Full Metal Panic!

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FULL METAL PANIC!

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Full Metal Panic! is my absolute favorite type of mecha series. The most notable part of FMP is its wonderful comedic aspects. I love me some comedy. Whenever I try to watch something with technical information, my brain just sort of drifts off to things like, what homework I am forgetting, and what’s for supper. FMP, however, kept me on the edge of my seat at all moments by using humor and interesting characters to keep me focused at all times. It is an ingenious mix of comedy and drama.

Kaname Chidori is just your average popular high schooler, who wants to spend time with her friends, and do well in school. Her life gets turned upside down when suspicious transfer student, Sousuke Sagara, shows up at her school and forcefully interjects in every aspect of her life.

It’s no surprise then to find out that Sousuke, as well as two others (Melissa Mao and Kurz Weber), have been sent to protect and monitor Kaname at all times. She is suspected to be a “Whispered”, which makes her a valuable tool to various armies the world over. Mithril, a mercenary group, without allegiance to any particular place, sends out this team of three soldiers to keep the world’s peace and Kaname protected. On the outside, it just appears as if Sousuke is a paranoid fanboy with little empathetic ability. Kaname mistakes his obsession towards her as being interested in her romantically, and as such there are many laughs targeted at his failure to pick up on her mood swings and disappointments.

FMP has a nice balance of serious long arcs and hilarious one-hit episodes. The nice thing about this series being based off of a light novel, is that the plot is well thought out and the timing is great. Just when the school events are starting to grow wearisome, we are thrown into a hostage situation where Kurz, Mao, and Sousuke have to show what they’ve got and save the day.

As much as technical jargon confuses the heck out of me, this series was very easy to follow along with and tied in very strongly with the emotional aspects of the series.

I always think the mark of a good mecha show is if I can follow along with the politics and action, and Full Metal Panic! succeeds at that quite well.

PLOT: In an alternate version of modern-day Japan, there is something called “Black Technology,” which allows scientists to make technology that’s even more advanced than what’s already in use. Unfortunately, the only people who can create Black Technology are the people called the “Whispered,” who hear whispers about Black Technology when they awaken to their knowledge. Notably, Arm Slaves also exist, making this a full-out mecha show instead of being standard sci-fi.

Kaname Chidori’s a fairly average girl attending high school in Japan, but she’s suspected to be a Whispered. Because of this, the private military organization Mithril makes it their goal to protect her, since they’re the self-proclaimed police of the world and don’t want terrorists getting their hands on her potential knowledge. Mithril sends a group of three to protect Kaname: Melissa Mao, the group’s leader who’s very sexy and likes to get drunk; Kurz Weber, who’s a bit of a playboy but a great sniper; and Sousuke Sagara, who’s always been a mercenary but somehow goes undercover at Kaname’s school to covertly protect her.

As you might expect, Sousuke’s awful at being covert, and Kaname immediately knows that something’s up with him, though she doesn’t understand the depth of the situation until her entire class gets kidnapped so she can be experimented on. Fortunately, Sousuke’s pretty good at combat, and with Kaname’s awakening Whispered abilities, they’re able to save the day and stay alive.

Since this series is based off of light novels, it has two kinds of episodes: serious, major arcs and light-hearted, one-off episodes. This first series manages to adapt the first three novels, along with many goofy stories. When the show’s serious, it’s engrossing and had me on the edge of my seat, while the comedy mostly worked. The change between levels of dangerous and slapstick violence might be hard to swallow, but otherwise I think this series has a good balance between light and dark.

SETTING: What I liked about the setting was that the cast of characters from Mithril all come from different areas of the world. Sousuke was raised in “Helmajistan”, a fictional area of Afghanistan, and as such has grown up accustomed to the life style of a soldier. Going to school with Kaname is actually his first exposure to the world as a civilian, and it brings a great new perspective to the “high school drama” aspect of the series.

The majority of the show focuses on Sousuke’s trouble adapting to his new life as a high schooler. He attends school with Kaname and lives in the same apartment complex as well, providing ample opportunity for hilarity to ensue.

