Review: Full Metal Panic! — Trembling Into the Blue (Vol 3)

It has been another two months since the events of book 2, and Kaname had been surprised and touched by the sudden beach vacation Sousuke had suggested for the two of them during the upcoming break—she even bought a new swimsuit (not that she’d ever admit it). Unfortunately things don’t quite go to plan as Sousuke and the rest of Mithril is called to the De Danaan for an emergency mission, and both teens join Tessa on her state-of-the-art submarine as instructed. But when the mission goes awry thanks to terrorist infiltration, all three have to work together to keep everyone from dying at the bottom of the ocean. How will things turn out in Full Metal Panic: Trembling Into the Blue?

Shouji Gatou’s Full Metal Panic! returns with this third volume subtitled Trembling Into the Blue thanks to J-Novel Club. Released September 2019, it is once again translated by Elizabeth Ellis and features illustrations by Shikidouji. This is the final book going to be included in the first 3-in-1 omnibus, slated for release in January 2020.

With this novel, Gatou mentions returning to the tone of the first—a serious life-and-death situation, with high tensions and Sousuke focused in the middle of it all. It’s not that the previous book was boring, but there was a definite difference between the two (which I mention in my review). I appreciate the return to form with this story line, and although some elements are still heavy-handed, I think it’s just a part of the author’s writing style. A lot of the first third introduces a deluge of new characters, and it’s not hard to guess at their importance later—each are part of the Special Response Team and AS pilots, like Sousuke, with distinct and diverse personalities and backgrounds. None of them really manage to have any dimension beyond the simple motivations we’re told, but it serves it’s purpose to the story.

Here we have Tessa worried about a new mission on a small island—where previous teams of US soldiers were wiped out entirely. There are rumors of a powerful AS called Venom, who strikes so quickly that it’s impossible to fight it. But on the way there, the crew takes the time to throw a party—a joint celebration of the submarine’s first birthday, and Kaname’s first (conscious) experience onboard. There are games and merry-making abound, and Sousuke explains that the original party (arranged to be at a Mithril base) was what he was inviting Kaname to in the first place.

The fun is over once they arrive at their destination, and sixteen-year-old captain sends in a team of only the best; each AS operator a veteran and Sousuke controlling the crew’s only Lambda driver-equipped AS, Arbalest. Once on the island, Sousuke comes face-to-face with the red AS Venom, and it confronted with his old nemesis Gauron—decidedly not dead from the events of the first novel. There’s a fierce battle fought between both sides, and the teen soldier finds himself choking on his fear of losing more people close to him, unable to engage the Lambda driver like he once was. His insecurities are only exacerbated after Mao sustains a serious injury, and although Mithril ultimately wins the fight, he feels like a failure.

After detaining Gauron, the plans are to hand him over to US authorities for further questioning and processing. No one is afraid of the terrorist as he is: broken, beaten, and with only one leg; but things quickly turn after traitors within the crew help him to escape—allowing him to take control of the submarine’s control center, and everyone on board. He’s half-crazy, with little care for self-preservation, and so very willing to sink the De Danaan in a suicidal blaze of glory, taking all aboard with him.

Happily, with this book we see each of our main characters—Sousuke, Kaname, and Tessa—working together with their various skills. I mentioned in the previous book that the way Tessa behaved at times made it hard to believe she was in charge of several hundred elite soldiers and a billion-dollar submarine, but thankfully that was not a problem here. There are still uneasy tensions between the girls, but it doesn’t feel as juvenile or mean-spirited as the previous book either. Tessa and Kaname aren’t strictly friendly, but they’re willing to work together without issue when the stakes are high. I also enjoyed seeing Sousuke struggle with his feelings of insecurity, and the possibility he might not be able to protect the important people in his life. Being confronted by Gauron, who represents his past and his failures, gives the boy more depth aside from just being an elite soldier following orders. There’s a lot more of Sousuke’s past to dig up in the future, and I can’t wait to see how the light novels handle it.

Full Metal Panic! Trembling Into the Blue is a solid continution, and improves on all the major issues I had with the previous book. There’s definitely still symptoms of the era present in the writing, but nothing egregious pulled me out of the tension of the story. It is an odd experience seeing Bill Clinton being referenced as ‘the current US President’ in the afterword though. For fans of mecha series and the Full Metal Panic! franchise as a whole, this book successfully executes the most beloved elements whilst also steadily setting the stage for something more in the future. Here’s hoping volume 4 continues the trend.

Gee's Rating: Highly recommended, especially for pre-existing fans.

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