Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu Anime Review
Furumetaru Panikku? Fumoffu
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
US Release By
High School Paramilitary Comedy
12 25-minute episodes
2003-08-25 to 2003-11-18
The Full Metal Panic gang is back in school and making more trouble than ever. Although things have settled down to a "normal" life, between Sosuke's misguided (and usually highly destructive) attempts at keeping the school grounds safe at the behest of the mysterious student council, Chidori doing her best to smack Sosuke into something resembling a normal human being, and the rest of their wild and wacky classmates going about their business, every day is a new self-inflicted adventure.
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Fumoffu is Full Metal Panic done differently, and in my opinion done right. This direct sequel to the first two seasons forsakes any pretense of drama and throws itself full-on into the chaos that Sosuke's brutally efficient take on a wide variety of classic schoolyard situations begs to unleash. It may do nothing to explain the wide-open storyline, but Fumoffu's willingness to take situations one step too far, its absolutely dead-on comedic timing, and a growing cast of wacky characters is an effective recipe for hilarity. The amazing Japanese voice cast ties it all together, and the visuals, though a step down from the original, are still more than adequate.
Be prepared for a disappointing lack of any explanation of the mysteries of MITHRIL and the Whispered, but by focusing on the humor I thought was the original's strong point, this sequel serves up a bust-a-gut funny chunk of anime.
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Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu is a pure-comedy follow-up to the genre-mixing original series. It might lack the drama and edge of its predecessor, but it's far more successful at tapping the premise and collection of lively and likable characters. The result is an absolutely hilarious entry in the "wacky high school" genre spiced up with an extra little mean-spirited kick.
Though it's not obvious until well into the series, Fumoffu is a direct sequel to the previous Full Metal Panic, taking place shortly after the big denouement, once Sosuke and Chidori have returned to school. There's no establishment whatsoever, so people not already familiar with the story may be a bit disoriented, and even those who've seen the first series might take a bit to get their footing in this lighter, high-energy take on the scenario. But, once it gets rolling, it develops a comfortable rhythm.
If you're interested in comparisons, Fumoffu takes the liveliest of the "normalcy redefined" episodes of the original series, kicks up the humor and wacky schoolyard antics a notch, and makes a quality anime comedy out of it. Though it's noticeably sillier, the plot does basically fit (including starting right off with Chidori's beleaguered acceptance of Sosuke's weird ways). Sosuke's slight progress in being "normal" is reset, though, leaving him particularly nutty for the first half of the series.
I much prefer Fumoffu to the previous two-season run of Full Metal Panic, and it works even better as a light follow-up. It does lose some bite by cutting out the darker episodes, and with them any thread of menace or consistent plot. But, since I thought the downtime episodes were where the original was at its best, a series made up entirely of them without bogging down in uneven drama is just what the doctor ordered.
That's it for the comparisons.
The formula for Fumoffu is simple: Take a wide variety of generic anime situations, apply Sosuke's ice-cold tactician's eye to them--from schoolyard challenges to haunted houses--and watch the chaos ensue. A simple formula, but man, does it work.
You know you've always wanted to see the good guy do anything it takes to win, and Sosuke delivers. Just pull a gun on that thug in the street or lob a grenade at the challenger in an honorable duel--no warning, no mercy. Efficient, unexpectedly expected, and bust-a-gut funny.
Original or unpredictable, Fumoffu is not--part of what makes Sosuke so funny is that you can see exactly how his methodical, if disturbed, mind works. And it does just enough to keep the already funny premise consistently fresh: Take a series of sufficiently wacky anime standbys with a military twist, slip in a few random parodies, drag it into the occasional just-plain-wrong situation, put it all together with laugh-a-minute pacing and an absolutely spot-on sense of timing, and hilarity is almost assured.
What really pushes Fumoffu from ha-ha to gasping for breath, though, is its willingness to take things that extra step too far. Most episodes build to a climax outrageous enough to satisfy even jaded wacky-anime-humor fans, and on a few occasions it tosses in things that left me thinking "They did not just do that." And, despite a bit of sweet romance buried in there, it never lets cheesy sentiment get away un-mocked.
One thing not to look for in Fumoffu is much in the way of plot; there is almost no drama, or even any ongoing story to speak of. Just a series of wacky misadventures, one to two per episode (almost all spurred by Sosuke's wild misinterpretations of everyday events or anime-standard cliches). Fumoffu does do very well with small tie-ins, however. Once introduced, even minor characters often reappear, and there are enough references to past events to give the feeling that it's all tied together, even though it's almost entirely episodic in construction.
On that note, the series isn't completely without closure; the final episode provides a slightly more dramatic framework that allows for a bit of character development. Of course, it also ends with what may be the single funniest closing line in anime history.1
The other area where Fumoffu shines is the characters. Anyone who's seen the first series knows that Sosuke, as annoying as his single-mindedness can be, is likable and very funny for his unswerving sense of purpose and straight-faced responses to Chidori's (justified) tirades. He's even better when his icy demeanor starts to frazzle under pressure, which it does frequently here--something we weren't treated to in the original series.
Chidori is a great take on the lively schoolgirl, by turns cheerfully accepting of Sosuke's weirdness, cringing in shame at it, trying to beat him into shape, or just weakly giving in when she's had too much. Spunky, ornery, practical, and never afraid to dish out a good beating or a sweet smile when required, she alone could nearly carry the series.
