Full Metal Panic: Heavy Metal Collection (Seasons 1-2) - Mania.com



DVD Review

Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B-
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: C
  • Age Rating: 14 and Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: ADV Films
  • MSRP: 89.98
  • Running time: 900
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1/1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Full Metal Panic

Full Metal Panic: Heavy Metal Collection (Seasons 1-2)

Full Metal Panic: Heavy Metal Collection (Seasons 1-2) DVD Review

By Bryan Morton     July 12, 2010
Release Date: February 10, 2009


Full Metal Panic: Heavy Metal Collection (Seasons 1-2)
© ADV Films

Hmm.  While the two seasons of Full Metal Panic featured in this set have the same cast, in a lot of ways you'd have a hard time finding two shows that are as different from each other – which makes them rather strange bedfellows.  Still, you've got to work with what you've got, and take the bad with the good – and this set certainly has both.

What They Say

From school ground to battle ground to ground zero - get ready for the two series that blow everything else away!
 
He's a battle hardened anti-terrorist.  She's the most popular girl in school.  He's been assigned to secretly protect her.  She doesn't know it.  They meet, sparks fly and the craziest pair of series to ever come out of Japan are off like a skyrocket!  Oh, and there's also a secret war brewing, giant robots, and a gun-toting giant teddy bear that all get involved when the ultimate battle of male and female rips loose across the unsuspecting nation of Japan!  The old adage that high school is hell doesn't even begin to cover the rampant chaos that lets loose when Sosuke Sagara and Kanami Chidori collide in the ultimate Full Metal Panic! / Full Metal Panic? FUMOFFU! complete collection!


The Review!

Audio:
Audio for both seasons is presented in English 5.1 and Japanese 2.0 – I listened to the Japanese track for this review. The soundtrack is nice and clear, with good use made of the left & right channels to position what's happening on-screen, particularly during combat scenes.  While FUMOFFU doesn't do "action" in quite the same way as the first season, there are some scenes (like the bike chase in episode 2) where the show's really able to use the soundtrack to full effect. Dialogue is easy to pick out, and there were no apparent problems.
 
Video:
Both shows come in 1.33:1 full-frame aspect.  For the first season, there's nothing really wort complaining about - the transfer is clear with little in the way of visible defects.  FUMOFFU, though, is a different story.  The seasoned season makes heavy use made of bright colours to bring a really lively feel to show that's perfectly in keeping with the feel of the series. The animation itself is very smooth and a decent amount of detail is used in the backgrounds. Unfortunately, there's a lot of cross-colouration on fine lines – enough so that it becomes a distraction at quite a few points in the show. This would have been one stunning-looking show were it not for this problem, so it's a real let-down.
 
Packaging
It's the dreaded stack case, I'm afraid.  Roughly the thickness of two standard keepcases, it comes enclosed in a cardboard slipcase with Kana, Tessa and Sousuke on the front, and the usual promotional blurb and screenshots on the back.  The keepcase front cover features Kana and Tessa getting up-close and personal, while track listings and technical information for both seasons can be found on the back.  Opening the keepcase reveals a single spindle with 6 discs stacked on it, not the best arrangement but then this is a cheapie set.
 
Menu:
Menus for all six discs are essentially the same - direct access to each episode from a static menu with a metallic-looking blue background.  Language selection is via a submenu, with extras where provided also directly accessible from the main screen.  There are no transitions - developing them would cost money - so it's all quick and easy to use.
 
Extras
Creditless opening and closing sequences for both seasons.  That's your lot.
 
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Full Metal Panic! comes from two distinct sources: a series of novels, which focus on paramilitary anti-terrorist organisation Mithril and the mecha battles that flow from their efforts to maintain peace and order in the world; and a more comedic manga side which revolves around the high-school lives of Kaname Chidori and her Mithril-assigned protector, Sousuke Sagara.  The first season tries to mix both sides of the idea into one animated series - and it's probably a testament to how well that worked (or didn't) that the two sequels that spun off from it both picked one of those aspects and stuck with it, FUMOFFU! taking the comedy role (and we'll look at that in a moment) and Second Raid taking the mecha. Sometimes, when you try to give the audience the best of both worlds, you just end up annoying everyone. The setup is good, though. Mithril is headed by child prodigy Teletha "Tessa" Testarossa - no more than 16, and she's already captain of the organisation's state-of-the-art submarine, the de Danaan, a ship she designed herself. Her abilities come from her being a Whispered, a person with an innate understanding of "black technology". No-one knows where or why the Whispered got their abilities and knowledge, but the level of technology they're able to create and work with is far beyond what modern science can produce (as a quick comparison of the de Danaan and the other submarines featured in the show will prove), and that makes them very valuable.
 
