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.

Full Metal Panic!: Trembling Into the Blue

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

This third book in the series serves as the climax of the first season of the anime, and thus is quite well-remembered. It takes place mostly on the Tuatha de Danaan, as unfortunately Sousuke inviting Kaname to spend time on a south sea island is thwarted by the plot: terrorists are attacking US Special Forces, supposedly for ecology reasons, but in reality it’s all related (as indeed everything in this series is) to Tessa’s brother, still unseen but controlling things from afar (apparently giving orders while having sex too, in case we didn’t dislike him already) and Gauron, who it turns out- surprise! – is not as dead as first thought. Combine this with some evil moles within Tessa’s own people, and you have the basis for another action movie, which is what FMP does best. Unfortunately, Kaname is upset thinking that Sousuke is only with her out of a sense of duty, and Sousuke is still having trouble dealing with his Very Special AS, so they need to get past mental burdens before the day can be saved.

After briefly appearing to be more of a femme fatale in the second book, Tessa slides into the girl we know and love here, who loves Sousuke but has a sneaking suspicion that ship has sailed, and more importantly is more devoted to her ship and crew. She gets to be extra badass here, helped by Kaname, who finally gets to learn more about what she is and how it’s both valuable and incredibly dangerous. The rest of the crew are mostly just names, with the exception of our designated traitors and designated victims of said traitors. Their identities are fairly obvious as they’re the ones who are constantly moaning and bitching about being in MITHRIL while on this mission, and (unlike Kurz) are easily swayed by money and/or racism. And then there’s Gauron, far more competent than any of them but again seemingly just in this for the lulz rather than any sort of agenda. Fortunately, he’s blown up AND drowned at the end of the book, and I’m sure we’ll never see him again.

There are some funny parts of this book, rest assured. The first fifth or so is hilarious, going from Sousuke’s festival fortress to the way that they have to board the Tuatha de Danaan, which seems designed solely to be animated. And I won’t even get into Kaname and Tessa both singing Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine. Which I’m fairly certain was NOT in the anime. But once the terrorists arrive, the mood quickly turns serious. You’re especially reminded that neither Kaname nor Sousuke are quite what the other one thinks of them: Kaname is beset with self-doubt and hesitation, belying the idea that she’s always the confident “hits him all the time” tsundere. And Sousuke screws up a LOT in this book, to the point where Kurz punches him in the face for making Kaname cry. He’s certainly not the stoic superman Kaname thinks he is. They’re made for each other, honestly.

All in all, an excellent addition to the series, and fans of the anime will want to read this to see what else was left out besides James Brown. Next time we get the series’ first two-parter. Oh yes, and thank you, Elizabeth Ellis, for keeping the iconic “everything is gonna happy” from Kaname’s “I’m good at English but not great” message to the crew.

Full Metal Panic!: Rampaging One Night Stand

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

The FMP! novels mostly seem to have the same conceit for their titles: a Japanese word, followed by an English phrase. (OK, I think “Fighting Boy Meets Girl” was all English.) This is translated for the benefit of the English-speaking reader, and can, of course, lead to thwarted expectations. There are no one night stands as the word is commonly used in this book. The title refers to the fact that the main action in the book takes place over the course of one evening. And there certainly is a lot of rampaging, as the premise involves a huge, skyscraper-sized AS called the “Behemoth”, which is awkward but unstoppable, especially when piloted by Takuma, a troubled young man who is also somewhat mentally unbalanced. Things aren’t helped by the fact that, due to various attacks by Takuma’s terrorist friends, Sousuke’s commanding officer, Tessa, is forced to hide out in his apartment. And much as the action is interesting, it was Tessa meeting Kaname that provided the best part of this book.

Last time I mentioned that Kaname is a rare “angry girl heroine” who fans actually love, and Tessa is along the same lines, the “nice girl” rival character who, while not disliked by fans, has almost no one shipping her and Sousuke instead of Kaname. This book helps to show why, as I had forgotten how much it contrasts Tessa’s excellent command skills (and her abilities as a Whispered, something only hinted at in this book) and Tessa’s mediocre-to-poor skills as a girl falling in love. Indeed, the “nice girl” part of her is absent a lot of the time, as her pretending not to be Sousuke’s commanding officer in order to piss Kaname off is rather mean (and she has to apologize for it later), and she and Kaname have far more of an antagonist stance with each other than I’d remembered from when I first experienced this years ago. Heck, Tessa even declares her rivalry to Kaname at the end. Add to this her feelings about her brother Leonard, and she’s a fascinatingly complex character.

As for Kaname, use of her Whispered abilities are kept to a minimum here, meaning she spends most of the time as the bright, refreshing normal girl. As with the first book, she’s alternating between being attracted to Sousuke and finding him the most aggravating person in the world. This is not helped by his attempting to apologize to her by offering her heroin, so she can sell it for money. Yes, this is an actual thing that he does, and I’m pretty positive the anime cut that. Sousuke, while still doing things like this, has at least developed a finely-honed “Kaname is about to get really angry” sense, though most of the time – like when Tessa comes out of his shower while Kaname is there – there is nothing whatsoever he can do about it. That said, the “which of the two ladies do you like better?” choice offered by the villains doesn’t even register with him, as he makes the choice based solely on combat reasons.

Unlike a lot of action series with a romantic sideplot, most people read or watch FMP! for the romance. They won’t be disappointed with this one, a solid second volume that establishes a love triangle but also makes it clear who the winner will be.