Backing up this pair are a variety of fun minor players. There are all the familiar faces, including brief appearances by Mao and Kurtz, plus a visit by Captain Testarossa playing high-school girl while on shore leave. There are also plenty of new folks, like a misogynistic, near-sighted karate champ, a psychotic cop who'll remind you of a certain Arresting officer, a spineless rugby club begging to be whipped into shape, and the too-quick-to-back-Souske student council. Lots of fun to be had, and plenty of amusing little interactions between the various folks wandering around the school.
Visually, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu doesn't have quite the polish and flair of the original series, but the character art and animation are almost as good (which is to say very good). The somewhat lower (but still decent) budget is spent where it counts, leaving no noticeable weak points in the fast-paced animation. Most worth looking for are Chidori's never-ending range of expressions and body language, and perfect visual timing on a variety of throwaway gags.
The acting in Japanese, with the original cast reprising their roles, would be hard to find fault with. The variety of characters are cast perfectly and voiced distinctively, with the deadpan humor and dead-on timing deserving as much credit as the continuous histrionics. Top mentions go again to Chidori, voiced with personality, spunk, and a genuine undertone by Satsuki Yukino, and Tomokazu Seki's Sosuke, for his militaristic vigor and perpetually deadpan delivery.
The music, aside from the pleasant but unremarkable opening and end themes, deserves a nod as well--Toshihiko Sahashi's score doesn't stand out, but cheesy orchestral swells back up the drama-gone-wrong, and there are some funky little pieces to accompany the quirkier scenes.
All in all, Fumoffu is Full Metal Panic done differently, and in my opinion done right. It sacrifices drama for humor, combining wacky anime gags and situation comedy with a variety of great characters. And it successfully gives old standbys an infusion of originality with Sosuke's brutal practicality and unswervingly logical methods. The results are a bit juvenile at times, but also very, very funny. Not every episode is perfect, and it won't be to everyone's taste, but once it gets rolling it's a heckuva ride for as long as it lasts, which isn't long enough to get wearing.
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The schoolyard craziness is probably most reminiscent of GTO, though a variety of other series share aspects--Jubei-chan (for the comic timing), Urusei Yatsura (the ultimate school-is-war comedy), and even Ranma 1/2 (of which this features some hilarious parodies) and maybe harem-type shows like Negima. Daphne in the Brilliant Blue has a notably similar mean-spirited sense of humor, and Gokudo also deserves a nod, mainly for its similar unwillingness to let sentiment get even a foothold before being violently stomped down.
Notes and Trivia
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu is a direct sequel to the original 26-episode Full Metal Panic TV series; it is in turn followed by the more serious Full Metal Panic: Second Raid, which continues the main plot of the first series.
Full Metal Panic is based on a series of light novels by Shoji Gatoh; there is also a manga adaptation by Retsu Tateo and a number of lengthy manga sequels and various spin-offs. The plots of the anime, interestingly, match up directly with the original manga adaptation, but where the manga mixed the serious fare and wacky characters from the beginning, most of the craziest folks (like the student council) didn't appear in the first anime series, making this their screen debut.
Several of the early episodes are broken up into two parts, each with its own sub-title. As shown on Fuji TV there were only 11 episodes due to a kidnapping plot in the show coinciding with some unpleasant news stories at the time it aired; the 2nd half of the first episode (Passing Hostility) and the 1st half of the 2nd (Uncompromising Hostage) were omitted, leaving the other half of those two episodes to make up the first as-shown. The missing episode was included on the DVD release in both Japan and the US.
Footnote 1: It even beats the former record-holder in my book, GTO.
US DVD Review
ADV's DVDs, in addition to the usual, bump the English audio track up to 5.1 channels, and include clean opening and closing animation, Japanese TV commercials, art galleries, and "The Mysteries of FUMOFFU" booklets.
Funimation has since released a "remastered" edition, which theoretically improves the quality of the video, though it doesn't appear to add much in the way of audio mix or special features.
Funimation also has a 2-disc blu-ray set with approximately the same features and presentation. Unlike the other two Full Metal Panic series, however, Fumoffu wasn't produced in high-definition, so the BD version is not widescreen and, while it is encoded as 1080p, this is just upscaled from a standard-def master. To Funimation's credit, the specs on the back of the box state this explicitly. They appear to have used a very good edge-finding interpolation scheme that works well with cel art, so the video doesn't look at all fuzzy, it just lacks detail (if you're familiar with fancier upscaling interpolators for emulated 8-bit video games, it looks similar). The BD release is also very reasonably priced--essentially the same as the budget-priced DVD set--so if you have a blu-ray player there's no reason not to get it.
Occasional bursts of dirty humor earned a 15-up from ADV and a less-strict TV-PG from Funimation, which I would call equivalent to 13-up.
Violence: 2 - Some bits are humorously brutal.
Nudity: 2 - Does its best with well-placed "interference," but there's a fair amount of skin of both sexes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Quite raunchy at times.
Language: 2 - There is some rough language, although several scenes feature a hail of machinegun "bleeps" to add to the comedy.
Available in North America from Funimation on bilingual DVD, as a "Remastered Complete Collection," and on bilingual Blu-ray, which is upscaled to non-widescreen HD (it was not originally produced in high-def). Previously available from ADV, first as 4 individual bilingual DVDs, 3 episodes each, then as a thinpak complete collection or the "Heavy Metal" collection that also includes the first Full Metal Panic series.
It's also available streamed, free, from Funimation on Youtube and elsewhere.