Sunday, December 17, 2000

Full Metal Panic review

I just received this set and have watched through roughly 4 episodes and a little bit.

For those that don't know, Full Metal Panic (or FMP) is a show from early 2000 based on a series of short novels. The story involves a boy soldier (well, mercenary), sent by a secret organization to protect a girl who is known to be a "Whispered." Being a "Whispered" means that the person holds knowledge of "black technology" without really knowing they know it. Mostly it's about Sagara Sosuke, the boy soldier, being clumsy with people and having an obvious crush on the girl he is supposed to be protecting. The feeling is mutual and the girl he is protecting, Chidori Kaname, is just as awkward in dealing with Sosuke.

Giant robot action is also included as a sort of bonus. Think of the show as a romantic comedy with serious drama and military action thrown in.

In terms of the Blu Ray, this release is an upscale of a standard definition release as the studio that animated it, Gonzo, was only animating in SD at the time of its release. Either way, a proper software upscale done on a Blu Ray will always look better than an upscale done through hardware (watching a DVD via the PS3 upscaled to 1080p for instance). This release is no exception.

The nice thing here is that the opening sequence is unaffected by the upscale this time around, unlike Funimation's release of Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid Box Set [Blu-ray] where the opening was improperly encoded and skips frames.

Picture quality is nothing short of amazing. Crystal clear and from everything I can tell, there are no artifacts or other weirdness brought in from the upscale. If you had this on DVD and want an upgrade in picture quality, this is a worthy purchase as it looks perfect. If upscaled DVD looks good to you, well there may be no point in upgrading to Blu Ray.

Something to keep in mind is that this show was originally done in the 4:3 aspect ratio (SD). The opening, while widescreen, isn't anamorphic and wasn't actually animated in HD, so it will always contain bars at the top and bottom of the picture. This is as it was originally animated and FUNimation has taken no liberties to try and stretch it to a widescreen format, which is appreciated.

The opening and endings are the same as the ADV DVD release so the opening/ending title cards are all in English. If you're looking for the Japanese title cards, you'll need to purchase the Japanese releases to have Japanese title cards as they are not included in any ADV or FUNimation release.

In terms of audio, you have 2 options. You can watch the show in Stereo Dolby True HD in spoken Japanese (the original show was 2.0 stereo in Japan, so you are getting the audio as originally intended by the Japanese producers for the Japanese market) and you are also given the option of Dolby True HD 5.1 in spoken English. When ADV released the series oh so many years ago, they upgraded the 2.0 audio to a 5.1 mix in the US. The result in English, for me, is a mixed result as much of the time it still feels like a stereo mix. I also generally watch Anime in Japanese, so I was really just swapping around during action sequences to see how the channel separation sounds and it's good, but nothing amazing.

Overall the audio sounds pretty good. There are no drop outs or other audio issues and the added bitrate afforded by Blu Ray and True HD, but then, there weren't really any issues with the original DVD mixes either.

Some nice extras are included, including one that wasn't in the original single release from ADV (nor was it included in previous ADV sets). The new extra is the interview with the show's producers and original author of the novels. This was recorded for the Japanese Blu Ray release (or possibly to air during the re-airing of the series on Japanese TV, I'm not sure), I believe, so it actually is encoded in HD, 1080i. It's a look back on the show's release and is really good.

There is something missing from the extras. The original DVD release included some production sketches in video form. These do not exist on this release, which means it isn't "complete," however they weren't amazing. It is disappointing they aren't here though.

You have 8 episodes per disc, on 3 discs. I was worried there would be audio or video issues trying to cram so many episodes on a disc, however the bit rates are high throughout and it really looks quite amazing.

If you love the series and want the release with the best video quality yet released, this is the one to pick up. If you need to have all the extras, you'll need this release (or the DVD equivalent) and the original ADV release for the production sketches.

If you've never seen the show and don't own a previous version, this is the one to get.


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