War is life? Full Metal Panic’s view of war

Daniel’s right. War does suck, especially in Gundam shows.

Now, I’ll admit, I have a bit of an aversion to the Gundam franchise. It’s not that I dislike it. It’s just a lot of the shows I’ve watched (Gundam Zeta and Gundam 0083) didn’t really excite me. At least not in the same way Macross, Argentosoma, RahXephon or a lot of other big robot shows excite me.

That said, I think there’s something to be said for the franchise because it does excite a lot of people.

While I think Daniel’s right, I do have something to add to what he said (otherwise why would I bother writing this post?) I think war represents more than just war in Gundam shows and other war epic/coming of age Mecha shows.

It represents life.

At their heart, each of these shows is the story of a teenager, who generally gets thrust into the middle of the action. Then the main character has his (or her) values, opinions or life view challenged, generally on an everyday (or at least every episode) basis. To top it off, they have to do deal with these challenges. They have to learn to adapt and change, adopt new world views, learn how to love, learn about people all in the course of fighting a war.

And in these cases, war is life played on a grand scale.

The characters may dream about returning to their pastoral innocence or they may fight to restore it, but either way they aren’t entering adulthood unchanged.

This is what makes Full Metal Panic so interesting.

Now when I started thinking about this post, I imagined FMP was simply the Gundam tale told in reverse. You have a teenager, whose life is war and then has to learn how to deal with peace. In this argument, war becomes the pastoral innocence Sousuke is clinging onto, while the battles he’s fighting are really in the classroom.

To a degree, I still think that, but (yes I am going to say this) I think FMP is more complex then that.

Full Metal Panic seems to play out on two fronts. On the one hand, there’s Sousuke’s relationship with Kaname and on the other there’s Sousuke’s relationship with Gauron.

When the series starts (and through the course of most of the first season and all of the second season) Sousuke is a solider. Not only is he a solider, he’s arguably the perfect solider. Gauron even makes reference to that in one of the episodes. He essentially lives to serve. Like I said before, war is Sousuke’s life. It’s what he understands. It’s his farm or space colony or whatever analogous metaphor you want to put into there.

Then he get’s thrust into a “normal” Japanese high school during peacetime. He tries to cope by applying wartime tactics to real life. And much like Roy Fokker to Rick Hunter, Kaname is Sousuke’s mentor. Now you could say it stops here. If you did you could say the show is pointing out war is actually an artifice. The lessons you may learn there don’t apply to real life.

But you’d still be left with Sousuke’s relationship with Gauron.

This is where it gets tricky because Sousuke and Gauron are like Amaro Ray and Char Aznable or, perhaps, even more like Lelouch and Suzaku. They are two people who are joined by a single common element.


Except Sousuke’s war and Gauron’s war are two different things. Sousuke’s war is clean, noble and necessary. His life is regimented around the idea that he is a solider, good soldiers follow orders and those orders may lead to death, but it’s in service to the higher cause.

Gauron’s war is dirty, underhanded and self-serving. His life is regimented around the idea that war is about who walks away with the most profit. People might die, but as long as he lives, who cares?

For the majority of the series, these two viewpoints are put at odds. It’s pretty clear Sousuke is right and Gauron is wrong.

Until Second Raid (and arguably the latter parts of the first series.)

In Second Raid, we find out both versions of war are wrong in some way.

Gauron’s war is born out of cynicism and disappointment. When Sousuke is confronted with his own disappointments, he starts to slip. Now, I would really like to stop there and say the series says, “Gauron’s view of war is the correct view of war,” but I don’t think it does.

Sousuke doesn’t completely give into Gauron’s worldview. Yes, he does ponder it, but in the end, he finds out another truth (perhaps not so strangely from his real life mentor, Kaname.)

War is meaningless unless there’s something to protect. While this isn’t a necessarily earth shaking concept for anime, it’s interesting how the series got there.

