With over a month to go before the third volume of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu hits store shelves in North America, an older Kyoto Animation series flew into my radar screens and earned a place on my anime video shelves. Today the spotlight falls on ADV’s Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu complete DVD collection.
Standard warning: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS.
OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION (from the original DVD blurb)
“THIS TIME, THE BATTLEGROUND IS THE SCHOOL GROUND!”
“High-yield explosives and hilarity come together with a bang as the somber soldier and his unwitting target brave everything from lovesick “terrorists” to an unforgiving teacher who is bent on revenge. But as good as he is with guns, Sousuke is one clueless commando when it comes to girls – especially Kaname! Don’t miss the hilarious antics of everyone’s favorite military maniac – and Jindai High’s most fiery female – as the full-throttle action begins!”
The sturdy DVD slipcase sports bright, colourful illustrations on two sides (as well as the spine). One panel (shown above) features series protagonists Chidori Kaname and Sagara Sousuke, who share space on the other side with most of the recurring characters and the teddy-bear mascot Bonta-kun.
The images are set against a rich blue background that works very nicely with the more varied colours of the character illustrations. All in all, the composition is quite impressive and makes the slipcase highly suitable for shelf display.
The DVD jackets feature Chidori and three other female characters in various poses. Advanced combat equipment + girls in high-school uniforms = total win.
The slick design extends to the back of each DVD case.
Each of the three discs contains four episodes. Standard dialogue options – English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0. English subtitles are supplied by default when the Japanese soundtrack is selected, but these could be turned off using your DVD remote (there’s no subtitle-free option on the disc itself). I have no complaints about the sound quality and the subtitles are generally okay, although a number of brief spoken lines and some fairly prominent inscriptions were left untranslated (which can be quite frustrating at times but, on the whole, does not significantly detract from the viewing experience).
There isn’t much in the way of special features – which is really just my polite way of saying there aren’t any. (Credits and promo trailers for other series obviously don’t count.) Not that I’m complaining, mind. This is a thinpak release after all, and since I ended up getting all twelve episodes for just US$44.99 (not including postage and taxes) instead of paying US$26.99 for each of the four regular-issue DVDs, you won’t catch me shedding tears over anything they might have jettisoned from the original version.
I HAVEN’T SEEN THE FIRST FMP SERIES, SO WHY THE HECK DID I BUY THIS?
Since any foreign DVD purchase constitutes a substantial investment on my part (think of the transoceanic shipping costs and import duties as well as the retail price), I always do a lot of research before I click the “Add to Cart” button. That means raiding blog pages and fan sites, skimming through comments posted by other purchasers, digging up reviews on reputable online information sources – in short, gathering enough data to support an informed decision. This particular acquisition required more research than most because I had never seen a single episode of Full Metal Panic!, the first anime series in the FMP franchise (Fumoffu is the second, although it’s not exactly a “sequel” in the usual sense – more on this later). This naturally meant that I didn’t have a proper background on any the characters or the FMP franchise as a whole, so I created one from scratch by reading the relevant ANN and Wikipedia articles (ignoring any detailed episode summaries, of course) and later working my way through other references, taking care to avoid parts of reviews or write-ups that might contain major spoilers.
Of course, my complete ignorance of Full Metal Panic! was also one of my biggest concerns. It’s only natural to think that one must avoid sequels without having first seen the franchise progenitor, and my initial research revealed that Fumoffu was a successor instead of a fully independent series. But as I dug deeper, I began to form the opinion that while Fumoffu really was a follow-on to something else, it wasn’t a sequel in the usual sense. Consider the following:
Such was the consensus among the sources I consulted, although there was also some agreement that it would still be best to watch the first series before jumping into the second. (For the record, I think they’re right. If you don’t share my aversion to mecha, I strongly suggest that you put Fumoffu on hold until you finish Full Metal Panic!.)
In short: while not completely independent, Fumoffu comes pretty close to being a stand-alone series. I suppose the strongest evidence for this is the fact that after all my research – and after having seen close to half of Fumoffu – I have yet to encounter any major spoilers for Full Metal Panic!. Right now I still don’t know exactly what happened in the first series or how it’s linked to the second. In a way, that’s a good thing: if I ever decide to pick up Full Metal Panic! I can watch it without the fear that key plot points may have already been given away.
The animation quality is top notch (typical Kyoto Animation work – sharp, clean and crisp), although this four-year-old series does show its age in a few places. The Japanese voice actors did a splendid job breathing life into their characters, and here I’d like to cite Seki Tomokazu’s excellent work in particular; his stoic, deadpan delivery truly does justice to the role of the ramrod-straight Sagara Sousuke. Yukino Satsuki also shines in her brilliant performance as the sharp-talking, harisen-wielding heroine Chidori Kaname.
I loved Fumoffu‘s opening theme, even though it showed little of the show’s over-the-top boisterousness. The song’s gentle pacing and light, dulcet tone (well suited for easy listening) was vaguely reminiscent of the OP to Kino no Tabi. The companion animation sequence seemed a bit overloaded here and there, but was quite good overall.
Now for Fumoffu‘s strongest point: humour. The series is practically swimming in laugh-out loud comedy. It jumps out at you from almost anywhere, the gags flying in thick and fast and often with no time wasted on elaborate set ups. I think it’s a real credit to the series that all of its characters have a part to play in creating Fumoffu‘s special brand of humour, although in my view a large chunk of the fun – at least in the first half, which is about as far as I’ve gone as of the moment – is generated by a titanic clash of personalities: namely, Sagara Sousuke against practically everyone else. Take a normal high school where people cope with life in all the usual ways, from writing love letters to engaging in fist fights; throw in a battle-hardened soldier whose solution to just about any problem, big or small, involves some kind of heavy combat weapon – and what you get is a highly volatile mix that’s primed to explode with white-hot hilarity. In this world, Chidori is both a fire bucket and lighted match, with the highly entertaining interplay between her and Sousuke fuelling the fast-paced action that makes Fumoffu such a delight to watch.
Final verdict: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.