Tuesday, 24 April 2012

フルメタル•パニック!/ Full Metal Panic!

I finished watching FMP! some months ago, but for some reason never stopped to write down my thoughts as I always do. I just assumed I already had until I went looking for what I had written in my archives, only to find nothing!

Full Metal Panic! was a big hit when I was getting into the anime scene, and already had the feel of a bit of a classic, so often spoken of alongside the likes of Kenshin and Trigun that I still have trouble thinking of it as a 2002 anime, rather than late 90s. After Gonzo made this adaptation, Fumoffu? kick-started Kyoto Animation’s rise to their current dominance, and it was really for the sake of Fumoffu? I started watching this. After all, mecha isn’t really my thing and it failed for a long time to grip me. Despite this, however, I’ve yet to actually start Fumoffu?, never mind The Second Raid.

FMP! draws heavily from past mecha series for its bare bones – there’s plenty of Patlabor and Macross Plus here, and none of the heavy symbolism and angst of the post-Evangelion generation, though the heavy-drinking Melissa is more than a little reminiscent of Misato. What FMP! really brought to the fold, however, was the mix of action with giant robots and warships and the small-scale comedy of a high school drama that would later work so well for the likes of Mai-HiME and ROD the TV. Obviously there had been action-based series with light school scenes before, but FMP! made the contrast very stark while everything still remained unified.

The story is that the stoic, taciturn young covert military officer Sagara Sousuke comes crashing into the life of normal schoolgirl Chidori Kaname tasked with protecting her, which gives rise to the memorable first episode title, ‘The Guy I Kinda Like is a Sergeant’. Popular, brash Kaname soon finds Sousuke annoying, though, assuming he is just some military otaku who has decided to stalk her. However, Kaname of course has latent psychic powers and is targeted by terrorists, especially the thoroughly nasty Gauron, who of course has a history with Sousuke. Generally, the series swings between big fights in mecha and fun high school comedy, such as when Sousuke ineptly tries to pretend he is Kaname’s boyfriend. The format works well.

Sadly, though, for me that was about all that worked well. I found FMP! to be so dull as to be reprehensible. Sousuke is funny at first, and some of the glimpses into his past make him more likeable, but ultimately he is even duller than Heero Yuy, the Gundam Wing character upon whom he is clearly based. Kaname’s ‘picked up in America’ acerbic personality just makes her irritating, and Gauron, with all his talk of cutting up and raping everyone, is far too dull and obvious a bad guy to hook me in. I didn’t like Tessa, who was badly conceptualised as a superior officer and was an early indication of the negative pitfalls of what would soon become known as the moé girl stereotype. And the rest of the characters, mostly Sousuke’s military comrades, were left very much undeveloped over a slow-moving 24-episode series.

Indeed, I think the biggest problem is in the pacing during the serious episodes. Nothing at all will happen for protracted periods of time, mostly padded out with the juvenile images of the girls being naked while they use their powers, only for important events to happen far too quickly. The climax of the last episode is plain confusing, which is the last thing you want your series finale to be. It took me quite a while to figure out who was in the coffins and why Tessa was crying.

Oh well. It was well worth watching for its classic status, though I wouldn’t recommend it too highly. Now I can progress to Fumoffu! and see what the fuss was all about there. 

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