FMP and the Japanese Light Novel

SDB noted that the last Full Metal Panic novel published ended up as a cliffhanger, and that the series gets more dark over time. Thinking about it a bit, I don’t see a problem with the first, but the second might just be an issue if we get to a fourth series. I’ve noted that this series’ trademark is the mix of comedy and drama (action drama, to be precise), and it’s had an unusual amount of success in mixing them. There are plenty of action comedies and action dramas, but it’s really hard to pull off a comedy action drama. (Arguably, Romancing the Stone was a successful effort; The Mummy was also highly successful, but less of a mix.)

The cliffhanger ending doesn’t surprise me, since the author has written the novels in “pairs” before (TSR, in fact). And the first series is made up of three different novels. Melancholy is another multi-book series, drawn from the first novel and several short stories that were collected into various novels later. I suspect that this is an artifact of the Japanese market, which doesn’t seem to favor the mega-tomes like Jordan’s 800,000 word magnum opuses (Opii? Opae? Been too long since I had Latin in high school.) Anyway, if you have too much story for one light novel, the logical thing to do is break it apart, and if you’re going to do that, well, a cliffhanger is how to sell more of the second.

On the other hand, the increasing darkness of FMP could be a problem. The darker and more serious the story is, the more it will seem to be grounded in “reality” or what I called Ruleset 1*. There is going to be a natural temptation for the author or animators to counter-balance this by emphasizing ruleset 2 during the comedy sequences. Watching people get bloody wounds and be at risk of their lives from hand weapons in one episode is already hard enough when, in the next episode, high explosives are used to breach a wall and no one gets more than a bit of dust on them. It’s not just what happens, it’s also how it’s presented. In ep.2 of TSR, Sagara takes down another student at gunpoint, and then pulls a knife, threatening to chop fingers off if he doesn’t get answers to some questions.

It’s presented as a joke. In ep.6, Theresa Testerossa winces as a turncoat’s fingers are broken by interrogators to obtain a confession. It’s brutal.

In episode 2, Kanamé is right there to ah, put her foot down, and stop Sagara’s overzealousness.

But the natural question is…what if she hadn’t been? Would Sgt. Sagara have carved the idiot’s fingers like so much BBQ rib meat? It’s not a pleasant thought, is it? And thus the series already runs along the razor’s edge of, well, what exactly, I don’t know, but it was almost as hard for me to watch that scene in episode 2 as it was the one in episode 6–I found the incongruity of phyical torture and and a jealous student to be a bit much. Today we joke about torturing students guilty of voyuerism, tomorrow let’s crack wise about nuking the principal’s office to erase Sagara’s failing grades. Sounds like as much fun as crossing cute little girls with bloody murderers.

Wait, forget I said that.

Still, continuing to darken the mood and trying to counter it with more slapstick comedy runs the risk of setting up such a conflict of styles that the series’ centripetal forces will eventually snap its cohesion and the story will fly apart at the speed of light. Well, at least at 29.97 fps — 20070224.2020 . Only time will tell if the author and animators can carry it off well enough to entertain sufficient people.

*I acknowledge that the terms “reality” and what I call “Ruleset 1” aren’t totally synonymous. One word: Evangelion.

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