Funimation // 2002 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // November 28th, 2010
"Wait! If you cut off negotiations, it can only lead to war. Accept a
truce, and I will listen to whatever you have to say. Let's work toward a
-- Sgt. Sagara Sousuke, to a computer avatar in a dating simulation, after being dumped by her.
Kaname Chidori is a normal, everyday high school girl who has a very special ability, one that has put her on the most-wanted list of terrorist organizations who would like to use her knowledge of advanced technology to take over the world. She needs protection, and Mithril knows just who to send in to help.
Although only 16, Sousuke Sagara is a sergeant in the military, working for a super-secret organization called Mithril. Made up of an international group of military experts, Mithril is a non-government entity that helps keep peace. Sousuke's newest assignment finds him undercover in an average Japanese high school, protecting 16-year-old Kaname Chidori. Kaname is an athletic, outspoken girl who is suspected to be one of "The Whispered," people with a special, unconscious knowledge of "black technology" that produces machinery and computers beyond the normal scope of human conception. For example, one of The Whispered provided technology that led to the creation of mecha called "Arm Slaves," giant robots that can be manned by humans for battle. The Whispered have other special abilities to go with their extra-human knowledge, and they are often young kids or teens.
In his military life, Sousuke is a precise and dedicated soldier, specialized in covert ops and operation of the Arm Slaves. Most of his life (since he was eight) he has been fighting, so he is a sullen, business-like, wise-beyond-his years boy who does not possess the social skills of the average teenager. He quickly falls for Kaname, but doesn't tell her about it directly. Kaname does not know about her ability and lives her life at full tilt, enjoying herself and being a typical teen; she is popular at school and a hit with the guys. Her life isn't completely carefree, however; she lives alone after the death of her mother since she has an absentee father, and is now a target for various terrorist organizations that want the knowledge she holds in her brain. That is why Sousuke and his team are there to protect her, and she is immediately drawn to him, as well. She returns his affections, although she is equally stubborn about showing it publicly.
I can't decide whether Full Metal Panic! is a military giant robot/mecha drama, or a high school lifestyle comedy. Perhaps it is best to just split the difference and call this a high school giant robo dramedy.
The viewer is dropped into the story at the end of Sousuke's last mission, as he rescues a young woman from a devastating attack. After taking down a robot and slaughtering a wave of enemies, he is speeding away with her when she asks his name, and this is our first introduction to our reticent hero. The girl is then forgotten (for the time being) and we are again dropped into another crisis, this time to protect Kaname, but for at least the first five episodes, we don't even know why. We are a little freaked out that Kaname occasionally starts mumbling about robot technology, but other than that, nothing is connected.
Watching this series, I felt like there must be a previous anime or manga (comic) that I needed to see prior to this series, because so much that may have been helpful to know up front went unexplained. I had several questions, such as, "Who or what is Mithril?" or "What or who are The Whispered?" and "Why are there so many teenagers in military service?!" Instead, the makers of Full Metal Panic! are counting on the viewer to hit the ground running with them, and to pick up what they need as things go along. In some ways, this spices up a rather tired genre (giant robo/high school drama), but in other ways this causes the plot to drag along, unconnected and random, while the viewer gets up to speed. As much as I love anime, if I wouldn't have needed to watch these to review them, I might have given up around episode four.
However, I'm glad I stuck with it -- while Full Metal Panic! is not about to win awards for its stunning originality or innovative animation and settings, there are several things to appreciate about it. For one, it doesn't take itself too seriously. At one point, Sousuke gets overly serious, lurching off dangerously into a sort of moody, overwrought imitation of Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Just when I'm gritting my teeth in horror at what I'm expecting his character to turn into, Kaname yells at him to, effectively, snap out of it and join reality. Well done! The story does this from time to time, reminding us that we are in a serious military situation, but we are also human, with foibles. It also takes the viewer off-guard with the high school life that the teens return to between battles; it's so typical that you might be in another anime, complete with fan service, geeky boys, flirty girls, and school festivals. These segments prove to be a nice break from the otherwise stuffy military proceedings. The other thing is the robot technology -- though fairly well established in the series, there isn't a lot of useless techno-speak to drag down the action. The "black technology" and the concept of The Whispered is engaging, and leaves us wanting to see more. I'm also a sucker for "fish out of water" stories, and Sousuke's social awkwardness is as charming as it is maddening, a quality that brings him back down to earth. Finally, there is the sweet love story between him and Kaname, who are both too stubborn to lock things down in a timely fashion. Instead, they skirt around how they feel and, for the time being, their affections are unrequited.
Funimation continues to be blessed by talented English voice actors, who understand the characters and turn in excellent performances, from main characters to supporting characters who only appear occasionally. I listened to both the Japanese and English soundtracks, and enjoyed both performances. Hilary Haag (Nurse Witch Komugi, Super Gals!) turns in an especially good performance as Captain Teletha Testarossa, the petite 16-year-old captain of the experimental submarine ship Tuatha De Danaan. Her child voices are always top notch.
One thing I don't like as well about Full Metal Panic! is the animation, and this is chiefly because I am fairly old-school in my tastes. While the transfer for this DVD is nearly flawless, and the colors are true and crisp, I just don't like computer-aided animation. I get a little tired of so many light sources bouncing off of everything; eyes, lips, hair, anything that might reflect light suddenly becomes over-bright, and even a simple desk lamp is amped to the point of blowing out the image. It's distracting, and has the opposite effect on me than intended, i.e. making me feel like everything is a little unreal, instead of the animation seeming more real. To me, simple animation lets me enjoy the story more, but it ultimately comes down to a matter of taste, and more people prefer the slick animation.
The sound matches the video in quality, with a crystal clear 5.1 track for the English dub and 2.0 Stereo for the Japanese. In terms of extras, this has a little something more than most anime sets: you can enjoy the 10-second copyright warning spots released with the original Japanese set. There are 12 in all, featuring a different character, all done in-character. Each warns the viewer about how bad it is to steal imagery and rip videos for distrubution, and even the villain Gauron says that only small time baddies would waste time stealing a DVD, and that he bought his own copy like a real man. It's amusing to see each take on it: Kaname, Sousuke, Teletha Testarossa, Kyoko, Melissa Mao, Seina, Shinji, Gauron, Eri Kagurazaka, Kurz Weber, and even Andrey Kalnin and Richard Mardukas chime in. Mardukas rants about the youth of today -- funny stuff! Other than that, the set includes fairly standard clean opening and closing segments, trailers for other DVDs, and two 30-second original television spots.
Though slow to start and a lot of information to absorb for anyone who hasn't already read the manga for this series, it's worth the learning curve to enjoy a fun show that does a good job of blending together two normally disparate anime genres (giant robot and high school drama) and manages to make both worlds enjoyable. There is humor, drama, suspense, action, and giant mecha. There are even squealing girls who aren't too careful about hiding panty flashes, and hot guys who are either withdrawn and serious, or flirty playboys who live life on the edge. Embrace the cliches and have fun!
Not guilty by reason of making me laugh; yep, works every time!
Review content copyright © 2010 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Clean Open/Close
* TV Promos
* Anime News Network Summary