No prizes for guessing, then, that Kaname is also one of the Whispered, and once Mithril become aware of this, Sergeant Sousuke Sagara is sent to Japan to be her protector. He's been involved in the military, first through civil wars and then Mithril, since he was a kid, so when he gets to Japan and takes up his role as a normal high-school kid, he finds it almost impossible to fit in - it's a world so alien to what he's always known that he has great problems adjusting, and his military over-reaction to just about any perceived threat to Kaname, no matter how small, becomes the bedrock for the show's comedy side. This is where FMP! really shines - the interactions between Kaname and Sousuke (and later Tessa, when she visits Japan - she has something of a crush on Sousuke, you see) are just pure comedy gold and the real highlight of the series. Problem is, producers GONZO have opted to focus on the more action-based side of the series. This introduces series villain Gauron, someone who Sagara has dealt with in the past and who has proven himself to be a formidable foe. He's a mercenary, willing to take on any job as long as the price is right, and he's currently trying to gather up the Whispered - his employers have a number of experiments they'd like to carry out in the hope of gaining their knowledge. Mithril isn't about to let the power of the Whispered get into the hands of any potential terrorists, and so they set about defeating Gauron and his plans.
 
Problem #1: FMP!'s action sequences just aren't up to scratch - settings and mech designs are uninspired, there's too much posing and shouting going on, and battle choreography doesn't really do anything that gives the combat a "wow!" factor. It just happens, and the story moves on, leaving you just thinking, "okay, now what?". There's no sense of engagement. Problem #2: Gauron Just Won't Die. Several times over the course of the series he's put into situations that should kill any person, normal or otherwise, but every time he comes back. It stretches disbelief to breaking point, and eventually you just get to the point where you don't care any more - no matter what Mithril and Sagara do, they're not going to defeat him, so why bother any more? Find some other way to protect the Whispered, and get back to the comedy, please. (This aspect of the series was actually the dealbreaker for me, as it just got too annoying for words.) Problem #3: Not being able to decide if it's a comedy or action series leaves the whole experience feeling just a little schizophrenic. The show's backers clearly realised this when it came to continuing the show, but it does this incarnation no favours at all. The end result is completely underwhelming.
 
It's a damn shame, too. Apart from Gauron, the characters - both the school side and Mithril side - are a great bunch, with a wide range of personalities on show, each of them with their own flaws that can be played on for comic or dramatic effect. There's a huge amount of fun to be had playing with the stereotypes and the interactions between them, but sadly as the show goes on that gets done less and less as the mecha action begins to take over. By the end of the series, it had become a real chore to watch - Kaname and Tessa have their own charm in any situation, Sagara, Kurz and Melissa also work quite well most of the time, but when the story eventually comes down to endless action against Gauron, it just becomes tedious.
 
FUMOFFU, though, corrects the first seasons' problems by jettisoning anything remotely serious and concentrating solely on the fun stuff - so it's back to high school for Kaname and Sousuke, and not an Arm Slave in sight. If you want more of the serious side of the story, you'll have to move along to FMP! The Second Raid. Me, I'm perfectly happy with the comedy mayhem.
 
As with the first season's high-school episodes, the whole comedy aspect comes from Sousuke being completely out of his depth in high school - dealing with normal people in a normal setting is so completely abnormal to him that he has absolutely no concept of how to react, and just sticks to what he knows best: explosives and guns.  The level of violence he's prepared to use, though, is ratcheted way up in FUMOFFU, all in the name of comic effect.  If an everyday incident can be interpreted in both a threatening or non-threatening way, guess which way he goes. There are some rare flashes of common-sense in there - for example, when Kaname is kidnapped he deals with the problem by persuading the kidnapper's little brother to help him out - but for the most part it's just slapstick comedy that hovers right on the edge of believability.  Biochemical weapons in the clasroom?  Check.  Blowing up the school lockers on multiple occasions, just because someone left a note in them?  Check.  High-speed police chases, teddybear-themed robotic armour suits and the most badass session of rugby training you've ever seen?  Check, check, and check.  There's also a fanservice-heavy hotsprings episode that makes a pitch for the record for the "most objects placed to conceal naughty bits in an episode" award (and in so doing became the single best episode of the season, for my money), but I think Tenamonya Voyagers has just held on to that one.
 
Depth and story? Not a bit of it, and it really isn't required. FUMOFFU is one of those series that just lets you switch off completely and forget about anything that's bothering you, leaving nothing but an idiotic grin. It's not entirely perfect, but it's pretty damn close. That said, it's also one of those series that invites short reviews, as once you know what to expect there's really not much else to say.  The series simply tweaks your funny bone just right and leaves you wanting more. I'm not usually much of a fan of the physical / slapstick humour that the show majors in, but even I got a lot of laughs out of this. For great comedy, look no further.
 
In summary: 
Overall, I again have to say that putting both shows in a single set is a strange decision.  The first season is nothing more than "okay" – it does what it sets out to do, but in an uninspiring way and with a clear feeling that it can't quite make up its mind between high-school and military.  FUMOFFU, on the other hand, just nails it and is rightly a comedy classic.  Are the two combined worth a $90 outlay?  Probably not.  Go find a standalone FUMOFFU set instead.
 
Features
Japanese language 2.0, English language 5.1, English subtitles, Creditless opening and closing sequences.

Review Equipment

Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.

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