Parody in ‘Full Metal Panic!’

The unexpected critical depths of a single throw-away scene
anime, criticism, sociology
2008-10-092013-07-01 finished certainty: unlikely importance: 0


In the 3rd episode of , there is a cu­ri­ous in­tro­duc­tory scene I’ve al­ways en­joyed. The set­ting is the stu­dent coun­cil clu­b­room; the sub­jects, Sousuke Sagara (male lead) & Kaname Chi­dori (fe­male lead). The small tele­vi­sion is the in­vari­able ob­ject of her at­ten­tion; it is now tuned to a pe­cu­liar (samu­rai dra­ma), The Amaz­ing Spi­der De­tec­tive, which plays out as fol­lows.

Spider-san

A thug­gish yakuza and his sub­or­di­nates have kid­napped a young wom­an, and he holds her hostage at knife-point. Into the house’s en­closed court­yard boldly en­ter­s—Spi­der-Man! Or rather, we should call this ki­mono- and mask-clad per­son ‘Spi­der-san’. The das­tardly yakuza re­fuses to re­lease her, and sum­mons his men.

It was, of course, a trap. Spi­der-san em­ploys his oddly fluid webs to dis­arm the boss, and ag­ilely as­cend­ing to the rooftop, he be­gins shoot­ing his webs onto the faces of the boss and his hench­men (show in close-up­s).

At this point, a emer­gency news-broad­cast in­ter­prets the drama of Spi­der-san, an­noy­ing Chi­dori (who com­plains that the drama had just be­gun to reach its cli­max). The broad­cast con­cerns some ter­ror­ism in pro­gress, which is the cue for Sousuke to de­part for an­other episode of der­ring-do.

Analysis

What par­tic­u­larly struck me about this scene is how out of place it is, how com­plex in com­par­i­son to the sur­round­ing show.

is just an en­ter­tain­ment fran­chise. It does­n’t as­pire to be an in­no­va­tor in mecha com­bat, nor does it have an in­ter­est­ing take on mod­ern war­fare & ter­ror­ism, or even par­tic­u­larly novel tech­nol­ogy (FMP’s ex­pla­na­tions start and stop with dreams and willpow­er); its nov­el­ties, such as they are, are largely con­fined to mix­ing the mecha and high school ro­mance gen­res (as will quickly con­vince one), and the hu­mor it­self is straight­for­ward. The char­ac­ter de­signs are fine enough, but they can­not be con­sid­ered im­mor­tal like those of Evan­ge­lion, and the over­all pro­duc­tion qual­ity is high but not no­table. Cer­tainly its plot and ac­tion do not bear much thought.

But here we have a scene which could eas­ily be in­ter­preted in at least 3 differ­ent ways!

  1. The first way is the straight­for­ward lit­eral way. Chi­dori is watch­ing a show, as usu­al, and Sagara has to go off and fight. It pro­vides a neu­tral start­ing point for that episode’s plot—it’s just an­other or­di­nary lazy school day—and in­tro­duces the con­flict. This is the clear­est read­ing, and the one every­one can see.
  2. The sec­ond way is on a higher level of the plot, a the­matic one. The nor­mal viewer would have watched the first sea­son of Full Metal Pan­ic!, and then watched the mini-series Full Metal Pan­ic! Fu­moffu, which fo­cused ex­clu­sively on the school and ro­mance as­pects. By start­ing with a clu­b­room scene and segue­ing into an an­ti-ter­ror­ism mis­sion, the viewer is re­minded that the sub­jec­t-ma­te­r­ial is go­ing to cover both school and war. It’s a pleas­ant way to start the episode, as it rein­tro­duces us to both char­ac­ters and re­minds us that one of the as­pects of Chi­dori’s char­ac­ter is a fond­ness for samu­rai dra­mas. Pos­si­bly we are also meant to be re­minded that the other fe­male stu­dent coun­cil mem­ber is the daugh­ter of a lo­cal yakuza fam­i­ly.

