FULL METAL PANIC! Invisible Victory – Anime Review
Synopsis: Kaname’s a popular girl at her high school, but it’s her popularity off campus that’s the problem. Unbeknownst to Kaname, terrorists are plotting her abduction, believing she possesses the abilities of the “Whispered.” That’s where Sousuke enters the picture. He’s a soldier from Mithril, a secret counter-terrorist unit—and he’s going undercover at Kaname’s school to try and keep her safe. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory has been plagued with delays, using recap episodes in two places to stem the disappointment from week long breaks, or outright withholding the final two episodes for weeks on end, making fans wait half a month for the conclusion to the season. (Production delays remain an unfortunate, and ever growing reality.) This haphazard schedule was easily Invisible Victory’s greatest deficiency. Now, with fans free to jump in and experience the whole season in one go (or in the Dub’s case, in just another month.) Invisible Victory can hold position as the series’ greatest season yet, though not without a few lingering issues.
First off is the presentation. Rarely does Full Metal Panic IV look incredible. The 2D animation more often hovers around ‘acceptable’ or ‘competent.’ Rarely impressive, and often merely good, Invisible Victory isn’t the series’ looker. But that’s only for the 2D art. While the Mechs are rendered in 3D, and will never fool you otherwise, they remain the true center piece of the series’ visual efforts. The mechs contain such precise detail and complex movement that each and every fight scene is a treat for the eyes. Never before have the AS looked and moved so perfectly, selling the scale and intensity of Sousuke’s efforts to rescue Ms. Chidori with incredible spectacle. It helps that it’s the same technique behind the Gundam The Origin efforts, showcasing that 3D mechs are a viable means for producing the crazy mecha battles that 2D efforts can’t always keep up with.
Beneath the superficial, Full Metal Panic IV prides itself less so on character work and more on keeping the story moving at a rapid pace. Billing itself more so as a thriller/action adventure, the periodic comedy from earlier seasons is jettisoned entirely, much to the improvement of the narrative. Alongside that, the series rarely tries to develop its characters. While Sagara perhaps questions his efforts to save Chidori, met with frequent failure throughout this season, he never strays from the path of stalwart heroism, unlike in Second Raid. None of the other characters, save Chidori, go through a character journey, everyone clinging to their closely held beliefs and fighting the secret war they’ve found themselves in from Episode 1. This isn’t necessarily an issue, and the show benefits so much more from keeping the plot moving that I’m confident in saying this was the correct choice.
Thanks to that tight focus the series moves at a rapid and efficient pace. The story is divided into three arcs, with an overarching through-line connecting everything. This is largely due to the nature of the original Light Novels, with the anime working to adapt each volume in approximately four episodes each. Due to the efficient pace this works wonders for Arcs 1 and 3, both feeling tight, fast-paced, and to the point. The story moves so quickly episode to episode that you might find either arc concluding before you realized just how quickly you’ve binged through it all. Arc 2 however is where the series slows, introducing new characters, some temporary and some permanent additions. Due in part to this, the story slows to a crawl, and it’s only in the last episode of the arc that things pick up again. Despite this dip, Arcs 1 and 3 more than make up for it.
It’s in the 3rd Arc that what little character development Invisible Victory offers actually happens. Despite Chidori being the strong, boisterous woman of the series, she becomes a total damsel in distress this time around, more so than the original run. Chidori herself ultimately gives into this fate and feels wholly unlike herself, no matter the series’ justifications for her about face. It’s only in the last episode the character audience’s know and love shines through her emotional journey, and just for a moment before the season concludes. The series tries to get the most out of this by providing a shocking turn of events, but is so interested in having its cake and eating it too that it won’t commit. A surprising, shocking, and violent moment is pulled back on, with consequences toned down moments after the startling event, making it all feel a bit silly and a tad unearned. There’s better ways to have played it, and this moment remains one of the more ho-hum aspects to the season.
Conversely, with this fumble given so much attention, one of the more shocking twists is barely touched upon, with no one commenting on the surprising and unexpected nature of a beloved’s characters heel-turn. This perhaps even signals the stories’ non-committal to the twist, prepared to explain away this sudden betrayal and undo it later on, giving the game up early and failing to lend real gravitas to the moment.
Fans also shouldn’t expect a true conclusion going into Invisible Victory. Unlike previous seasons where plot-threads were, at most, dangled, Invisible Victory largely lacks a cap off, leaving the primary plot up in the air until the next season. It’s not an issue, but it’s something fans should be prepared for, as this feels more like a mid-point to the narrative than a proper conclusion to the season. (I believe it’s already been confirmed another twelve episodes are ‘on the way.’)
Ultimately, no matter my lingering quibbles, Invisible Victory still feels the strongest Full Metal Panic! season to date. It provides twists, turns, and generally competent animation, coupled with stunning mecha action. Where as previously each season left me feeling ambivalent as to where the story would go, Invisible Victory has me actively anticipating FMP’s continuation. I only hope that the next season isn’t bogged down by frequent and unfortunate delays. I’d rather receive this continuation a year late than suffer the same release schedule we just suffered through.