Full Metal Panic! – Rating: 10
1. Story – 10
Full Metal Panic! is one of the best SF anime stories I have run across. It presents an extremely detailed alternate world with believable political structure and some very cool concepts and rationalizations for the advanced technology that exists. In addition, the story arcs are well written and compelling. Furthermore, the series combines action, drama, romance, and comedy unlike anything I have ever seen! It manages to be a high school romantic comedy, a compelling terrorist thriller, and an SF action show all at the same time. Truly an achievement!
The story revolves around the two main character. Sousuke Sagara: A 17 year-old professional soldier who has been fighting in wars around the world since he was 8 years old who is a sergeant in the anti-terrorist organization, “Mithril” and an expert pilot of the mechs that are called Arm Slaves (AS); and Kaname Chidori: A seemingly normal, popular, and strikingly beautiful 2nd year high school student. As the story starts out, Sagara and two of his fellow soldiers are assigned to an undercover mission protect Kaname. It turns out that she is not such a normal girl as she appears, but is in fact a “Whispered” candidate. “Whispered” is the term for people born with an innate understanding of what is called “Black Technology”, advanced technology that allows them to create amazing devices such as the AS units, effective invisibility systems, and many other advances that separate the FMP! world from our own. It seems that the KGB (in this world the Soviet Union is still going strong in the late 1990s, when the story takes place) is trying to kidnap “Whispered” candidates to study them and extract the “Black Technology” from them.
As a result of this assignment, Sousuke is enrolled in Kaname’s high school, as they are the same age (though technically Chidori is still 16 at the time, with a birthday of December 24th). Much of the comedy of the show revolves around the complete and total inability of Sousuke to adapt to life as a civilian. He doesn’t understand the subtle, or even the not-so-subtle, social cues of a Japanese high school or city. In addition, they are not allowed to tell Chidori that they are protecting her, as she is unaware of her status as a potential “Whispered”. None the less, she takes a liking to him early on, though she is constantly frustrated and infuriated by his “Military Nut” ways and frequently punishes him (often by hitting him with a fan or shoe) for causing so much trouble in her life. Eventually, the fact that she is under protection is revealed and, while she understands why Sousuke acts like he does, she still is driven to distraction by his antics.
The story alternates between one-shot “slice of life” stories about high school life or military life on the Tuatha De Dannan (the submarine where Sousuke is stationed normally) which are mostly humor oriented, and multiple episodes story arcs that are more drama and action oriented that tell the tale of the “Whisperd”, the terrorists that are after them, the Mithril members that are fighting them, and develop the characters of the main duo through shared danger and a growing reliance on, deepening friendship, and eventually love for, each other (though neither one will admit that love is a consideration in this season of the show).
Based on a series of light novels, the story presented in this first season takes place in the first two novels. Much information about the world and the course of the future novels is available online, though only the first 3 novels are published in the US (with the next two due out in February).
2. Characters – 8
The characters in FMP! are mostly well wrought. Some of the minor characters are a little paper thin, and the motivations of some of the villains are hard to fathom. Here is a summary of the main characters:
Sergeant Sousuke Sagara – A teenager that was raised on the battle field. Originally from Japan, he was orphaned at a young age and put into a Soviet orphanage. From there he was trained to be an child assassin, sent on a mission to kill a leader of Helmjikastan (Afghanistan in the books). Failing to kill the leader, he was adopted by him and became a rebel soldier. Eventually he left Helmjikastan and fought in wars across the world for the next several years, eventually being hired as a mercenary by the Mithril organization and being selected as an AS pilot on the Special Response Team (SRT) for the Tuatha de Dannan combat submarine.
Kaname Chidori – A popular teenager, class rep, and vice president of the student council of her high school, Kaname is also a gifted athlete and always gets top marks in science and math without any effort what-so-ever. Her mother died four years before the story begins and she is estranged from her father, who works for the UN in New York. She lives by herself in Tokyo and attends school there. Unbeknown to her, she is also a “Whispered” candidate, a group of people who have innate knowledge of extremely advanced technology that has allowed them to create the wondrous, and deadly, differences between our world and theirs.
Kyoko Tokiwa – “Kana-chan”‘s best friend. She is a pretty thin character that is constantly taking pictures and convinced that Kaname and Sousuke are falling in love, despite the denials of Kaname.
Shinji Kazama – The closest thing Sousuke has to a best friend at school. He is a military fanatic that knows as much about modern weapons as Sousuke and is fascinated by Sousuke’s actions and apparent military background, though that is supposed to be a secret, it isn’t very well kept. This character is also fairly paper thin and undeveloped.
