I just finished watching the first season of Full Metal Panic! The first time I watched this series was about a million years ago when I hadn’t seen much anime. I wasn’t familiar with common anime tropes, and it seemed really fresh and original. Now that I have been watching anime for a number of years, I have seen a lot of shows that influenced this series, as well as those that used it for inspiration. I decided to revisit it because I recently picked up the third season on DVD, and wanted to go back and watch everything from the beginning. Also, I’m a huge nerd and have nothing better to do with my time. Maybe someday I’ll get a date, and not be forced to have virtual anime girlfriends.
The show comes from a really shitty anime studio called Gonzo. Pretty much everything they touch turns to garbage. They are kind of like the George Lucas of anime studios. They have managed to take a number of high profile manga series, and turn them into festering turds on screen. I’m not sure how they manage to pull off this feat so consistently, but they are certainly pros at doing it. Anyway, I remembered liking this show the first time I watched it, but I was kind of worried about returning to it and hating it.
The animation quality is pretty bad. At first glance it looks ok, but after a couple of episodes you notice all the shortcuts Gonzo took. Long static shots, horrible pans and zooms over a single frame, and godawful CGI (which is Gonzo’s trademark). Their CGI is so goddamn bad it just reminds me of some shit they churn out in a college-level film class, and not something you would expect from a fucking professional television studio.
Story-wise, everything breaks down into either action or comedy. There are certain episodes that are light and fun, and others that are dramatic and advance the plot. This show really shines when it is being funny and not taking itself seriously. Sousuke, the military maniac, bumbles his way through everyday school life to sometimes hilarious results. When this show doesn’t excel is when it tries to be all moody and serious. It’s full of more cliches than any high school creative writing project that you wrote. I don’t know, maybe I just can’t take a shy, wimpy, unworldly, 16-year old girl, who has gotten prematurely gray hair, seriously as the captain of a fucking elite mercenary group. Plus, the serious story-arcs are dragged out far too long. The final one, which could have probably been covered in three episodes, is extended to an amazing six episodes in length. I was ready for this shit to be over with by the time the fourth episode (and third or fourth time they killed the main villain — I actually lost count of how many times this happened) in that story-arc rolled around. I guess Gonzo has never heard of the idea that “less is more.” While the first half of the series seemed to have good momentum, the second half languishes, mired in poor pacing and plotting.
The DVD itself features both English (5.1 surround) and Japanese (2.0 stereo) audio options. The Japanese acting was very good, and the English dub was also quite nice. You can’t really go wrong listening to either one. The extras are minimal, but the picture quality is good. If you are already a fan, and looking to pick this up, the thinpak DVD boxset is a fairly cheap option.
Overall, what did I think of Full Metal Panic! on my return to it years later? Well, it’s not nearly as good as I had remembered. While it does have a few shining moments, for the most part it is incredibly tedious. The mecha designs are uninspired, the story is boring as hell, and the animation is shit. On the positive side, the acting is good, and the first half of the series is quite entertaining. Gonzo didn’t manage to completely fuck up this series, as they do with just about everything else. Still, their trademark assness is all over this thing. Fortunately, a far more competent company, Kyoto Animation, took over for the second and third seasons. I’ll be watching those in the near future, and I hope they turn out better. If you like anime, and haven’t seen this series, it might be worth a viewing if you don’t mind stuff that is somewhere between mediocre and entertaining.