24 CommentsFavourite and Forgotten / By Scamp /

2002 anime: Full Metal Panic

Full Metal Panic! 24 - Into the Blue.mkv_snapshot_09.24_[2013.01.28_15.23.01]Chidori’s attempt at spiriting Bob Marley lost a little in translation, although the general sentiment still got through.

Full Metal Panic is a pulpy Cold-War era story that has been run through the Anime-machine. From the cold-war story side we get conspiracies to start World War 3 involving Soviet scum with gloriously evil villains and high-tech weaponry fighting guerilla warfare. From the anime side we get the heroes not being pumped full of testosterone faultlessly nationalistic Americans, but instead a teenage boy and a paramilitary force with terrible CG submarines captained by a cute teenage girl. Also giant robots.

Full Metal Panic! 24 - Into the Blue.mkv_snapshot_04.09_[2013.01.28_15.17.26]Because there is not a single story than cannot be improved with the addition of giant robots.

Full Metal Panic has to win some kind of award for having its main character, Sagara Sousuke, come from Afghanistan. I know they say Sagara is from the non-existent Helmajistan, but let’s not kid ourselves. That’s just so the author could avoid having to deal with real politics in his nonsense cold war story. He’s got darker skin than the Japanese and had a really shitty childhood torn apart by war which he’s only been able to get over by immersing himself so much in military knowledge and protocol. When you take a step back and think about it for a second, that’s kind of crazy that this dumb anime had the balls to cast such an unconventional protagonist.

Sagara’s military-obsession is usually played for jokes, and it does get a bit tiring. Well, the tiring parts are mostly Chidori’s reactions. Sagara is so straight faced and meticulous about the way he pulls off these actions that it still cracked me up, much more so when the show made nothing of it. It’s such simple things too, like snapping his feet together when addressing someone new. It’s like they had a laundry list of things Sagara must do at all times to ensure they keep this image. Whenever Sagara enters a room, his eyes must dart to the four corners. Whenever he’s got over his initial introduction, he must stick his hands behind his back in his ‘at ease’ pose.

It’s because they keep up this image of Sagara in the dumb school segments that it’s really damn cool when he’s called into actual proper military action. What makes it satisfying is that, through his actions earlier on in the show, we know he’s competent but just not in this environment despite him clearly trying his hardest. I’m half tempted to call it moe, but it’s not quite that. You want to root for him when he’s sucking, and you get that emotional release when he’s finally put into a situation where he can be awesome. It’s a different sort of play on the emotional satisfaction you get from watching someone kick ass after going through training. The bonus here is that the non-awesome parts are still charming and funny in their goofy anime way.

Full Metal Panic! 13 - A Cat and a Kitten's Rock & Roll.mkv_snapshot_04.29_[2013.01.26_15.26.20]

Tessa plays to this strength too. Her shtick is that she’s frail and clumsy physically, but she’s a tactical genius and military expert. The way they play into this is kinda neat too, because they tease us with the idea of how the hell could this moeblob command the highest technologically advanced submarine full of buff macho military dudes when she’s so outwardly useless? They particularly play into this when, in her first real scene with Sagara, she deliberately plays to dunce in front of Kaname because she knows this will get on Sagara’s nerves.

Tessa’s story, or more accurately the slow reveal of her competence, is the secret best thing FMP does. Through the course of the show you slowly start to understand why it is she is able to command that submarine. The moral guardian, strong will, hard work, tactical genius and a whole load of various other strengths she has come to the fore so that by the end you totally understand why everyone listens to her. It’s a strange sort of command, where you get the feeling people follow her orders because they don’t want to let her down. But it works. I know that if I was on that sub and I was called into her office for not following orders and she had that hurt look on her face, I would be devastated and vow never to let her down again.

Full Metal Panic! 23 - Field of Giants.mkv_snapshot_12.46_[2013.01.28_15.00.37]But anyway, Tessa is a badass and I weep for those of you who consider Kaname a better character.

I think the moment that sealed my dislike of Kaname was when Sagara was doing his first badass military action hero shtick. He dashed in and rescued Kaname from the research facility, only for Kaname to then yell “eeewww you pervert get away from me”. It’s not necessarily Kaname’s character that makes her bad, although she is a pretty boring person. It’s how the show treats her as well.

