Last night I had the chance to witness what I think was the single weakest review stemming from biased influence that I have seen in a good long time. The topic was the Full Metal Panic triology and it was the final straw for me, I have to give my own say on the series now. It’s sadly unfortunate that every triology review of this series that I have seen seems to say the exact same thing and play on the same old popular notions and assumptions about them and is so blatantly influenced by the runaway popularity of Kyoto Animation versus the increasingly unpopular Gonzo in ways that aren’t even related to the way the series played out themselves. Just what I previously talked about as the stock response.
That is why in this triology of reviews I will be trying to give a new perspective on the FMP triology and the concept of studio involvement will be removed from consideration as I just try to look at the basics of what I feel make up each series strongest and weakest elements. Be aware again that this is not going to be your typical review that you normally would see of the Full Metal Panic Triology. I’ll even say right now that the first series is going to be the highest rated versus Fumoffou and Second Raid, so that should already give one a hint that I’m looking at all this differently. That said if that type of thing is not your cup of tea or if you are looking for any reinforcement of commonly held beliefs, it’s probably best to look elsewhere. Alright then, let’s look at Full Metal Panic!
The animation is easily acceptable for the time the series came out, possibly even above the curve overall. it shares some strengths and weaknesses over it’s sequel such as a less bright and more rugged visual style, but ultimately less detailed look when it comes to certain onscreen objects. The Arm Slaves are drawn and animated fairly well, but a CGI Tuatha De Danaan may raise some eyebrows as it looks out of place compared to the rest of the mechanical objects in the series. I should note that there are a couple of visual cues throughout the series that are pretty nifty such as the Arm Slaves ES field effect that renders it suddenly invisible to the normal visual spectrum as well as one of my personal favourites in the whole series:
Wherein The Tuatha De Danaan Comes Crashing Up Above The Waves In The Final Arc Under Chidori’s Control
And Suddenly Is Replaced By A Giant Kaname Across A Clear Sky, Symbolizing Her Oneness With The Vessel And That She Has All But Fully Realized Her Potential As A Whispered At Last As Well As Hinting That She Might Be Making Good On The Happy End She Promised Everyone
It’s a particularly nice touch that also provides a little bit of fanservice as well. Overall a solid animation effort that at times goes above the call of duty to deliver some excellent visuals.
Animation Rating: Eight Out Of Ten
The series soundtrack comes from noted composer and plagiariser Toshihiko Sahashi whose usual style of “borrowing” at least one theme from a western influence has yet to kick in as of the first part of the triliogy, but will become more prominent in Fumoffu and Second Raid.
The soundtrack isn’t really anything I would call memorable but for a couple tracks. Only one of these is a Sahashi and that is the battle theme Tataku M9, which I have also uploaded for the listening pleasure of anyone interested.
Tataku M9 – It Suits The Fast Paced Style Of Arm Slave Combat Quite Well And Would Also Go On To Be Included In Both Super Robot Wars J And W As A Selectable BGM For The Arm Slave Units.
It suits the fast paced style of Arm Slave combat quite well and would also go on to be included in both Super Robot Wars J and W as a selectable BGM for the Arm Slave units. The other theme of note is the series ending theme, both for the song itself and the visuals:
Karenai Hana Is Of Note Especially With The Second Ending Where We Hear A Solemn And Melancholic Sounding Tune And Start To See A Montage Of Pictures Showing Kaname Growing Up Through The Years. As The Song Eventually Builds Power Suddenly Pictures Of Sagara Are Included In The Mix To Show Just How Much Of An Added Influence And Effect He’s Had On Her Life.
Karenai Hana V2 is just one of those great endings that helps to further show, enhance and move along the building relationship between the two main characters and to help endear us to them all the more. It’s definitely my favourite part of all the musical cues in the series, but it’s still unfortunately not enough to save the rest of the forgettable OST.
Music Rating: Six And A Half Out Of Ten
Other then the VOTOMS and the Patlabors seen in the respective series of the same names, the Arm Slaves are among the most real real robots in recent memory. Content with the use of solid projectile machine guns, rifles and cutting weapons like knives as opposed to the beams or drills we’d see in series like Mobile Suit Gundam and Gurren Lagann respectively, it’s a rather humble style of mecha combat that Full Metal Panic seeks to portray. Gritty and realistic…..but for one unfortunate deus ex machina element that spoils it somewhat.
