Monday, August 16, 2010

Full Metal Panic (2002)

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: above par voice acting, lovable characters, attractive designs, coherant narrative with a more mature feel that usual, realistic portrayal of semi-futuristic military combat, well written comedy, excellent cast chemistry, blends various genre seamlessly, high animation production value in the early episodes

The Bad: inconsistent animation, visible animation "short cuts" and downgrade with subsequent episodes, rushed conclusion,

Current Availability Status:

*above* hard box Region 1 "Complete Collection" from ADV films: Out of Print

soft box "re-release" edition by Funimation: still available from any major online DVD stores.

Bu-ray edition featuring remastered truHD audio: available september 2010
Comments: Do not expect true HD video for the Blu-ray release. This being a 2002 anime, it was not created in a HD 1080pi Master. It is not even widescreen.

Singapore Region 3 by Blue Max Entertainment: still available at most Blue Max stores islandwide.

DVD features USA R1: all versions of the USA DVDs contain the same features
- Clean OPs and EDs animation and songs
- production sketches
- comicaly original copyright warnings (the characters themselves warn agains copyright infringment)
- ADV DVD previews

DVD Features Singapore R3:
- just the TV series.

DVD Value for Money grade:
USA R1: B-
USA Blu Ray: C
Singapore R3: D

Remember back in chemistry you had to mix the various volatile chemicals in the right proportions or it will all go up in smoke? Full Metal Panic is a daring experiment that mixes serious military style action with high school humor and romance with mech battles. Dangerous combination there of serious and light hearted: too serious and the comedy loses its flavor, too comedic and no one would take the show seriously. So many anime have tried mixing genres with less than satisfactory results. Full Metal Panic on the other hand maintains its perfect balance of serious and silly, making for a very unique anime series.

Full Metal Panic takes place i a world not to different from our own. However in that world, there exists "Black technology" and selected special individuals called "The whispered" who possess enhanced cognitive capabilities. This Black technology allowed the mass production of giant humanoid mecha units called "Arm Slaves" which soon fell into the hands of terrorists. A secret organization called "Mithril" was formed to combat this rising threat of and to protect the Whispered from being captured and exploited by the terrorists. Mithril Operative Souske Sagara, only 17 but already a battle hardened soldier, is assigned to protect a newly discovered "Whispered" named Kaname Chidori. Along with his teammate, the wisecracking Kurz Weber and team leader Melissa Mao, Souske enrolls undercover as a student in Kaname's high school. Kaname's seemingly normal life comes crashing down as Souske tries to protect her in the only way he knows how: violently, decisively, like a well trained soldier, even employing some common battlefield strategies usually used to take down armed assailants. Hilarity ensues as Souske, who has only known a life of warfare since birth, tries to integrate himself into "normal" society and to fulfil his mission, much to the chagrin of Kaname. But just as it seems like the story is becoming a typical romantic comedy, a mysterious terrorist organization has discovered Kaname's whereabouts and is out to capture her by any means necessary.

Adapted from a series of novels as opposed to a manga aimed at kids or teenagers, the writing on Full Metal Panic stands out as decidedly more mature than its contemporaries. Every character is fully fleshed out and given a decent amount of development as the series moves along. Even side characters that would usually be just one-dimensional stock archetypes end up rather likable. Central to the story is the excellent chemistry the emotionally suppressed yet tenacious Souske and the hot headed Kaname. Though at first Souske only regards Kaname as a "mission objective" and likewise, Kaname regards Souske as "sergeant Psycho", the two grow closer as they get to know one another. There is definitely a theme of romance yet it is tastefully played out without any of the cheesy mushy stuff.

The way the dialog is written and lends a stronger feel of realism to the entire story. This top notch script, full of wit and charm, is complemented by equally top notch acting. Of particular note is the English voice acting by ADV films which matches the quality of the Japanese track tone for tone. Some of the roles may even come across as more natural in English such as Chris Patton's role of Souske Sagara in which he peppers his dialog with military jargon and maintains a stoic drill sergeant type of tone. There is also a Chinese dub track released in Asian countries but that one is plagued by serious miscasting of roles and a certain lack of actor enthusiasm. All in all, Both the Japanese language track and USA English track are equally enjoyable and sound equally natural.

For a 2002 production, Full Metal Panic is among the better looking ones, yet it has not aged too well despite being so recent. Boasting a beautiful level of art detail and an adequate frame rate animation by GONZO studios, Full Metal Panic's quality gets inconsistent as the series progresses. Badly rendered CGI is thankfully kept to a minimum, used only on a Submarine and some aircraft, but the show has its fair share of obvious cost cutting techniques in the later half, almost as if the production went over budget halfway through. Seen here are two screenshots of the same "Arbalest" mecha. The one o the left is from episode 6, the one on the right is from episode 24. Notice the dramatic drop in detail, the absence of any metallic like sheen and even a change of design.

There is a stark contrast between the animation quality seen in the first episode and the last episode. Quite a disappointment coming from the same studio that produced some awesome animation in Samurai 7 and Afro Samurai.

Animation flaws aside, Full Metal Panic is a rare series that manages to feel as good as some of the best Hollywood blockbusters of all time. This makes it easily accessible to viewers who have not watched anime and is a great series for "newbies" to jump into anime fandom. Two anime sequels, a couple of manga spin offs and a dedicated fan base despite its young age, Full Metal Panic might just end up a modern classic, talked about for years to come.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you love both comedy and science fiction action that is nicely blended and perfectly balanced, jumping between the two different genre seamlessly. Both down-to-earth realistic and humorously unreal at the same time.
Avoid it: if science fiction anime for you has to be dark and depressing, and comedy anime has to involve a harem of girls.

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Characters: A
Animation: B-
Art: B-
Voice work (Japanese): A
Voice work (USA english): A
Voice work (Chinese): C
Replay Value: A
Brains: B-

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