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The Beginner's Guide to Full Metal Panic!

by Theron Martin,

One of the most anticipated sequels of 2018 finally arrives this spring: Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory. As the fourth anime adaptation of the Full Metal Panic! novels (after two main series and a comedy spinoff), Invisible Victory (whose name fittingly abbreviates to IV) promises to pick up exactly where The Second Raid (hereafter TSR) left off. Given that twelve years have passed since the last Full Metal Panic! anime, it's the perfect time to get old fans caught up and introduce new fans to one of the first light novel anime to become a hit before light novel adaptations were cool.

Spoiler Alert: This article contains significant spoilers for Full Metal Panic! and TSR.

The Basics

Full Metal Panic! is set on an alternate version of Earth where the Cold War did not end in 1991, and mecha called Arm Slaves first started to appear on battlefields in the mid-1980s. While this technology has significantly affected global politics, far less well-known is the existence of cryptic Black Technology, which has made things like invisibility screens, giant stealth submarines, and even drivers capable of converting their thoughts into energy possible. Fewer still know that the source of this arcane technology is the Whispered, individuals born with an intimate understanding of technology that far exceeds the average human. This rare trait makes Whispered individuals very valuable.

Within this world, a secret paramilitary organization known as Mithril has developed. Mithril is not beholden to any nation, instead employing mercenaries of all nationalities to fight with equipment that's a decade or more beyond anything else in the world. They secretly act to ensure global stability, from taking out drug factories to dealing with terrorists and so forth. They also seek to protect the Whispered from those who would exploit them, which is what leads our two protagonists' paths to cross. Meanwhile, a terrorist organization known as Amalgam that's become a match for Mithril in technology acquisition has been making insidious moves behind the scenes.

The Major Players

Though there are numerous important supporting characters in the franchise who provide comic relief and turn the tide of specific plot arcs, these are all the most important members of the cast to remember.

Kaname Chidori: She's the student council vice president and her class representative at Jindai Municipal High School. She lives alone while her father and younger sister travel in America, so she's become very take-charge and self-sufficient, not to mention a star athlete and an idol of her school. But initially unbeknownst to her, she's also one of the Whispered, with a knack for connecting with mecha, leading her to come into contact with Mithril and Amalgam. She initially finds Sousuke interesting, even though he exasperates her with his myopic behavior and disruptive habits. She gradually comes to trust and even fall in love with him.

Sousuke Sagara: Though Japanese by ethnicity, teenage soldier Sousuke has lived most of his life in one war-torn region or another. Military life has become so deeply ingrained in how he thinks and acts that he's considered a “professional's professional” by his peers. However, his inability to turn off his military mindset also causes all kinds of problems and misunderstandings when casually dealing with normal people. He's an Arm Slave specialist, but ended up being assigned to attend high school undercover in order to protect Kaname. Though he never openly admits his feelings on anything, Sousuke clearly comes to think of Kaname as more than just an assignment, and he eventually does the unthinkable (for him) by prioritizing her over his duty.

Teletha “Tessa” Testerossa: She is the teenage Captain of the Tuatha de Danaan, the Mithril stealth submarine on which Sousuke's unit is based. Though physically clumsy, she's both a Whispered and a mathematical genius, having designed both the submarine and its AI. She develops a crush on Sousuke after they work closely together on an early mission, and harbors an equally friendly and combative relationship with Sousuke's squad leader, Melissa Mao. She is adored and idolized by her loyal crew.

Andrei Serqeivitch Kalinin: The Lieutenant Commander is an older Russian man, both Sousuke's commanding officer and Tessa's Operations Director. He is a widower who's known Sousuke since he was a child, from before either of them joined Mithril, initially enemies on the battlefield who then became allies. He also shares Sousuke's hatred for their nemesis, Gauron. As a fun aside, Kalinin apparently has no taste buds, so he was unable to recognize when his wife was deliberately cooking badly to punish him for his duty-related absences.

Gauron: This arrogant psychopath and sadistic schemer is the arch-nemesis of both Sousuke and Kalinin, the main antagonist of the first TV series. Even after being "killed" several times, he's repeatedly proven to be a resilient fellow, only dying once and for all near the end of TSR after Sousuke discovered him bedridden from past injuries. He was revealed to be affiliated with the terrorist organization Amalgam before goading Sousuke into finally shooting him dead, causing his hideout to explode and almost take Sousuke down with him.

