Looking for a hilarious comedy with a gripping political plot and a fantastic new angle on the mecha genre? Then stay away from Full Metal Panic. This anime is chock-a-block with familiar ideas, which should make it accessible to a broad spectrum of mainstream viewers; but on the whole these ideas aren't combined very well and FMP succeeds only at being totally average.
FMP's story begins with ultra-serious overtones; a tense escape-cum-rescue plays out in the snowy night, leaving you hanging nicely to the edge of your seat. The inclusion of the mercenary-style defenders of justice idea is promising, and in general, the setup seems to foreshadow an epic with powerful plotting, intrigue, exotic locations, explosions, tragedy and heroism. However, all of this posturing quickly dissipates into a fart of mediocrity as each new concept and plot point turns out to be generic, underdeveloped, or both.
So where exactly did FMP go wrong? Personally, I blame the storytelling approach, which is to tackle the plot from as many contrasting angles as possible. For example, while the strong military and political elements drive the action, most of the character development is presented through insipid romantic comedy subplots; the result is that I have no idea whether to take any of this seriously and engage or passively sit back and laugh at the silliness.
Examples of this messy storytelling are plentiful: one episode opens with humdrum comedic scenes and then switches quickly to Sousuke's tough life in a Middle Eastern desert without much explanation of how the two worlds tie in meaningfully with each other or with the rest of the anime. And soon after having survived a rather epic ordeal, Tessa turns her attention quicker than I can say ‘amnesia' to wanting an awkward romance with Sousuke. Even deciding to interpret FMP primarily as a comedy does not guarantee full enjoyment since many of the gags - especially the ones based on the Chidori-Sousuke dynamic - become repetitive and predictable.
Perhaps I do FMP an injustice, for it has quite a few high points to speak of. For instance, at one point, Chidori and Tessa are kidnapped by an interesting sibling duo, and the subsequent rescue mission culminates in a tragic mecha battle. Upon reaching this part of the story, FMP seems not only more emotionally accessible but also to have more of a purpose. Furthermore, some of the comedic moments in the first few episodes, although nothing new, are effective means of establishing the characters; Chidori and Sousuke settle easily into their roles as female abuser and male abused.
Regardless of these high points, I find myself in the following position: I have not laughed once, I cannot remember much of what I've just seen, and the one thing I find interesting - the idea of a girl with mysterious powers - has been left unexplained and underused. Even watching the final battle is a bit like having an out of body experience; although vaguely aware that I should care, I have become so disengaged, that I really couldn't give a damn even if the worst were to happen.
FMP has the kind of animation that, although highly suitable and decent for its time, has aged quickly over the years. Just like shows such as Kaze no Stigma, FMP has enough of a budget to look presentable without being technically clever. All of the action sequences are enjoyable, and the quality of animation throughout is good, but, in comparison, there are also a million anime, both old and new, with better-looking stunts, more visually delightful world concepts, and less bland, less cliché character designs.
If there are two things FMP does well, it is the opening and ending themes, both of which are catchy and melodic and capture a mood that the episodes themselves fail to match up to. Apart from that, don't expect much from the synthesised jazz, rock, and pop score as it is both repetitive and forgettable.
The voice acting is good throughout, albeit typical; the men deliver unremarkable masculine vocals while the girls have high-pitched voices ranging from ear-splitting to barely audible. When the sound is at its most interesting, it actually drops out completely during action scenes, which is both unexpected and highly effective as a means of adding intensity.
Character-wise, FMP really takes a nosedive. Many of the characters are parodies on some level, but good parodies involve pushing the cliché of choice in a new inventive direction, which the show never really bothers to do. Confounding the problem is the fact that none of the characters have any detailed backgrounds on which to build their personalities, which means they never quite stop being caricatures.
Firstly, there is Sousuke Sagara's monosyllabic personality, which must be a joke if ever I saw one; he takes stoicism to a mindless new extreme. If Heero Yui from Gundam Wing were a cyborg, he would be positively verbose in comparison to Sousuke Sagara. At times, such as with Sousuke's amusing introduction to his classmates in the beginning, there are glimpses into what might be a soul; but all in all, he just tries too hard to be one-dimensional, if that even makes sense.
At least Sousuke is not as irritating as the female protagonists. Kaname Chidori is of the blue hair persuasion, which usually means one of two things: either ‘I am a meek, personality-less drone', or, ‘I am an overbearing woman with more tits and mouth than brains'. Chidori is of the latter kind, screaming and pouting and beating up her companions as a means of communication. Contrived as this is, she is hardly the worst screamer in the world and actually remains mildly interesting because of her mysterious powers. Sadly, as she does not really control her powers, she's passive as a protagonist and thus only of value when the plot says so.