I’m talking of course of the Lambda Driver, that plot device of plot devices that can make an Arm Slave all but invincible (in Super Robot Wars, which isn’t canon but bears mention anyway it’s powerful enough to deflect Mazinkaizer’s Turbo Smash Punch) or powerful enough to take out several other Arm Slaves in one “Fingerbang” (My nickname for Gauron’s special attack) from the Venom or Codarl. So overwhelming and capable of changing the flow of a battle is the Driver (and it does so on more then one occasion) that I’m tempted to call it a total gamebreaker that all but negates the attempts at realism in mecha portrayal made by non-Lambda Driver equipped Arm Slaves. It’s a shame and causes me to have to rate down substantially what could have easily been a ten out of ten in the mecha section, but something that must be done.
Mecha: Eight And A Half Out Of Ten
The hero of the story Sagara Sousuke shares some pretty deep and intense relationships with all of the other key characters. His personality can best be described as extreme, but not so much in his mannerisms as in his actions. Sagara is the quite soldier type who has spent pretty much his entire life on the battlefield working with the PMC Mithril to keep the peace. As such when he’s sent to be the newly discovered whispered Kaname Chidori’s bodyguard by Teletha “Tessa” Testarossa, he has a hard time adjusting to his cover role as a transfer student. To him his whole life has been a game of survival, so everything no matter how innocent he ends up perceiving as a threat to Chidori, much to her irritation. This is mostly played for laughs early on, but later it takes on a more important role in their relationship as Kaname starts to learn more about Sagara and the kind of life he’s lived. Later on he loosens up a bit as he settles into his role and Kaname gives him a little leeway in his quirky commando like attitude.
Sagara also shares a bizarre relationship with the series main villain Gauron whom he “killed” back in his younger years with a sniper bullet to the head. Little does Sagara know that Gauron actually survived and has developed a grudge against Sagara so intense that it has warped into a perverse obsession bordering on love for him. There paths cross several times throughout the series as Sagara seeks to finish what he started in getting rid of the mad man Gauron once and for all, and Gauron….well we’ll talk about that later.
I Like Sagara’s character for his solid character growth throughout the series and how he seems to change naturally and overtime instead of just all of a sudden (Going from the soldiers mentality we see early on, to somebody who can finally take Chidori out on a normal date by the end like a normal high school student). His extreme personality is always good for a laugh as his total obliviousness to the fact that to everyone around him he seems completely insane. Seki Tomokazu delivers a much lower key performance with the character then we normally see from him, but is true to his label as a versatile seiyuu in how he pulls him off. Overall Sagara makes for a great lead. Not the most complex ever, but his character growth more than makes up for this shortcoming.
Kaname can be considered the primary heroine of the series as well as a key love interest for Sagara Sousuke. Kaname has lived on her own for an intedeterminate amount of time at the start of the series and while she’d never admit it, she’s very lonely as well (keeping such things as stuffed toys for comfort at night). Still in high school at the beginning of the series, Kaname excels at sports, pretty decent in her schoolwork as well, and a little bossy, but what she doesn’t realize is that she is one of extremely few gifted individuals with an unexplained access to technology she should not have. A whispered. And also what she doesn’t know is that the organization Amalgam has made her and plans to abduct her to force her to give them the knowledge she has.
Enter Mithril and Sagara Sousuke who has been tasked with the job of protecting her from the clutches of Mithril. Their initial meeting does not go off well and despite it being obvious that Sagara is not exactly who he appears to be, she thinks he is merely a complete oddball goof and resents his behaviour. Secretely though Kaname has developed an intstant crush on Sagara and can’t seem to get her mind off him despite how much he annoys her. Eventually as it becomes increasingly clear that he is actually for real and that she is indeed in grave danger, she warms up to him even more and accepts his help in protecting her, even going so far as to try and return the favour by helping him to make use of the Lambda Driver. Their relationship will continue to grow but for the complication that Teletha Testarossa introduces to it when she makes her presence behind Sagara known to Kaname.
First impressions might make Kaname appear to be the typical bossy and violent high school girl that likes to beat on the men in her life, but like Sagara she exhibits a lot of character growth. Her loneliness from growing up by herself hasn’t exactly developed the best personality in her, but as she comes to know Sagara it’s interesting to see how she slowly becomes more tolerant of his way of life and shows that she’s quick to adapt to the sudden realization that she is not in fact normal. A strong female character as any in a mecha series, it’s great to see that Kaname can play the damsel in distress as well as needed support for Sagara in more then just being the girl in his life, but in her use of the knowledge she possesses to perform feats such as taking control of the Tuatha De Danaan or explainin the Lambda Driver to Sousuke who needs it to defeat Gauron on a few occassions. Chidori’s character is my favourite among the key characters for her sheer versatility. She’s more complex than Sagara in my opinion but shows just as much growth as he does and can be as likeable when worrying about Sagara as she is frightening when she’s angry with him. The character also introduced me to the delightful Satsuki Yukino who I’ve liked in pretty much every role she’s ever done.
