Full Metal Panic! Volume 1: Fighting Boy Meets Girl by Shoji Gatou

by Matt Reeves

What do you get when you cross a Tom Clancy novel with a High School comedy? Apparently, something unabashedly awesome.

Set in a creatively altered version of history shortly before the new millennium, the world of Full Metal Panic is a somewhat eerie picture of what our world could have looked like had certain historic and technological conditions existed prior to the Cold War. With the Soviet Union still standing resolved and the KGB active, this strange mirror of time is made even more seemingly unstable by the invention of humanoid fighting machines, or “Arm Slaves” as they’re called. Created under the Reagan administration, these tall mechanical robots, controlled by a single pilot inside, have devastatingly powerful weapons. Having been deployed by a number of governments as a part of their national security or wartime offenses, they represent a dynamic shift in control of the world’s power. But amongst this volatile landscape stands a single group that exists in order to prevent an all out war. Self dubbed as MITHRIL, a group that has no country affiliation or ties, it secretly monitors potential threats and independently acts to subdue them, breaking numerous international laws in the process.

When Sousuke Sagara, one of MITHRIL’s best and youngest Arm Slave pilots, is ordered to accept a new and highly hazardous mission in an effort to stop a possible soviet abduction, the seventeen year old is all ears. But when he soon realizes that his mission is to become a high school student in Japan to keep watch over a certain girl whose attention has caught the eyes of the KGB, his stamina is less than energized. The young Japanese native who was raised most of his life in the mountains of Afghanistan has next to no experience with civilization, let alone public school. Though Sousuke objects, MITHRIL places their faith in him and his team is assembled quickly for a departure for Tokyo.

However, what would seem to be the easiest military operation devised in recent memory quickly turns into a sizable culmination of mishaps, misunderstandings, confusion, partial nudity, girls’ locker rooms, and a Korean terrorist hijacking that proves to be anything but simple. With a secret buried deep within the recesses of a young girl’s mind, the socially awkward military high school student must find a way not only to save everyone’s lives, but also himself.

To say that Full Metal Panic is anything but a nonstop comedy adrenaline pumping thrill ride is to be dishonest. Originally written in 1998, Shoji Gatou’s novel proved to be an immediate hit and subsequently, over nineteen books have been released in the series. To this day, the books are still one of the top grossing young adult novels in Japan.

When I first saw the book, I already had a feeling I was going to love it. It’s that sort of feeling you have when you’re destined to meet. Only fate could have attracted me to it…or perhaps because it had a unique cover and story premise. Either way, the book proved immensely gratifying.

Written in simple-to-understand language, which many espionage or high tech novels fail to be, the story flows almost seamlessly from one page to the next. Filled with numerous characters that each have  a distinct personality, this story is likely to be one you won’t forget anytime soon.

Though set in high school, the author successfully manages to avoid most, if not all, the trappings that usually accompany American stories set in this backdrop. The aim of this novel is not romance—I repeat, not romance. A remarkable concept for many YA authors, I’m sure. Instead, this story concentrates on the characters themselves, their complicated relationships and the mystery surrounding the main female protagonist, Kaname Chidori.

Another commendable aspect of this book is its sheer diversity. Taking readers from countries like Russia to South Korea and representing nations such as Germany and China, the book strives to show on an epic world scale the stakes at risk in this fictional world.

TokyoPop’s translation, while rough and somewhat simplified, is still an engaging read. I could only find a handful of spots that could have used a rewrite or had a typographical error corrected. Overall, I thought the book worked very well.

Whether someone is a fan of science fiction or not, I feel that Full Metal Panic finds a more than comfortable middle ground that could prove enjoyable to just about anyone.  Combining futuristic technology, military terrorism, international disputes, and high school, this novel provides the perfect balance of gripping suspense and laughter.

Matthew Reeves is an aspiring novelist living in California. You can usually find him lost in thought on a walk or writing on Twitter as @MattReeves17.

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