Few people would associate Kyoto Animation, that most beloved of anime studios, with the mecha genre. The latter, after all, is the mainstay of studios like Sunrise or Trigger. While the former is better known for romance, slice-of-life, and little cakes with strawberries on them.
But I beg to differ. For a brief period of time — a mere two seasons, one of which is a comedic spinoff — KyoAni animated an adaptation of Shoji Gatoh's mecha romcom thriller Full Metal Panic. Sandwiched between Gonzo's breakout first season and Xebec's divisive third season, it is easy to miss the fact that KyoAni did any work on this series at all. It never makes the list of top KyoAni anime (probably because it's one of their earliest productions and is also not fully their property), nor are the characters used much in KyoAni promotional material (again probably for the same reasons).
But it was the two seasons they adapted that really hooked me in like a fishing pole. It was a brief period of amazing animation, hilarious humour, and delightful dynamics between the electric main duo of Kaname Chidori (a tsundere highschooler who's important to the government) and Sagara Sousuke (a former Afghan child soldier tasked with protecting Chidori). Gonzo's first season was charming but now visually dated. Xebec's third season was disappointing. In the context of these, KyoAni's two seasons were like beautifully fleeting desert spring that elevated the franchise. A honeymoon period, if you will.
As a real mecha nut, I could talk about the detailed Arm Slaves from season two. As a lover of tactical combat, I could talk about the military confrontations from that season.
But I am first and foremost a lover of comedy, which is why the purely comedic spinoff Full Metal Panic Fumoffu is what is closest to my heart. And nothing better encapsulates Fumoffu than its second episode, an episode I have rewatched more times than I have fingers to count on.
Chidori loves only one thing in the world: the bread rolls sold at lunchtime at the school bakery. Except the plain rolls; those suck! Sousuke is wondering how to get his hands on some rolls in the face of a crowd of hungry students. "Place your order in a loud voice! Put some spirit into it!" advises Chidori.
Up steps Sousuke, pistol in hand, ever the paramilitary nutcase.
A blank shot is fired. Silence falls upon the school.
"I demand a plain roll!"
I was already rolling in laughter, until the camera pans to a stunned Chidori.
I utterly and completely lost it. Few anime have made me laugh like Fumoffu does. First time, third time, eighteenth time: this episode never fails to make me drown in laughter. The ridiculously unexpected dialogue ("She looks cheerful." "Perhaps her constipation cleared up."), the schoolteacher's antics, the legendary kabaddi match, the lovely panning action animation...for a bicycle ride. Fumoffu was Nichijou a full decade before Nichijou was made.
And while the mecha conflict may have been sacrificed in favour of the comedy (except for dear Bonta-kun), what wasn't sacrificed was the wonderful dynamic between this unlikely couple. I would go from full blown guffawing, to a knowing chuckle, to an "awww". And they call this purely comedic?
It wouldn't last. The KyoAni magic was gone once Xebec took over production for the third installment. The honeymoon was over.
Come back strong, KyoAni. I need you to make me feel all these emotions once again.