Lest viewers be offended by the witless Chidori, the show presents Teresa Testarossa, the child genius and Captain of the Mithril team. In true FMP style, the idea of a teenage girl as a highly respected military leader sounds more exciting than it actually is; Tessa is soft-spoken, feeble-bodied and, outside of the Captain's chair, about as invigorating as beige emulsion. When I think of her, the phrase ‘doujinshi fodder' springs to mind.
Once you add to all the above Kurz Weber, the pointless womaniser of the team, and Gauln, an antagonist with indiscernible motivations, engaging emotionally just seems like too much effort.
What begins as a captivating military mecha anime, despite some interesting moments, falls far short of greatness because of the inane characters and ambitionless plot. Chances are, if you're in the mood for something a lot like every other mecha anime, or if you happen to be a young teenager, then FMP will do the job just fine. Otherwise FMP is just another addition to the mass-produced, middle-of-the-range anime on the market.
Full Metal Panic! is a rather mixed bag. There's a lot to like here mixed in with a good dosage of comedy, but then you also have to endure some junk that isn't nearly as exciting...so...
Positives: For a mecha show I quite enjoyed FMP! While the later season is much stronger, this initial one offers a compelling, albeit kind of silly, story about a boy who is a military prodigy who ends up in a humorous, fish out of water situation. It's always great for comedy when this sort of thing happens and as is par for the course a romance is developed which also seems to work rather well.
While my leanings are normally anti-mecha the pieces in here seem to work well including the whole Mithril organization which is in itself an interesting concept piece. It's funny to watch the American's as viewed through the eyes of the show as well.
You're going to see a lot of great production values and the humor works in most cases so even if you're like me and don't care too much for the mecha bits you'll probably have enough going on to keep you happy.
Negatives: For some reason there feels like there could be so much more done with this story. Sousuke as a protagonist has so many interesting facets that could be explored but you're going to have to really wait for FMP! Second Raid to really delve into them. I suppose this is ok, as it's just a launching point, but I think with a bit more work the script could have been a lot tighter including both improvements in the comedy and storyline as a whole.
Not a whole lot otherwise to be upset about. There are a few slower spots in the story, but at days end I enjoyed myself enough to pick up the other two seasons.
Full Metal Panic is a series that tries to please two kinds of viewer, and as a result, succeeds at neither.
The problem with it, in general, is that Full Metal Panic is both a serious militaristic action series and a high school comedy at the same time. Now, I've seen quite a few things over my years that should not go together, but do anyway. This, however, is not one of them. The two of them are essentially a massive clash, rather than a well-mixed combination.
The premise of Full Metal Panic is this: Kaname Chidori is one of the "Whispered", a group of people whohave the power to generate information... or something along those lines. The details are kept vague, for the most part. As a result, terrorist organisations are after her, leading the military superpower Mithril, belonging to no particular government, to send Sosuke Sagara, our main character, into her school disguised as a student to watch over her. Hijinks ensue.
The high school comedy side of the series is lacking, to say the least. It's mostly the standard material you would expect to see in that kind of series, mainly humour based around comedic misunderstandings, very little of which is really funny at all. Played for laughs most of the time is Sosuke's complete maladjustment to normal society, which is usually more cringeworthy than it is entertaining.
The military half of the series is considerably more interesting, and are very true to a military style of series, and certainly fit the scene, whatever it may be. They use the perfect blend of dialogue, action, drama and realism to keep those episodes afloat. One of the things I like more about the series is the antagonist Gauron. The pure nihilism of his actions is always entertaining, if questionable. While the questionableness of his actions is, in one way, a good thing, what I refer more to is that you really have to wonder why in the hell he's doing them. One does not simply kidnap, murder, maime, hijack and possibly rape just for the fuck of it, and his reason for doing so isn't given passing mention in the series. The sequel, Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid clears a bit more on the subject, though it is still annoying to watch the first season without his motives brought into question.
A big problem with the series is the pacing. As one might expect, the constant switching every other episode from wacky comedy to serious action doesn't really work very well. Interesting parts of the story are kept few and far between, and a large number of the episodes in the show are thoroughly pointless.
