Anime Storyboards: Scrapped Princess
Episode Count: 24
Production Studio: Bones
When I say the word “post-apocalypse,” what images spring to mind? Motorcycle-mounted bandit gangs chasing down a lone traveller across the wastes? Survivor settlements that use gutted vehicles and similar scrap for fortifications? Quasi-fascist organizations conquering said survivor settlements piecemeal? Yes, the typical gamer’s concept of post-apocalypse has been heavily influenced by the Mad Max Trilogy, along with the many knock-offs that cropped up back in the Eighties. But how about an old-school fantasy setting? While not quite as obvious as the others mentioned, the idea of a fantasy setting that came to be after our present day civilization self-destructed is certainly a viable one. And while Scrapped Princess is hardly the first to employ the concept (the Shannara series by Terry Brooks is the most evident, and many others toy with the idea to some degree), it does offer its own unique twists.
The crux of the series concerns a prophecy involving the royal family of Leinwan. The prophecy alludes that a princess born to that family will become the poison that destroys the Earth on her sixteenth birthday. When a girl is born to the royal family, accompanied by the signs specified in the prophecy, it is decided that fate shall be preemptively spiked by having the girl be tossed off a cliff. As anyone familiar with Oedipus Rex could guess, this is not what happens. Instead, the person tasked with the killing just can’t do it and gives the child to a family of commoners to be raised as one of their own. Fifteen years later, the deception has been uncovered and the god-like Peacemakers (who are the real power in Leinwan) dispatch minions to seek out the girl and kill her. The girl, Pacifica Casull, is able to escape their initial assault with the aid of her foster siblings, Shannon and Raquel, and the three of them are forced into a life on the run. During their travels, they meet a girl called Zefiris. She is the last of the Dragoons, who were beings similar to (though less powerful than) the Peacemakers. As she accompanies them, they slowly learn the truth behind the true nature of the conflict between the Peacemakers and the Dragoons, as well as why Pacifica is so important.
Before I continue, I must warn you that I’m about to reveal a significant spoiler to give the rest of the column some context. So if you’re thinking of checking out Scrapped Princess yourself and wish to watch it with fresh eyes, you may want to stop now. For everyone else, here’s the lowdown. As you might suspect, the Peacemakers and the Dragoons are not gods but rather artificial intelligences originally created to aid humanity in a war against aliens. The Peacemakers were the most advanced models and had the greatest degree of independent thought. They used this to analyze the progress of the war and came to the conclusion that humanity was doomed to extinction if matters were allowed to continue as is. So they covertly made a deal with the aliens where they agreed to forcibly confine humanity to Earth so as to cease hostilities. Unable to challenge the Peacemakers head-on, the Dragoons went with a long-term solution. Their plan involved discrete genetic manipulation to eventually create the Providence Breaker, a human capable of resisting the influence of the Peacemakers and bringing an end to their confinement of humanity. To make this plan more likely to succeed, similar genetic tinkering was applied to various humans so that they would be subconsciously inclined to aid the Providence Breaker.
The most engaging theme of Scrapped Princess involves the philosophical differences between the Peacemakers and the Dragoons. In particular, the way both sides sincerely regard themselves as the ones with humanity’s best interests at heart. And it’s quite difficult to fault either of them. The Peacemakers see themselves as protecting humanity from themselves and regard the Dragoons as irresponsible enablers of humanity’s worst impulses. Meanwhile, the Dragoons had devoted themselves to liberating humanity from their imprisonment which resulted from what they see as the conniving treachery of the Peacemakers. The various human factions also have similar convictions. Whether their aim is to aid or hinder Pacifica, each of them genuinely believes what they are doing is right and just. If there is a failing to the series, it’s the tendency to hand wave much of the technology behind the Peacemakers and the Dragoons. For instance, it’s never really clear how they manifest in the physical world. Initially, they appear to be some form of hologram. But aside from the question as to how they’re projected, they also display a wide array of combat capabilities which really stretches the hologram idea to the point where it may as well be magic as opposed to technology appearing to be magic. Still, there are some other rather creative implementations of technology as magic. One of the more memorable ones involves a bard assassin who uses poison-injecting robots the size of an insect which are controlled though a musical instrument that plays notes outside the human hearing range.
Many fantasy settings give hints of there having once been a more advanced civilization in the distant past. So why not have that civilization be ours? While such may primarily serve as background material, uncovering the truth about the past can also serve as the basis of a campaign. Some of the themes touched upon in Scrapped Princess include:
- Sufficiently Advanced Technology: This concept popularized by Arthur C. Clarke notes how, if a technology is so advanced that it’s not recognizable as such by those perceiving it, it appears to be magic. Any number of technological doodads can be the basis of a talisman. It’s just a matter of properly describing them so that it’s not immediately obvious to your players as to what it actually is. Care must be taken not to overuse it though. If every random encounter and his dog has a high tech thingamabob, it can strain credibility.
- Origin of the Species: Though largely a background element, how the various fantasy beings came into existence is worth considering. Traditional fantasy races like elves and dwarves could be forms of mutated humans that managed to flourish. Some of the more bizarre fantasy critters could be similarly mutated animals or descended from bioengineered constructs which had been designed to reproduce. Golems and other similar “magical” entities could be robots or holograms. A reputedly immortal warrior of great renown could be an android or a cyborg. Really, the sky’s the limit.
- But We’re the Good Guys: There are some settings where having a villian who is consciously evil works just fine, such as Golden Age-style superheroes or old-school pulp adventure. But in other settings, it’s worth considering the motivation of the major antagonists. Some could merely be selfish and convinced that they deserve what they desire, no matter how their actions affect others. Others may have started with laudable goals that became twisted over time, but they’re convinced that the end result justifies whatever horrors are inflicted in the process. Then there are those who may believe that the player characters are a menace who must be stopped. Without knowing the intent behind their actions, the stereotypical player character party could appear to be a bunch of out of control sociopaths (or perhaps they actually are).