Full Metal Panic was one of the first series I watched way back when, and while I kind of liked it, it wasn’t mind-blowing to me the way Cowboy Bebop and Black Lagoon were. That’s kind of unfair, of course: Cowboy Bebop routinely blows minds and as an adult viewer I was struck by the maturity of Black Lagoon’s structure and story.
In comparison, Full Metal Panic, especially the first season, seemed like a kid’s story. (In the second season, where we see more of Sosuke’s back story, it gets a little darker.)
One of the reasons FMP seems like a kid’s story is that the protagonist is a kid. One of the ways a lot of stories seems like a BLANK’s story is that the protagonist is a BLANK. Fill in the BLANKs.
That’s just good marketing: if you want to viewer to relate to the protagonist, you make the protagonist like the viewer demographically. Now, Sosuke is a tough soldier in his twenties, but he’s also a comic foil much of the time. No, the character the viewer is supposed to relate to is Kaname.
And she’s a high school girl. Boom. Target audience.
But Kaname’s not who this essay is about.
To create internal tensions in the story, Kaname and Sosuke have some sort of bassackwards romantic attraction. But to keep that from being too easily resolved the writers threw Tessa in there, too, and she likes Sosuke, too.
You know Tessa, right? The 16-year-old captain of the submarine Tuatha de Danaan.
Boom, that’s our girl. Admiral Baby.
Tessa Testarossa, Admiral Baby
The Admiral Baby trope is the idea that, in order to appeal to younger audiences, young characters get positions in their societies their ages, the amount of training they can have accumulated, and their maturity levels just don’t justify. They are smarter, better educated, and better skilled than they have any right to be at their age so the target audience feels good seeing people like themselves in positions of strength and authority.
Now, Tessa commands because she has some kind of special skillz I no longer remember. That’s okay. That allows the audience to see the possibility of being special themselves. There’s a bit of Magical Girl in Tessa’s DNA, too.
Anyone can watch anime, but like most movies and TV the target audience is high school aged kids. High school aged Japanese kids, I should probably point out, if that should matter. High school kids have free time to watch TV; studies show they won’t have that sort of free time again until they reach their thirties. And despite the possibilities of what’s out there, animated anything, including anime, and picture anything, including manga, is not seen as “adult” media.
Yes, they can be. Don’t try to pick a fight with me on this point: I AM OLDER THAN YOU ARE and I love anime and manga. But I’m not the one defining target markets. Producers do that.
So to appeal to teens we see teen protagonists. And if the protagonist fulfills an important social role, we see the Admiral Baby trope.
I mean, think of Code Geass: The world being overthrown by high school kids.
Think of Revolutionary Girl Utena: She’s fifteen.
Outlaw Star: The brains of the operation, Jim Hawking, is eleven.
The “brains” of Welcome to the NHK is the high school girl Misaki, even though most of the other characters are older.
Everyone in Steins;Gate. Not one of the core gang older than twenty-two.
Ed (you know who I mean) would be an Admiral Baby if anyone paid any attention to her. I named a character Tivrusky recently to give her a shout-out.
In short, the trope pops up all over. It’s even mocked on The Simpsons: they actually think about watching a TV show called Admiral Baby (although Marge is dubious).
And that’s the trick. All fiction calls for the audience to suspend disbelief to an extent, for a period of time. Sometimes it’s easy. Black Lagoon and Samurai Champloo are shows about grown-ups doing grown-up stuff. No problem. Lucky Star and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya are about kids doing kid stuff. No problem. Neon Genesis Evangelion has kid protagonists, but they are underlings to the adults, especially Gendo and Misato.
But what happens if you want to sell an adult story to kids?
BOOM. Admiral Baby. You make the protagonist a kid and hope no one asks, “How did they get that job?”
If you, the user, can bend your head around the Admiral Baby trope, the trope works. And a lot of people manage to do that. That’s how tropes get to be tropes. If people try it and it doesn’t work, the next writer down the street doesn’t try it!
But still. Admiral Baby. How does a baby get to be an admiral?
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.
Post script: I deliberately avoided discussing Tanya the Evil here. I mean, insofar as her world is concerned she’s a thirteen-year-old (as of the last novel) holding the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (as of the last novel), a rank for a person roughly three times her age. But we know she’s not really thirteen inside; inside she’s really a middle aged man.