Leonard Testarossa: Though only barely mentioned in the original series, Tessa's older twin brother plays a significant role in TSR, which will lead to him being one of the main antagonists in Invisible Victory. He is also a Whispered, and even more of a genius than Tessa. He took an active interest in Kaname after seeing her resilience under duress in TSR, to the point of killing his subordinate who was threatening to step beyond her orders and kill Kaname.

Gates: This unreliable lunatic and sexual deviant is one of Amalgam's top agents. While he can be as much of a danger to his allies as his enemies, Gates is still a fierce opponent with a full command of the Lambda Driver (Black Technology that translates willpower into firepower) and a brilliant tactical acumen. He serves as the primary antagonist of TSR before being killed by Sousuke at the end of the series.

The Franchise

The original light novel series consists of 12 volumes published from 1998 through 2010. Nine short story collections and two side story collections were also published, consisting mostly of lighthearted vignettes outside the scope of the military drama. A follow-up novel series, Full Metal Panic! Another, was published in a dozen volumes from 2011 through 2016, taking place years after the events of the main series, but it won't be relevant to the main anime adaptations. Multiple manga series have also been published, along with a radio drama that adapted most of novel #6. The anime adaptations prior to Invisible Victory cover 50 episodes total across three TV series.

Full Metal Panic!

This series was animated by Gonzo Digimation in 2002 and adapts the first three light novels. It follows four major story arcs over 24 episodes, with some lighthearted episodes in between major events. The first arc involves Sousuke and Kaname meeting and eventually bonding when Gauron hijacks the plane carrying Kaname's school trip, an event whose real goal is to kidnap Kaname on suspicion of being a Whispered. The second arc concerns Tessa and Kalinin monitoring the activities of a terrorist organization who intend to unleash an AS behemoth on the world, with Kaname and Sousuke entering the mix when Tessa hides out at Sousuke's apartment. The third arc concerns Sousuke going on a mission to Helmajistan, in a dramatic plot involving both nuclear weapons and Gauron (but not Kaname this time). The fourth arc involves Kaname's visit to a Mithril base with Sousuke, where they're soon caught up in yet another scheme by Gauron as he takes over the Tuatha de Danaan.

Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu

This 12 episode series from 2003 adapts many of FMP's comedic short stories, so it doesn't cover any integral parts of the main storyline. It's still highly recommended viewing for any franchise fan, held up as one of the funniest and best-animated comedy anime of the 2000s. (My personal favorite vignette is probably the one with the rugby team.) It is also noteworthy for being the first full anime series produced by Kyoto Animation, putting the company on the map for their rise to prominence that followed.

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid

This 13 episode series from 2005 was also animated by Kyoto Animation, following Fumoffu's successful run. It adapts the fourth and fifth light novels at a much faster pace, making it both the most serious and most graphically violent entry in Full Metal Panic! so far. It details the struggles of Mithril against Amalgam more intensively, while Sousuke struggles to find a balance between his duties and developing relationship with Kaname. This part of the story also brings Leonard Testarossa and the upper command structure of Mithril into the picture for the first time.

A Relatively Leisurely Day in the Life of a Fleet Captain

This OVA episode, which was released in 2006, is ostensibly a follow-up to TSR, but its tone is more in line with the silliness of Fumoffu. It details Tessa's efforts to figure out how she wound up asleep half-naked on the bridge of the Tuatha de Danaan and the various personality quirks she discovers about her crew members in the process. It's a very funny side story that should not be missed by franchise fans.

What Comes Next

Seven volumes of the light novels remain to be adapted. The author Shoji Gatoh stated in an ANN interview last summer that the new series would begin with volume 6, and many fans are hoping that the full story will be animated this time. With some corner-cutting, this could probably be accomplished in a two-cour run, and since the length of Invisible Victory has not been announced, that's an entirely feasible possibility. All we know for sure is that the story will continue down the darker direction established by TSR, secrets left hanging from previous series will finally be addressed, and at least one side character who only appeared in Fumoffu before (Jindai's student council president) will be making his debut in the main story. That's definitely enough to whet the appetite of long-time franchise fans like me. With any luck, this long-awaited return will bring fans of Full Metal Panic! back together after a decade of patience.

So what do you think about Full Metal Panic!'s return? Let us know in the forums what you're most looking forward to from Kaname and Sousuke's new adventures!

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