May 03, 2006
Outsiders often observe a culture with sharper eyes than those in it. Gorgeously animated and smartly written, the anime series Scrapped Princess asks how we should react to an apocalyptic revelation that everybody believes is going to happen, but nobody is quite sure how or why. Without becoming ponderous or pontifical, Scrapped Princess delves into eschatological dilemmas that we "end times"-obsessed Americans often have trouble dealing with in other than heavy-handed Manichean terms (e.g. Left Behind, End of Days, Stigmata).
When we meet her, the titular princess, Pacifica Casull, is a bratty teenager on the run with her step-siblings, Shannon and Raquel. An ancient prophecy has identified her as the "poison that will destroy the world," and the "Church of Mauser" has decided to deal with any uncertainty about the interpretation of the prophecy by having her killed. As the story begins, a potpourri of assassins, mercenaries, and wannabee knights are in pursuit of the trio. In their sister's defense, Rachel proves herself a powerful priestess and Shannon a mighty paladin.
Two classes of archangels appear as well: Dragoons sent to protect Pacifica, and Peacemakers sent to carry out the will of the Church. But the most formidable of Pacifica's enemies is Christopher Armalite, an agent with the secret police, who eventually begins to question the rationality and morality of his actions. Yet another existential dilemma presents itself when Shannon's guardian angel, Zefiris, blandly informs him that he and their allies have been genetically programmed to rise to Pacifica's defense.
The question of predestination versus free will forms the central conflict of the story, a conflict that eventually extends to the entire world. It soon becomes apparent that this "medieval" civilization in fact is the remnant of a devastating conflict that occurred thousands of years in the past. Readers familiar with Dave Wolverton's Golden Queen novels (among others) will recognize the "back to the future" motif, along with Arthur C. Clarke's useful adage: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
With humankind trapped inside a Rousseauan bell jar, Pacifica must choose between the guaranteed safety of enforced innocence, and the perils of freedom and self-determination. But a fall from Edenic grace demands a sacrifice. In our iconoclastic age, fantasy is particularly adept at analogizing the complexities of scriptural symbolism. In this respect, Scrapped Princess finds the right balance, illustrating how the demands of prophecy, triggered by betrayal, are answered with blood and magic, culminating in resurrection and redemption.
I consider this no small achievement. In contrast to the ending of Scrapped Princess, I found the atonement scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a weak representation of the material it was analogizing. I don't know if author Ichiro Sakaki intended the metaphor to be extended this far, but the European setting of the series, and the representation of the Church of Mauser as the return of the Holy Roman Empire ("neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire"), makes it hard for me to believe he wasn't aware of it. In any case, it works wonderfully.