Anime Review 28: Full Metal Panic, Voices of a Distant Star, and Mushi-shi
Full Metal Panic
Full Metal Panic
No relation to Full Metal Alchemist. Full Metal Panic is the story of Sousuke Sagara (or should that be Sagara Sousuke?), a secret agent and badass soldier, forced to pose as a high school student in order to watch over this teenage girl named Chidori Kaname. She's being targeted by the KGB, Russian secret agents, but Sousuke's team of agents seems puzzled as to why. (I used a little trick for remembering her name, "midori" is the Japanese word for green, and she has greenish-blue hair.) The show has a good mix of action and comedy, dramatic espionage scenes are paired with Sousuke looking like a crazed, perverted stalker when shadowing Chidori. He's just trying to do his job, but she doesn't know this and thinks he's just a creeper!
This show's mix of typical anime high school schtick with over-the-top gun action was what I found endearing. The characters are also some of the most beautifully drawn I've ever seen in anime, the artists behind this show seem good at faces. They've created characters that look individualized, memorable, and charming. Some part of watching this was gaping in awe at the gorgeousness of Chidori and Melissa Mao, badass female who works with Sousuke. It's not an over-the-top beauty like in a shoujo series, this is very much a shounen action show. However, they created characters that have substance as well as style successfully without going overboard with glamorous costumes, sparkles, and elongated proportions, the way that beauty is typically done in a shoujo series. The believability and realism of the character design, to me, contributes to their beauty, in place of gaudiness. There is a lot of attention to detail in this show, one thing that stood out to me was the way the bottom lashes of most characters look more detailed, where other artists take the shortcut and make the bottom lashes simplistic curved lines without drawing the lashes. Special details of the eyes and face of a character interest me because that absorbs me into the show, drawn into the beauty of the speaker, I become interested in what they're saying.
I think this show is very well done, and it will be interesting to see the continuation of this story. The plot was comically entertaining as well as rife with danger and suspense. In the last episode I saw, for example, Chidori's class was taking a trip to Okinawa by plane. The Russians who are after Chidori hijacked the plane and landed it in Siberia, and Sousuke had to fight for the safety of the entire class. There are epic mech battles, epic shootouts, and epic fanservice. What more could you want in a shounen?
Voices of a Distant Star
Voices of a Distant Star
This anime took me by surprise for being not a series, as I expected, but rather, a very short animated movie (only about 25 minutes). While I was watching it I believed it to be the pilot episode of a series, and it's kind of a pity that it isn't because this story felt incomplete and underdeveloped. It was stunning visually and emotionally interesting, but ultimately, I didn't learn enough about the characters or what they were doing or why to care, and I never really felt like I got a complete picture. It's remarkable in that one person, Makoto Shinkai, scripted, animated, and produced the whole thing on his own. But I feel that he is primarily an "art person" who could have used the help of a professional writer.
The story is about two 14-year-olds, a boy and a girl, who are friends that get separated by fate. The girl joins this military organization and runs off to fight aliens. As she travels through space, the distance her text messages to him and his to her gradually take longer to reach their destination. Eventually, she ends up in a star system that's a full 8 light years from earth, meaning that each text message she sends him will take 8 years for him to receive it, and another 8 years for her to get a reply.
The plot reminded me of Ender's Game and it's sequels, such as Ender in Exile, in which Ender and his sister Valentine travel to help humanity colonize distant alien home worlds (after Ender destroyed all the aliens), while back on Earth, their brother Peter takes over the world and ages as they take much longer to grow up, due to extensive space travel.
Worth watching for the visually awe-inspiring views of outer space, but I really feel it was weak in the story department. The main characters are childhood friends, but I was left wondering a lot about them, including her motivation for going into space in the first place and the cause of their attraction for each other, and I would have liked to know more about their personalities. In addition, the ending could have been more satisfying if they'd shown more of the story. It would be much better if this could be made into either a full-length movie or full anime series, but I feel that by itself it just isn't enough. I don't think this episode-length film can stand on its own the way it is now. It needs further development.
Mushi-Shi follows the travels of Ginko, a traveling scholar with excellent mastery of and precious insight about these strange invisible spirit creatures called mushi. He travels visiting people afflicted by mushi possession; for example, a boy with a mushi inhabiting his inner ear. He uses his vast knowledge about mushi natures and behavior in order to resolve the conflicts that arise between humans and mushi. Ginko lives kind of a solitary life, he's a contemplative, studious type, so I'd recommend this anime for someone whose personality is similar. He keeps detailed notes and sketches about every mushi he's ever encountered, including, much like a medical researcher, symptoms and case study notes concerning what happened with the victims of possession by or contact with each particular mushi by humans.
The mushi do not have malicious intent for humans, like the demons you typically see in horror movies. They simply behave like animals, seeking out methods of ensuring their survival like any other organism. They have awesome power compared to humans, but some of them are quite small like pest organisms and only have strength in numbers, and others have weaknesses and are quite capable of feeling pain and human emotions; for example, one mushi is a swamp spirit who travels to the sea to die, at peace, after a long life, sacrificing itself so that new swamps have a chance to thrive.
Mushi-shi at its heart encapsulates the balance of the natural world. Although some of the things mushi do to people seems horrifying at first glance, at the end of the episode the horrific phenomenon is usually explained by Ginko in a loving way, as he is incredibly knowledgeable and capable of understanding and empathizing with these mysterious spirit beings. He respects them and understands them, and always tries to create a solution that is beneficial to the mushi involved as much as to the humans. He represents the ethic of respecting nature, rather than trying to fight against it violently.
The mushi themselves often possess watery qualities. The setting has an ancient Japanese feel to it. As such it seemed to have been influenced by Studio Ghibli films, which often also center around this theme of respect for the environment, in addition to possessing a water-like, natural, and ancient aesthetic. Both Mushi-shi and the majority of Ghibli movies (like Spirited Away, Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke) seem to teach the message that sympathy, rational understanding, and caring are needed for our survival as a species, not brute force or violence, which is always ultimately harmful to all.