At first, I wanted this to be my very first review, but I ended up changing my mind. You see, my godfather is the person who introduced Japanese culture to me by gifting me some mangas (Dragon Ball, Fairy Tail, and School Rumble) when I entered middle school. He’s very passionate about Japan and travels there from time to time. One day, at a time I had only watched a couple of anime from when I was a kid (things like Saint Seiya or Dragon Ball), he told me, showing me his DVD collection of Full Metal Panic!, “you gotta watch this, it’s the best anime ever, it’s like super fun and everything”.
At least that’s how I remember things, and so I went and watched it. I’d say it’s probably the first anime I watched being a teenager. Then for years after, I wanted to read the novel. The anime doesn’t go to the end, unfortunately. But at the time, I didn’t speak English at all, and there was no French translation. Then I ended up learning English somehow, by myself mostly. And so I was, at last, able to read Full Metal Panic! And I must say, it was amazing, both the anime and the novel. So this one holds sort of a special place in my heart I guess.
I won’t review the novel though, this article is gonna be long enough. I’ll write some notes about it along the way but that’s it. I do suggest reading it though. It’s a true masterpiece, and the anime will probably never see another season, let alone reach the end of the story.
Anyway, enough with the stories.
For the sake of writing this review, I’ve actually rewatched it entirely, despite having already watched it a few times. Thing is, there are 3 seasons and a spin-off, but the first season was released in 2002, the spin-off in 2003, the second season in 2005, and the third in 2018. The studio changed after the first season, and then again for the last one, and of course, you can imagine that the quality of the last season is not comparable to the first one.
First Season: Quality
Considering it’s a 20-year-old anime, it’s obviously gonna feel a bit old, be it animation, art, or sound. However, while some anime have aged pretty badly, Full Metal Panic is not among those. I was bothered a bit by the music in certain episodes, but besides that, it was all fine, even great at certain times. I think that 20 years ago, it must have looked great. But it, of course, can’t compare to anything recent, but still, I have to admit I have seen more recent anime that looked worse. It’s simply a bit inconsistent.
So it’s a bit hard to judge on those parts, to me it’s good enough, but it might bother some people. There’s also a bit of CG, if you don’t pay attention you could miss it, it’s very discreet but looks really good.
Now about the story, I think it’s quite original. Unfortunately, it lacks quite a lot of details compared to the novel, lots of stuff is put there implicitly. To keep it simple, there’s a bunch of bad guys wanting to experiment on special people. Then there’s a sort of military group opposing them. The main character, Sagara Sousuke, is part of that group, and he’ll be guarding one of those special people, Kaname Chidori, and attending high school with her. Now that sounds pretty basic you’re gonna tell me. Well, it would be, except for the fact that Sousuke has absolutely no common sense because he’s never had a civilian life. And that creates quite many humoristic situations. Oh, and did I mention there are mechas? Ah, I know it’s gonna bother certain people, yeah if you don’t like mechas you’re probably not gonna enjoy Full Metal Panic. So anyway, that’s the plot.
I’d have to say, it’s pretty basic when you think about it, but it does something really well: it manages to mix action, romance, humor, mechas, and well, some other stuff. All of this is in a setting that is basically earth as we know, except the cold war didn’t end the same way it did in the real world. I particularly enjoy how the scenario juggles between gunfights and your not-so-typical slice of life in school. All of that sounds good, there’s a catch though. It’s a bit slow, the novel is really long so it makes sense. But the first season is mostly a setup where you discover the different characters and catch some bits of the actual main intrigue. I’ll also mention that there are some parts that ended up being quite different from the novel.
A Romance you said?
In the first place, the novel is actually a romance, the first volume is even titled “boy meets a girl”, and yeah, from the very title you know what it’s gonna be about. And then it goes all around the place. To the point, you could forget about the romance part sometimes, but the author always reminds you about it. I loved that aspect of Full Metal Panic.
Unfortunately, it is not something the anime managed to do properly, on that point it’s disappointing. It does show the romance bits, but it doesn’t go in-depth on it. Actually, I think the anime is quite confusing on that point, it’s hard to truly get how their relationship evolves, you see that it does change over time, but it’s not explicitly said why.
The Two Protagonists
About the characters, I guess I’d have to start with our two protagonists.
Sousuke. He’s the main reason Full Metal Panic is so fun to watch. As I said previously, he has no common sense and always acts weird. But he’s also quite dependable when it matters, in fact, he is an expert at what he does. And you can’t help but like him, he has been through a lot. That’s probably why Kaname ends up liking him despite all the things he does wrong.
