to grow past her somewhat bland responsible personality.  She does have a penchant for goofy magical antics, but that just gives her something to do in the comedy scenes.

The comedic elements are also a bit of a sticking point.  The show uses really simple comedy to help alleviate the oppressive nature of the setting.  As the show goes on and we start seeing more of the world for what it really is, the comedy starts to feel out of place or simply recycled.  Sometimes, this is given credence in the series, by having funny moments fall flat within the context of the show.  But more often than not these scenes, like the strangled laugh of a convict, are without real humor.

What is funny are the character designs.  Komori Takahiro, one of the animation directors from Cowboy Bebop, did the design work for ScraPrin and I’m not entirely sure what happened but everyone wears enormous shoulder pads/armor as part of their everyday outfits.  And I do mean everyone, from the Special Forces military man to the maid in the inn.  Many of these bizarre shoulder pieces seem to be removable and separate from the rest of the outfits, which just seems to enhance the strangeness of the fashion.  Komori’s designs also tend to exaggerate the female cast’s breasts by either giving them really structured chest armor, or using draped fabric that still manages to stick to every curve.  These fabric oddities earn Scrapped Princess a Fanservice Level of Average in an otherwise fanservice light series.

Both the music and visuals of ScraPrin are very strong and typical of the high quality Studio BONES.  But at nearly ten years old, the series hasn’t aged well.  The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that the Region 1 Bandai DVD release had inexplicably terrible source quality.  The DVDs have lots of fuzzy visuals and really do a disservice to some of the more spectacular combat scenes.  It’s been theorized that this was done intentionally to discourage reverse importing at cheaper American rates, but ultimately it just damaged an otherwise wonderful series.

As I’ve previously stated, one of the tacit goals of this blog is to showcase series and movies that compare well to American television and film.  Scrapped Princess is sort of my ultimate trump card in that respect, because of its strong similarities to successful American cartoons, and because it manages to be a quintessentially anime experience while still containing these elements that are critical to American appeal.  Even the fanservice is a part of that experience and bridges the gap between obvious and distasteful.  While there are better stories being told, and better characters telling them, Scrapped Princess does amazing things with what it has.  It is truly a stand-out show and is a great place to start if you’re just getting into anime, or are just curious.

Posted on November 5, 2012, in LAB Notes and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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