Over the course of his series, the director mingles storylines focusing on action involving giant robots controlled by human pilots with others in which comedic or romantic themes are dominant. Fortunately, even though none of these narratives are handled in a particularly unique or inventive way, they are nicely realized and well balanced. Consequently, while it is hardly a great program, Full Metal Panic! is enjoyable, nonetheless.
The series' humorous moments, for example, while rarely hilarious, are often charming and are, occasionally, genuinely funny. Most of these revolve around depictions of Sousuke's ineptitude at adapting to life in a Tokyo high school. His obsession with all things military and his resulting inability to understand anything, whether dating, preparations for school events, or Kaname's romantic interest in him, in anything but military terms lead to a variety of complications, the majority of which are likely to keep the viewer engaged with and amused by the story he is being told.
Similarly, the program's action sequences are frequently enjoyable, but are never distinctive. Once a few of the fight scenes have been seen, the viewer is likely to find those that follow repetitious. The struggles with which the series concludes are, however, among its best, and, while often predictable, they do provide several engaging and even thrilling moments.
Despite the presence of such different elements as those noted above, the series is able to accommodate them by remaining fairly loosely structured. In fact, although Full Metal Panic! includes storylines and themes that recur or are developed throughout the series, there is very little sustained narrative over more than a half dozen episodes at a time. The program thus consists of such brief narrative arcs, usually revolving around particular missions on which the characters go, interspersed with a few stand alone episodes.
The characters about whom these various tales are told are generally engaging, although none are brilliantly realized. Sousuke is, perhaps, the least satisfying of any of them, being consistently overdone and frequently annoying. He is depicted as being so fixated on his life in a military organization that he is completely awkward in his social interactions. While these traits are exploited as sources of comedy, as has been noted above, the viewer is never shown more of him, and he remains a caricature throughout the series. Kaname is never really developed either. There are recurring hints that, as a "whispered," there is something unique about her, but relatively little is done to reveal the nature of her gifts. Even the series' final episodes, in which the most is made of her abilities, reveal them only obliquely. The viewer is, consequently, never left feeling he knows what her special talents are. Despite the characters' limitations, most are appealing. In fact, the viewer will probably come to like and sympathize with Sousuke, Kaname, and the others.
Lastly, I should note that the animation of the series is usually well done. The designs of the younger characters, both female and male, are attractive, although those of male characters who are depicted as being dangerous or quirky are less satisfying. Gauron, Sousuke's primary antagonist, for example, bears a remarkable and somewhat unintentionally humorous resemblance to Jack Nicholson. Whatever the failings of some of the character designs, they are not, however, the series greatest visual weakness. The animators falter primarily in their efforts to combine three-dimensional computer animation with cell animation. The two are not smoothly joined, and the disjunction of scenes or parts of scenes created by means of computer animation with the series' usual cell animation is awkward and unattractive.
Despite its faults, Full Metal Panic! is consistently fun. The characters, while shallow, are, nevertheless, likeable and entertaining. The animation is decent and the stories are engaging. The viewer expecting a great work of art will be disappointed, but anyone looking for a pleasant diversion should enjoy the program.
Review by Keith Allen
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