Anime Monday - Full Metal Panic!

Full Metal Panic! This is a series I've brought up time and time again here at NGR, and now I'm finally getting to properly cover it. It's one of my all time favorite series, and one I have a lot of fond memories from. I talked multiple friends into trying it out, actually sat down to watch it WITH them, and it's one I still come back to every now and then. Heck I even own the books digitally, and currently have the special edition collection on preorder. Yep I love the series, and I'm happy to see my random generator decide to let me cover it. That being said things weren't always this way, and honestly I almost dropped the thing back during episode one. So glad I didn't though. But anyway this is my story of how I discovered FMP, and what FMP is about.

The first time I heard about FMP was actually from a random guy online. Well, not random, but someone I have since lost contact with. His username was Abathee, and we met through an online Sonic fan game (any guesses?) We would eventually add each other on MSN and we would talk off and on. We lost contact years before I watched Full Metal Panic, but it was him who technically introduced me to the series. He was watching it at the time and would tell me about how good it was, but I just sorta blew him off each time. It seemed cool, but it didn't seem like it would be for me. (He failed to mention the giant robots and the comedy mixed in.) So I'd spend a few years or so never even considering watching it, and then Abathee vanished from my life.

Jump ahead to May of 2011 and my parents are asking me what I want for my birthday. I wasn't sure what to get for sure, but one day during a bad storm my cousin was over at my house looking at things online with me. (Remember the Joplin Tornado? This was a connected storm system to that.) During our search we came across this cool looking PS3 robot game called "Another Century's Episode R." At the time I needed more PS3 games, and this one was a crossover between multiple mecha anime series -- one of which being Code Geass! This was the main selling point for me, but seeing other series on the list had me interested in them as well. One of which being Full Metal Panic. I ended up having my mom order it for me that day, and afterwords I sat in wait hoping it would arrive on time. During those days of waiting is when I came across the newer "YouTube TV" and found Full Metal Panic had officially been uploaded by Funimation. So I started it.

It's funny, I wanted Another Century because of Code Geass, but after watching FMP it became my main focus. I loved that show, and I had so much fun playing as the main characters. I basically didn't touch any one else on the roster except for them! Despite already seeing the series to it's current end, it made me want to go back and rewatch -- so that's exactly what I did. But this time while bringing friends with me.

That summer was the summer of FMP for me. I watched it all the way through with one friend (Cat, who has helped out here at NGR multiple times in the past), only for us to then turn around and convince yet another friend to check it out (Nick, another fellow past NGR writer). Eventually I'd convince a few others to check it out as well (you know who you are!), and I'd discover many of my other friends had already seen it. It was strange, as it was really the first time I ran into this with an anime. Usually most shows I come across are only liked by a few people I know, but this time around it seemed like everyone enjoyed it. But why, just what made it so great? Well... There's a lot of reasons.

First of all before I explain the story, let me make one thing clear. I'm only going to focus on the first season of the anime -- or more specifically the first novel adaptation which makes up part 1 of season 1. This is to avoid spoilers, and to keep things from getting complicated. You see currently FMP is broken up into "four" seasons, and each one is quite a bit different from the last. While season 1 covers the first novels, Fumoffu is something entirely different. Then you have The Second Raid which continues the novels, but it's tone and setting is quite a bit different from what we see in season 1. Then we have the newer Invisible Victory which is even more different yet. Basically the story changes as it progresses to it's conclusion, so I'm only going to focus on it's beginning. (For now that is.)

The Story of the Soldier:

The story of Full Metal Panic is quite a bit different than most series. It begins with a young man named Sousuke Sagura carrying out a mission for the secret mercenary group he works for. Upon returning back to his home base however, he's quickly assigned a new mission. He must infiltrate a public high school, and protect a girl named Kaname Chidori. They have received intell that a terrorist group may be targeting her, and they must protect her at all cost. Sousuke isn't given the reason why she may be targeted, but it's not something for him to know. He has simply been given a job, and it's one he plans to carry out no matter the cost. So along with his teammates Kurz and Mao, he heads to Japan to assume his new identity as a high school student. The problem is, all he knows is war.

Unlike most high school themed shows (although technically this isn't a "high school" show), Sousuke is not your normal student. In fact he has no idea how to act as one. He does what he can to watch Kaname and get close to her, but being the strong willed girl she is, she does not take too kindly to this. She doesn't want some creep hanging around her all the time, and she's not afraid to beat the crap out of anyone who gets on her bad side. Sousuke can't understand why she's so bothered by his presence, and doesn't see anything wrong with his actions. At one point Kaname catches him "reading" a news paper from the early 90s that has a peep hole cut into it. Actions like these convince her that he's nothing more than a pervert, and does whatever she can to get away from him. During one episode she gets off of her train early to get away from Sousuke, only to witness him jump out of the moving train's window and roll across the pavement. He passes this off as just being a "coincidence," and says that his actions were in no way influenced by her. He simply wanted off at that stop. Needless to say this freaks out Kaname even more, but she starts to wonder if there's something more to his actions.

The other thing about Sousuke is he not only causes trouble for Kaname, but for the school as a whole. During one incident where he thinks someone is going to harm Kaname, he pulls a gun and tackles their home room teacher, and knocks her down the stares. He gets into trouble for this, and thankfully they pass his gun off as being a "toy model." He refutes this by telling them exactly how real it is, but no one believes him. Instead he's passed off as being a military nut, and assigned the job as janitor for their school class. Eventually Sousuke does make a friend at the school, but he does so by stopping a "panty thief" who sneaks into Kaname's room. Rather than escaping from her room himself, he stays to talk to said thief about giant robots and other military technology. This is what leads Kaname to catch both of them, thus solidifying Sousuke's status as a pervert even further. It's situations like these that add comedy to the show, but in reality it isn't all that funny.

