FULL METAL PANIC!
To describe my feelings toward the Full Metal Panic! Series, let me share you a little anecdote.
It was the year 2007. I was fresh off of high school and started my college degree earlier than others. While getting enraptured in the atmosphere, I found a little club called the Anime and Game Club. This was probably the COOLEST club I ever attended, mostly because it's probably the only club I joined during college and the club's president was awesome. This guy was a huge zombie fanatic: he knew the types of zombies, wrote a paper for English class in how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, and created Zombie day on several occasions for the club, where any media that was in the club is zombie-themed (i.e. Resident Evil games, the Romero zombie films, etc.)
One day, he brought over a DVD set of Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu and held a contest, to which the winner will get the whole set. He gave us a preview of the series with the first episode and it was pretty damn funny. When I watch an anime comedy series, they seem to hold onto a particular joke for a few seconds before going on in the scene. Fumoffu is the complete opposite to what I've seen, in that it is a fast-paced, slapstick humor that is akin to the Looney Tunes.
Well, someone else won the contest and they got the set. I didn't care so much back then, but I was intrigued to see more of the series. Doing some research, this particular series is one of three, with this one being a comedy spin-off to the original series, which are adaptations based on the light novels. I didn't look into Fumoffu until much later when DeVry was not giving me enough classes and life at home became MORE boring. So I decided to look into Fumoffu a lot more and I fell in love with this series. It was hilarious, it had some really good character moments, and the animation was pretty good. Once I finished watching it, I decided to look into the two main series, one simply titled Full Metal Panic! and the other with the same title, only comes with the subtitle The Second Raid.
That actually didn't happen until I started going to LA Mission College when DeVry was giving me one class per quarter. I had some time to kill before I had to go to class, so I decided to watch The Second Raid before the first series, considering that the Second Raid was animated by the same studio that did Fumoffu. After seeing all of it, it was settled: Full Metal Panic! became my most favorite series ever, this along with my other favorite franchises, like Star Wars, Die Hard, and so on.
What got me hooked to the series were the main characters, namely Sousuke Sagara and Kaname Chidori. The development that they had together was so well-handled in The Second Raid, I really cared about them getting hooked up, even though that won't happen in the series, but rather in the novels. Knowing that, I went to find the novels, which is no small feat, given that they are hard to find and expensive, and read them in their entirety.
The premise of the series is that it takes place in the year 1998, only this is set an alternate timeline in which military tech advanced exponetionally to the point where technology has advanced artificial intelligence, giant submarine ships, and giant robots called Arm Slaves.
This brand of technology, for some reason, is called "Black Technology", created by a small group of individuals called the Whispered, people who have high intelligence in science, math, and engineering through means of "whispers" in their head. This would be considered creepy by many and would probably send those people to a mental hospital, but in that society, people want to kidnap those people to have the latest technology at their disposal.
The unlucky soul who has this "gift" is Kaname Chidori, a Japanese schoolgirl with a short temper, as exploited in the series. However, she is considered extremely important to the Whispered that a military group called Mithril, which is sort of like G.I. Joe, but underwater, send their best man, Sousuke Sagara, to protect her from any kidnappers. To do this, he must integrate into Japanese society and keep a low-profile. The problem: Sousuke's socially inept.
Since he was a kid, he fought for his own survival in the Middle East after a plane crash and doesn't understand how to be "normal" when the people that he hangs out with AREN'T trying to kill him. This is evidenced in the main series, as well as Fumoffu to a great extent. Case and point, when he sees a piece of hair that's near his shoe locker, he comes to the conclusion that someone has placed a bomb inside his locker and to deal with that situation, he blows up the ENTIRE shoe locker, with Chidori running in and slapping his head with a large paper fan. In the end, it turns out that it was a regular schoolgirl putting a love letter in his locker. She was pretty heartbroken when she realized her letter had evaporated.
The novels that the anime series adapted from have at least twelve books, with two of them being two-parters. I've read at least four, one of which being a two-parter in Japan, with the others being translated by fans after the unfortunate shutdown of Tokyopop, the main distributer of the novels. When it comes to books, I'm not much of a critique, but based on my perspective, they're a good read.
The first anime series, Full Metal Panic!, was animated by Gonzo, the same guys that animated Rosario + Vampire, one of the most boring series for its repetitive episodic structure and its ecchi characteristics. What is ecchi? Just think of A LOT of panty shots and you'll understand. Anyway, Full Metal Panic is based off on the first three novels, where we are introduced to the main characters and main villain. The episodes are divided between the stories based on the novels and stories based on either the short stories or being made up on the spot.
