ADV Films // 2002 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // August 13th, 2003
The guy I kinda like is a sergeant.
To paraphrase Peter Griffin, this show is freakin' sweet. Full Metal Panic is a first class anime that includes the kitchen sink along with everything else. Though not derivative of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Full Metal Panic evokes a similar narcotic urge to watch the next episode. It is as entertaining and multi-layered as Evangelion but more approachable. These first four episodes suggest immediate classic status for Full Metal Panic.
Sergeant Sousuke Sagara is a 16 year-old military professional. He cut his teeth amid skirmishes in the Middle East, learning warfare as a part of life. Needless to say, his sense of humor and social skills are not as honed as his keen military instincts. Sousuke is part of MITHRIL, a secretive but advanced paramilitary watchdog.
This unlikely bodyguard is sent to Jindai High School to protect Kaname Chidori. Kaname is a naïve but spirited civilian schoolgirl who might be the target of a KGB kidnapping attempt. While she focuses on homework and the class trip, Sousuke focuses on surreptitious protection of Kaname. Hidden in the wings are the mission commander Capt. Theresa Testarossa and Sgt. Kurz Weber. Theresa mans the surveillance equipment while Kurz pilots a massive robotic tank with cloaking ability.
Needless to say, Sousuke draws unwanted attention, from Kaname in particular. He fits in like a thumbtack among balloons. Despite her ire, Kaname feels a peculiar affinity for the enigmatic Sousuke.
Full Metal Panic does most things right. The things that aren't exactly right are pretty good. When Full Metal Panic presents intrigue, we are treated to deep plots shrouded in tension and mystery. Comedic counterpoints are cleverly set up and generate heartfelt laughter. (They even made the FBI warning funny!) Romance is seamlessly integrated and surprisingly effective. Action scenes are terse and powerful. The whole thing is tied together in a balanced package. Perhaps that explains the widespread appeal; Full Metal Panic contains something for everyone.
Since we're dealing with anime, let's begin with the animation. Full Metal Panic is rendered in precise, fluid detail. The opening battle is artistic and adrenaline charged. Clouds of fire swirl in blossoms of light. Waves of heat distort the foreground. Metal clashes against metal while pristine snow lies undisturbed. Uncloaking tanks, surfacing submarines, and firing missiles are visual treats rendered in liquid 3D.
The sound is up to the visual challenge. Effects, both dramatic and subtle, are smooth and clean. The Japanese version is a solid stereo mix, but the preferable track may be the English 5.1 mix. The English voice cast is well-matched to their Japanese counterparts. What you lose in emotional shading is more than compensated by the richer dynamic effects. In the stereo track bullets fire, while the 5.1 mix has them buzzing overhead.
The characters are sharply drawn and smoothly animated. Eyes and facial features move in emotive naturalism. This verisimilitude, in conjunction with superb voice acting, creates approachable, memorable characters.
Fortunately, the characters aren't just eye candy. They are given distinct personalities and agendas. This is one of Full Metal Panic's strongest aspects: energetic conflicts between characters cross the gender divide. Males will appreciate the highly charged action scenes, including bombs, hijackings, hand-to-hand combat, and panty raids. Females will find solace in the tender arms of romance, caressed by subtle emotional nuance. Even better...shhh, I won't tell anyone, I promise...the guys might appreciate the soft stuff and the gals might dig the action.
Many an anime has contained sexy characters, cool animation, and frantic action, yet failed to connect with audiences in a meaningful way. Full Metal Panic delivers both window dressing and the indefinable chemistry of a compelling story. Though only four episodes are included on this DVD, I want to know more about the characters and their motivations. This series reminds me of why I love anime.
If there's reason to panic, it is the extras. Though they technically count, I consider DVD covers, posters, and trailers to be promotional items. That leaves sketches, clean credits, and Japanese piracy warnings. I've seen sketches included in many anime DVDs extras, but I simply don't get it. What is so special about sketches of the characters when you can pause any frame of the animation to see the actual characters? The clean credits are nice because you get to see a teensy bit more, but it doesn't raise my pulse rate much. Finally, the Japanese piracy warnings are undoubtedly amusing...if you speak Japanese.
I stated above that Full Metal Panic is more approachable than Neon Genesis Evangelion. This approachability comes at the expense of emotional depth. No one gets deeply philosophical, although the emotions heat up a bit in Episode 4. This breeziness extends to the characters. Though Sousuke's rigid military demeanor makes for some fine comedic moments, it seems implausible. Certain supporting characters are one-dimensional and bland. However, I'm willing to give characterization the benefit of the doubt since this is the genesis of the series.
I entreat you Mithril, for all that is holy and pure in this world, make more anime like this.
What!? Verdict, schmerdict! Don't bother me, I'm trying to find out what happens to Sousuke and Kaname!
Review content copyright © 2003 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Reversible Cover
* Fold-Out Poster with Background Information
* Clean Opening and Closing Animations
* Production Sketches
* Japanese Piracy Warnings
* ADV Previews
* Official Site