Review: Full Metal Panic!

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by Justin Jasso

If you were to think of different genres of anime, “mech-oriented” would probably be at the top of your list. Mech-related anime have been around since…well, the beginning—back with Robotech, Gunbuster and Patlabor in the 1980s to Evangelion, the Gundam series and Heroic Age in the 1990s, and the list goes on. So, it may be hard to get excited when there’s another mech series to watch; I mean, how many different mech stories can there be that we haven’t seen in some way, shape or form already? Thankfully, Studio Gonzo and FUNimation brought us Full metal Panic!, which offers a different spin on the genre, focusing more on the human element with a great array of characters and a little something for everyone.

Jindai High School is just like any other high school in any other anime. You have your popular students, jocks, and teachers that seem overly familiar with their students. Kaname Chidori, a seemingly-average, albeit high-spirited, girl who just happens to attend Jindai has her world turned upside down when a new student transfers to her class. Sousuke Sagara, the new guy, isn’t like most high schoolers. He’s actually a soldier from the international mercenary organization, known as MITHRIL, who was raised in the war-torn wastes of Helmajistan. As one would expect, Sagara’s skills on the battlefield are second-to-none. In particular, he’s an Arm Slave pilot without equal. His social skills, on the other hand, need some work.

It turns out that Chidori is what the military brass call a “Whispered.” Whispered are gifted individuals with an innate knowledge of mathematics, physics, and other sciences that are beyond human comprehension. These special individuals are able to create “Black Technology,” which can range from appliances, to weapons, to a giant state-of-the-art submarine. The appearance rate of these special individuals is low, as one can imagine. It also comes as no surprise that many of the powerful and corrupt would desire the Whispered to further their agendas. To prevent this hypothetical situation from becoming a reality, Sagara is assigned to be Chidori’s bodyguard. Given his lack of social skills and take-no-prisoners attitude, he may prove to be more of a handful than the enemy.

The “Odd Couple” differences between Sagara and Chidori take a majority of the show’s attention. The first two-thirds of the series can be explained as Sagara trying (and failing) to adapt to civilian life followed by a brutal, often comical punishment or retaliation by Chidori. The formula is simple, but it works well, especially when Chidori’s gossiping, snooping friends and Sagara’s rowdy comrades enter the picture. However, there is a serious side to the show in its gritty, realistic depictions of war that can, and often do, result in a body count. Battles are fought, mecha blow each other to bits and people die, all with an unflinching dramatic bent. The battlefield is where the audience sees a lot more about Sagara and company, and where many of the characters actually grow and change. These segments add layers to an already fine cast, and place the show as a whole in a darker light.

Full Metal Panic! is one of the increasingly rare shows that does just about everything right. The blend of slapstick humor and gritty battlefield action works marvelously, and manages to avoid committing the cardinal error of going too far in one direction of the other. Fans of anime, no matter what type, should seriously consider giving Full Metal Panic! a look. It has comedy, action, romance, angst and spirit, a combination not necessarily found in other anime. So, find the time to check out this gem of a series, you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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