Another aspect of the setting I loved was the Mithril headquarters, which are located on a submarine, the Tuatha de Danann. Being on a submarine helps Mithril remain in neutral waters, and allows ease of transit. There are no real limitations to Mithril’s reach.

I’m with Crystal on the world building. I don’t really understand the various battles that go on in the series beyond everyone wanting to collect the “Whispered” for their technical mind abilities. Maybe if I had my own Whispered I’d be able to know what the series is about….

SETTING: To be honest, I wish Full Metal Panic! spent more time on worldbuilding in a way that made sense to me. Maybe I need a guidebook with maps and bits of world history, but the information about setting given in the series had little impact on me. I know this series is set in an alternate world, but I couldn’t tell you much about it beyond that. I’m very glad that Wikipedia’s around for an easy reference, but then I’m not sure where it got its information. Maybe the light novels are more informative than the anime.

I appreciate how this series deals with the difficulties of protecting a girl in modern-day Japan. Though a lot of Full Metal Panic! takes place at school or Kaname’s apartment, there’s a different spin on everything by showing the difficulties Sousuke & co. have tracking her and making sure she’s safe. The other great setting of the series is Mithril’s submarine, the Tuatha de Danann, which is run by the AI Dana. The sub’s incredibly cool and developed so well that I’m convinced it’s been thoroughly planned out. All of the mecha appear to have been well thought out, and I really love the Lambda Driver that one of the mecha uses.

Finally, the series uses modern-day global conflicts as the source for its themes, so a good deal of the series’s action takes place in Afghanistan (renamed Helmajistan here). The series goes the extra mile to flesh out this setting and make it personally important to several characters, which made the scenes that take place there much more meaningful for me.

Haha, I checked Wikipedia too and it mentioned all these historic differences that I’d never heard before. Must be in the novels, but I don’t think it really matters either way.

CHARACTERS: I’m in total agreement with Crystal on Captain Tessa, aka Teletha Testarossa. Fine captain, horrible love interest. I think what really makes it worse is that it’s so apparent that she stands no chance, that it’s sickening to watch her fail at capturing Sousuke’s attention.

I love the main trio of soldiers. Mao and Kurz are like the parents Sousuke never had. They bring illumination to his misunderstandings and help keep the plot moving forward. If it weren’t for them to bring logic and strategy to the situation, Sousuke would probably have been way worse off.

Sousuke is one of my favorite characters of all time. He’s adorably naïve about the world and constantly sets people off. I loved watching this series to slowly learn about his past and to watch him develop as a person. The re-humanization of Sousuke is the best part of this series and really makes you think about the outcomes of war on its soldiers.

Kaname is also rather annoying like Tessa. I had an easier time watching her character, but she flies off the handle a little too easily. Her temper really aids in drawing this series out as much as possible. Which I guess can be good in a consumerist sense, but really I’d like her emotional development to go a bit quicker.

I love how this series portrays Sousuke’s past—instead of merely glorifying it or making Sousuke into an emotionless, perfect soldier, the series really digs in how he became this way. No one becomes a seasoned mercenary easily, and Sousuke’s past has left some deep scars on him that he’s unwilling to face for most of the show.

CHARACTERS: I love the central cast of Full Metal Panic!, which the exception of Teletha “Tessa” Testarossa, the captain of the Tuatha de Danann.

Kaname’s reactions to Sousuke are always entertaining, given her tsundere core, but her development and growing relationship with Sousuke all happen naturally and convincingly. Some might find Sousuke’s inability to adapt to Japan too extreme, but I think it makes sense given his upbringing as a mercenary and the fact that he’s a foreigner. He also grows and sees frustrations in the series that make him relatable for me, especially once the series visits Helmajistan. Finally, Melissa and Kurz are both good foils to Sousuke’s straight-edge view of the world, and they’re both awesome and entertaining in their own rights.

