Review: Full Metal Panic (2002)

Directed by:

Distributed in Australia by:

After watching the first four episodes of Full Metal Panic, like Kaname I have no idea what is really going on. Often leaving things unexplained, FMP’s mysteriousness is probably its best asset. Unanswered gaps in the story (bad guy Gauron’s motives, Mithril’s provocative ethics, the Whispered’s identities and powers) compelled me to either (a) kick-in the TV set, or (b) think about what I was watching with a little more cognitive application than usual. I’ll try to make some sense of the latter in order to avoid the former.

First, some consumer advice. If you want to get a better idea of what this series is about, check out the interior flip-side cover art (if you can open the case). Notice all the pictures of Kaname and Sousuke? This is actually a character-driven series with very little giant robot action. In fact, the weapon of mass destruction that you see on the A-side cover is featured for only the first few minutes of the first episode. It is subsequently deployed in an invisible mode in order to perform duties of isolated observation. This leads to some nice ways of revealing to the viewer that a massive war machine is lurking within the frame, and signals on behalf of the creators that ideas about not-knowing and not-seeing relate to FMP’s thematic objectives.

Sousuke is one of those unrealistic but engaging types who knows everything about kicking ass but nothing about getting involved in a normal social life. His assignment to protect Kaname turns on themes and ideas about stalking, irrational attraction, professionalism and emotional honesty. I enjoyed the avoidance, for once, of high school classroom politics. In terms of character dimensionality, Kaname is way less interesting and fun than Sousuke (both her introduction and panty-flashing, falling-for-you moment with Sousuke are borderline preposterous). The most fascinating female character is the commander of Mithril’s (shonky 3D) submarine, who seems to be one of the Whispered. When she softly issues orders to hardened male combat veterans you get the feeling that she’s capable of destroying the world and just barely containing herself out of a traditional feminine courtesy to overblown masculine ego.

Comic touches are liberally scattered, but few of them stand out. Likewise for the quieter moments where Kaname and Sousuke appear to develop stronger ties. There are simplistic pleasures to FMP that make it enjoyable viewing, but a lack of psychological tension, meaningful illumination and emotional engagement makes the experience far less than a powerful one. The animation doesn’t always look as crisp and tight as it could have and there’s very little in the way of innovation occurring throughout. FMP is probably going to be a long haul on a road to nowhere; the journey, however, won’t cause too many stomach upsets.

7 coincidental stalkings out of 10.
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