|Action meets Comedy in this Anime Classic||5 out of 5 users found this review helpful.|
Full Metal Panic! is all about the adventures of Sousuke Sagara, teenage sergeant of Mithril, a super secret anti-terrorist organization with an army of high tech mech’s called Armslaves and run by an international gang of do gooders. Sousuke quickly finds himself tasked with protecting the lovely overachiever Kaname Chidori a student, at local (if you’re Japanese) , which means that Sousuke has to go in undercover as the new transfer student. What ensues is a series of comic mix ups due to Sagara’s military mindset and inability to adapt in the least to normal civilian life. Followed by giant mech mash ups caused by the baddies’ attempts to swing in and nab Kaname and steal the tech secrets that are trapped inside her mind.
The series is cut fairly down the middle between high school comedy and Mithril military action, with whole arcs seemingly focused on one aspect or the other. So in order to enjoy the show as a whole you need to laugh every time Sousuke overreacts to a dropped brief case and then gasp the next time his white mech pops an oversized shot gun blast through a frog like Armslave. Luckily the series succeeds both on the comedy front and the action side, and furthermore is able to link both together through its solid characters and plot pacing. The characters themselves are what set this show apart from other teenage mecha dramaides.
Sousuke in particular defines himself as something more or at the very least different from your average Eva or Gundam polit. For starters he’s already a trained and successful solider by the time we meet him so there’s none of that ‘oh my god, I can’t kill but I must!’ dilemmas that usually take up an episode or two of like shows. Instead Sagara is a pro from the second he walks onto the screen till the ending credits of the 26 episode. He approaches every problem whether it be how to handle a hostage exchange or how to steal copy paper with the same clam cool military thought process. This doesn’t mean that he never experiences problems of morality or suffer set backs but it does mean that his are of a different nature. They involve the passions trapped behind an overly disciplined mind and the comedy side effects of treating every classmate as a possible terrorist.
What makes Sousuke’s military shtick work so well throughout the show is that it’s taken seriously by the writers, yes they bring it over top for comic gold but they also try to maintain a sense of consistent logic so that his same outlook will embarrasses Kaname one moment and save her the next. He also receives some nice sparklingly of character development in between his zany gun touting exploits, which help to present his mistakes as products of naïveté rather then outright stupidity, like understanding kissing through mouth to mouth recitation.
Kaname is another lead that comes from a mold anime fans might be familiar with but through her own sassy disposition is able to evolve into a distinct character. She’s the love interest, a smart girl with a big attitude, who finds herself more often annoyed with her male counterpart then infatuated with him. What’s refreshing about Kaname is that she’s balanced just like Sousuke, her attitude towards him may bounce wildly between charming devotion to outright hatred but she very rarely has an unreasonable response to his actions. Sure the guy’s likable but him following you around and chucking you under desks all day is going to becoming irritating fast and Kaname at least lets him explain himself first, well most of the time. Also she’s wiling to admit when she’s whacked him with the good old ‘harisen’ once too often and even apologizes on one occasion! She’s also clever becoming a vital member of the team more often then playing the damsel in distress even though that happens every now and then. On top of that she has some nice sparkling of character development herself, explaining her fierce independence.
These two leads are accompanied by a vast cast of military personnel and high school students. The animators made the conscious decision to draw each of the students and members of Mithril as distinct personalities so even if you see a student who’s just a background character and never says one line throughout the whole series, he’ll have a distinct look and pop up more then once. As for the rest of the talking cast they include a shy, clumsy but deep teenage submarine commander, a cocky flirtatious sniper (who to be completely honest can be a spine shivering pervert at times. Saying a 12 year old girl is going to be ‘foxy lady’ and posting her picture up, really?) a nineteen year old mech officer who’s a bit of tomboy and one of those you love to hate villains in the form of the smart ass merc Gauron.
The series starts out a bit slow but quickly picks up pace after the first action extravaganza which flows nicely in from the first four episodes. From there it goes through some gentle back and forth between action and comedy and then explodes into the final arc after a pretty dark four parter. The problem with the series itself and its plot is that it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Since it’s following a manga which has yet to end itself, this is to be accepted, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. The whispered are never decently defined let alone explained and since they are pivotal to the show’s premise the lack of a proper explanation really hurts the overall story.
Furthermore while Gauron maybe a great villain, one you can really hate, he’s all that Mithril really has to fight against. The show hints at his employers but never reveals them or their purpose. It’s as if Gauron is just there to make trouble for Mithril without an overall agenda, being a merc that makes sense for him but it’s just not enough of an adversary for a powerful organization like Mithril they really need someone who’s going to fight their ideology as much as their military. The nameless, faceless, shadow organization that’s hiring Gauron might supply that intellectual impact but we never really receive any information on them. That’s not to say that Gauron doesn’t deliver a decent opponent for Sousuke in fact the history each share make their fights pretty intense and he has plenty of motivation for making Sagara’s life a living hell but just not enough to carrier the weight of the sole recurring bad guy.
The animation can be another point where the show falters. For the most part the character designs are solid and the actions sequences as well as the comedy ones flow at just the right zany pitch, but every now and then a background just won’t mesh with the characters or the design for one of the temporary cast comes across as bland. It doesn’t happen often but it pops up every now and then and can break some of a scene’s pace. Overall however, I’d say the animation is a major plus for the show with some great designs and mech battle sequences.
Another note I’d like to point out is that the show actually addresses some of the practical issues that arises from its premise. For instance the audience isn’t suppose to merely accept that Tessa is captain just because this anime and well, cute teenage girls are often given unrealistic responsibilities, there is an actual reason and Kaname is even skeptical of Tessa’s rank. The show even touches on some of the issues someone like Sousuke would have from being child solider. While it never goes as deep or as realistic as it could, it at least address some of the questions that occur when dealing with shows of this nature and that helps to make the overall experience more refreshing.
Finally I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely excellent voice work done by the English cast. I might be committing an anime taboo here, but the English dub delivers a better job overall then the Japanese crew. That’s not to say that both aren’t terrific which they are, but Chris Patton nails Sousuke as does Luci Christian as Kaname, both voice actors have done numerous characters of similar natures before but here I feel they really capture their animated counterparts. The rest of the English cast does a stand up job as well so if you’re going to invest in the series I highly recommend dub over sub here.
Despite some apparent plot wholes and an animation gaff here and there Full Metal Panic! delivers all you could wish for in a high school mecha show. It has two unique and well developed leads supported by a memorable cast and follows a well paced if not complete plot. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry and above all it will make you demand more. So jump on board this anime classic and enjoy the ride!
(And for you newcomers there is Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu for some quick comedy hits, and the excellent Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid when you want an emotional roller coaster with your favorite Sergeant and his High School crush, waiting for you after you’ve finished the first main season.)