Full Metal Panic Overload vol. 1

Full Metal Panic Overload vol. 1
 Chad Clayton  rates it:    

Author/Artist: Shouji Gatou/Tomohiro Nagai
Format: Paperback
Price: $9.99

For better or worse, Full Metal Panic is one of those titles which I’ve mostly missed out on until now. I’ve never seen the anime, and I’ve only read the first volume of the manga, which didn’t strike me as being good enough to pursue further. I only know enough about the story to have a decent grasp of its general idea and the humor behind it, but fortunately, that’s really all one needs to know in order to understand Full Metal Panic: Overload!. Though it’s evidently supposed to be a retelling of the FMP story, thus far Overload has forgotten almost all of the overreaching plot of the original series, as well as most of its characters. Instead, it focuses strictly on the day-to-day hijinks caused by teenage military man/psycho Sosuke as he tries to “protect” a classmate named Kaname Chidori. As to who or what exactly Sosuke is protecting her from, Overload neglects to mention.

People might argue that Overload is a parody of the original Full Metal Panic manga, but that’s only about half true. It could have been a parody easily enough; it does exaggerate and lampoon elements of the original FMP, and it does exaggerate the strongest parts of Kaname and Sosuke’s personalities to the point of comedy. Sosuke’s gone from polite, naive, and a little reactionary to paranoid, violent, and psychotic, and Kaname’s even whinier and more savage than in the original. But every time Overload threatens to break down into total parody, it quickly veers back into safer, more conventional territory. As a result, most of its material tends to smack of “let’s do FMP again, only wackier,” instead of a really refreshing spin on the story.

I think that’s the problem with Overload: it’s too much like the manga it’s based on, in all the wrong ways. It focuses on, and tries to expand upon, what I thought was the weakest aspect of Full Metal Panic: the comedy. Its gags were mostly based on the same tired routine: Something happens, Sosuke overreacts and blows something up/hurts someone/causes other trouble, Kaname beats the crap out of him, start the cycle again. Unfortunately, Overload adopts this same routine. It manages to do it a bit more effectively, but simply doing a routine slightly better doesn’t make it new and exciting again. Most of the manga’s best laughs actually come from the little sight gags and clever little parodies of other anime conventions that occasionally pop up. Unfortunately, there isn’t anywhere near enough of these to keep the laughs coming throughout the manga.

There’s an interesting trend between the original FMP and Overload. FMP did reasonably well when it tried to be serious, but its attempts at humor felt too calculated, too artificial, too contrived to be truly funny. The converse is true with Overload. It does fine when it sticks to simple gag humor; it’s when it tries to get serious that it begins to feel out of its element. Unfortunately, it tries to become serious far more often than it should. The quasi-romantic aspect of Kaname’s relationship with Sosuke is always played straight, which raises the question: how does one write a convincing romance between two comedic caricatures? There’s also one chapter that tries to humanize this iteration of Sosuke and mix some sensitivity into the farce, but it fails terribly – this chapter is the manga’s low point. It is possible to pull off fairly effective character-driven moments in a story that’s otherwise ridiculous, but here the attempt is sabotaged by trying to be emotionally sincere and humorously implausible at the same time.

I think ADV was on to something when they titled this release Full Metal Panic: Overload!. Overload is an apt description, but Overdose would probably be a better one. This manga is just too much. It’s too frantic and simple to be straight-faced humor, but it’s too leaden to be great farce. It’s inventive enough to get a few good laughs, but it’s too formulaic to sustain those laughs. It’s too wacky to create convincing serious moments, and it’s a bit too sincere in trying to pull off those moments. I don’t regret or resent having read Overload; it does have a few decent laughs scattered throughout, but even the best laughs are the very definition of “use once and discard” humor. So I can’t really recommend it, except possibly to the biggest fans of Full Metal Panic‘s less serious side. It’s not terrible, but it’s not the least bit consequential, either.

Added:  Monday, July 18, 2005

Related Link:  ADV Manga
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