Up until now, "Full Metal Panic" has eased its story along with a predictable progression: a secret organization known as MITHRIL has assigned its top three agents to guard 16-year-old Chidori Kaname, a student at Jindai High School unknowingly blessed with the abilities of a Whispered, beings with an innate knowledge of Black Technology. With terrorists all over the world eager to capture and exploit her abilities, MITHRIL's Sagara Sousuke, also 16, but a hardened veteran of numerous wars in the Middle East, has joined Jindai as a student, his various military ticks often showing up and making him seem quite the strange guy.
Following the revelations of the previous volume is a set of four episodes that seem to go off on a tangent from the MITHRIL-versus-Terrorists dynamic of "Full Metal Panic." "Mission 03" starts out with a teen named Takuma Kaguyama fidgeting nervously at the airport as the security guard's slightly askew necktie bothers him immensely. He jumps the guard to fix it and is arrested; MITHRIL jumps in quickly to grab him as they know his obsessive-compulsive ticks are manifestations of a greater power. The group doesn't count on the intervention of A21, Takuma's group, headed by his sister Senia. During the raid, MITHRIL captain Tessa Testarossa manages to escape with Takuma in tow, at the cost of second-in-command Andrei Karinin's sacrifice. Gravely injured, the old war veteran is taken to A21 headquarters, a ship oddly-named the "George Clinton." He develops a strange, respectful-yet-antagonistic relationship with Senia. Meanwhile, Tessa finds her way to Sousuke's apartment with Takuma, setting up an awkward situation when Chidori drops by to find Tessa fresh out of the shower. The uptight Takuma calms down a bit, and, despite his paranoia, manages to find some comfort in being able to speak with others his age, particularly Tessa. That all goes out the window when A21 manages to not only recover Takuma, but capture Tessa and Chidori.
The rest of the volume follows MITHRIL's own rescue mission, orchestrated by Kurz Weber, Melissa Mao and Sousuke. They run into Takuma and A21's secret weapon, a massive Armored Slave, the size of two battleships, called the "Behemoth." Like Sousuke's special Armored Slave, the Behemoth manages to stay on land without sinking due to Lambda Drivers, the crowning achievement of the Black Technology that Whispereds can understand. The volume also begins to flesh out the character of Tessa Testarossa, the 16-year-old leader of MITHRIL, ditzy, physically inept, and also, we find out, a Whispered. By volume's end, a love triangle involving the two Whispered and Sousuke, an unwilling participant, is established.
It's Neon Genesis meets Spriggan meets GTO (or any high school anime), with flashy art and more poppy, guitar-riffed, techno music. The art is in the new style seen in "Gasaraki" or "Chobits"--flatter drawings, with flawless computer graphics integrated into the super-fast Armored Slave battle sequences, and the completely CG Toybox submarine. If you've bought this volume, then you've most likely committed yourself to the series, which is rewarding at the level of a great action film, that makes its money in the battle sequences and relationships. The ending is decent enough, and does leave it open for the second season, which is currently in the works.
Funny, dark, and action-packed...recommended to all fans, anime or not.