Full Metal Panic!: Dancing Very Merry Christmas

By Shouji Gatou and Shikidouji. Released in Japan by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

Well, this is, to a certain extent, somewhat lighter in tome than the previous book. But only just, and the author apologizes afterwards for having far fewer wacky hijinks than he promised last time. That said, we also get a funeral in this book, as Tessa’s chances in the romance sweepstakes finally die as Sousuke says to her face that he loves Kaname and likes her more than Tessa. Note he does not actually say this to Kaname – they’re edging closer to being a couple, and have what may be the sweetest ending in the series to date, but this is not really about Kaname (birthday: Christmas Eve), it’s about Tessa (birthday: Christmas Eve), who may share Kaname’s brain at times thanks to the Whispered but cannot be her. Which honestly is all for the best, as seeing her try to help on this cruise ship mission and be the sad dojikko in snow is really pathetic. Hopefully getting rejected by Sousuke can allow her to relocate her inner badass.

Kyoko is on the cover, and to be fair gets a little more to do than usual. The class, after their school trip got hijacked by terrorists, have been invited on a Christmas Eve banquet about a luxury cruise ship. Meanwhile, Sousuke and MITHRIL are trying to track down AMALGAM based on Gauron’s last words, which (after a nice action sequence where Sousuke takes a missile to the chest) leads them… to the same cruise ship, which it turns out is a giant trap to capture Kaname, who really has had a series of very bad days in these books so far. Especially given it’s her birthday. To stop things, MITHRIL pretend to be terrorists attacking the boat themselves. Unfortunately, various things go wrong, from a gung-ho wannabe hero to robot killer weapons to Tessa getting captured and taken away by plane. Fortunately, Sousuke has reconciled with Al… mostly… and is here to save the day again.

The book’s strengths are many. It really is, despite the drama, far more upbeat than the downer of the previous two. Kaname beats up Sousuke once, but otherwise is starting to think before she acts, and is also starting to use her Whispered abilities far better to help the others. The action sequences are top notch, crying out to be animated (sadly, it wasn’t, being the only early volume to get an audio CD adaptation) and helping the reader gloss over some of the more ludicrous aspects by having Sousuke and Al refer to “Christmas miracles”. It has a stunning cliffhanger, which I won’t spoil, and shows off the seemingly nebbish Mardukas as a hidden badass. The books one big flaw is Killy B. Sailor (a Navy man!), who not only has the most ludicrous name in all of anime, but is also an idiot who should not be rewarded for his extremely stupid actions. He’s a parody of action heroes, but I felt he was one part of the book that wasn’t funny.

Despite that, this is a strong volume in the series, and definitely recommended to anime fans as they won’t have seen it, and light novel fans, as it’s the first FMP! novel not done by Tokyopop 10 years ago.

Full Metal Panic!: Ending Day by Day, Part 2

By Shouji Gatou and Shikidouji. Released in Japan by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

This is also quite a short book, though not as short as the first part, and it might have flowed better as one long volume. But light novels were shorter in general back when FMP! came out. What’s more, it might have simply been too exhausting: the events in this book are designed to grind our hero and heroine down to the point where they’re both mentally broken, and succeed in doing so, though thankfully no permanent harm is done. Having this as the entire second half of one book might have demoralized the reader. As it is, be prepared for Sousuke to get more and more depressed and distracted, to the point where he’s zoning out and thinking of Kaname during an actual mission, leading to an accident and Mao having to try to clean up after him. (One weakness of the book is that we don’t see him meeting Mao after this occurs and he stalks off, possibly as she’d break his jaw and he needs that jaw.)

After spending most of the last few books seemingly getting killed and then coming back like Richard Nixon, Gauron finally bows out here, though not before making Sousuke’s life even more miserable than it already is. His new squad commander shows he doesn’t trust the Arbalest, which Sousuke agrees with – this despite talking with “Al” and finding the AI a lot more human than he had imagined. Unfortunately, he does not have the opportunity to work this out off-duty, as Hing Kong is about to descend into civil war thanks to Amalgam, whose leader turns out to be Tessa’s brother Leonard, who is there to give us a new bad guy to hate now that Gauron (finally) dies. Gauron was after Sousuke – Leonard is after Kaname. Kaname is possibly helping out, as after finding that Sousuke has removed himself from her life, she goes on a rampage in an effort to get her new “watcher” to take action… something that has almost lethal consequences.

