By Hugh David.
One of the all-time great modern Japanese multi-media franchises is finally getting a re-release of its animated incarnation in the UK, which also includes the previously-unreleased and much-anticipated The Second Raid. Full Metal Panic!’s manga adaptation of the best-selling light novel series is a textbook example of how to balance action, romance and comedy in an expert blend of high-school and mecha shows, and the first anime incarnation managed to carry that over brilliantly. In fact, the only thing the production studio, former powerhouse GONZO, really did that noticeably separates the two versions was to extract some of the most comic vignettes and moments, which then later found their way into the spin-off series Full Metal Panic? FUMOFFU! from Kyoto Animation. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here…
You wouldn’t look for an elite anti-terrorist commando undercover in a Japanese high school, would you? Yet Sergeant Sosuke Sagara of the PMC MITHRIL is young enough to take on the role, given he was raised a rebel fighter in an unspecified part of Asia. Eagle-eyed viewers will understand quickly the English-language downplays this part of his background for maximum sales impact in Western Anglo-speaking territories; it’s pretty clear nonetheless that Sagara is a mujhadeen child soldier plucked from his home to work for MITHRIL. Having never been to high school, however, and being far more conversant with piloting mechs and handling firearms than with human interactions of most kinds, hilarity inevitably ensues as he seeks to protect beautiful orphan and Student Council President Kaname Chidori against a very real threat. For Kaname has special powers that make her a prime target for a very special bunch of criminals…
FMP! is arguably Studio Gonzo’s perfect storm: a show that blended modern-day mecha combat, American-style action sequences, high-school comedy and romance with a first-class mix of traditional and CG animation. Every episode ends with some sort of beat that acts as a cliff-hanger of sorts, be it emotional, action-based or a plot twist, engendering the ideal propulsion for binge-watching. Coupled with a first-class English dub and a musical score that nods slyly to The A-Team and you have a show that was as much a gateway for a new generation of Western fans as it was beloved by older ones.
However, some fans of the source material did feel some of the more outrageous humour and fan-service was missing from that first series; cue FMP?FUMOFFU! and its mostly-high-school-focused high-jinks. Then-new studio Kyoto Animation gave the visuals a more traditional, more fun makeover, and turned school mascot giant bear Bonta-kun into an action-comedy hero complete with catch-phrase “Fumoffu!” For those interested this series even included the traditional excuse for fan-service, the beach trip episode.
And then times changed, the industry changed, and FMP! The Second Raid never made it to the UK. Now that it’s finally here fans can see for themselves Kyoto Animation’s take on the darker, action-based tone of the first series, carrying on the main storyline to tell us what happens to all of our beloved characters when faced with the actions of a rival PMC Amalgam and their mechs. It’s been a long wait, but fans will find it’s been worth it, especially to experience all three series in high definition with new extras.
Full Metal Panic! is being released as an Ultimate Edition Blu-ray set including all three season from Anime Ltd. next week.