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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13 Responses to FMP and the Japanese Light Novel

  1. One of my big complaints about the first FMP series was that the comedy and the action didn’t really mix well. I didn’t see Fumoffu, but that was one problem it wasn’t going to have since it was exclusively comedy. But going forward, the new series, and any further series, are going to have an even worse problem with it.

    That, plus my general distaste for Gauron as a villain, are the biggest reasons why I’m not going to watch any more of the FMP series. Having the fifth book (I think it was) ending with a cliff-hanger made it even worse. And the nature of the situation as of the end of that book, whichever it was, just did not sound like a good time. Irrespective of the cliffhanger, there was a lot of change in the series continuity by then.

    Gauron is a lousy villain. There are worthy villains — Cell, for instance, in DBZ or Kagato in Tenchi Muyo, or the King of Kou in Twelve Kingdoms — and crummy ones. Gauron is one of the worst. I shouldn’t like a villain, but I should be fascinated by him, and even find myself being just a bit seduced by him. Gauron is like finger nails on a chalk board. I shouldn’t agree with a villain’s motives, but I should at least understand them — but I don’t understand him. He isn’t a person, he’s a cartoon. And that’s not a compliment, even for a character in anime.

  2. Another great villain is Friagne in Shakugan no Shana. Brrr!

  3. Ubu Roi says:

    I wouldn’t say that I’m tempted to preach the FMP creedo… It’s Shana you keep tempting me with! (Yes Friagne is a very chilling villian.)

    I have regained a great measure of enthusiasm for FMP thanks to KyoAni’s superb work on the 2nd DVD, but one of the things that helped was that Gates was onscreen for much shorter stretches. He’s another Gauron, and you’ve made your opinion clear on him. You’re right, it’s just that I’m giving FMP raves over the excellent execution of the art of animé; definately not the writing. (By art, in this case I mean “art of filmmaking” not “artistic drawing.”)

    Gates: it’s not that he’s unkillable, but he’s prone to randomly killing followers when upset or suffering a reverse. Gauron would at least do it viciously and enjoy it, Gates just acts crazy and kills someone in a fit of pique. I should not be watching a villian being himself and asking myself, “Why the hell doesn’t one of his followers just cap his ass and be done with it? Especially one of the sisters?” (They had a reason not to, actually.)

    Whatever else this writer may be good at, writing a believable, intriguing villian is not one of his talents. If KyoAni hadn’t flipped the sex of the sisters, they’d have also been a net negative, I think. I’m disturbed to hear that he’s messing with the continuity, although the adaptation does allow for that to be retconned in the animé.

  4. Dr.Heinous says:

    Funny, I kind of like Gates. A typhoon of insanity and chaos. But then I like that sort of thing from time to time. ;)

    Of course, Ubu is right, either he A) wouldn’t have any followers any more (I’d have deserted long ago), or B) One would have shot him.

  5. Dr.Heinous says:

    And after reading the 20070304.2035 I’m having real problems refraining from suggesting to SDB that he try FMP… Darn me!

  6. I had the same issue with the first series of FMP–the mix of styles was far too jarring. In fact, I’ve watched about half of it and haven’t really felt the urge to press on (though I’m sure I will).

    And yes, Fumoffu, being entirely comedy, didn’t have that problem and I watched the whole thing over a couple of days. (FMP has been sitting idle for months.)

  7. Ubu Roi says:

    And after reading the 20070304.2035 I’m having real problems refraining from suggesting to SDB that he try FMP… Darn me!

    If you mean TSR, I think he’d like it from the technical standpoint of “well-executed anime” but the things he dislikes are showstoppers. And there’s nothing unusual about that; after all, you’ve pointed out Planetes was a good anime with a real story — but I’ve had ZERO temptation to watch it, for the reasons I’ve previously stated. It would annoy the crap out of me to have 2-3 emails a week telling me I should love it.

    (Edit — Rephrase: I think he’d like/appreciate that it was well done. Not “like FMP.” As I pointed out to SDB in an e-mail, there’s a name for folks that consider the technical aspects more important than the story/entertainment value: “Critics.”)

    No, it’s Shana he tortures me with…. and if he sits on it for too long after the final DVD is out, I’ll be awfully tempted to drop a spoiler-bomb in his mailbox! (I really had to bite my tongue after some speculation he posted a while back. Grrr. I need to just do a review of it with blackouts and get it out of my system….

    I’ll just say that yes, Friagne was a great villan and CREEPY as hell.

  8. How long did I have to wait for you to watch Misaki Chronicles? Hmm?

  9. Ubu Roi says:

    Um….. Touché. Guess “I been told!”

    Wait — at least I didn’t post a bunch of theories about how it was going to end. No fair!!!! WAHHHHHHH! :)

    (Side note: I think the break actually enhanced the impact of MC. I might have been “braced for it” if I’d come straight out of DE, but with the gap, I wasn’t as much in the mode — so it drew me in all over again and then emotionally clobbered me. Not saying that’s the way it should be watched, but that was the effect.)

  10. Dr.Heinous says:

    Yeesh, I do need to do my Misaki Chronicles review…

  11. Pingback: Mahou Meido Meganekko » Blog Archive » Animé: Why I Like It (and What I Like)

  12. Pingback: Mahou Meido Meganekko » Blog Archive » FMP Fumoffu

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