Tessa, though, is the character that I can’t stand in this show. It didn’t ruin the series for me, but, man, is she obnoxious! As captain, Tessa’s fine—maybe a bit young (she’s 16), but she’s very competent as a strategist and works well with Kaname when she has to. However, she also likes Sousuke (just so there can be a love triangle?), and she acts incredibly stupid when trying to get his attention. Blech! It happens infrequently enough that the show’s still awesome, but every time Tessa brings up her feelings I roll my eyes or gag.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: The character designs of FMP are a bit over-the-top. Everyone has vastly different designs to meet their personas. I always tend to dread shows that go to the extreme of having main characters with shocking colored hair. Kaname has bright blue hair that is tied off with a tiny little bow that is included for strange aesthetic purposes. In a sense you know she’s supposed to be beautiful because her hair stands out more than anyone else’s.

In conjunction with Kaname’s brazen appearance is her smart quirky friend with coke bottle glasses and braids that stick out straight from her head. FMP is one of those series that makes it really easy to tell who is important or not. If someone looks normal, chances are you’re not supposed to look at them. It makes the foreshadowing a bit of a let down because the villains look very villainous.

As Crystal says, the animation is very touch and go. I don’t know that I’d call it cheap though. If memory serves correctly, I’d say just about all series from that time period had their key moments and low spots. It just all has to do with budgeting for the big stuff. And there’s enough big stuff to make you put those bad memories behind you.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Watchers be warned: Full Metal Panic! is a Gonzo show from 2002, so it is both old and has a very mixed animation quality. The series uses CGI for the sub and sometimes for aircraft, which tend to stick out like a sore thumb and jerk me out of the action. The Arm Slaves, though, are more traditionally animated, which is friendlier to the eyes. Some episodes look quite good for when they came out, with interesting camera angles and strong battle choreography, but filler episodes can look just plain awful. There’s an episode where characters get so off model that I couldn’t tell who Sousuke was at first glance.

The character designs are all appealing in that angular way that was popular a decade ago. Everyone is easily recognizable, though characters fall into standard types (Tessa has platinum blonde hair because she’s weak, Kaname’s best friend has glasses and pigtails). My only real complaint with character designs here is in the plausibility of Kaname’s appearance. First of all, how does a little bow at the bottom of Kaname’s hair keep it in order without falling off? Secondly, how does Kaname’s school uniform meld itself to her breasts like that? I wish the character designer had actually taken a glance at real-life school uniforms….

Talk about distracting. I couldn’t focus on anything else whenever I saw the melted shirts forming to every curve possible. It just looks SOOO bad. D: We get it, they have boobs, can we please move away from the melted shirts? Seriously.

OVERALL: I’m going to jump out on a limb and say, yes, Full Metal Panic! is for non-anime fans as well. I know Crystal is a bit skeptical, but my husband loved it, and he isn’t even trained to get Japanese comedy. Though he is an army guy, and I think he could relate a lot to the crazy otaku stuff that Sousuke was doing. So maybe I should modify that and say, yes certain men (guys who enjoy army stuff) have a good likelihood of liking FMP.

As for me, I loved this series. It’s one out of less then a handful of mecha series that I not only could tolerate, but thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the characters, setting, and plot. All three work wonderfully together and create a strong, believable series. I could probably re-watch this anime every couple of years, and it wouldn’t grow stale. If you haven’t already, you should definitely give FMP a shot. Then you should go out and buy the Fumo action figures.

OVERALL: Full Metal Panic! easily places itself as my favorite mecha franchise, as well as my favorite comic franchise. The characters are fun and interesting, the action scary and unpredictable, and the comedy genuinely hilarious. This series definitely has some missteps in animation and in a couple of stand-alone episodes, but by and large it does an excellent job of telling its story and engaging me as its audience. I may wish Tessa got less screen time and the animation were more consistent, but otherwise this first season is stronger than my memory gives it credit for next to its sequel seasons. I can’t say that this show will immediately hook non-anime fans, but if you’re already into mecha anime and like slapstick comedy, this is a safe viewing option. Plus, there are two more seasons with the characters and a slew of light novels, though none of the light novels are readily or legally available in English anymore.

FINAL SCORE: (9/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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