How long has it been? 12 years? More? Wow. It’s been long enough that I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot about Full Metal Panic!. As far as plot goes, I can’t exactly remember what I was supposed to look forward to. But even without the details, just the visceral impact of the return of FMP is enough to rev the hype engine. Hearing all the old seiyuu reprise their roles and inhabit their characters again was frankly the most fulfilling part of this pilot for Invisible Victory. If we take off our nostalgia glasses for a moment, we may recall that FMP was certainly not an infallible series. It had its ups and down, changed hands between staff and studio, and had its own moments of strength and weakness. But its firmest constant of goodness was its cast, full of characters both colourful and flavourful, and they are for the most part the forces that drive the story. It didn’t hurt that FMP had very snappy comedy, which allowed the quirks of the cast to come to the fore nad build a strong dynamic within the cast.
It’s notable, then, that Invisible Victory starts by killing off the comedy immediately. I noted in the preview that Invisible Victory was going to be full of Serious Business, and evidently it is not going to hesitate in delivering that message itself. There is no setup, no preamble, no concessions for those who may not be familiar with the original series. FMP jumps back in more or less right where it left off, and its first task is to flag a changing of the guard. In the anime, most of the Sousuke and Kaname’s schoolmates only played significant roles in the comedy spinoff Fumoffu. They are representative of the high school setting in general, where all the fish-out-of-water humour and slice-of-life segments take place, and now they’re being put on a bus. In particular, a point is made of the departure of Hayashimizu. At the school, he was the rock. No matter what insane hijinks, nothing permanently bad ever happens because Hayashimizu is our fixer. He’s the hand-wave character. The wizard who sets thing right. So long as he was around one got the impression that things would more or less work out. The joke used to be that the ‘Big Good’ of FMP was not Mithril or anything like that, but Hayashimizu, if only because he was largely untouchable. Now, even any illusion of peace and safety the school might have had is gone.
But even for the least genre-savvy of us it should be obvious that FMP is escalating. Amalgam’s very own silver-haired smarmy bastard outright says so. In an anime with a slower start that kind of scene would be the calm before the storm but there’s no such luxury here. Instead, explosions! Dialogue is full of fluffy words, but nobody mistakes explosions. Considering that Invisible Victory comes to us after a lull of more than a decade I would have expected that it would want to ease us back into the story gently, but it seems like we’re going to pretend that there was no gap at all. Sousuke and Kaname’s relationship go into full development without fuss, furious blushing and all, war is declared with neither song nor dance, and their world collapses before it has scarcely begun. Normally I would raise some concerns about the pacing but Gatoh Shouji is handling the scripts himself and I trust that he knows what he wants. And what he wants is, apparently, shock and awe. I think we can work with that. It’s like we haven’t heard from FMP for a decade but now it suddenly shows up at our door again, kicks out of bed, and drags us outside. Go, go, go, no time to pack or get dressed, just like our protagonists.
That said, I don’t feel that FMP has truly started yet until the giant mecha start shooting at each other. This is just a prelude, a signal for what is to come, especially the hand holding scene. Invisible Victory may not have much action yet, but it sure has built up the thrills. While this pilot was a full escalation of the plot, we’re still in code yellow. I guess it’s saying that however excited this new beginning to Full Metal Panic! has gotten you, you’re not nearly excited enough. More panic is in order.