Like pantyshots. Full Metal Panic is in many ways a product of its time, and much of the shit it pulls that I don’t like are outdated anime tropes. Random upskirt pantyshots in otherwise serious scenes of generally serious anime appear to have gone from anime nowadays, and thank christ for that. The most egregious example is when Kaname is going through a mental breakdown, and they decide to have a little peep up her skirt. Great, because that’s really the time I feel like perving out over a girl. When she’s going through a mental breakdown. Tessa gets treated to this perv-cam sometimes too, albeit mostly just caressing her legs. With Kaname though, it seemed to be in perv mode the entire time.

Speaking of dumb shit that’s finally outdated, abusive girlfriends punching their men because it’s so funny when the violence is reversed! The it’s never funny because the joke is entirely Kaname hitting Sagara. It doesn’t evolve as a gag. We’re just expected to laugh because she hit him. It’s not going to evolve either because Kaname doesn’t have much of a personality to speak of. She is Ordinary High School Student Mark 591245. You can tell she’s a boring person because any scene with Sagara not around simply consists of her talking about TV and shopping and homework and tests and every other thing boring teenagers talk about.

Her saving grace is that her relationship with Sagara is genuinely charming. Their relationship is used to different effects through the show. Sometimes it’s about establishing trust, or how Sagara has grown to care for a person. The strangest, and I’d argue most surprisingly effective use was the surprisingly dark and gritty trio of episodes where Sagara goes back to his home country of Afgani-I mean Helmajistan. While they’re excellent episodes, they’re so tonally different from the rest of the series that it barely feels like the same anime. But how it draws attention to that is quite marvellous too, using the almost alien calmness of Sagara’s return to Kaname as a really effective bookend to the harshness of that arc.

Full Metal Panic! 13 - A Cat and a Kitten's Rock & Roll.mkv_snapshot_04.56_[2013.01.26_15.26.53]

I was not expecting Full Metal Panic to hold up, but it turns out I still love Full Metal Panic. It’s got its problems, almost all of them centring on Kaname, and I’ll whole-heartedly admit that it is totally My Kind of Anime, but it does what it sets out to do really well. It’s a huge amount of fun with great characters and giant robots.

Also, to re-iterate, Tessa >>>>>>>> Kaname.

PS: Since I got the FMP bug, I watched Fumoffu and TSR recently too. Expect reviews of them soon. For this reason, I’m not going to get into any FMP vs Fumoffu vs TSR discussions. Save that shit for later.

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  1. Posted February 6, 2013 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    One thing I really loved about FMP when I got around to it a few months ago was how it balanced the serious and comedic sides really well. I know most people don’t like the serious side of FMP, but I thought it worked fine as long as the comedic side kept it in check (and vice-versa).

  2. fathomlessblue
    Posted February 6, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Tessa represents everything great about this franchise. That is all.

  3. Blargh
    Posted February 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    I watch FMP yearly. I would sell various parts of my internal organs to see the rest of this series be animated.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 6, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      “You know it’s a fake seasonal chart when it has a Full Metal Panic sequel on it”

    • Thrashy
      Posted February 7, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

      Sorry, KyoAni doesn’t do non-moeblob-slice-of-life shows anymore. Best hope that the franchise moves to Production IG.

      • Scamp
        Posted February 7, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        The FMP author did screenplay for Hyouka, so the two parties are still buddy buddy in some regards

  4. Fumoffu!!
    Posted February 6, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    Personally, although I will admit she’s not the strongest character, I don’t Chidori is bad. The jokes are repetitive (I remember finding it funny though), but the fact she is a normal girl is the point isn’t it? Also, whilst yes, her constant battering of Sousuke is questionable, she’s at least got a personality and is proactive.

    Before you object to that, I have to say that the main strength of Chidori is, as you suggested, her relationship with Sousuke. That’s what I personally loved about all the series, also, I hope that as you’re rewatching TSR you’ll see an improvement in her.

    Full Metal Panic is my favourite franchise, I just love it to bits.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 7, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      ‘Being normal’ is not an interesting character trait though. It’s bland and they have nothing of interest to say. They’re almost non-characters by that stage. I get that yes, it’s her point, but it’s still really boring

  5. R1CK_D0M
    Posted February 6, 2013 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Teressa >>>>>>>>>>>>>>Mao>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Kaname you mean.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 7, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      This too is acceptable

  6. Gunslinger
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    The biggest problem I had with FMP was that the main villain never fuckin dies. I wouldnt have had a problem if he like gets away everytime and returns, but they keep saying “Look he’s finally dead” and then remember they don’t have any other villain and bring him back.