Teletha “Tessa” Testarossa”
Like Kaname, Teletha is also a whispered and at the start of the series has been made the installed commander of the PMC Mithril with Sagara’s old commander Andrey Kalinin as it’s other key leader. Teletha despite being the designer and captain (as well as the namesake) of Mithril’s flagship Tuatha De Danaan is not exactly cut out to be a definitive leader. With her easygoing, kindly, and meek personality she has the admiration of her crew and while she is a genius in terms of strategy (thanks to her whispered abilities) she lacks the commitment and the drive to make tough decisions that could result in the injury or death of the men serving under her. No truer is this the case then with Sagara Sousuke who she has developed a crush on, and while she knows that she is showing him favouritism and that Andrey frowns upon this sort of behaviour, she struggles with her love for Sagara and her duty as his superior officer nonetheless. Later on she will also develop a friendly rivalry with Kaname for the love interest of Sagara, but refuses to let this get between her comittment to protecting Kaname, nor their instant bond and lasting friendship upon first meeting face to face.
Played by the incredibly versatile Yukana, one of Teletha’s key moments in character development comes when she engages in a friendly duel with Mao who insists that Teletha needs to be taught a lesson on what it is like to be on the battlefield when Teletha starts to become upset at the conflicting duties of her job as commander. Through a fluke Teletha is able to win the duel, but knowing that it was all sheer luck and realizing for the first time the kind of intense fear and danger that Mao and the other feel while out on the frontlines, she ends up in shock, breaking down in tears and asking Mao to forgive her ignorance and arrogance. From this point on Teletha resolves to improve herself as a commander and not to forget that her responsbilities and duties are no more pressing and weighted then those of her loyal soldiers. Teletha is a bit of a lower key character than Kaname and can be seen as a lot more submissive as well, but she does have her moments as I mentioned. Her character growth is pretty decent in how she initially comes off as a bit of a Mary Sue, but is eventually showed to be the weakest and most flawed characters of pretty much all the characters in the show. Not the best character in the show, but certainly not awful.
A pure sadistic soldier, Gauron delights in the thrill of combat and killing on the battlefield and asks for little more. Unfortunately for the world, this makes him among the most dangerous threats to world peace currently at large at the start of the series. To make matters worse, Amalgam has supplied him with Arm Slaves that make use of the Lambda Driver, a whispered provided technology that can all but create any result that the user can perceive. And Gauron in his sheer determination without doubt has no problems coming up with ways to use it to dismember his opponents while also using it to render his Arm Slave invincibile to everything but another Lambda Driver, such as the one Sagara Sousuke carries with him in his Arm Slave the Arbalest.
Gauron was once shot in the forehead by a young Sagara (whom Gauron refers to as “Kashim”) somewhere in the Middle East, but the bullet failed to kill Gauron because of a metal plate he had in his forehead. The incident would become a defining moment for Gauron though and would ultimately culminate in an obsession with settling the score with Sagara, even if it means having forfeit his own life to kill Sagara. First they will have to reunite when Amalgam tasks Gauron with the capture of Kaname Chidori, whom Mithril has also tasked Sagara with protecting.
Unfortunately, unlike the other 3 key characters, Gauron neither exhibits any real character growth or any complexity. He’s a psycho when he’s first introduced and he’s a psycho at the end, whose only real purpose is to spur on conflict for the further development of Sagara, Kaname and Teletha. As a result he doesn’t make a very compelling villain for the series nor is he any sort of gift to the rogues gallery of mecha series antagonists either. I guess if there’s one redeeming feature to his existence in the story it’s that he possesses some of the coolest looking techniques of any character including flipping around the battlefield in his Arm Slave the Venom and using the Lamdba driver to create a devesating attack that I can only describe as the “Finger Bang”. To understand what I mean by that though you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
Rounding out the characters list are Kurz Weber (Shinichiro Miki) as the bishounen sniper on Sagara’s team who also like to hit on every girl in site (his “Hello Pretty Japanese Girls” line has to be one of the funniest deliveries in the series and kudos to Miki for playing it up so well). Melissa Mao as the older sister of the team whose major purpose is to where really loose clothing and provide the experience and leadership qualities to the “Kaname protection squad”. Andrey Kalinin, the old soldier type who provides sage wisdom to both Sagara and Teletha when they are unsure of how to conduct themselves in all the chaos that ends up happening. And finally Kyoko Tokiwa as Kaname’s bespectactled and constantly overshadowed girlfriend.
