By Shouji Gatou and Shikidouji. Released in Japan by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.
Fans of the anime did not notice this as much, but the main series of Full Metal Panic! Novels very quickly dropped most of the humor from the series. Metatextually, the reason for this is the author started a series of side story volumes with short stories that contained all the wacky shenanigans and being hit with paper fans that anyone would need. Indeed, they even did a separate anime series, Fumoffu, that adapted many of these. But they also funneled some of them into the main series, which is good, because without it the series gets unmistakably grim. As this volume attests. The author urges in his afterword that we should not call it depressing, but yeah, sorry, it is depressing. This story of a child soldier whose hands are stained with blood and a girl who is essentially an esper superweapon has reached the point where “high school” has to end. And so it does.
Even the school is aware of this – early in the volume, Sousuke is approached by the outgoing Student Council President, who notes that he’s used his position to cover up Sousuke’s very obvious paramilitary activities, but the incoming council won’t be able to. Unfortunately, before he can do anything about this, Leonard has made his move, destroying most of Mithril and taking out several minor members of Tessa’s crew (so far, Mao and Kurz seem OK). As this happens, Leonard shows up at Kaname’s apartment and tells her “come with me”, and when she refuses and she and Sousuke flee, he responds by taking the school hostage and strapping bomb to Kyoko. Make no mistake about it, this is a supervillain who knows how to get what he wants. Much as Sousuke would wish otherwise, you can guess how Kaname responds to this.
As I said, this book is another series of gut punches, as Sousuke’s support structure is decimated, the school he’s grown fond of now knows who he is, and the woman he loves is now in the hands if the enemy. The final scene involves him showing up in class after all this has occurred, to the horror and disgust of most of the students, and telling them that he plans to bring Kaname back, and also to hate him rather than her. Understandably, because he loves Kaname he also wants to protect her “normal” life. That said, Kyoko’s in the hospital, the staff of the school is, blame or no, unlikely to let Kaname return… I dunno, I feel we’ve turned a corner here. In any case, I expect the next book will involve trying to figure out where Kaname is – I really hope she gets to do something besides be a damsel.
I’ve left out the battles here, which are quite well written and awesome – by this point, the author was writing with an eye for the anime, and it shows, though he’s always had a bit of that in his works. We do also get one major casualty in this book, which I don’t want to spoil, but after everything that’s happened in the last four it feels sadder than I expected. This remains a solid series, but there will be absolutely no bear mascots going forward – FMP is serious business.