Full Metal Panic: Mission 01 review
No Need To Panic
At first glance Full Metal Panic is your typical mecha anime; a concept seemingly enforced by the plastering of an oversized battlesuit on the DVD cover (and every subsequent cover for the first series as well). Giant robots wielding instruments of death? Check. Military style organisation drawn into a war of sorts? Check. Making sure to get the highschool homework done on time? Wait, what the..?
Yes, just when you thought the last anime show you watched had pushed the concept of weirdness as far as it would go, FMP decides to go that one step further. In essence it's a mecha anime that is only semi-focused on that, because while there are moments when big bulky masses of metal square off comparing the size of their weapons, these moments are interweaved with stuff like watching Sousuke attempting to accomplish tasks only an all-too-serious military man would find difficult. It's a merger of genres that seems like it would fail 5 seconds into things, and yet strangely that is not the case at all. Yes people, FMP actually succeeds at its goal.
In terms of its approach to the mecha side of things it's a far cry from the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and disc 1 pretty much solidifies that path. After a brief scene with Kanami the show kicks off with an interesting sequence culminating in the arrival of a large mech kicking some ass. One mission briefing later and we soon transition to what will become a norm for the series. A girl is one of The Whispered - people possessing knowledge beyond extraordinary - and a mercenary group are called in to serve as her bodyguards while trying not to interrupt her normal life. With a setup like that you just know the mission won't run smoothly for long.
We have Sousuke, the unlucky chap who enters the high school undercover in an effort to remain close to Kaname. His attitude is drilled in straight from the military - a fact made all too apparent to the viewer when he gives his introduction in class the day he transfers in. From then on he seems to take every little task overboard and proceeds to rush to Kaname's side when he thinks trouble is coming, even though often it's just normal high school life and result is often comedic.
Sousuke's role in the show is an odd one. As a character he isn't that interesting. He seems far too serious and even dimwitted to be likeable. Rather than a person he comes across as an emotionless boring machine who is almost as lifeless as the giant mechs that sometimes grab some screentime. However, it is his attempts at leading a normal school life that makes the show interesting. We don't care a bit about him personally, but are more interested in what mishap he'll cause next. So that in sense he serves a suitable role but it could clearly be better. Keitaro (from Love Hina) was a clueless dimwit too prone to landing in unfortunate situations but his character had actual depth so we grew to like him too. Sousuke lacks this depth, so it's hard to care about him.
Inevitably this means that the leading male is overshadowed by his own co-stars. Unlike Sousuke, Kaname is a far more prominent figure. Typically she's the one at the center of things, and is generally a lot more expressive about her circumstances. She's got quite a fiery temperament, which helps add to the fire when things are going badly for our soldier boy. Her reactions are quite reminiscent of the usual tsundere female where she clearly has a caring side but often finds herself in conflict when annoyed, especially when Sousuke makes yet another blunder.
Even the sergeant's team members Kurz and Mao, despite having significantly less screentime than him, are far more interesting. The two have a sort of love-hate relationship, partly due to Kurz's laid-back and somewhat female focused ways. However, Kurz is capable of acting serious and even manages to change gears instantly when needed. Mao generally spends the episodes chastising Kurz and monitoring the missions progress. The duo work well in supporting the mission.
It must be said that the show often ends up suspending any sense of belief at times. Yes, okay, it's an anime about giant mechnical battlesuits. Heck, most anime tend to ignore realism to allow for freedom of expression. However, sometimes FMP goes a little far. Even I cannot fathom how Sousuke could get from school to the team's apartment while handcuffed to a chair, and the idea that the mercenary company is led by a young girl who is more ditsy and airheaded than any female shown in the actual school seems too silly. The problem is the approach used. While there is an air of comedy to the series it's clearly not one of those madcap 'anything can happen' anime, so when you have moments like these it can be a little jarring to the experience that is otherwise a solid performance.
In disc one there are surprisingly few actual giant mech battles. The initial sequence has one fending off an attack helicopter, but then we don't really see any further action than that in this set of episodes. Instead much of the military/mercenary side of things goes more for recon, mission briefings and firing of missiles from a submarine. Episode 4 does see some rather interesting merc work from our bland protagonist as he sneaks out of an aircraft and into an enemy base, which is admittedly a cool sequence of events. Alas the disc ends up on a cliffhanger moment so you're left waiting until you see the next disc to be satisfied in some form of an outcome.
It's fair to say that the production values on this show are quite high. The visuals are crisp, sharp and filled with an abundance of vibrant colour. The characters have some excellent designs and have been drawn well. Animation is generally fairly smooth too with no apparent errors or awkwardness. It's impressive that the creators put so much into individual scenes. When the classroom is full you can see students all over the place seemingly engaged in activities, which gives the show a true sense of life. Everything isn't just focused on the central point so that works out nicely.
Action sequences have been managed well. There is a certain fluidity when characters are in motion and you get a real sense of urgency. Whether it's the sergeant rushing in to save Kaname from another 'threatening' schoolwork assignment or seeing mobilization against an intruder the show succeeds at conveying these things.
The music used is a solid collection as well. Tomorrow by Mikuni Shimokawa is used for the opener and has a certain energetic feeling to it that matches up with the pacing of the show. It's also the kind of music you'd gladly put on your MP3 player. For the ending music we are given Karenai Hana by Mikuni Shimokawa, which is decidedly more slower paced but is still a nice track to listen to as the credits roll. While not as impressive the background OST does a very nice job of complimenting the action that occurs; both for high intensity moments and the calmer sequences. The timing is handled well and the style works.
Chris Patton does a good job of portraying Sousuke, so it's just a shame that this means he has to sound boring to match with his character. Luci Christian, with a better role, is spot on as Kaname. It's a wonderful match as Luci conveys the fiery temperament perfectly and manages to convey Kaname's emotions well. Supporting work from the likes of Vic Mignogna (Kurz), Allison Keith (Mao) and Hilary Haag (Teletha) all do superb work lending their own voices, as each one seems well suited to their own roles.
The menu design is probably one of the most interesting I've seen. It's like pieces of machinery sliding together and apart with a video display and options laid out. It can be a little tricky to actually notice when an option is selected at first since the light almost looks like part of the general design but past that it's functional and great looking.
There are some extras on the disc too, although I wasn't really too impressed. There are the usual ones like a choice between English and Japanese auido tracks plus subtitles (which is a pretty cool feature) textless opening/closing and the trailers. There are the custom piracy warnings, which in this volume you get Luci Christian as Kaname giving the warning when starting the disc, and Satsuki Yukino (Kaname's Japanese voice) giving the warning when accessed through the extras menu. Finally there are the production sketches, and while there are a few interesting ones there wasn't anything too special and they also moved along a little too quickly for my liking.
Full Metal Panic: Mission 01 is a good start to the series but it's clear that some parts are a little lacking. Sousuke just isn't an interesting male lead and some parts defy belief when the show normally tries to exercise some sense of believability. These issues aside there is some good action mixed with great comedy and seeing the other characters reactions and decisions is very interesting. It's a genre mix that works, and is worth a look if the idea appeals to you.
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