This is both a rant AND a review.There is also a spoiler for the later volumes of the novel series.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Full Metal Panic! is a series about a teenage mercenary and the violent girl he's supposed to be protecting, and there are both lots of giant robots AND bathing suits. JAPAN!
Full Metal Panic is a weird amalgamation of Azumanga Daioh, Das Boot,Donny Darko (spoiler for later volumes), and Short Circuit, written by an author who combines the dry reporting style of Hemmingway, the long-term chess maneuvering of J. K. Rowling, and the soul-crushing cycle of thrilling anticipation, utter defeat, and heartbreaking hope common to the works of Joss Whedon.
And Japan should just sell me stuff because WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY MONEY, JAPAN?!WHAT, ARE YOU TOO GOOD TO SELL ME STUFF?!WHAT GIVES?!?!?!
YeahThat's about it.
About two weeks ago, I started really getting excited about going to see Pacific Rim. I mean, come on: giant robots, giant monsters. What is not to love? Well the release date was not to love. You see, the release date was in THE FUTURE. I needed my giant robot fix in THE PRESENT.
Naturally, I turned to one of my old giant robot standbys: Full Metal Panic!
Wait I need to back up a little bit. Before I get to the main thrust of this whole post, I've got to address something that I find incredible and strange about myself. I don't think it's a secret that I love me some fictional characters. (If this is a surprise, you have obviously not been reading all of my posts.) I love them so much that if the conditions are right, I occasionally will cry over the occasional poignant death scene. ("One Rainy Day," a chapter in Lone Wolf and Cub and volume 10 of Trigun, I'm looking at you.) And it's not just because I'm an emotional person. I basically have three emotions: normal, WILDLY ENTHUSED, and asleep. (Also, "One Rainy Day" even made my dad cry, so there.) I love these characters who are not real, have never been real, and will never be real. I wonder about them when I know their story is not complete. I think about why they might have made a decision or how they will react when they get a piece of information that we as the audience know before they do. I think about the plot of the story as a giant chess board and imagine all the pieces converging together, the characters in conflict with their environment, with their opponents, with their own demons.
Again, these characters are not real.
Does anybody ever think about this, and about how weird it is to get attached to not-real people?
Our whole culture is entertained and motivated and inspired by fictional characters. We watch movies about fictional characters. We read books about fictional characters. We adopt the code of ethics of fictional characters who inspire us when we don't have better role models in our own lives. We live vicariously through fictional characters. We might pretend to be fictional characters ourselves while we try to "fake it 'til we make it." Seriously, how many times have I asked myself, "What would Tyler Durden do?" (The answer to these questions are 1. several and 2. blow stuff up.)
I've got internet friends I have never met in real life and in large part, my relationship with these awesome people began because we like to pick apart fictional characters. (I accept that I might get a little "worked up" about things that I care about, and it's just not fair to the people I know in real life to unleash the full Chernobyl force of my enthusiasm at such close range. You really do need a buffer like the internet to diffuse that sort of zeal and excitement.)
How is it possible to love fictional characters so much that even ten years after the first time I watched this stupid anime, I still wondered about the fate of these beloved not-at-all-real people? I DON'T KNOW. IT JUST IS.
Okay. Back to our regularly scheduled geek-out.
I was first introduced to Full Metal Panic! (FMP) through the first anime series about 10 years ago. Let me tell you people something: FMP has got an insanely high degree of mood whiplash. It's really hard to describe. It's like a deconstruction of the magical girl, teenage boy warrior, giant robot, high school romantic comedy, and harem comedy genres, and it brutally eviscerates them all. (It even has its own in-series parody of itself.Now that's fairly abnormal.)The storyteller has his eye on the prize, though, so it's not entirely evident what all these things are going to add up to when just watching the anime.
FMP is a multi-media extravaganza. The main story foundation is the 12-volume YA novel series by Shoji Gatoh. The first three volumes of the novels were adapted to theand later into the . Volumes 4 and 5 of the novels were adapted into theand the second season of the anime called , which consists of 13 episodes.
In addition to the main 12-volume novel series, there are tons of collections of short stories, which mainly focus on the comedic gold that happens when you take a war-hardened veteran in the shape of a 16 year old boy and throw him into a normal high school in Japan. It's ridiculous and hilarious, and since the main novel series gets extremely dark, it's nice that there's a whole reservoir of screwball comedy just for the asking. It's called , which is a fitting title, because the whole series is completely dumb and highly enjoyable, and more or less a parody of the main series. There are no giant robots in this series, just Bonta-kun armor, which is like a giant teddy bear/hamster thing and if I try to explain it, it's just going to make less and less sense.
There are also backstory novels and other manga stuff and an OVA that I haven't even gotten into yet. The point is that there is a lot of FMP to be had. This review is about the 12 volume novel series that I just finished.
Alright, so I started watching the FMP anime series in the early 2000s. The really important thing to know about this is that once I was done with all the anime, I still felt like there was more to the story that I wanted to know. I had no idea that this would end up being a decade long saga to get to the end of this story. Then I found out that Tokyopop was translating the novels into English! OH HAPPY DAY! They translated the first one, and I bought it and loved it! They translated the second, third, and fourth, and I loved those, too! And then they stopped.