Kurz Webber – Raised in Japan, but of German descent, Kurz is another member of the SRT. He is an expert sharp-shooter, as well as an unrelenting pervert and wanna-be womanizer. He is initially assigned to assist Sousuke in protecting Kaname, presumably because he is fluent in Japanese and knows the culture. His back story (as detailed online)[spoiler] is that he was a normal kid going to Japanese schools until, at the age of 14, his entire family was assassinated. He then discovered his rare ability as a sniper, he can visualize the path of a projectile and hit a target at any distance his weapon can fire, and trained in order to kill the assassin responsible for his family’s murder. He now spends almost all of his paycheck to pay for the medical bills and organ transplant costs for a young girl that was injured when he took his revenge.[highlight to read spoiler] He is a “happy-go-lucky” type that is frequently used for comic relief and a close friend of Sousuke.
Mellisa Mao – Sousuke and Kurz senior officer, she is also assigned to protect Chidori. She is a no-nonsense type that frequently punishes Kurz for his sexist and sexually harassing ways. She also drinks heavily and has some serious baggage of her own lurking deep in her closets. (Doesn’t everyone that is a soldier for hire in stories like this?) She is also one of the closest friends of the next character:
Teletha “Tessa” Testarossa – The 16 year-old captain of the Tuatha de Dannan submarine, Tessa is a waif-like, elfin beauty with a sweet voice, long platinum hair, startling gray eyes, a figure to die for, and command of the most advanced combat submarine in the history of humankind! As the story continues, [spoiler]we come to find that Tessa is also one of the “Whispered”, and is in fact the designer of the Tuatha de Dannan and the AI unit that runs it, called “Dana”. She is also a tactical, scientific, and mathematical genius who is a fantastic commander and cares deeply for the lives of everyone under her command. Through the events that occur in the season, she also falls in love with Sousuke despite the fact that she is his military commander, and she informs Kaname Chidori of this, which has a profound effect on Kaname, despite the fact that she still denies that she has any feelings for him. This love triangle is the basis for much of the romantic comedy in the remainder of the storyline in both the books and the anime.[highlight to read spoiler] A fan favorite, Tessa is one of the prime sources of Fan Service in the show.
Lt. Cmdr. Andrey Kalinin – One of the main combat operations officers on the Tuatha de Dannan, this former Soviet special forces officer has a long history with Sousuke and is one of the main advisers to Tessa. (From the web) [spoiler]He saved Sagara from a plane crash while serving on a Soviet submarine, a rescue denied by the Soviet Union, resulting in Sousuke being sent into the orphanage. Then, in Afghanistan, he deserted the soviet military in order to escape the country with Sousuke. They were separated, resulting in Sousuke working as a soldier for hire for years before they were reunited with Mithril.[highlight to read spoiler] He is a father figure to Sagara and serves as his foster father according to the Japanese school.
Gauron – The main villain of the show, with the exception of a couple stories in the middle, he is a terrorist for hire that is working for the Soviets to kidnap Chidori. [spoiler]We come to learn that he, Sousuke, and Kalinin have a long history, going back to the time that Kalinin and Sousuke escaped from Afghanistan and thought they had killed him.[highlight to read spoiler] He is extremely skilled, entirely evil, and very, very hard to kill!
There are many others, but those are the main ones.
3. Art – 8
Gonzo did a fantastic job animating this show! It is detailed and smooth, integrating CG and hand drawn art seamlessly. The show is an absolute gem! Where it falls short is the character design. There is a persistent strangeness to the faces and body motions of several of the characters, making them much more cartoon-like than they need to be. This exists in the original character design from the light novels, but it detracts from the overall quality of the art and animation. [I edited this from my original 10 after viewing a few episodes again now that I have the BluRays.]
4. Music/sound – 10
The opening and closing songs are quite good. The opener is an upbeat pop-rock love song, setting the tone for both the action and romance aspects of the plot. The closer is a sentimental ballad that brings home the core romantic nature of the main characters relationship, as well as hinting at a shared heritage as children who have lost family members (all of Sousuke’s and Kaname’s mother) and have had to become self-sufficient at a young age, leading them to be resistant to becoming dependant on someone else, yet longing for closeness in a cruel world. (OK, I might be reading a bit too much into it, but with the family pictures running in the background and the general tone of the song, I find myself thinking these thoughts during the music. That says a lot!) The background music and special effects are consistently effective, with the main theme for scene changes having a very martial tone that helps to drive home the action aspects of the show. The hard rocking music in the action scenes is spot on and the sound effects of the AS units and submarine are fantastic at setting the mood.
5. VA/Dub – 9/9
The main characters in both the original cast and the dub cast do excellent jobs. Interestingly, the English VA’s for Chidori and Sagara both bring a very different feel to the characters, but are equally effective in conveying the character as their Japanese counterparts. I feel that they both have a more casual feel to their approach to the characters that highlights the growing friendship. In the Japanese version, they seem a bit stiffer and more formal, but that works better in the early part of the show and when Sousuke is doing his “crazy military nut” routine.
6. Overall Enjoyment – 10
This anime ranks up there with my favorites! It is a well written SF story, with a decent amount of romantic content, a lot of comedy, and some of the better action scenes I have seen in anime. It is a rare show that is able to alternate between tense action scenes, suspenseful drama, touching romance, and hilarious slap-stick comedy and do them all with flair and style. Full Metal Panic! is a rare show indeed!