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Full Metal Panic (TV) 1 - 8

I do not understand high school romance anime. It seems to require some sort of extra genetic material I just don't have. My brain refuses to compute it.*

This was supposed to be a mecha show. I swear, looking at the promo shots, this was supposed to be a mecha show. And there are cool mecha in this show, in tiny pieces of airtime. I'll start with the mecha parts, because that gives me one thing nice to say about this. The CG is pretty seamless, especially for the very cool cloaking sequences. The very first (deceptive) mecha fight we see, of lead guy Sousuke's M9 taking down a chopper, rubs that in a big way, with the M9 shimmering out of a snow-covered woodland, complete with dramatic strings in the soundtrack and shiny explosions. In fact, the fights for this show are usually decent stuff. When it happens.

You see, Full Metal Panic has a nice name and all, but it's a high school romantic comedy. With love triangles, hackneyed dialogue, Big Boobed Girls with Anime-Coloured Hair (BBGwACH pronounced bug-whack; my preference for Bleach is partially based on the idea the lead girl is flat)** and the lot. It is so much a high school romantic comedy, in fact, I have to wonder why anyone even bothered with the mecha element.

Here's the plot: A mercenary group (owners of variously cool mecha and a submarine) is hired to protect a high school girl, Chidori Kaname, from the KGB. They assign three of their finest, Sergeant Major Melissa Mao, Sergeant Kurz Webber, and Sergeant Sagara Sousuke. For covert op purposes, Sousuke has to disguise himself as a high school student to shadow Kaname. Everything else is a series of vignettes about Sousuke freaking out over being a high school student, and Kaname freaking out over Sousuke.

The mecha portion of the plot is largely reserved for short albeit nice-looking fighting sequences, where Kaname is often the thing to be saved or protected, or the key to Sousuke discovering his new secret move. Secret moves, in this context, are reminiscent of Sakura Taisen (bitter irony: Sakura Taisen is a dating sim/mecha fighting RPG turned into an anime about an opera troupe -- and it has more mecha fighting per square cm of film!) -- Sousuke is spiritually connected to his mecha, and forms spirit-based attacks by concentrating his feelings during battle. The first appearance of this skill happens after Kanama orders him to imagine her being clotheless and poked around with. This moment forms the climax of the first seven episodes, of which only two could validly contain actual mecha fighting sequences, and also represents the height of "depth" in the show's script.

The writing is bland at best, falling back on lots of blushing and Terminator-style monotones. Top military decisions from a little girl who plays with her hair could be a bit disturbing, they're not. Soldiers returning to civillian life could provide lots of interesting character studies, but they don't. An apparently normal student discovering hidden world-changing knowledge inside her brain could be the basis of a great superhero show, or even a good psychological conflict, but it isn't.The jokes are dull -- most of them can be guessed a mile off. You might've seen most of the lines used elsewhere. Any "brave talk" or "girl speeches" have the emotional impact of Kindergarten Cop. After 8 episodes, I did not get any closer to any of the characters, or to their collective situation.

Character design is generic. All the girls are typical BBGwACH types in pleated skirts, and this can get quite annoying. This includes Chidori Kaname, our lead BBGwACH, who is the perfect, tall, lanky anime schoolgirl with porn star potential. Characters go on forever about how pretty she is, but at least two other female characters easily outdoes her in that deparment. Moreover, the show is pretty blatant about its panty shots. Which would be great if the girls in this show were actually titillating, but they're not. The guys barely fare any better. Sagara Sousuke, our stoic-yet-expressionless hero, bears a design resemblance to Himura Kenshin (Rurouni Kenshin), complete with an X scar on his right cheek.

Personality-wise, most of the characters are reasonably okay right off the bat. Unfortunately, the lead girl isn't even remotely close to this goal. For the large part of the series, she's an annoying, squeaky pair of tits. The Kaname and Sousuke dynamic is a typical hero and his girl, though Sousuke lacks a personality altogether. Allusions are made throughout the show of historical trauma on both sides, but they add little depth. Neither character actually manages to be more memorable than the supporting cast -- and it is here that the characterization seems to work. The two closest allies Sousuke has, his direct superior Melissa Mao and Kurz Webber, are far more interesting than the main guy. Melissa's the typical tough mercenary lady type -- a bit like a makeshift Misato. She drinks hard and eats everything, and is very capable of beating the snot out of everyone. Kurz, ex-model and skirt chaser, becomes the perfect foil for her. He idolizes Kaname for being, well, a tall lanky schoolgirl with porn star potential. At one point, he temporarily takes over Sousuke's job and decides to protect Kaname by helpfully introducing himself as a poor lost pretty boy. Their Captain is an odd young woman by the name of Tessa, who takes an unusual interest in Sousuke from the start. She habitually plays with her hair, and decides on other people's deaths with polite reluctance. She seems genuinely concerned about the casualties inflicted during her group's operations, and also frequently comes off as being very young. They're not great characters, but they're okay.

It is not a dark show by any amount of its warring and violence, or allusions to them. Again, out of the first seven episodes, only two episodes actually contained real fighting. Most of the story deals with Sousuke annoying Kaname at school, and their unresolved feelings for each other. The idea that half the cast are hardcore soldiers, and their opponents are extremely violent mecha users is window dressing. I felt like I was watching all the RPG sequences of Wing Commander without the flight sim.

My verdict: If you want mecha and military intrigue, go find Gundam, any Gundam. If you want mecha with real characterization and psychological conflict, watch Evangelion. If you want mecha, light characterization but lots of fun, try Sakura Taisen, any Sakura Taisen. My point is, you can do better, and you should.

* Other notable genres I have a natural lack of sympathy for: yaoi, harem and hardcore, tissue-wielding shoujo. Bluuuuuuuuuuud!
* Why do these BBGwACH always seem to have hair that look like giant purple, green or blue cockroaches?



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 17th, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)
I remember watching a few episodes of this in high school. I didn't even know it was supposed to be a mecha anime :\ The high school romance thing was the only thing I got out of it.
Jan. 21st, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC)
I followed an ad link that was going on about it's award winning action-ness. And when I checked it out on AnimeNewsNetwork, it reiterated the whole, "won awards for action" thing, even the plot summary didn't sound very mecha. But neither does the plot summary for Evangelion, most of the time, and that really was a mecha show at heart. So I was kinda surprised. Hey, high school romance. Eew. I'm just terribly unromantic. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )