The first two original light novels served as the basis for the first two Full Metal Panic! audiobooks. Considering how old the series is, it can seem strange to evaluate these as a new creation. Now that Full Metal Panic! has been around for twenty-five(!) years, they are practically an institution. I remember this series being the new hotness when the anime hit in the 2000s, so putting that out throws me for a loop. But all those years ago, I never joined the bandwagon, and up until today, I have never participated with it. For me, this is a fresh take on a cherished series, but for most of you, these pieces are nostalgic throwbacks.
It’s understandable why Full Metal Panic! became so popular. Despite several references to more complex geopolitics, the idea is rather accessible. A typical high school prank setup features mechs and a humorous couple in the middle of a large, deadly ball. It is similar to many superheroes and contemporary action-adventure tales in which young heroes must manage their newfound emotions and responsibilities while juggling the rigors of their heroic double lives and their academic obligations. Because of this, it is rather approachable for the majority of audiences from the start. When you combine it with the unique element of our heroes possessing enormous mecha rather than superpowers, it becomes quite appealing.
It’s obvious from these first two volumes that Full Metal Panic!’s great elemental balance was probably what first pulled readers in. Although there is a lot to offer that might satisfy a wide range of preferences, I’m not sure I would classify the series as crowd-pleasers for a wider audience. A few elements of the Cold War political adventure-thriller are present, including technobabble, stompy robots, humorous riffing, exaggerated characters, high school drama, and a will-they-won’t-they narrative. Above all, you never get the impression that one component is dominating the others.
For instance, I usually get a kick out of stories about schools. It’s just not an environment that really appeals to me, to put it mildly. Although I enjoy clichés just as much as the next person, I find that a lot of the conflicts and setups in stories set in schools are too similar. Wizards, mutants, or whatever else you want to throw in, magical school arrangements don’t go far enough from the conventional. Full Metal Panic! never feels overly focused on the educational aspect that I was checked out, even if the majority of the story takes place at Kaname’s high school. The way the many aspects are blended and paced keeps things interesting and avoids going too long on any one topic. I suppose this also appeals to people who might not be like things like the crazy comedic antics, mecha (I have to assume such people exist; I’m surely not one of them), or other components.
Additionally, the mecha element has just the right amount of detail to be interesting without being overbearing. Any kind of stompy bot, from the brightly colored super robots that yell out their attacks to the gritty and realistic real robots that count ammunition and complain about war, is my favorite. Therefore, I really value the careful consideration given to the mecha’s designs, functionality, and other elements. It gives the proceedings an additional degree of authenticity. However, it never gets to the point where it overwhelms other plot points. There are diminishing returns on devotion to copious detail and explanations since, at the end of the day, a big walking robot is not feasible or viable. The mecha details in Full Metal Panic! are thoughtfully considered without being overbearing or an afterthought, adding texture to the story without sacrificing other important aspects like plot advancement and character development.
In addition, the characters in the ensemble are engaging enough to make the experience entertaining. As the main characters, Sousuke and Kaname bear a lot of responsibility, but generally, they accomplish the desired results. Although there are many indications of a love relationship between them, even in these first two volumes, I think their comedic duet is more intriguing. The remaining cast members are one-note, though not always in a bad way. These include mostly Mithril’s supporting cast members, such as Kurz and Mao. All they have to do is carry out their assigned duties. The antagonist of the second novel, Takuma Kugayama, has by far the strongest characterization. Although I’m not sure if he qualifies as sympathetic, he offers a compelling glimpse into Sousuke’s potential. What more could you ask for in a villain? Takuma is intimidating in his mecha and has a heartbreaking finale.
Outstanding vocal performances are also included. Chris Patton and Luci Christian both have pleasant, clear reading voices. Novels with multiple narrators are my favorite kind of releases since it makes the voices more distinct. This breaks up the monotony and aids with my memory of the characters. Additionally, it prevents things from unintentionally becoming humorous, such as when someone is overextended and unable to produce a variety of voices.
Some of the spy thriller parts are, in my opinion, the poorest. It’s difficult to discern if the purpose of these moments is to increase suspense by delighting in Tom Clancy-style pranks or to satirize them. To me, most of these seem a little flat. While some cops are in a room having a conversation, someone makes a dramatic statement, and then someone draws a gun and shoots someone in the head. The scenes don’t seem humorous to me if they’re meant to be satire, and if they are meant to be serious, they seem way too generic.
However, this is a rather little drawback to an otherwise excellent package. Eventually, after missing the Full Metal Panic! train for many years, I had an opportunity to look around and find out what all the excitement was about. And to be really honest? It’s quality content. Though there are occasional hiccups, the whole package is considerably superior to the sum of its parts. It’s understandable why this series became so popular.