Blog Archive

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Stories of the Top 80 Anime: Full Metal Panic!

22. Full Metal Panic! is the story of a secret vigilante military organization working to protect the world from various high tech threats. The world is slightly different from our own. The world map has different, though similar, national configurations. Technology has evolved differently, with mechs being the preferred weapon of choice. There's telepathy and stealth cloaking and mysteriously powerful 'lambda drivers.' But there's no point getting hung up on how unrealistic the world is. The world is what it is, different from ours, but with enough similarities to not pose a problem to understand.

The story is about Sagara Sousuke, perhaps the coolest boy in anime, and Chidori Kaname, perhaps the coolest girl in anime. Sagara belongs to this military organization, and has most of his life. He knows nothing but war and military regulations. He conducts his life accordingly, in a cold and efficient manner, always worried about enemies and firing lanes, without a clue when it comes to civilian life. Chidori meanwhile is an ordinary japanese high school girl, without a clue to danger or self defense. She is the target of a terrorist organization for her telepathic powers she herself didn't realize she had, and Sagara is assigned as her bodyguard. The culture shock between their two worlds is the source of endless humor. The realization that they both have valuable perspectives and experiences to impart to each other is the source of much of the plot. Sagara learns to appreciate civilian life, and Chidori learns to appreciate the military and self-defense, how necessary it is to protect the world she used to take for granted. Despite their differences and Sagara's duties that keep them apart, they grow to love each other, and eventually need each other, as the stories continues.

There's a heartbreaking scene when Sagara has been away from Chidori for too long, and no longer even has the will to fight, and simply deserts Mithril, his organization, sick of it all. What's the point of being a do gooder if there's no personal reward? He has to help everyone else, but isn't allowed to help himself, by being with the girl he loves. If that's how it is, he'd rather just become a civilian. Chidori meanwhile realizes how much she's relied on Sagara only once he's gone, both for keeping up her morale, and literally saving her life from continuous vicious terrorists out to get her.

There's a third character vital to the story, Teletha Tessa Testarossa, who is Sagara's commander in Mithril and also is in love with Sagara. Chidori can rightfully fear Tessa as a love rival because A) she's a beautiful, kind, intelligent, brave and moral girl any guy would fall for, especially Sousuke. B) Tessa has more in common with Sagara and has a longer history with him than Chidori does. But Tessa is the one who ends up hurt, because Chidori's magnetic personality did what Tessa never could, unlock Sagara's cool professional exterior and reach his heart. No matter how hard Tessa tries, Sagara will only see her as his commanding officer. But Tessa's existence enriches the story. It's not that Sagara would love just anyone, or that he needed Chidori to take pity on him. He had other options in love. It's that he chose Chidori. That makes a huge difference. It makes his love that much more meaningful and precious. It also means Chidori can't just continuously mistreat him and expect him to serve her like a dog. He can always go elsewhere whenever he wants. Which helps maintain the relationship as between equals. Tessa is a huge help to the couple, even though you'd imagine she's a hindrance.

Full Metal Panic! has everything -- amazing art (Kyoto animation), a sophisticated plot, lovable characters, great voice acting, great music, romance, action, and characters driven to their limits, well outside their comfort zones, forced to learn and adapt. It's also one of the funniest series in anime, never losing track of its light-hearted joy de vivre, despite the glum world its set in. There's only one flaw that keeps Full Metal Panic! down -- it ends in the middle.

More than perhaps any series, Full Metal Panic! is maddening. The anime ends randomly, before Chidori and Sagara really get together as a couple, before Mithril defeats the bad guys of the world and preserves the peace, before anything is really resolved. The light novels, upon which the anime is based, are well beyond the point where the anime has stopped -- 1.5 times as long as the entire segment of the story covered by the anime. Another way of putting it is the anime is only 2/5 of the way through the light novel series. The light novel series of Full Metal Panic! is nearing its end. There's space for 50 or more episodes of new anime to be made out of the Full Metal Panic novels, but nothing is being done.

Maddeningly, one of the best stories ever told, isn't being animated. Why? The anime was popular when it came out. It's selling well in book form. So why has it been abandoned? Why are much less popular, much less interesting stories being animated every season while Full Metal Panic! is ignored? Heads should roll. It's inexcusable for Full Metal Panic to not get the length it needs to tell the fullness of its tale. But so long as Full Metal Panic! is left so woefully incomplete, it can never be a great anime and surpass its competition. It's too short. And Japan is apparently too stupid to notice this, no matter how many years pass. If only animation studios could be forced to animate the shows we want, instead of the shows they want. . .

No comments: