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"Full Metal Panic" Or, A Military Otaku's Dream

When I picked up Full Metal Panic I was expecting another generic giant robot series. Some knockoff of Gundam, Voltron, or the like. What I got instead is an expert combination of comedy, drama, and sci-fi mixed with an extensive knowledge of real military hardware and tactics.

In Full Metal Panic Sousuke's always at the center of things.The setting of Full Metal Panic is present day Earth. Well, present day Earth except with bipedal mechanized combat suits called “Armored Slaves,” usually referred to as “Arm Slaves” or “A.S.”

Watching the beautifully animated combat sequence that serves as an introduction to the series, I immediately realized the level of detail and accuracy was going to be more impressive than I’d expected. In the first scene, an anti-vehicle rocket flies just as a real wire-guided anti-tank munition would, spooling out a wire until it is detonated in a downward shaped blast. Shortly after that, we get our first look at how the mecha fit into this world as protagonist Sgt. Sousuke Sagara and his M9 Gernsback Arm Slave throw to the ground the Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter that fired the rocket.

Sousuke is about 16 years old, and he’s already a supersoldier who has fought all over the world. But his overdeveloped martial skills have stunted his normal “ways of the teenager,” which leads to most of the humor in the series. There’s also his squad leader, Sgt. Major Melissa Mao, his best friend and womanizing sniper: Sgt. Kurz Weber, and their boss, Lt. Cmdr. Andrey Kalinin. They all work for MITHRIL, an organization that does good deeds and fights international terrorists, though its motivation for doing so is not clear.

The ARX-7 ArbalestThe primary plot of the series revolves around Sousuke’s assignment to go undercover as a high school student to protect Kaname Chidori, a pretty Japanese high school girl who is unaware of the fact that she is the target of various terrorists who want the knowledge that is hidden within her mind. Thrown into a high school for the first time in his life, Sousuke naturally makes a few tactical errors such as: using smoke grenades to hide unauthorized use of the faculty copier, bringing automatic assault weapons to school, drawing his sidearm and tackling a teacher when a girl shouts “Boo,” and attempting to follow Kaname without her knowing it.

Unfortunately for Sousuke, he is so obvious that during the first several episodes Kaname thinks that he is just a really stupid stalker, and a series of unlikely events ending with Sousuke on Kaname’s balcony holding a pair of her panties does little to better that impression. At that particular moment all the military skills in the world can’t save Sousuke from Kana’s “righteous fury of womanhood.”

While the comedy is reason enough to watch this series, it is really only there to balance out the darker war and combat scenes. And the story does turn dark soon enough: when Gauron, a man Sousuke attempted to kill a decade ago returns to kidnap Kaname and people start dying. Sousuke’s mission gradually escalates as criminals and corrupt governments fight to capture her using more and more advanced and deadly means. Likewise, Sousuke must learn to use MITHRIL’s own advanced weapon system: the experimental ARX-7 Arbalest.

The drama really kicks in with a side story where Sousuke is sent to his homeland to assist a normal combat team in killing Gauron. With camaraderie reminiscent of “Band of Brothers,” this story is intense and at times heart-wrenching. We see how Sousuke lived as a child growing up in a war zone and can’t help but wonder how he turned out as he did. The intensity continues to build even after this side trip, as the climax to the series approaches.

The Tuatha de Dannan AKA The ToyboxThe story and characters are excellent, but the thing that pushed it over the top for me is the realism. In Full Metal Panic, things fall realistically when they are dropped. Tracers are pulled down by gravity. Guns run out of ammunition and need to be reloaded. When real weapons appear, like HK’s UMP .45, US Navy Ticonderoga-class cruisers, US Navy Los Angeles-class submarines, ADCAP torpedoes, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, or AV-8B Harrier jets, they are amazingly accurate in their detail. Even when they only appear for seconds at a time, such as the cruiser, the detail is perfect. Even with most of the fictional weapons, such as the Arm Slaves, the creators based them on existing styles of weapons design. Most obvious is the Rk-92 Savage: the “Soviet Arm Slave.”

The coup de grace, though, is the Tuatha de Dannan. This 100% 3D ship shows just how far Gonzo has come. This is Blue Submarine No. 6 taken to a whole new level. The military otaku in me wants to point out that with the Tuatha de Dannan, we see more than ever that the series creators truly do have a good understanding of military ships. The Tuatha de Dannan is part submarine and part LHD assault carrier. Its ability to surface and open up a hangar deck and runway combined with its compliment of Harrier jump-jets, helicopters, Arm Slaves (and A.S. delivery systems), special forces, vertical launch cruise missiles, torpedo tubes, and countermeasures make this fictional ship something I wish really existed.

Jane's Arm Slave Recognition Guide... an Easter egg for the true Military OtakuBut I won’t expose normal people to such a rave. Needless to say, I got a kick out of their realistic depiction of “Jane’s Arm Slave guide” (For non-military otaku, “Jane’s” is the preeminent publishing company for military equipment reference and defense industry news in the real world).

Put simply, the love the artists put into this show is obvious. The characters are human, if a bit unbalanced. The story is fun at times and intense at others. Now that ADV has made it available on the cheap as part of the Full Metal Panic Complete Collection, a thin pack seven-disc DVD set released on April 20th, I recommend it to anyone that likes realistic sci-fi-comedy-action-drama.

Heck, with all those genres involved I’d recommend it to anyone that likes a good story.

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