DRAWN & QUARTERED
High school dramas meet military exploits
"Full Metal Panic" pairs unlikely worlds
The "Full Metal Panic" franchise is one of those franchises that really ought to be suffering from a massive identity crisis.
Sorting out the 'Full Metal' timeline
Dates when each "Full Metal Panic" series was released in Japan, along with the U.S. publishers of each series. There are also 10 short story collections and the "Full Metal Panic: Sigma" manga series, which have yet to be licensed for American release:
» "Full Metal Panic" novels: 1998 to present (nine to date; first volume released by Tokyopop)
» "Full Metal Panic" manga: 2000 to 2005 (nine volumes, available from ADV Manga)
» "Full Metal Panic: Overload": 2001 to 2003 (five volumes, available from ADV Manga)
» "Full Metal Panic" anime: Jan. 8 to June 18, 2002 (24 episodes, available from ADV Films)
» "Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu": Aug. 26 to Nov. 18, 2003 (13 episodes, available from ADV Films)
» "Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid": July 6 to Oct. 19, 2005 (13 episodes, available from Funimation)
A fish-out-of-water comedy with undercurrents of romance set at a high school? Fine. A high-intensity drama filled with political intrigue, shadowy conspiracies and battles among giant mechanical suits? That would certainly be nice. But both of them set in the same fictional universe? That's a difficult combination to pull off.
Yet Shouji Gatou managed to do just that, starting with his first "Full Metal Panic" novel released in 1998 in Japan and subsequently expanding to a second novel series, two manga series and three anime series -- all of which have differing degrees of comedy and drama.
The common thread throughout these series remains constant: High school student Kaname Chidori finds her life turned upside down, inside out and tugged in several directions at once when Sgt. Sousuke Sagara is assigned to guard her. Since Sousuke has been a military mastermind from an early age and is the same age as Kaname, he's the perfect person to infiltrate the halls of Jindai High School posing as a high school student.
Just because he can pass off as a student, though, doesn't necessarily mean he has the social graces necessary to be a student. Military life has been his only life, after all. So when anything comes close to maybe, possibly, perhaps threatening Kaname, it's time for Sousuke to spring into action.
Say, for instance, some love-struck guy decides to leave a note in Kaname's shoe locker confessing his love for her. Most people would just open their lockers and read the note. More suspicious people might call school authorities. Sousuke would note that the locker had been tampered with, rig up a few explosives and blow up the shoe lockers, just in case there really was something dangerous.
This would drive most normal girls crazy. Fortunately, Kaname often holds her own in her attempts to keep Sousuke in line, usually with a beat-down that would make even the most battle-hardened soldier cringe.
Yet there is a method behind all this madness. Unbeknownst to Kaname, she is actually a Whispered, a person with the unique genetic ability to unlock military tech secrets more powerful than anyone could possibly fathom. Anyone could tap into those powers for good or, as is usually the case with terrorist megalomaniacs out to conquer the world, for evil. It's up to Mithril, a secretive paramilitary group that specializes in resolving regional conflicts, to ensure that any Whispereds are protected -- which is why Sousuke, along with backups Melissa Mao and Kurz Weber, were sent to watch over Kaname.
While the story concept might be simple enough to follow, figuring out how to go about following it gets a bit complex. ADV Films has the original "Full Metal Panic" and "Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu" anime. ADV Manga has the original "Full Metal Panic" and "Full Metal Panic: Overload" manga. Funimation has the "Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid" anime. Tokyopop just released the first "Full Metal Panic" novel, "Fighting Boy Meets Girl," with plans to release the second one next year. All of them have different blends of comedy and drama.
COMPLICATING matters stateside even further is that other popular series with the words "full" and "metal" in its title, "Fullmetal Alchemist," which is completely unrelated but could easily trip up the uninitiated customer looking for DVDs or manga at the store. For the record, "Fullmetal Alchemist" is the one featuring two brothers, alchemy and their quest to restore themselves; "Full Metal Panic" is the one with the boy protecting the girl.
Those who prefer more action and drama will want to check out the novel and the "Full Metal Panic" and "Second Raid" anime first. Both anime series largely follow the plots of the first five novels released in Japan, which means there's a good amount of character development, and delve into the inner military maneuverings of Mithril and its enemies. Sure, there are a few humorous stand-alone episodes here and there, but for the most part the tone is serious. The activities of Gauron, a terrorist who serves as Sousuke's most formidable enemy, get a fair amount of play here, as does the developing love triangle among Sousuke, Kaname and submarine captain Teletha "Tessa" Testarossa.
It should also be noted that "Second Raid," as the title suggests, should be watched after the first series; it assumes the audience has some knowledge of the characters and situations and starts off right in the middle of the action, with only cursory glimpses at what went before.
The most well-balanced series in the franchise is the original "Full Metal Panic" manga. While it covers much of the same dramatic ground that the first anime covers, there are also lengthy stretches that show the more humorous side of the Sousuke/Kaname relationship. Several scenarios from the manga are animated in "Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu," a series that has a decidedly lighter tone than the other two anime series.
As for "Full Metal Panic: Overload" ... well, the subtitle is certainly appropriate. It reads like "Fumoffu" with an extra-heavy dose of caffeine, humor for people who like their comedy extra-zany, with wide-eyed double takes and explosions every few pages. Franchise completists and the curious might enjoy looking at it, but it's not an essential part of the series canon.