What to Expect from Full Metal Panic Season 4
The shounen light novel company Fantasia Bunko held a Thanksgiving 2015 event in Tokyo on Saturday 24th October 2015. Fans were not expecting that the light novel author of Full Metal Panic (hereby called FMP!) Shoji Gatou and the producer of the anime Atsushi Itou would announce a new television series to complete the main story line. Due to the number of false announcements over the past ten years the near universal reaction has been skepticism and double takes. It takes a few moments of chasing up references before the true celebrations begin. As evident by the poster and the fact the Japanese voice cast of FMP! was part of the event, the series will continue the original time line and not adapt the spin off sequel FMP! Another which is still being written. Apparently the FMP! sequel is estimated to be completed within the next five years, hopefully sooner rather than later. Many fans are not familiar with the light novel franchise so the speculations that surround the new series are broad. The purpose of this article is to help narrow down what we do know about the production material and what sort of choices to expect.
Those who do not know a lot about FMP may be wondering what the story is about and why this news is important in anime fandom. IMDB’s summary for the first series is as follows:
“Sousuke Sagara, a member of a covert anti-terrorist private military organization known as Mithril, is tasked with protecting Kaname Chidori, a spirited Japanese high school girl.”
Is FMP one of those rusty old shows like Voltron that visually or story wise has not stood the test of time? The fact that new fans are emerging and many recent reviews view the series in a positive light imply that it does. Theron Martin from Anime News Network described the first series as not being ‘classic’ but “highly entertaining”. The interactions between the two lead characters are amusing (Nfarious Reviews, 2015) and create a “a layered parfait of action and comedy with sci-fi sprinkled on top” which is worth a watch (Tonthat, 2010). Even when the higher quality sequel and spin off came out, a very common criticism was that there were many questions unanswered. A fourth season is extremely exciting because it can complete the material and has the potential to finally put these complaints to rest -- on the assumption the story is executed in a powerful way. Considering that the light novels only get darker and a lot of the major questions are answered, the likelihood of this happening is decent, with only minor plausibility or loose ends getting in the way. A strong fourth season could bring FMP into the status of classic, bring forth a resurgence of the fandom and make it stand once and for all with other highly respected mecha anime franchises.
It has only been a month and message boards have exploded with potential series names. One of the more amusing ones proposed as a joke is FMP: Vertical shaft as on reddit. Many familiar with the anime suggest “The Third Raid”, although this seems unlikely given the series pattern of picking a unique name with each installment. While chapter and volume names for the light novels often correspond to specific episodes these are not likely to be used for a title. Given the manga adaption of the light novels is titled FMP! Sigma, this seems like a name which could be used, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if the animation studio came up with an entirely new name. Speculating about the title is therefore a largely fruitless discussion, but there are other aspects like potential animation studios which is more interesting.
Who Will Animate the New Series?
FMP! has had an inconsistent production run. The first series animated by GONZO has been painfully accurately described by Glass Reflection as a “military comedy-esque anime with light sprinkles of romance that you will probably never notice.” The animation quality for the series varied greatly from scene to scene and has been criticized for the repetitive submarine CG and does not impress nowadays because of the use of stills. Kyoto Animation very clearly separated the comedy and drama aspects of the franchise into two shows: Fumoffu (2003) and The Second Raid (2005), removing common complaints of filler and confused goals. Kyoto Animation’s approach to the material was incredibly successful and the studio have since maintained a fantastic reputation world wide for their attention to detail and high quality animation. Rebecca Silverman did a review earlier in November for Fumoffu, claiming that the series has stood the test of time. More than most franchises, there has been a very obvious divide between the quality of FMP and subsequent seasons.
A popular blog post by Full Metal Panic News claimed that the animation studio has been confirmed to be Tokyo based, but tracing back translated version of the original Japanese news sources implies that, like Anime News Network claimed, the information is not available yet. In fact, many Japanese bloggers have the same questions as Western fans. The animation studio is still to be confirmed, and this announcement will be a critical as it will give a very strong indicator of what level of quality the series will be. Although fans of the GONZO adaption of FMP! exist from preferring the mixed tone of the series, many in the West are praying for Kyoto Animation’s involvement. The opinions of the Japanese fanbase seems evenly mixed as many seem to have seen the first series but not the sequels.
