DRAWN & QUARTERED
Revelations in a princess
The anime and manga series "Scrapped Princess" indicts religious institutions
Religion is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful forms of government in existence -- "government" meaning a set of rules dictating how people are allowed to act.
It is also one of the trickiest governments to navigate, as people are asked to put their faith in something they cannot see and humans often end up using that faith for ends that are less than spiritual.
The "Scrapped Princess" franchise, which originally began as a series of novels in Japan by Ichiro Sakaki and then spawned a 24-episode anime and a three-volume manga, explores the roots of religion and the very different interpretations and consequences that sprout from them.
In the world of "Scrapped Princess," the Mauser Church is the main religion, centered in the holy city of Grendel. Members believe in the Lord Mauser as God and of a being named Lord Browning as the devil.
One year, the prophets of Grendel have a vision, known as the 5111th Revelation of Grendel. The prophecy says that Queen Elmyr of Leinwan will soon bear twins, a boy and girl. Of the two, the girl must be destroyed, for on her 16th birthday she will become the poison that will destroy the world.
The king orders his infant daughter to be thrown into a gulch. But through a plot contrived by Queen Elmyr, a sorcerer rescues the baby and brings her to Yuma and Carol Casull, who live in a nearby village. They raise her as their own daughter along with their other children, Raquel and Shannon. The as-yet unnamed princess, hated and feared because of the prophecy and "scrapped" by her own family, is given a name that Carol says she hopes will inspire others to love her: Pacifica.
In this loving environment, Pacifica grows up to be a carefree, if rather weak, girl. But as she approaches her 16th birthday, word reaches Leinwan and other kingdoms that the Scrapped Princess is still alive, and the hunt is on. Special forces are dispatched, security checkpoints are tightened and strange church beings called Peacemakers get involved.
Yuma is killed in an attack (Carol died of illness a few years previously), and Raquel and Shannon learn the truth about their adopted sister. When the anime begins, assassins are already after them, and the siblings have been on the road trying to escape their hometown of Manurhin and the Leinwan kingdom altogether.
BUT THE Casulls are not without allies. There is suspicion early on among high-ranking Leinwan officials about the legitimacy of the prophecy, which leads to political maneuverings that, although they don't do Pacifica any good in fighting off immediate threats, assist the siblings in the long run.
But it is mainly Pacifica's openness and honesty that draw people to her side, even after they learn that she is the Scrapped Princess. Her happy personality despite knowing who she is, and the strong bond shared by the Casull siblings, lead some to seriously question the revelation and even their own long-held beliefs of what is the right thing to do.
Eventually, religion is shown to be nothing more than a vehicle for brainwashing humanity into supporting the ambitions of those stronger than them.
Further indicting the power structure is the main characters' belief in a flesh-and-blood person rather than an unseen god; they exhibit a truer faith than those who obey the Mauser Church's commands.
But at the end it is no longer even about religion, but about the larger theme of oppression, the use and misuse of people's faith, and the concept of fate.
"Scrapped Princess" is about humanity and its hypocrisy, and its powerful desire to keep its species going -- no matter if it means imprisoning future generations and denying them their freedom to choose.
But in trying to make a statement about religion and humanity, "Scrapped Princess" veers off the story line so much that the truth is difficult to grasp.
While it's obvious to viewers that there's something deeper to the revelation, the truth behind it and Pacifica's existence isn't something most readers could imagine. That secret is revealed less than halfway through the series, leaving about 14 episodes for the rest of the plot to play out. In the meantime, nearly all compelling development is put on hold as about eight episodes are devoted to Pacifica's sudden ignorance -- a plot in which the princess gets annoying and one that eventually holds no meaning, making it rather senseless in the first place.
IN CONTRAST, the three-volume "Scrapped Princess" manga is far less apocalyptic, centering on the Casulls' escapes from assassins and only barely scratching the surface of the 5111th Revelation of Grendel.
Aside from the siblings and the Mauser faith, the manga has virtually no shared aspects with the anime. The story focuses on family bonds and particularly on Pacifica, who is constantly haunted by the knowledge that people have been killed because of her. This selflessness never devolves into self-pity, although it could have easily done so.
But the final volume is a disaster for readers: While it introduces more characters and for the first time talks of a scandal surrounding the prophecy, the story then abruptly fizzles away, leaving new and old plot points clumsily wrapped up in a way that leaves no real closure. The Casulls escape one final encounter, ride off into the sunset and ... that's it.
The manga takes the revelation at its face value and is not a question of who Pacifica is, but rather a simple question of whether the prophets of Grendel are wrong. But it is no less of a criticism of religion, as it faults the Mauser Church for its extreme tactics.
It almost acts as a prologue to the anime and is much more appealing when taken as such, so reading the manga is no substitute for watching the TV series.
The anime is available on six DVDs from Bandai; the first novel is being released next month by Tokyopop, which also published the manga. It is the first of 13 novels released in Japan, and encompasses about the first four episodes of the anime. But with Tokyopop's exploding catalog of series, here's hoping we'll see all 13 novels released stateside.