What makes FMP stand out is the fact that this "peaceful" time in these character's lives wont last forever. Kaname is being targeted, just as Sousuke's group suspected, and it's only a matter of time before their lives are torn apart. Even the show's opening theme song hints at what is to come, and it's something that will change everyone's lives forever. Season 1 isn't afraid to get serious with it's stories, but this story is still set within that time of peace. It's the middle of season 1 where you start to realize that things wont always be okay, and that things will take a darker turn as the series progresses. On top of that, the show is also self aware. Rather than just accepting the fact that this world has giant robots, the show questions why this is possible. While many do simply accept that technology has advanced far enough for this to be possible, those who actually work with said robots start to realize just how strange it actually is. One character even points out that these things are straight from science fiction, and that them existing in their life shouldn't even be possible. It's not normal, and other pieces of technology out there is just as mysterious. And this is where Kaname comes in.

It's clear from the very first scenes of episode 1 that Kaname is not a normal girl. But why is that? What makes her different? Well that ties directly in with why the terrorists are after her, and why Sousuke must protect her. It's a mystery that the characters will have to uncover for themselves, and something that will haunt them for as long as Kaname is still alive.

The Characters:

As good as a story might be, it's the characters that hold the plot together. Have a completely unlikable cast, and your story will suffer for it. Thankfully FMP doesn't have this problem. Not only is the main cast great, but every side character, and even those you are meant to "hate" come across as great villains. Full Metal Panic is one of those shows that will get you invested in the character's lives, and at some point you'll really start to care about them. It's what makes it so hard when you realize that no one is actually safe in this seemingly "light hearted" series, and you can't help but worry what their future holds. You don't want things to come to an end, but sadly it just might. Putting that aside however, the main cast really is great, and each character has his or her own quirks.

Like I mentioned above, Sousuke is the main character, and he has no idea what he's doing as he tries to live a "normal" life. He's a character who is always serious, but many have a hard time taking seriously because of his attitude. He often gets mixed up in crazy situations due to his lack of knowledge, and he applies his military training to everything. Of course he has a dark past, being a child soldier and all, but that's something that slowly gets uncovered throughout the series.

The second lead character, Kaname, is a perfect counter to Sousuke. While Sousuke is strict and awkward, Kaname is an upbeat girl who also has quite the temper to go along with her thick skull. She's set in her ways, and it's hard to convince her otherwise. Originally the main cast passes her off as a sweet innocent girl, but the moment they visit her school they quickly realize just how wrong they were. Despite her looks, she isn't afraid to beat the living daylights out of anyone who gets in her way, and she doesn't have a problem with taking charge when needed. She's very strong willed, and initially doesn't mix that well with Sousuke. Needless to day her character does change over time, but this is how she is when she first appears.

Kurz is Sousuke's merc friend, and one of the two assigned to go on the mission with him. He's an ace sniper, but personality wise he's the guy who is always acting out and goofing off on the job. Sure he gets things done and is good at what he does, but if anything funny is going to happen, it'll happen to him. He has horrible luck at times, and tends to flirt with the wrong ladies. He spends much of the early episodes simply setting in his cloaking device enabled giant mech keeping an eye on Kaname from afar, but he's also there to give Sousuke advice. Unlike Sousuke Kurz actually has a real life, and he wants to see his friend succeed. And really, so does Mao.

Mao is the commander of the three man group, and she's a hard one to get an angle on. She can be very strict when she needs to be, but other times she'll be passed out drunk without a care in the world. She'll mock and make fun of others whenever she feels like it, but that doesn't mean she doesn't care about them. Her coworkers are like family to her, and she'll do anything to keep them safe. She's a great friend to Sousuke, and just like Kurz she's always there when he needs her. (Even if he doesn't realize just how much he really needs her help.)

As for the rest of the cast, they are a little harder to explain without going into spoilers. Tessa is the next major cast member who comes to mind, but her true self isn't seen until later. Up until then all that is known is she's in charge of Sousuke's secret group, and that she's roughly the same age as him and Kaname. At her right hand is none other than an older man named Kalinin, who is always there to support her every step of the way. Him and Sousuke appear to have some sorta history with each other even before joining Tessa's group, but that's a story for another time. There are quite a few other main characters and side characters involved as well (not to mention the terrorists), but again I want to avoid as many spoilers as possible. All I can say is the supporting characters from the school do a great job adding to Kaname and Sousuke's everyday life, and they are a nice break from the seriousness of later parts in the story.

Should You Watch It:

If you're into war stories, comedy, mecha, and school life... Then yes, you seriously shouldn't miss out on this one. Rather than being your typical "daily life" type show, Sousuke being a hardened soldier completely flips everything on it's head, and the result is something you will not find anywhere else. While there is a lot of comedy that branches off from Sousuke being so dense, that's not to say the show doesn't have it's serious moments as well. In fact a lot of the comedy is really just the calm before the storm, and once things get going there's really no going back. Full Metal Panic isn't afraid to dive into the darker side of things, and some of the events just might shock you.

So bottom line is, if any of the above points interest you at all, it's at least worth checking out. Just give the first episode a chance, and don't stop for any reason. I almost did, and I can't tell you how much I would've regretted it if I had.

Where to Watch:

The easiest way to watch this series is over at Crunchyroll. They have the full series uploaded, and were the ones who aired IV as the new episodes released.

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