AND NOW EVEN THESE BOOKS ARE OUT OF PRINT.
Japan, listen. I don't know what your problem is, but I want to give you my money. You just don't even seem to want it, though. What is this about? This isn't the first time we've had this problem. Remember when I wanted to buy Mr. Assemble and you weren't sending this guy out to America and no toy stores in Japan would mail me one? (I know because I literally called and asked the toy stores if they would send me one.) WHAT IS UP WITH THIS?! WHY IS MY MONEY NO GOOD TO YOU?! WHY DO I HAVE TO READ SCANLATIONS FOR MANGA I WOULD GLEEFULLY BUY FROM YOU, like Dragon Half*, BECAUSE THERE ARE NO ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS?!
Sigh, whatever. Don't translate the novels.
I know that the internet is full of people like me who love fictional characters, so for years I searched for fan translations, finding a few here or there, getting the novels bit by bit, chapter by chapter. There was a pretty steady stream of updates until one of the main translators had her bag with all her translating notes stolen and she just quit. It was a very sad day. I found someone else's website, but the translations were more just notes, they weren't very clear a lot of the time, and it wasn't in the same dry style of the official translations. It was sad. I was sad. I would check back every once in awhile, but I generally had no luck and kind of gave up on my curiosity about the story.
That is, until Pacific Rim reignited my desire for giant robots in my life.
I went and watched the anime series on Youtube and then, on a whim, just decided to look into whether or not the rest of the novels had been translated into English. Sadly, there were no official translations, .
OH HAPPY DAY! AGAIN!
Now, there are always going to be some problems with fan translations. The translations are a weird mix of overt political correctness and naive inclusions of what I would call questionable descriptions of some characters. There is a character in the sixth novel named Sergeant Sandarapta. The translator was unfortunately overzealous with her translation and ended up describing Sandarapta as a "Native American," even though it's pretty clear from his name and the fact that there's an Indian Ocean division of Mithril that he's from the country India, where the inhabitants are actually called Indians. SighAnother translator unfortunately translated the description of a Korean character's eyes as "slanted." I don't know if this is because of the beef between Japan and Korea that has been going on for a loooong time or if this is a vocabulary error by the translator, but either way, it made me sigh and shake my head. NOT COOL, PEOPLE. NOT COOL.
Anyway, for the most part, the translations are very readable, and the last 3 volumes are so well done that they feel just like reading the official English translations.
Now onto the actual review. There's a spoiler in here, so fair warning. DON'T HIGHLIGHT IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT SOME OF THE (MUCH LATER) PLOT ELEMENTS.
Full Metal Panic is a weird amalgamation** of Azumanga Daioh, Das Boot, Donny Darko, and Short Circuit, written by an author who combines the dry reporting style of Hemmingway, the long-term chess maneuvering of J. K. Rowling, and the soul-crushing cycle of thrilling anticipation, utter defeat, and heartbreaking hope common to the works of Joss Whedon.
The military organization feels like a rag-tag team of mercenary misfits. Things go wrong. Equipment breaks. Supplies run out. Almost nothing goes as planned. The silliness of a military nut on a high school campus loses its silliness and eventually has dire consequences. People die. People you care about die. You will feel lied to. You will feel betrayed.
The world of FMP feels lived in. It's a combination of shiny new toys in a near-future that feels familiar and strange all at once. Every now and then, there are power-ups, but for the most part, the good guys are stuck with the equipment they have at the beginning of the story. It starts out all bright and shiny, but towards the end, you're worried if the machines are going to make it through another battle. You started off just accepting the premise of the story because it sounds so zainy it just has to be entertaining, but along the way, the author addresses so many of the things you didn't even realize you were just blindly accepting for the story to work and provides context and asks questions that lead you as the reader to ask more questions. And when you get down to the reason why things are the way they are, it's like a sucker punch. The things you thought the characters were fighting for, hero, villain, it all gets turned upside down. You get to know the characters and what they start out wanting and the people they end up becoming and there is change and growth and responsibility and choice and sadness and loss and victory and triumph and pain.
You are presented with a question: if you could change your life and rid yourself of some of the regrettable actions you've been responsible for over the years, would you make that decision, or would you choose to continue living the life you have now for the hope of what your future could become? Furthermore, is a selfish decision a bad decision? Is thinking about the greater good always right?
Which one would you fight for?
OR, you could just read this for fun because it is for teenagers, after all.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story, and I will admit that during the last chapter, I did end up crying.Hard. It was pretty heavy. If you're a fan of stories where the characters have to struggle and earn their happy endings, then this is seriously a good story for you. Since volumes 1 through 3 are out of print, watch the first season of the anime and then make the jump to the fan translations. It's totally worth it, guys.
Now I need to see Pacific Rim.
* - Dragon Half is a parody of the Sword and Sorcery genre, and it's freaking incredible.There was a 4-episode OVA released at some point in the past, but the manga is where it's at.You should probably download CDisplay to read it, though,.
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