The series starts by introducing Kaname Chidori, a seemingly normal high school girl who is actually a “Whispered” — someone with intuitive knowledge of military secrets and, as we find out later in the series, some unusual abilities. We also meet Sagara Sousuke, a teenaged soldier in an elite mercenary organization called Mithril. Mithril spends the better part of its time thwarting terrorist operations and seeking out Whispered candidates in order to protect them from those who would use their powers and knowledge for evil. The main storyline in FMP follows Sousuke as he is sent undercover to protect Chidori, his guise being that of a transfer student to her school.
Now bear with me, because I actually didn’t mind this horribly contrived setup — as far as fun, action-packed drama is concerned, this had lots of potential, and the first third of the series delivers wonderfully. It has everything — action, romance, humor, suspense, the works, and while it’s cliche and predictable at the best of times, it never fails to be entertaining.
After the first arc though, things start to go off the rails. And really, the very fact that I’m speaking of “arcs” in a 24-episode series is problematic in itself. The series is divided into three very uneven story arcs, the middle of which is basically completely useless as far as contributing to any overarching plot. And there are a few filler episodes as well, one of which (episode 14, in case anyone is wondering) goes down as one of the most cringingly awkward 20-something minutes of anime that I’ve ever watched, although that’s not saying much given the relatively small list of anime I’ve viewed, and I’m sure there are much worse out there.
But this kind of ends up being The Big Problem with FMP — the series is so all over the map in terms of its tone and storyline that I don’t really know how to evaluate it fairly. Is it a comedy? A romance? A drama? Action? I have no idea what FMP is trying to be, and while there’s no foul for integrating all of these elements, failing to commit to one or two makes for a messy viewer experience. This is exacerbated by disjointed storytelling which leaves out important plot points and time references, and characters that are unbelievable enough to require the anime to hand-hold the viewer through its thought process (which it rarely does).
For example, who would you peg to be the leader of a secretive mercenary military organization who has access to bleeding-edge weapons technology and a battalion of armored mechs? Surely a decisive, hardened war veteran in his or her 40s or 50s, right? Not a soft-spoken, angel-faced 16-year old girl, right? Right?
WELL YOU’D BE WRONG.
And, okay, I get it, it makes for an interesting dynamic (plus she has a cool name) and allows for the inevitable love triangle to rear its three-pointed head; and in any case let’s face it, we’re not exactly in real-world simulation territory here. Even so, you’d expect, at some point, that this mystery would be clarified, but noooooope, and you better get used to FMP‘s big fat middle finger because it’s pretty much what you get with any question about why any of these characters do anything, ever.
Case in point: Sousuke bringing military-grade weapons to school with him on his first day and the teacher looking at him like “Oh ha ha new kid you can’t bring weapon replicas to school”. Like…I’m sorry, but I have trouble believing that even back in 2002 Japanese schools would have allowed that without expelling the bejeezus out of the kid. The thing is, something like this would have been fine if FMP decided to go the comedy route (and thankfully, we got FMP: Fumoffu? which does exactly this), but it didn’t, not fully, so we’re left with these completely over-the-top-not-believable-in-the-least situations that are never satisfactorily explained or extrapolated upon, and that make no sense within the ultimately too self-serious universe that FMP settles on.
There are just so many of these instances. So many more times where I asked “Why?” only to never get an answer. So many times when suspension of disbelief was the norm, rather than the exception. So many times when I rolled my eyes at the sheer idiocy on display, and probably strained my optic nerve in the process.
Besides this, FMP stands in stark contrast to the last anime I reviewed, Ping Pong, which may explain some of my disappointment. The distinction between good and evil in FMP could not be clearer, to the point of boredom. The main villain in this series is as comically paint-by-numbers evil as it’s possible to get, allowing no sympathy or humanity to enter his palette. And while that makes it easy for the viewer to get behind the good guy, it’s a lot less interesting to do so.
And everything you’re expecting will appear — the narrow escapes, the did-he-die-oh-nope-he-didn’t moments, the bursting-through-the-door-to-save-the-damsel(s)-in-distress…it has it all. And this could be fun if it weren’t so black and white, but it is, and after the 3rd time it just loses its luster. Sousuke’s an inarguably good, moral guy, as is everyone on “his side”, and is always there to save the day. Always. No matter what. Period. Conversely, the antagonist is painted with a purely black brush, and while this kind of persona does fit his role as a terrorist, it’s never entirely clear why he is this way, or why he’s after the things that he’s after. He’s evil for the sake of being evil, i.e. for the sake of having a story at all. He feels like a plot device, rather than a character worth fearing, and that’s about as scathing a thing I can say about a fictitious villain, so I’ll leave it at that.
My disdain for this series should be evident by now, and were it not for a few saving graces I’d continue to prattle on about its deficiencies. I can’t promise I’m done with that altogether, but let’s turn to one area in which the series is perfectly competent: The animation. Although it has a somewhat generic look to it, I’ve always liked the animation in FMP, having become quite familiar with it through AMVs. I think it’s aged well and while there are some anime from the same time period that look terrible today, FMP isn’t one of them. Character designs are quite good, at least for the three main characters, and the careful and limited use of CGI is tasteful and appropriate. This is a series that could have gone waaaay overboard with bad CGI, but chose restraint instead and the times it is integrated, it’s integrated very well.
The sound design is all fine and not really worth mentioning as anything particularly good or bad, so I won’t spend any more time on it. I don’t think it was something that really helped or hurt the anime in any way.
And like I said earlier, the first seven-ish episodes are quite good, or at least worth watching. There’s a fine balance between all the different elements that get so out-of-whack later on, and the story is intriguing, exciting, and just plain fun. It sucked me in enough to stick it out for the full 24 episode run, but that’s about the highest praise I can give the story; once that arc ends, everything just kind of falls apart.
And it’s a huge disappointment, to be honest, because it hits all the right buttons in its first third. But nothing stays in sync after that; it gets so bad that there’s a moment, in episode 23, where an American submarine captain fires a torpedo at a Japanese sub. The captain, of course, speaks Japanese, and in the middle of him giving his orders to his subordinates, he yells out (in English, but a with a heavy Japanese accent) “Remember Pearl Harbor!!” It stood out to me as one of the most confusing moments in the entire anime. Under the right circumstances, this could have come across as pointed satire, but given that nothing intentionally funny had happened in several episodes, it really just felt tasteless, misplaced, and vaguely insulting.
This isn’t the worst anime I’ve ever seen, but it’s down there. The best that can be said for it is that it spawned both Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu? and Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, both of which are shining examples of what this series could have been. Fumoffu? is an entirely self-aware comedy series that goes over-the-top in everything, and chooses to ignore (or outright mock) any attempt at seriousness that might appear. The Second Raid shows what FMP could have been had it stopped trying to be a jack-of-all-trades and instead focused in on drama and suspense, and cut the comedy element out almost completely. They’re so good, in fact (especially The Second Raid), that FMP is more than worth watching to get to them. These sequels just proved to me what I knew after the first few episodes of FMP: In the right hands, and under the right guidance, it could have been exceptional. Sadly, it stretches itself much too thin and all we’re left with is a shallow pool of halfhearted attempts to be everything to everyone, and it ends up a failure from almost every angle.
Personal value: 5/10