Overall the hero/heroine characters in the series are very well handled, but the villain characters including Gauron and Takuma are pretty one-dimensional and as I said with Gauron, exist to spur on conflict for the benefit of developing the key characters. I wish they could have come up with some more compelling villains, but seeing Kaname and Sagara grow makes up for it a lot.
Character’s Rating: Eight Out Of Ten
Plot: Full Metal Panic! is best viewed as a series of seperate but related storylines that tell the tale of main character Sousuke Sagara’s struggle between his duties and for his more personal ties to the two very important girls in his life. It takes place in an alternate reality where international terrorism is a top concern and private military groups have sprung up to do the job that world governments would otherwise struggle to do themselves in keeping the peace. At the forefront of these PMC’s in Full Metal Panic! is Mithril, a group dedicated to preventing the dangerously powerful and influential terrorist organization Amalgam from having it’s way with the world. Full Metal Panic! also features a strong fantasy element in the concept of the “Whispered” sort of but in many ways different from the concept of a Newtype. Whereas Newtypes are more like advanced humans with semi-telepathic powers and the ability to predict near-future events with frightening accuracy, Whispered are more like tomes that provide the gateway to “black technology”. How exactly this works is never clearly explained other then they do, and one of the technologies these whispered’s have provided is the Lambda Driver, which I will talk about in a bit more detail later on. Amalgam seeks to get there hands on whispered’s in order to full take advantage of technologies like and including the Lambda Driver, and Mithril has dedicated themselves to stopping this from happening. Enter Kaname Chidori, a whispered who Sagara has been tasked with protecting from the clutches of Amalgam and it’s most dangerous operative Gauron, whom Sagara shares an old personal and mutual grudge with. Much of the series after Sagara is tasked with acting as her bodyguard will focus on his growing feelings for Chidori and how they conflict with the duty to protect her that he knows if he is to perform well he must remain at a distance romantically from her.
Full Metal Panics! arcs can be broken up thusly. The school arc (episodes 1-3), the hijacking arc (episodes 4-7), the behemoth arc (episodes 9-12), the shore leave arc (episodes 13-14), the Helmajistan arc (episodes 15-17), the love triangle culmination arc (episodes 18-19) and the finale (episode 20-24). Of them the school arc starts of the relationship between Sousuke and Chidori and plays much like a typical high school relationship you would see in anime. Although you’ll see lots of Sousuke overeacting to simple everyday situations like they are a grave threat to Chidori’s life, which is highly amusing for it’s absurdity, you’ll also see a lot of the girl beating on guy type stuff you’d normally see. “Lingerie Panic” (episode 03) is also one of the low points in the overall triology as a whole and failed to make me laugh very hard. Despite this we start to see that Chidori’s initial frustrations with Sousuke’s bizarre behaviour (from her perspective) are partiall an act and she actually sort of like him on some level. This will set the tone for furthering their development in the next arc.
This arc provides sort of a calm before the storm with it’s adherence to comedy over serious action and drama. As such it’s more of an establisment style series of episodes that introduces us to the characters more than anything really plot relevant. Therefore I’d say that it’s one of the more average arcs.
That arc is the hijacking arc where Gauron finally makes his move and holds the plane carrying Kaname and the rest of her classmates hostage while they are on a field trip, all to get to Kaname. It’s up to Sagara to rescue Kaname, to ensure the safety of the students on the jet plane in the process and to try and settle the score with Gauron. With the help of Weber and Mao he is ultimately able to secure the plane and with the help of Kaname in activating and utilizing his Arbalests Lambda Driver he is able to put a stop to Gauron’s rampage. By the end of this arc Kaname and Sagara will have grown a little closer.
This is probably my favourite arc in the series and contains some of my favourite scenes including Kaname struggling to maintain her composure as her whispered abilities overtake her merely human mind, Kaname and Sagara in the woods, and Sagara’s first true victory over Gauron. It also features the biggest leap in character development for both Kaname and Sagara and as such is critically important to everything that comes after it.
