Full Metal Panic Vol. #4 (of 7) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, October 06, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003



What They Say
Suit up! There's plenty of AS ("Arm Slave" - human-controlled armored suit) action in this newest installment of Full Metal Panic! When tempers flare between Sergeant Major Mao and Captain Testarossa, there's only one way to settle the score: an AS duel. The stakes are high, the price of failure a fate worse than death-a naked lap around the track on the Mithril base. Later, even high-schoolers Shinji and Kaname get a turn behind the controls of an AS!

But the summer fun grinds to a halt when Sousuke is called away for a top-secret mission at his old stomping grounds, where painful memories threaten to bury him alongside his fallen comrades. Will he make it out alive? Don't miss a minute of the non-stop action that charges forward with both barrels blazing!



The Review!
Moving past the halfway mark, the series provides some light entertainment and then kicks into the next arc with a passion.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to the show in its original language of Japanese and in stereo. Dialogue is nice and clear throughout and there are some excellent moments of directionality and depth to the sound effects. ADV has also included two English soundtracks; the first is a 5.1 mix that does a good job of providing a bit more clarity to the track, but don’t expect much out of the rear speakers, if anything. The second is a 2.0 track, which lets people with older or poor players to avoid the problems of downmixing done by their equipment.

Video:
Originally airing back in 2001, this is a very slick looking transfer that almost feels glossy at times. Though the show is full frame, there are a number of sequences where it goes into a letterbox mode, such as the opening sequence and one or two other scenes. Colors look lush and vivid, very nicely saturated without any bleeding. Cross coloration is extremely minimal, showing in only a few scant areas and aliasing is much reducing, even during panning sequences. This was a very eye-pleasing print.

Packaging:
Continuing with the clear keepcases, the front cover is a very dark blue/gray background image while the foreground has a shot of one of the older AS models, the A6 I believe. Below it there is both the English logo and the Japanese logo as well as volume numbering, all three of which are also on the spine. The back cover continues the dark look in shades of blue-gray by providing a few shots from the show and a brief summary of the premise. The discs features and technical information is all nice and clearly listed. The insert is a mini-poster pullout with a very detailed image of an AS being built. The reverse side of the poster provides a lot of details and information on some of the AS’s seen in this volume as well as talking about a number of characters. Each episode also gets a mini summary and some interesting side notes to them. The back reverse side of the cover uses the character Japanese cover artwork and features a nice shot of Kaname’s schoolmate Kyoko in her school uniform, sporting a big old smile. The back cover provides a rundown of each of the episodes, lots of artwork and only Japanese production information. This is essentially the R2 cover with only a few very minor tweaks, and now turned around on my copy as the main cover.

Menu:
The menu layout here goes for the metal aspect of the title with lots of interlocking pieces merging together to provide the main menu. Selections are nice and easy to get to, though there are some sections where you have to really focus for a minute to make sure you’re looking at it properly, such as the trailers in ensuring you’re selecting the right one. Access times are nice and fast and everything worked as expected.

Extras:
The extras here pretty much mirror the earlier volumes with only some small differences. The video art gallery, using some amusing incidental music to play along, runs about ninety seconds and has a number of character pieces but is mostly filled with AS artwork and background designs. The opening and ending sequences are provided again in a textless format and the Japanese versions of the piracy warnings are included, fully subtitled.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the series again drops down to three episodes, the show manages to work well in really teasing the viewer. You get two really good standalone episodes, episodes that while being filler are also very well done and a hell of a lot of fun, you also get the first episode into what is likely the next arc through the end of the series.

Fans of Tessa will love the first episode here. She and Melissa get into a pissing contest about who can do what, with Melissa pretty much plastered to some extent, and the two end up being involved in a challenge to have a one on one fight in AS suits. With the promise that the loser will run around the base naked, the two of them shift into preparation mode. Tessa insists she can fight fine in one, but one of the first thins she does after officially sending the challenge, she grabs Sousuke and gets him to train him. Actually, the training is a mixed piece, because it looks like they spend the first couple of hours just trying to get her to climb into the AS suit. Once she’s in there, she picks up things damn fast and impresses Sousuke as she lays out the landscape where the challenge will occur.

Melissa has her own reasons for doing this, which actually makes a lot of sense when it comes out, but it doesn’t make you want to see Tessa lose. In her AS M9 unit, Melissa is ready to go. When Tessa arrives in an M6, an older but more easily controllable unit, she laughs at how easy the challenge has become. Watching the two get into the actual AS fight is rather engaging though. It really is a staple of the anime story telling that the female characters can be as competent, if not more so, than the male lead. While the “can do anything” bit can get a bit tiring, it’s not terribly strong here since getting a Tessa story is the big attraction and it all fits her perfectly.

The middle episode definitely feels more fillerish and a reason to get Kaname back into the show again. Since it’s summer, the two of them plus some friends head off for some summer memories, but Kaname gets outvoted and they end up at a big annual self defense force competition between two bases. Using a variety of games, they’re used to determine the best AS team. Some of the games are silly, such as ping pong, but others are quite a bit of fun like the football style game where you substitute flags on the players for balloons on the top that must be popped.

The main focus of the story isn’t so much the events, though they’re prominent, but more so the relationship between Sousuke’s friend Kazama and his father who is the base secretary. We learn how his father wasn’t able to handle the AS suits and he believes his father isn’t quite the man he should be since he’s just a secretary. Sousuke basically slaps him into realizing just how important backup support personnel are and offers his services (in an amusing costume) to help the team fight against the other one that always seems to win. Without knowing it though, Sousuke ends up fighting against Kaname who is brought onto the other time by a pretty cardboard vain male character who keeps hitting on her. The expansion of the friends and other supporting characters is the main goal here and it plays out well, since you actually start liking some of Kaname’s girlfriends.

The next arc is introduced with the return of an old enemy from earlier in the series showing up on some intelligence pictures. The Intelligence Division exerts its power and not only informs Sousuke about it but sends him off to deal with it by eliminating him. To make matters worse, since he was already believed to be dead, he’s also wandering around Helmajistan. Teaming up with a group of Americans (who of course do not come across as anything different than one would expect), the show starts bringing out the interesting small bits that tease about what’s to come.

It’s also interesting that according to the liner notes, Helmajistan is basically labeled as Afghanistan and how they had to be careful yet accurate in their depiction of it after September 11. This added bit of realism does a lot to really make the area interesting to watch, especially as we get the flashbacks to when Sousuke was a bit younger and part of the group that was fighting there. Those who have real issues with the way of the real world and what’s going on there may not enjoy this all that much though.

While a lot of this release is filler, there are a lot of fun stories and moments to it. The best really comes from the Tessa episode and watching her and Melissa really go at it, and to see how each of them tries to come to more of an understanding of the other. The series continues to just look gorgeous and nearly flawless in its presentation, which only makes it all the more enjoyable to watch. Presentation has a huge effect on how shows come across and Full Metal Panic performs beautifully.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Production sketches,Clean opening and closing animations,Japanese piracy warnings

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.




Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Full Metal Panic