It has to be said, a number of Kaname’s actions in this book beggar belief, and are the very definition of “don’t try this at home”. In particular, if you are being watched and want your tail to make themselves known, don’t take some stranger to a love hotel so he can try to assault you. However, Kaname gets a number of good (if fanservicey) scenes in this book, none more so than her reappearance and thrashing of Sousuke after he had been told she was dead, which is one of the best moments in the entire series. Unfortunately, it also highlights the pacing problems – this book is all backloaded, meaning the front part drags. Clouseau wipes the floor with Sousuke, but then seems to mostly vanish, with only a brief suggestion that his trashing of their late commander was entirely an act. Oh yes, and Tessa’s apology to Sousuke was cute, but reminds us again that she’s a very, very distant second in this love comedy race for Sousuke’s heart.

The next volume promises to be a longer one, and also lighter in tone, likely with more of the “wacky” comedy parts of FMP that sometimes work and sometimes read like the author read too many shonen manga with tsunderes. This is a flawed but readable angst-and-action book in the meantime.

Full Metal Panic!: Ending Day by Day, Part 1

By Shouji Gatou and Shikidouji. Released in Japan by Fujimi Shobo. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

Welp, it’s another of those “I tried to make it fit into one book but it got away from me so have a two-parter” books, meaning this volume is VERY short by modern light novel standards. That’s not to say that there is not a lot going on in it, however. The title implies the end of the status quo, and that’s not a lie. After a first half that’s mostly action sequence, Sousuke is told that he’s being pulled off of Kaname bodyguard duty and sent back to finally figure out how to bond with the Arbalest that he’s been not-so-secretly grumbling about. This upsets Sousuke, who takes it out on Tessa, who in turn takes out her own spurned love on him. And in the meantime poor Kaname is left baffled and afraid. But really, this is Sousuke’s book, as he’s forced to confront a question that he’d never really thought of before now: what does he want to do with his life? As a child soldier who can die anytime, this never came up. It does now.

Sousuke and Kaname spend almost the entire book apart, but it’s telling that two of the best scenes involve the two of them. The first is hilarious, as Kaname, back at school, is on the phone with Sousuke trying to see how he’s doing, and Sousuke (in an overloaded car running from the Sicilian mob, which I suspect is a Lupin III homage) is answering as best he can whi8le avoiding explosions. The second is sweeter, where, after a disastrous attempt at getting a haircut at a salon goes south, Kaname offers to cut Sousuke’s hair. This shows off how much he trusts her now, and is really sweet, but also leads to darker things. Kaname has two bodyguards, one “hidden”, and the other bodyguard, in Sousuke’s opinion, has been incompetent. “Wraith”, the hidden bodyguard, also seems to hold Sousuke in contempt. In fact, Sousuke is rather untrusting of most of Mithril at the moment.

Which may not be a bad idea, as the reader (and Tessa) go from last volume’s “there was a mole or two in our ranks” to “are half our ranks and our entire intelligence system filled with enemies”? It’s well handled, as the decision to recall Sousuke is both a good one (he really does need to bond with his AI, it’s become a real problem) and also highly suspicious. (Honestly, I’m amazed Kaname wasn’t kidnapped IMMEDIATELY after this happens, but they seem to be ramping up her own paranoia as well.) It also leads to the final “best scene in the book”, the frustrating screaming match between Sousuke and Tessa that reminds you that no matter how brilliant these kids are they probably should not be in major paramilitary anti-terrorist organizations. It doesn’t help that Sousuke is still clueless about Tessa’s feelings.

So everything is set up to blue up in the next book, which should have more action adventure and lots more angst. Is Sousuke’s new commander *another* enemy agent? Is Kaname’s hidden bodyguard an enemy agent? Is the nice general Tessa used to work for an enemy agent? It’s hard to tell who the good guys are anymore. Well, Kaname’s good. We have that.