Finally, my biggest complaint is the characters. Sosuke Sagara, as of the first season, is a character some enjoyed and others hated, and I have to say that I'm in the second boat with this. His actions, as said before, are generally quite cringeworthy for the comedy side of things, and in the more serious parts of the series he is as much as you would expect of the perfect soldier: a complete tool devoid of personality. Thankfully, the series that follow the first fix these problems and then some, but in the first season he can be really painful to watch. The supporting cast is also horribly one-dimensional. Kaname Chidori is the tsundere, Kurz Weber is the handsome lecher, Melissa Mao is the action chick, and Teletha "Tessa" Testerosa is the moe-girl. While Gauron is an excellent antagonist, he really doesn't outweigh the bad cast on show here.
In technical terms, Full Metal Panic isn't terrible, but not particularly great. The animation is OK, but there's a lot of CG scattered around the place. The music is unremarkable, and the voice acting isn't particularly great in either language. I wouldn't particularly recommend either track over the other. I'd say this kind of show works better in dub (the military side of it, anyway), so that would probably be a good choice, but if you generally prefer subs then you really aren't missing anything.
Overall, despite being pretty clearly flawed, it's hard to call Full Metal Panic outright bad. It's watchable on its own, in particular with the help of Gauron, and the series that followed (Fummofu and The Second Raid) are more than excellent enough to make this season worth watching just for the sake of watching those.
By no means a bad series, but very hit-and-miss. Worth watching if only to see the sequels.
English Dub: 5/10
very uninteresting characters, story. did not care for. Not very exciting mecha scenes
forgetable ending, and I mean it when I say forgetable ending because I cant remember
It’s a good thing this review is only over the first season of FMP!, otherwise its rating would be much lower and the review overall would be a lot more negative. But onward we go! Honestly I could not stop watching this series when I first started it. The first oh, six or seven episodes are extremely intriguing and really introduce the characters and story line well. The problem I think other viewers may run into is that it’s not a serious mecha anime. If the creators meant for it to be that way, they failed drastically and if you go into expecting epic battles and mind blowing logistics around every corner you’re going to be severely disappointed.
Again, this is just the first season (1-24); the story, in my opinion, kind of starts to go downhill after this season but that’s for another time, another review. The story line is pretty neat. A secret military group named Mithril is tasked to protect a girl named Kaname Chidori who is said to be one of the Whispered. Sousuke Sagara (identity theft?) is the best soldier Mithril has to offer. He’s super serious and hecka good at his job which happens to be piloting Arm Slaves. So of course, when Mithril is asked to protect one of the coveted Whispered who better to send than Sousuke? And hey, for kicks let’s make him go to high school too! It’s anime at its finest. ;) Anyhow, hilarity ensues when Sousuke finds it’s really hard to be a high school student and an undercover military agent at the same time. You kind of start to feel bad for the kid, he’s got a lot on his plate. He’s responsible for Chidori which of course turns into a romance situation, he’s got a pretty nasty past that eventually catches up to him and all the while he’s battling his special kind of Arm Slave called the Arbalest which has a special unit called the Lambda driver that runs on feelings or some silly thing. Sounds like a lot to throw together huh? Well it kind of is. Eventually you kind of start to get whiplash from switching back and forth from serious to comical, but it’s not too terribly bad.
It’s okay…but just okay. Not the best stuff out there but not the worst either. Again, I feel like towards the beginning of the series things were just better, this category included. And again, this is not a blow your mind super mecha series. I wasn’t really impressed with any of it but I also wasn’t disappointed. It’s preeeetty obvious when switching from CG and back again, but that doesn’t necessarily make or break it for me.
I usually find one character per anime that I just completely love 100%. I didn’t find one for this series. Sousuke is okay, Chidori is…okay they’re just kind of…okay. Kurz can be funny at times so he’s probably the closest thing to my “favorite”. Tessa bugged the crap out of me almost immediately. I’m not sure if it was her voice or her demeanor but something just flat out irritated me every time she came on the screen. I did however like most of the antagonists for this series. Gauron is a great character and he really brings out the bad-ass side of Sousuke. His reason for being in the story though is kind of vague and you don’t really get an explanation until the third season: The Second Raid. All in all, the characters were pretty cookie cutter if you ask me. You’ve got your good kid with a bad past, the pretty girl who needs protection, the action chick, the lecher, the wimpy girl everyone feels sorry for yada yada.
I do have to rate this a little lower than I normally do. The opening/ending themes were fine, nothing remarkable, but I didn’t care for the voice acting. It may have been the characters themselves but I found a number of voices to be pretty annoying, Chidori’s included.
Once I passed the first handful of episodes this show ceased to intrigue me. It had a pretty good base to jump from but ended up flailing in its attempt to combine action-packed mecha with high school romance/comedy. I know others enjoyed this anime a lot more than I did so check it out and see for yourself; it just didn’t end up being my cup of tea. Fumoffu, beware my wrath…
Another time, another review.