Interview: Full Metal Panic's Shoji Gatou and Shiki Doujiby Zac Bertschy and Jacob Chapman,
It's hard to believe it, but 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Shoji Gatoh's beloved, bestselling sci-fi light novel series Full Metal Panic!. The franchise never really settled down over the last two decades - a series of smash hit anime adaptations (by multiple powerhouse studios including Kyoto Animation), manga, and even more light novels have kept the series alive in fans' imaginations, and in April 2018, an all-new anime adaptation debuts: Invisible Victory, based on the most recent novels in the series. We sat down with Gatoh and the franchise's famous illustrator, Shikidouji, to talk about their history of success and what fans might expect to see from the new show.
ANN: So it's been fifteen years since Full Metal Panic! originally aired as an anime. How did Invisible Victory come about, and can you share with us how many light novels it is intended to adapt?
SHOUJI GATOU: So, we're going to be starting--the anime is going to take place from volume 6 and move onwards, and that's about all I can say at the moment.
How much research into military technology and protocol do you do to write the Full Metal Panic! novels? How much did you have to do originally and how much do you do now?
So there's a lot of documentation pertaining to that in Japan as well and the US military is really open about a lot of their protocol and what they let the public access. There are a lot of resources out there if you just know where to look. They go into more detail than the Japan Self-Defense Force.
Yeah, in terms of what they'll show you.
Do you find it difficult to find a balance between realism and fantasy when you're creating futuristic tech like the arm slaves? Is it tough to find that balance between how much of this is plausible and how much of it is total fantasy?
So there are properties like Tetsujin 28 and Mazinger Z. These anime and properties that have been around for a very long time have kind of trained the Japanese audience to be able to accept the fact that there is some reality and some fantasy mixed together. So for me personally it wasn't such a huge leap to create that balance in Full Metal Panic!, as I felt that it was already kind of established.
I've heard that Kaname and Sousuke's designs changed a lot from the original novel's descriptions when you came up with their designs. How did that change? And what were your ideas that made the characters that we know today?
SHIKI DOUJI: When I read the descriptions in the novels, it felt very real. Almost too real, in the sense that the characters were depicted in what felt like extremely militaristic styles and descriptions. Knowing that this was going to be serialized in a magazine geared towards teenagers, I think the demographic wouldn't necessarily have accepted that. They couldn't palate that type of character. So I wanted the teenagers who were going to be reading this to feel that the characters are really cool and relatable. That's why I decided to kind of soften them up and turn them into what we know today, and thankfully Gato-san was kind enough to accept all the design changes I made.
How much do you credit that with the success of the franchise?
GATOU: 50-50 I think seems fair. <laughter>
What do you enjoy most about writing Full Metal Panic!'s comedy and what do you like most about writing the action, and is one of those easier for you to write than the other?
GATOU: So the tougher one is comedy, of the two. In terms of the action segments, again going back to my point previously, there are a lot of resources and military information out there. So once you start filling in those elements the story kind of presents itself.
Do you ever take inspiration from films you're watching, ideas for action scenes, and sort of repurpose them into your story?
What action movies have you seen lately that you really liked?
I feel like recent movies have way too much CG. So dialing the clock backwards a little bit, Die Hard comes to mind in terms of action. Action aside, of the recent movies that I thought was interesting was Deadpool.
A lot of American fans probably have not read past what happens in the Second Raid. What do you think they should look forward to the most from Invisible Victory?
So the situation's going to become really tough and quite grim. Sousuke's going to find himself in some really tight spots, and I think there are going to be some surprises for the audience as well.
Your character designs translate really well to animation, but the visual style of each anime adaptation is different from your art style pretty significantly. Now that you've seen the characters adapted at least in three different ways for animation, between the three of them how do you feel about them and do you have a favorite? How do you feel about seeing your characters adapted?
SHIKI DOUJI: I don't think there's a best per se, because they all have kind of their own unique qualities. I think each studio has their own taste and flavor and areas they specialize in. For example I think Gonzo, the characters look really cool obviously and they have very cool mecha action. With Fumoffu I think they really captured that comedic sense in the movement and the life and the animation of the characters. And in the Second Raid it really had a great balance between all of the elements together. I think part of that is due to the fact that the person who helps translate the design for animation is the same throughout all three iterations despite the studio differences. His name's Horiuchi Osamu and he was with us the whole time. So I think even the next season, it really feels like a continuation of the Second Raid and we kind of kept that balance.
Teaser image for Full Metal Panic!: Invisible Victory, due out April 2018
Looking back to the Second Raid, one of the most shocking moments in that was the return of Gauron. What made you decide to bring him back from the dead and do you remember what the fan reaction was like at the time?
GATOU: I think, as you know, he was basically wiped out, destroyed, in the previous version. So bringing him back as a full human would just not make sense to me. The form in which he returned in the Second Raid, he's missing limbs and is in a very bad state, I think that is almost kind of relatable--it almost feels like he came back as a ghost rather than a human. I wanted to really have our protagonists face almost death, or what lies beyond death, and that was kind of why i wanted to have those two collide again in some form. I think the fans were okay with it especially because of the way he was portrayed and his current disabled state.
SHIKI DOUJI: And he's a very popular character. <laughter>
This is for both of you. Now that almost twenty years have passed since Full Metal Panic! was created, have your feelings on the stories and characters changed at all over time?
SHIKI DOUJI: I don't think it's changed too much.
GATOU: It kind of changed for me, not so much for the protagonists or the younger characters, but the older characters that I had in the original works, because personally my age is kind of closing in on theirs, and it really kind of puts things into perspective and I can start to understand why they think certain ways or do certain things. My perspective kind of changed, especially on the older generation like Mardukas and Kalinin. I didn't think they were that cool in the beginning. <laughter>
Last question - a lot of American fans were really amused by the references to Kanye and 50 Cent and Queen Latifah in Amagi Brilliant Park and really wanted to know if you're a fan of their music?
A: It's the music I listen to frequently, so...I would probably say Kanye West takes the pedestal on this one. But I haven't listened to him recently.
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