Kaname Chidori is a typical Japanese high school student who really doesn’t know what to make of her new classmate, Sousuke Sagara. He’s socially inept, very straight-laced, and rather gun-crazy. Little does she know that Sousuke is really a covert agent from the world-wide anti-terrorist organization, Mithril. And his assignment? To guard and protect her. To her, it just just seems he’s always hanging around, perhaps even stalking her. And what was he doing on her balcony that night?
Set on an earth with an alternate history, Full Metal Panic ably melds military action and shojo-style romantic plots for a series that is enjoyable by fans of many different anime tastes. The Soviet Union still exists as well as the Cold War, and mecha are employed by many agencies. But the real threat to the world comes from the existence of Black Technology. This technology makes advanced artificial intelligence, cloaking devices, and other science-fiction devices possible. And it’s created by those known as the Whispered, teenagers who possess an uncanny innate sense and psychic ability when it comes to technological devices. Kaname herself is unknowingly one of these Whispered, and at risk of kidnapping from any group looking to get the advantage in the arms race.
The first few episodes play out like a typical shojo romance, only lightly interspersed with military cuts as we see the actions of the mobile Mithril command center, the submarine Tuatha De Danaan, and its young commander Teletha “Tessa” Testarossa, another Whispered. But then Kaname is kidnapped on a class field trip to Okinawa, and Sousuke’s on hand to rescue her and the worlds collide. There are still a few episodes afterwards that stay strictly in the realm of shojo, but more and more Kaname and the viewer are caught up in the events of anti-terrorism. She also soon finds she just may have a romantic rival in the relationship she’s not sure she wants with Sousuke, none other than Captain Tessa herself. One of the pleasures of the series is watching how it seamlessly shifts gears from romantic comedy to sci-fi military action without skipping a beat.
This time the animation is handled by Gonzo, the Japanese studio which has brought out such titles as Kaleido Star, Afro Samurai, and Samurai 7. Character design is a strong point in this series, where each character in the large cast has a unique style, yet still meshes with the world as a whole. The battle sequences are believable – well, as believable as mecha battles get – and the pace and detail of each situation will have viewers on the edge of their seat waiting for the climax. Voice acting is another highlight, and those who prefer the English dub track might hear a few familiar voices from Neon Genesis Evangelion, the series having first been dubbed for American audiences by the same company that brought out that title, the now-defunct ADV. FUNimation has now re-released this version, and deservedly so. There is some light fan service, mainly during a bath scene between Kaname, Tessa, and another female soldier, as well as the virginal-type of nude poses (common to many anime) taken on by Kaname as she goes into the ‘Whispered’ realm when interfacing with technology. All in all, it’s pretty understated and tame when compared to other titles.
There is something to like for all tastes in Full Metal Panic: Nuanced characterization, silly moments, an intricate and ever-changing storyline, and intense action, all ably depicted for us to enjoy on the screen. It would be an excellent addition to any library’s young adult shelf.
Full Metal Panic! the complete collection
directed by Yasuhiro Takemoto
600 minutes, Number of Discs: 3, Season set
Company Age Rating: TV-14
Related to: prose novel by Shoji Gatoh and manga by Retsu Tateo