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
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