My review of Full Metal Panic! will have to be brief as I’m unable to recollect anything of substantial depth due to how long ago I’ve watched it (when it aired), but I’ll try my best.
I suppose I should begin by mentioning the studio responsible, Gonzo, of whom, in my opinion, have varied considerably in their offerings, ranging from the downright mediocre to some of the best anime I’ve seen, both in terms of animation and scripting. In the case of Full Metal Panic!, it’s nearer to the latter category, although falls shy of leaving a comparable impression to that of Last Exile or Gankutsuou. However, if its lasting popularity is anything to go by, the series has succeeded in becoming one of the most memorable Gonzo has offered in its lengthly track record. And I can understand why; it’s accessible to a larger audience because it plays to the tried and tested formula of combining the mecha genre with romance, a la Gundam, but also introduces a much welcomed dosage of comedy, largely courtesy of the main duo of Sousuke and Kaname (notably in its spinoff series Fumoffu by Kyoto Animation).
The animation quality is what I’ve come to expect from Gonzo’s better offerings; rich, detailed and fluid, which is complimented by the computer aided inking and CG that are flawlessly integrated into every scene. Coupled with an excellent soundtrack by Sahashi of Gundam Seed and Hunter x Hunter fame, the production is undoubtably a contributive factor to its success.
Similarly, the scripting and characterisation is decidedly above par, with the former offering considered pacing and intrigue, while the latter have distinct personalities, even the minor characters, with their own incentives, personal habits and eccentricities. The ensuing romance is also believable and endearing to watch, fortunately avoiding the common pitfall of becoming trite and forced.
With this all being said (and yes, there are flaws), the series felt cliched from time to time, especially in regard to the comedy, and the primary villain, from what I can remember as my biggest complaint, unlike the rest of the cast, lacked any background to speak of, which is a shame because his character was reasonably interesting.
In terms of the action, given it’s marketed as a shounen title, Full Metal Panic! has its fair share of battle sequences. Although the mecha itself was far from realistic, the series also had other weaponry and vehicles like helicopters and ships that were so, which gave the series a grounded sense of reality.
So, to conclude, the careful balance of action, romance and comedy will mean that the series is accessible to a larger audience, even those that are more inclined to like shoujo. Personally, I’ve given this series a well deserved 4/5. I’m an advocate for originality (pushing the envelope), something of which Full Metal Panic! doesn’t really offer, but in turn what it does offer, it does so successfully.