So in the end, we learn Sousuke’s view of war is just as empty and meaningless as Gauron’s war.


11 thoughts on “War is life? Full Metal Panic’s view of war

  1. Good explanation, a point well taken. For the record, I so endorse FMP! as Gundam in reverse. lol fantastic.

    Any fight (excluding sport), whether war, hand-to-hand, or verbal, needs a purpose, and hopefully a noble reason. While it’s hard to judge morals, sometimes fighting is the only way to combat generally immoral factions. I wish there were a moral framework specifically for combating the immoral, because it seems like such actions are themselves immoral in some shape or form.

    We need another season of FMP!

  2. You mentioned Roy Foker and Rick Hunter. This isn’t really a big deal, but did you get to see the original SDF-Macross series, apart from the Robotech adaptation/repurposing?

    Digression aside, as a recent fan of Gundam (after being a lifelong fan of Macross – I saw the original series in1984 as a 7 year old) I had many many many complaints at the onset. Like you, I failed to get excited about it the same way I get excited about other shows.

    I’m currently re-watching a lot of the shows that I had dismissed, and I must say it’s quite a remarkable experience (I’m watching Zeta now).

    Your point about the reverse Gundam story in FMP is very interesting, and may just interest me enough to watch FMP beyond the enjoyable Fumoffu series.

  3. @ Ryan A – That’s an interesting thought. I don’t suscribe to cultural relativism, so I would generally say there are utilitarian reasons for fighting war. I also tend to think libertarianism tends to fall down when you start looking at societies, so you’re left with either trying to make a categorical imperative or a utilitarian argument for the justness of a war.

    On the other hand, I do think war in reality and war in fiction are really two different things. Where war in reality is a far more messy endevour that generally is only fully understood after it occurs, war in fiction tends to be a lot “cleaner” in its motivations.

    @ghostlightning – I have to admit I haven’t watched the original Macross outside of Robotech. I’ve heard that it’s not that different from the Robotech version. It is on my list of series to buy at some point, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Granted, I have watched about half of Frontier and I really liked it, I just haven’t downloaded the other half.

    Yeah, I just tend to have issues with Zeta, although I thought there were some parts of 0083 that were pretty good. Honestly, I’ve wanted to buy MS Team and War in the Pocket, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ve heard mixed reviews on Wing and Seed. I’ve also heard Destiny wasn’t good. Although a lot of people seem to like 00.

    I definitely liked all of FMP. Although a lot of people complained about the first series, I tend to think the comedic elements and the dramatic elements tend to balance each other out and work well together, but some people don’t.

  4. A lot to think on here. Having read this, I’m trying to draft a post that picks up on some of these ideas.

    In the meantime, it’s been a long time since I saw Full Metal Panic, but your reading fits everything I remember of its story rather well. I love the idea that warfare is Sousuke’s equivalent of the pastoral idyll / remembered homeland / whatever that mecha pilots sometimes want to return to. And if civilian life is the real/adult world that he has to adjust to, it makes sense that Kaname would force him to adjust his ideas about warfare.

    I guess Full Metal Panic does a good job of pointing out the value of normality, normal people and normal behaviour.

  5. @ The Animanachronism – I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say.

    I definitely agree FMP does a good job of pointing out the value of normality. On top of that I think it does it in a way that isn’t really heavy-handed or demeaning. A lot of Mecha war epics seem to use normality as a damsel in distress. While Kaname does get into a few of those situations, she’s also able to get out of a lot of them too, which makes it interesting.

  6. Well, cultural relativism fails anyway, and it’d be hard to make categorical imperatives for conflict, so yea utilitarianism, but it’s not solely about war, there could be no war at all but still conflict and/or intervention. Reasoning when to conflict requires evaluation of the morals of some party, but I’m not sure if utilitarianism deals with that. The current frameworks give us guidelines on morality, but I feel it’s not the same as guidelines of reactions to immoral parties.

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