My biggest criticism out of the show is that the animation, compared to Fumoffu and Second Raid, is generic and not full of energy. There's an episode where Sousuke and his arch-enemy, Gauron, are fighting in their Arm Slaves while they ride on the elevator. When I say "fighting", I mean barely moving and not suspenseful. They are mostly stuck in this animation loop where one of them is on the ground and the other is on top of him. Also, they seem to try and stick some panty shots in some episodes, the studio having their ecchi moments. Those kinds of shots make some scenes jarring and distracting when there's a heavily dramatic moment and it cuts to someone's skirt flying up and showing off her new Victoria's Secret undies.
Aside from that, the series has a hard time trying to balance on the comedy and the drama. It comes to no surprise that the comedy episodes are the best since they don't require a lot of animation as much. When it gets to the action, there needs to be a certain flow to everything, to which some episodes lack. Even though I enjoy the first three books, the anime series that they adapt falls short.
It gets a lot better when Fumoffu comes into play, now that a different animation studio animated it and it focuses on the comedy of Full Metal Panic. I mean when I say that this is one of the funniest anime I've seen. There's a great set-up and a terrific payoff that makes each and every episode tightly written and funny as all hell. The different animation studio this time is Kyoto Animation, where their work is mostly key animation for different movies and shows that is not produced by them and Fumoffu is their first chance to flex their muscles and in this case, they are Arnold Schwarzenegger, if that makes sense.
After Fumoffu ended on a very hilarious note, Kyoto made a sequel series to the main series. With the subtitle of The Second Raid, it adapts the novels Ending Day by Day, Parts 1 & 2. It's been six months after the events of Full Metal Panic! with Sousuke's relationship with Chidori strengthens, which became the main focus of the series. What stands out in the relationship is when Chidori gives Sousuke a haircut. This is, of course, after the disastrous attempt to give Sousuke a haircut at a hair salon, as in he pins an employee to the wall for trying to cut his hair. They talk to each other like real people and there's a sense of trust between them. It became more painful when they are separated after Sousuke is given the orders to come back to Mithril, without saying goodbye or even talk to Chidori.
I became invested with the characters when Sousuke is called back to return to duty and have no contact to Chidori. Not only did he have to follow orders, but he has to do it without telling Chidori, who not too long ago says she trusts him and only him. When he leaves and Chidori tries to find him, she goes to his apartment and finds it completely empty; the point where she realizes that she is truly alone.
I will say that the animation for the series is ten times better than the first series. The action is more fast and quick, the humor is there, if a bit underplayed, and the settings from Japan to Hong Kong are marvelous. I didn't bother with listening to the English dub because I feel that there's a greater emphasis in realism listening to the character's native language, even it means reading the subtitles. But what's cool is some of the languages that they play in some episodes. There's one where they speak in Cantonese and another where they speak Italian, so there's a lot more worldly perspective in the story.
You think that I love this series, which I do, but there are some problems that I must address. First, there are some moments in the dialogue where I like to call "thinking aloud". These are moments where a character isn't speaking aloud to themselves, but they are narrating their thoughts. For instance, when Chidori tries to figure out how to contact Sousuke, she remembers his satellite radio, where she narrates in her head how the bloody thing works. She could've said, "His satellite radio!" and have her run to his apartment without saying a word, that would've worked. We know, as an audience, that a satellite radio would have a better chance to contact Sousuke if he were at Mithril than trying to contact him by cell phone.
Another time is where we see Tessa is thinking aloud to herself about her and Chidori's ability to hear the "whispers" and asks herself what life would've been like if they didn't have this ability. To me, there could've been ways to handle that particular scene, and thinking aloud isn't one of them.
There are times in which the characters are not taking their situations seriously. There's a sequence where Melissa Mao and Kurz Weber, Sousuke's friends and Mithril soldiers, have to kidnap a man responsible for handing over information to the enemy, which results in the deaths of other Mithril forces, and bring him back alive for questioning. They blow their cover, however, and they try to escape, but they take cover from enemy fire. During this time, they talk between themselves about their luck and being very sarcastic about their situation. When they blew their cover, they should've just shot some guys, yelled "RUN", and take cover without talking to one another.
Finally, there's the music, in that there's nothing substantial about it. In fact, there are times where they reuse music at some points in the scenes and sometimes, does not work for the scene at play. Also, there's no heart-pounding action music to speak of. The orchestra doesn't perform complicated notes, play loudly, nor makes use of the instruments. The mixing of the music is also a bit of a drag, since the brass sounds out of place and doesn't sound like actual brass instruments. If you ask me, if there was a composer that could handle this music well is Jerry Goldsmith. Even though he's is no longer with us, he makes some pretty kickass music. If not Jerry Goldsmith, certainly John Williams. They know how to make action music without resorting to using synthesizers and making full use of the orchestra.
At the end of the day, I enjoy Full Metal Panic! so much that I bought two versions of Fumoffu and The Second Raid; the DVD collection and the Blu-Ray collection. It's tight and cohesive than other anime that I'VE seen. I would love to see this as a movie one day, preferably one that doesn't star that pretty boy bloke from High School Musical.