The 3rd Interpretation

The fi­nal way is as a rather com­plex par­o­dy. There are not 1, or 2, but at least 3 differ­ent par­o­dies go­ing on here.

Bukkake

The first par­ody is that the drama is covertly de­pict­ing : Spi­der-san’s webs are thick, liq­uid, and (stereo­typ­i­cal­ly) white. The goons re­act in deep dis­gust (as any het­ero­sex­ual man would!)—a dis­gust that does­n’t quite jibe with merely hav­ing been thwarted in their crim­i­nal en­ter­prise. The cam­era shots make a point of show­ing close-ups of the faces, when the pre­vi­ous shots were dis­tance and mid­dle shots (just like a bukkake film). All these points are in ex­act cor­re­spon­dence with the stereo­typ­i­cal bukkake scene. The clincher is Chi­dori’s use of ‘cli­max’. This could not have been a co­in­ci­dence—­cli­max is not nec­es­sar­ily the first word that comes to mind if you are com­plain­ing about miss­ing the end­ing, but it has the ex­act sex­ual con­no­ta­tions nec­es­sary.

Rubber monsters

The sec­ond par­ody cen­ters on the premise be­ing fun­da­men­tally ab­surd, but con­sis­tent with the Japan­ese me­dia in­dus­tries. One does­n’t have to look hard to find real ex­am­ples, like Za­to­ichi Meets Yo­jimbo or . It makes just as much sense to set Spi­der-Man in the Toku­gawa era. (Why not? Spi­der-man has al­ready been and a Japan­ese .) We can de­rive fur­ther amuse­ment from not­ing that the samu­rai genre is so cliched that Spi­der-Man seems to work just fine as the hero; why should a man with the pro­por­tional strength and agility of a spi­der have any more diffi­culty go­ing through the set mo­tions than, say, a who is a mas­ter of the sword? (Or a with a blunt blade, or a qua­si­-im­mor­tal , or…) One of the func­tions of par­ody is to play with con­ven­tions and make us aware of rep­e­ti­tions and bound­aries and what it means to be a genre piece. A Spi­der-san is cer­tainly effec­tive at that.

This Modern Youth

The third par­ody is of the view­ers. Not you and me, I mean, but rather Chi­dori and Sagara. Both seem to be at­ten­tive, in­ter­est­ed, and pleased view­ers. It is im­plied Spi­der-san is a reg­u­lar se­ries, and that both are reg­u­lar view­ers, per­haps even de­vot­ed. But nei­ther evinces the slight­est bit of irony or amuse­ment at the show. I be­lieve it im­pos­si­ble for any real hu­man to watch this scene with­out smirk­ing a lit­tle, even if said hu­man man­aged to miss the bukkake jokes.

“The virus of irony is as wide­spread in Cal­i­for­nia as her­pes, and once you’re in­fected with it, it lives in your brain for­ev­er.”1

It is a dou­ble com­men­tary: Sagara is so cul­tur­ally im­pov­er­ished that he can­not re­spond in a so­phis­ti­cated man­ner (a fea­ture of his char­ac­ter that is played for laughs dozens of times through­out the se­ries) and Chi­dori just plain likes it, per­haps just as she likes base­ball.

This Modern Society

The fourth way we can un­der­stand this scene is ad­mit­tedly a lit­tle spec­u­la­tive on my part, but it’s an in­ter­est­ing thought. We could see the scene as com­men­tary on mod­ern Japan­ese so­ci­ety. A so­ci­ety gets the me­dia it wants. What does it say when what it gets is such syn­cretic ab­sur­di­ties as Spi­der-san? Where’s the orig­i­nal­ity here? When we West­ern­ers pon­der the hid­den Japan­ese porn ref­er­ences in a Japanized Amer­i­can comic-book char­ac­ter fight­ing in­side a pe­riod drama (draw­ing on Amer­i­can west­ern­s), all in­side a school-ro­mance gen­re—a genre pi­o­neered by Amer­i­can shows—anime, a medium which bor­rows many things, like or Dis­neyesque eyes, from the West… well, I get a queasy feel­ing I can­not ex­plain.


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