    And without doubt the best arc was the one where he returns to his country. The way the show managed to capture the tension was really good even if the american special ops guys were your standard cliched soldiers.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 7, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Getting a bit into TSR territory here, but my running theory is that Gauron never existed there. He was a figment of Sagara’s depressed imagination. It’s a shaky theory, but it’s more believable than he survived the fucking end of what happened in FMP

      • Gunslinger
        Posted February 7, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        You mean he’s still there in TSR? There goes my desire to watch it.

  7. Fadeway
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    The strength and weakness of FMP is how it’s so shamelessly “anime”. Crazy yet well-executed characters make it loads of fun, yet the overused stereotypical tsundere (Tessa>>>>>>>>Kaname) and the abuse of powerlevels later on prevent it from reaching…well…potential. Still pretty good though, and Fumoffu is among my favorite anime comedies, up there with GTO.

  8. Posted February 7, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Kaname>Tessa H8ers goin h8.

    While I kinda get your point with the whole abusive girlfriend thing but meh I’m weak with those things (or maybe it’s just the way FMP does it) so I’ve always found Sagara and Kaname’s relationship to be both hilarious and heartwarming and just the type of relationship that made me watch anime in the first place.

    Tessa’s cool though too.

    This is really making me want to rewatch the entire FMP series and how I really fell in love with anime with it.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 8, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Abusive girlfriends are why you watch anime?

      I guess I can’t talk when I love Senjogahara

  9. gw_kimmy
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    i remember watching the first ep of this way back in the day and being like “HOLY SHIT THIS IS AWESOME” but then forgot about it lol. i’ll have to try it again sometime.

    i also remember hating the crap out of the green haired girl from her first entrance ;(

  10. Posted February 8, 2013 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    Ah, FMP.
    What a great show.

    I did not really mind Kaname that much back when I watched it (though she was occasionally a bit annoying and the fanservice wasn’t always great either), but I’d probably dislike her a good deal more now.

    Anyway, the show itself is as you said, heaps of fun.

    It is one of the few anime that I know of that does an excellent job of mixing great comedy with serious things.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 8, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      I remember liking Kaname, albeit always preferring Tessa, but going back to it really brought to light how everything bad about the show centres around her

  11. Shikamaru
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    What about perverted/goofball/sidekick Kurtz? Usually these characters are really annoying because their shtick is the fact that they are perverts and it gets annoying really fast. Kurtz is actually really good side character if you ask me.
    I love the story, setting, drama, action and romance in FMP, but that comedy is pretty bad. And fanservice always ruins everything. It’s totally pointless. “I can see her panties.” So what? I like FMP but it has lot of problems too.

    • Scamp
      Posted February 8, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      At first I found Kurtz perving over teenagers kinda creepy, but I guess he grew on me as the show went on. Mostly because his pervy nature tended to stick to Mao, who could deal with it

  12. shytende
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Just going to say this here. “Don’t worry, be happy” is by Bobby Mc Ferrin…

    Now, it’s true that Kaname isn’t really the best character, but I still liked the fact that she tried to avoid being a damsel in distress.
    I honestly didn’t paid attention to the panty shots… It must be because it was one of my first anime…
    No need to say, I really liked it. Mainly for the characters’ interactions.

    I read that they wanted to wait for the end of the story to makes the most satisfactory ending, but it doesn’t really seems right…
    I always forget that TLS, and somehow FMP, are Kyo Ani shows…

  13. anon
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always preferred tessa over chidori even before. for one, it was shown how tessa was important in the building of the submarine, and even though chidori also had the same potential, her powers (or speciality as the anime explained it) was never shown, which meant that, at least for me, her role in the series was just to smack sagara on the head with a large fan.

    Until now I’m still waiting for that day when they’ll finally explain tessa’s relationship with her brother, it was shown once somewhere and then it was left hanging.

    needless to say, although its not included in this particular series i think, my favorite episode was that episode about tessa’s day off. i think it was an ova or something.

  14. GoukaRyuu
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    To my knowledge, I only ever watched the first…I want to say half of this show. Looking at wikipedia it would probably be around the 18th episode. I have seen Fumoffu and Second Raid. I am planning to get around to seeing all of this, and rewatching the other two, when I get the chance.

    And, I also love Tessa, not that I dislike Kaname. Tessa is just another example of me liking a character that is clearly a second romantic love interest for the character but never going to win his affections. Always seems to be the case with me.

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