Ah yes, Kaname, she’s surprisingly the brave and energetic type. She’s strong in her own way, I’d even say she’s impressive really. She’s super lovely, and a bit scary sometimes. As a high school student she ends up going through a lot of things, and of course, you can’t help but feel sorry for all the stupidities Sousuke puts her through.
Both of them develop a lot over time, they truly change bit by bit. It’s really well done in that regard.
Other Important Characters
There are a number of other characters of course, but the most important after those two would be :
Melissa Mao and Kurz Weber, are Sousuke’s teammates. They are both amazing mercenaries like Sousuke. Melissa is the team leader, she sort of acts as the dependable older sister. And I can’t say more things about her without spoiling, unfortunately. Kurz is a bit of a womanizer on the outside, a real playboy or so it seems. But he’s also very dependable and an amazing sniper. Again I can’t say too much about him.
Then we’ve got Kalinin and Tessa. Kalinin fits the role of the typical older soldier veteran who rose the ranks. There’s not a lot to say about him, especially since the anime doesn’t dwell too deep on secondary characters. Tessa however is a lot more important, and a very interesting character. She’s the captain of a submarine and Sousuke’s commanding officer. However she’s quite young, and a bit clumsy, but also really smart. She’s almost the opposite of Kaname in a way. I swear it’s hard to talk about characters without spoiling, there would be so much to say.
There are also a bunch of other characters that have more or less importance. Some of them only have importance later on, while others just come and go. Obviously, the anime can’t compare to the novel as far as characters go, the last season still did a better job about it than the previous 2.
Talking about seasons, I’m not really gonna review the spin-off Full Metal Panic Fumoffu. It’s a really good watch, it’s simply funny as hell, like really. But it doesn’t add anything to the story. It’s simply a slice-of-life season, except Sousuke makes it incredibly fun to watch. I highly recommend watching it whenever you’re feeling down.
As I said previously, the first season is really old, but the art and animation are still alright. But starting from the technically third season, counting Fumoffu, things improve a lot. Really, it would be on par, if not better, with low-budget anime from the current era. The sound is also a lot more consistent. You truly notice the difference in quality, not just in animation or sound, but in other aspects as well. It goes slower, it is more like the original novel in my opinion. It’s simply better in all aspects, even if it still has flaws.
While the first season is mostly a setup, and it has a ton of cheerful moments, the third season is quite different. From that point onward, there’ll be fewer funny and cheerful moments, do note that I said “less”. Humor is still a big part of Full Metal Panic. But you still can’t help but notice that it gets a bit more serious. The plot starts showing for real, it gets even more interesting. On top of that, you start seeing our two protagonists really changing, and evolving. Yet, that’s only the start.
There’s a reason I’m writing stuff in this weird order and structure. I can’t well talk about certain things without spoiling, but the plot actually evolves a lot. There’s not the same feeling from one season to the other. That’s why the first part of this article is mostly based on what the first season is like. And it would be the first impression you get from this anime, which is quite important.
Over time things get different, more serious, and sad even. Yet it’s still the same story, and you are constantly reminded of that. It still has all those other parts that make it quite unique. In that aspect I think the novel is even more like that, the further you go into it, the more you are feeling this. I think it’s one of the particularities of Full Metal Panic. I really enjoyed that and I’m glad the adaptation made a decent job in that regard.
The fourth season was a total surprise for everyone I think. Imagine after so many years since the previous season, a new one got released. Well, unfortunately, it was a one-time thing and I doubt we’ll get another season, what a shame really. Now obviously this season feels totally different, the animation and drawings are so much smoother, there’s a lot more CGI, and it’s still of sufficient quality. You can truly see right away that it’s a lot more recent. And you can also totally see and hear that there’s a huge time gap between this and the previous season. Basically, it’s a lot better, however, it’s nothing amazing by today’s standards though.
Now in terms of story, it’s even harder to talk about this season. The novel basically got three big arcs, the first one was basically the first season and the second season. So obviously this third season is the start of the second arc. While you can already tell that things are slowly changing during the second season, the third one is a huge change. There are many things you’re not expecting. It also introduces new characters, while some others you won’t see much anymore. It also has a lot more harsh and sad moments, things get really serious. But there’s still some good laugh to have here and there.
Now, this has turned out to be a bit long. To keep this conclusion quite short here’s what to take from all this. Full Metal Panic! is a really good and not-so-typical romance story, packed with action, comedy, and mechas. Its entire atmosphere changes over time as you progress through the story. It has aged just fine, even if you can tell it’s old, the quality is more than enough for it to be enjoyable. It’s a really good adaptation, but obviously, the novel is even better. I highly suggest everyone to read the original, especially if you liked the anime. The ending is truly magical.