It is worth examining the likelihood of particular studios working on FMP! season four. Not a surprise to most, the chances of a previous FMP! studio taking the project is high. GONZO is not out of the question since the FMP! creator has ties with the studio. He composed and wrote the series The Tower of Druaga (2008), a project that the FMP! director was also involved in. The studio has a large resume with three Tokyo based offices and currently holds 43 employees. Depending on the schedule, the studio sometimes airs three series a season, sometimes reaching six shows a year. This pattern seems to have reduced this decade with a rough estimate of two series being produced over a twelve month period, which might mean that GONZO is taking more time on its projects.
Due to the inconsistent animation quality that GONZO is infamous for, there are mixed reactions to the idea of GONZO being the main powerhouse. Their better work lies in shows like Full Metal Panic, Last Exile, Kaleido Star and Welcome to the NHK, but even these have dips in frame rates. FMP! season four could potentially be one of the company’s best work if they directed all effort toward the project, but whether that is the case remains to be seen as GONZO has largely fallen off the anime radar in recent years. The most recent hit was Strike Witches, not exactly a jaw dropping series. Other categories which level similar visual quality to GONZO are Madhouse and Sunrise, although these are less likely to be candidates since Shoji Gatou has not worked for them.
What will be a relief of many, including myself, the FMP! creator has had a far closer involvement with Kyoto Animation and this has been a continuous relationship. Not only was he closely part of the FMP! adaptions at the time of their release, Gatou continued to lend his writing talent on episodes of the company’s more successful titles like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star and Hyouka. His more recent creation effort was with Amagi Brilliant Park last year with the help of another Full Metal Panic director. Perhaps Gatou did this deliberately with the intention of his FMP! baby being nurtured by this prolific studio, with GONZO as a safety net in case plans fell through. Other studios that may produce the series to a quality standard could be A-1 Pictures, BONES, Ufotable or Trigger, but considering the lack of a working relationship the chances are low. I personally have my fingers nervously crossed for Kyoto Animation and Animate TV encourages readers to be hopeful and look forward to the release of new information, a much needed positive attitude on the elaborate internet.
How Will They Adapt the Source Material?
The adaption of the source material is where the bulk of the FMP! season four argument becomes more constructive, although so many fans are unfamiliar with the manga or light novels there lacks an in depth examination of what could be realistically achieved. In brief non spoiler terms, the remaining light novels explain all mysteries to do with the Whispered, Tessa and Leonard Testarossa, the big enemy is defeated, and there is a resolution to the Kaname/Sousuke romance which has been building up since the light novel beginning in 1998. Apart from this, there are a variety of fights and conflicts, similar to what fans are familiar with in the previous seasons, making the series a dark, action packed, emotional ride. However, there is one big speed hump in the planning stages of season four. There are more light novels left to adapt than what any of the anime have covered so far, and since major story points are resolved, a lot of the material is relevant.
To get some leverage on what this could mean it is useful to examine the method of adaption for the previous series that were plot based. FMP! adapted the first three light novels (Fighting Boy Meets Girl, One Night Stand and Into the Blue) into 24 episodes. The Tokyopop publications have five chapters each with a prologue and epilogue across 300 pages of large font writing, adding to around eighteen chapters in total. This means around 1.5 chapters were adapted per episode. The Second Raid adapted two light novels, Ending Day by Day part 1 and 2, across 13 episodes, around twelve chapters of material. As a result one episode corresponded to a chapter, with a few sections removed. The pacing in The Second Raid is far more concise than FMP! and added to the entertainment value, so trimming the edges of the remaining FMP! story is likely to result in a higher quality, more engaging screenplay to animate. Since the material of the remaining light novels only gets darker from where The Second Raid left off, there will be little need to create another spin off like Fumoffu. The only FMP! side story that was released post The Second Raid was “Seriously dangerous narrow escape from death?” in 2011. This has the potential to be a side story OVA but not take the place of an entire series.