The Behemoth arc centers around Teletha’s attempted rescue of the whispered Takuma, only to find herself at his mercy when it turns out that he’s actually more than happy to cause terror as a result of his social inepititude and slightly psychotic attititude. Takuma does this through use of the behemoth, an enormous and seemingly unstoppable Arm Slave the Behemoth, also equipped with a Lambda Driver that is keeping it upright and supplies much of it’s power. It’s up to Sagara and his team to rescue Teletha this time and ultimately it’s actually Weber who puts a stop to the Behemoth with a bullet to it’s Lambda Driver that causes it to come crashing down under it’s own weight.
This arc is alright if it sort of features a throwaway villain. We are never really made to feel anything for Takuma, despite Teletha’s insistence that she sympathizes with him and that she’ll be his bigger sister. It helps to establish that Sagara feels deeply for his commander a little, but it doesn’t bring them any closer together relationship wise by the end of it. As a result I’d say it’s probably the weakest arc in the series.
The Shore leave arc along with containing the aforementioned Teletha vs. Mao match, has another flubbed date that Sagara invites Kaname on, wherein they actually end up going to some military war games competition…..where Arm Slaves play Ping Pong, have Relay Races and Balloon Fights among other bizarre activities to see which military squad has the best men.
Essentially it’s played up for comedy like the early episodes, except now has the benefit of the previous character development arcs to drive it instead of just being mostly random comedy with archetypes. As a result it’s substantially stronger then the School Arc and probably one of the funniest sets of episodes in the entirety of the triology.
The Helmajistan Arc has Sagara being deployed to the Middle East to stop a batallion from being wiped out by Gauron’s Amalgam backed forces. There he meets up with a former friend, now turned terrorist and must come to grips with the fact that in order to beat Gauron he needs to learn to use the Lambda Driver without Kaname. This arc also shows us just how much Teletha favours and worries about him, and also that Kaname is so worried about what happened to Sagara that she can barely sleep.
The arc serves as further development for Sagara in him having to confront parts of his past that he’d rather forget, as well as Teletha’s experience from the previous arc in seeing the danger that Arm Slave pilots face causing a breakdown in her abilitity to conduct her duties while Sagara’s in danger. It also confirms at last that Kaname wants and needs Sagara in her life now and that she’s pretty much fallen in love with him entirely. It’s definitely among the stronger ones and probably my third favourite overall.
The Love Trial Culmination Arc introduces Teletha to Kaname as Sagara’s love interest at last and solidifies that there is indeed a love triangle between Sagara, Kaname and Teletha. Sagara also brings Kaname on board the De Danaan at last to see his lifestyle firsthand and to better protect her. She doesn’t object either and showcases her talent to adapt to changing circumstances once again by instantly striking up a lasting friendship with Sagara’s teammates (especially Teletha) and going so far as to join in an concert for the brave men and women who seek to protect her and the peace as a show of gratitude.
Not so much relationship development as solidfying everything that’s come before this arc. It’s a decent one that will become more important in the sequel series than anything else.
The finale has Gauron submitting to capture by Mithril after a hard fought battle that resulted in the injury of Melissa Mao, only to be released from capture aboard the De Danaan by a double agent and to seize control of it’s bridge. From there he plans to launch any number of it’s long range missiles against capital cities around the world in order to sow chaos and confusion and hopefully to start a breakdown of the world governing body. It’s once again up to Sagara to stop him one last time, but this time he needs the help of every single one of his companions to put a stop to the madman once and for all.
I won’t spoil the arc for people since it’s quite the nail biter, but let’s just say that it comes down not to who is going to win, but whether it’s going to be a Pyrrhic victory victory or not. It’s also the second strongest arc overall and what a finish it is to the first series. Whether the sequels will realize the potential of how we leave off is something we’ll have to see later on as I continue the triology of reviews.
Plot Rating: Eight Out Of Ten
Full Metal Panic! remains to this day my favourite entry in the triology with it’s building the foundation for a great franchise, it’s skillful blend of action, drama, character development and comedy that I feel the later series failed to fully replicate quite as well (through no shortage of effort nonetheless), and it’s just generally likable characters (other then Gauron). It’s not on my top ten all time favourite mecha series list, but it’s a damn fine series if you ask me and one I would strongly recommend looking into as a bridge series for people looking to make the plunge into mecha fandom who have previously not found an easy entry point.
Final Full Metal Panic! Rating: 7.8 out of 10