This week, I’m reviewing Full Metal Panic!, an action-adventure series available at the Fremont Main and San Lorenzo library branches.

Full Metal Panic! is one of the best of the anime genre that features young men and Full Metal Panic2women piloting giant robots. It’s a well-balanced combination of fish-out-of-water humor set at a Japanese high school, and military action sequences, distinguished by excellent plotting and well-rounded and interesting characters.

Sousuke Sagara is a teen-aged mercenary soldier who’s part of Mithril, a privately-funded anti-terrorism organization in an alternate-universe near-future setting. (In this world, the Soviet Union still exists, but the People’s Republic of China does not, having split into two warring countries, North China and South China.) Originally from an imaginary Central Asian country similar to Afghanistan, Sousuke was a child soldier fighting a Soviet-led invasion, trained as an assassin and sent out into the field at the age of seven. Later on, he was recruited by Mithril, and at 17, he’s both one of Mithril’s youngest members and also one of the most experienced in terms of actual combat.

Full Metal Panic1He and two of his companions are sent to Japan to serve as covert bodyguards for a schoolgirl named Kaname Chidori, who may be one of the Whispered, who are a small group of humans with a mysterious psychic link to advanced (and possibly extraterrestrial) technology.

Because of Sousuke’s age, he’s sent undercover to Kaname’s high school as an exchange student, where he’s definitely a fish out of water. (His commanding officer also seems to think it would do Sousuke some good to experience normal teen-aged life for a while.) At the school, Sousuke endures several weeks of mishaps and misunderstandings, while forging a tentative friendship with the girl he’s been assigned to protect. Meanwhile, leads on Kaname’s possible abduction prove to be mere, untracable rumors.

Finally, Sousuke and his teammates are told their assignment has ended. As a parting gift for a job well-done, Sousuke is granted leave and permitted to join his high-school class’s field trip to tropical Okinawa before resuming his regular duties at Mithril.

When the class plane is hijacked and diverted to another country, Sousuke may be the only one who can save Kaname from becoming the object of experimental testing on Whispered subjects…

Half a high-school comedy, and half a fairly gritty adventure series, Full Metal Panic! is compelling and very well-done.

Given his background, Sousuke is the most interesting of the characters–while at the high school, he appears to be a harmless, somewhat bumbling military nut mostly because he’s forced to pull short and pretend he’s just a regular student time and again. He’s fully aware that the other kids think he’s weird and stupid, and he is becoming more and more miserable with every false alarm.

But once the hijacking begins, he’s free to revert to his real self–a competent, highly-Full Metal Panic3experienced soldier.

Unlike many other action series featuring teen-aged heroes, Sousuke actually *does* kill or seriously-injure people in the course of his job, and the series doesn’t shy away from depicting this.

Kaname Chidori is a strong female character, athletic and no-nonsense and surprisingly cool under pressure. After being kidnapped, she nearly succeeds in freeing herself before Sousuke shows up, and later on, when his rescue mission has gone horribly wrong, her Whispered abilities help save the day. Once she discovers that Sousuke really is more than just a military-obsessed high school kid, she befriends him, and provides him the first taste of a “normal” life he’s ever known. She also finds herself slowly falling in love with him…

Is this series appropriate for your child? FMP is a hard action series that includes bloody violence (one early episode features a man being shot in the head) and sexual innuendo (though nudity is shown only in silhouette and there are no sex scenes). This show is probably most appropriate for older teens.