Where does this leave FMP! season four? There are seven light novels remaining around the similar length of previous installments, around 42 chapters. If Kyoto Animation receives the project and used a similar tactic to adapting the Ending Day by Day novels, we would be looking at three seasons of thirteen episodes. This could be a highly effective way of distributing the material without destroying the execution in the process. It wouldn’t be out of Kyoto Animations realm. K-On, Free! and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya have two thirteen episode seasons and a movie. This format could work for FMP! Season four. However, if the writers wanted to condense the material further it may be possible to do so in 26 episodes. This is the format suggested by many fans on message boards. The light novels quite frequently describe what is occurring from the perspectives of multiple characters, including the antagonists, so it may be possible to remove excess material from these scenes. Kaname gets kidnapped a number of times which may be possible to condense too, but this would require a larger restructuring of the original material.
Gatou is working on FMP! with the original anime director so if anybody knows where to remove material, it is them. The series creator worked on the series composition for Hyouka which adapted four light novels into 22 episodes. Although the structure of Hyouka is quite episodic in comparison, it displays Gatou’s ability to pick and choose what is relevant to the overall story. It is possible an announcement on season four took so long because of the difficult task to formulate an adaption structure which would do the material justice was so daunting and lengthy. Of course, it also helps that the light novels only ended in 2010, a fact most fans forgot when they were busy demanding a fourth season.
Soundtrack and Other Production Issues
The old Japanese voice cast for FMP!, Satsuki Yukino and Tomokazu Seki are almost definitely going to reprise their roles given they were present when the project was announced in Tokyo. The composer present throughout all FMP! anime was Toshihiko Sahashi, who according to his official website is still active in the industry. The singer Mikuni Shimokawa who has worked almost exclusively on anime opening and ending theme songs is also still making music. Her last anime work was the fourth Fairy Tail ending song in 2010 and her 10th Anniversary album called Heavenly released in 2009. She got married in 2012 which could explain her inactivity in anime in the past few years. However, Shimokawa is an indispensable asset to FMP! songs, as important as Wada Koji is to the Digimon franchise. Although if for whatever reason she was not available to take part in the project, there are a number of other popular female artists that share a similar pop/rock style and would be suitable to replace her. Such artists may be supercell, Chochou and Aimer. However, chances are high that these staff members will return for the fourth season.
From the moment the announcement was made, Western fans agonized over how an English dub would proceed given it may be up to five years until the anime is released. Many were concerned of whether Luci Christian or Chris Patton would reprise their roles as the two leads, Kaname Chidori and Sousuke Sagara. There were some legal proceedings in Funimation a number of years ago and it was rumored that Chris Patton left the company for this reason. However, getchman on the Anime News Network forums states this is not the case, “He talked about this on his Facebook page a while back. The lawsuit had nothing to do with it. He just couldn’t commit to the 8 hour round trip between Houston and Dallas. He was getting drowsy far too often on his way home on the highway and in the interest of his safety, decided to stop going to Funi for roles.” At least in Chris’s case, he has expressed interest in reprising the role of Sousuke so the chances of him putting in the extra effort to play an old favorite is likely, on the assumption he hasn’t retired by the time the show comes out. Luci Christian, Alison Keith, Vic Mignogna and Hilary Haag are still active in the anime voice acting community so their involvement seems guaranteed. It will largely depend on how quickly the series is released.
When the series will be released is the next big question. It is as critical as the animation studio that will be attached to the project since it has implications for the number of the old staff that can be recruited. Since the project has been moving along behind the scenes since 2011 one hopes the project won’t be delayed or put on hiatuses. Last year Kyoto Animation completed four animation projects so it is possible the release could be sooner rather than later depending on how quickly announcements on the next parts of the project are made. Myriad Colors Phantom World is the next Kyoto Animation project announced for January next year. It will be based off a light novel from 2013 which recieved an award from Kyoto Animation. No other series have been announced by the studio yet.
Overall, with the information we have so far there is a high chance that FMP!’s fourth season will be adapted by either Kyoto Animation or Gonzo. While the animation studio may be largely speculation at this point other aspects of the production like the soundtrack are likely to include the original, much loved staff from previous seasons on the assumption the production moves quickly. With Shoji Gatou and Atsushi Itou on the project the screenplay adaption will likely do the material justice no matter how the books are divided. This is a long awaited announcement that is likely to bring in a new flurry of fans as the release grows nearer and interest in the franchise re-surges.
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