Life isn’t easy for teenage soldier Sousuke Sagara, who must split his time between his Mithral assignments as a pilot for the special Arm Slave Arbalest and attending a Japanese high school, where he overzealously continues as the protector for Kaname Chidori. This time a Mithral Intelligence agent named Wraith is covertly backing Sousuke up, but the people who really need protection is everyone else from Sousuke and Sousuke himself against Kaname’s discipline for the aggravation he causes. Much more serious threats lurk on other fronts, however, as a madman with great resources seems to have resurrected the Venom armor, proven capable of using its Lambda driver, and now has his sights set on testing Mithral and, most specifically, the Arbalest. At his disposal is a pair of sociopath sisters: one a great pilot, the other a devastating melee combatant, and both quite deadly. But they may have their own agenda.
The original Full Metal Panic! anime series was a mix of comedy, action, and dramatic elements, while the Fumoffu? follow-up opted instead to focus purely on the comedy elements of the premise. The first volume of The Second Raid takes the opposite approach, instead focusing primarily on the action component and, to a much lesser extent, the drama. With most of the light-hearted content confined to episode 2, it is a decidedly darker and more intense take on the core concept and cast of characters than either of the previous two series. It is also far more graphic, as this one has foul language, actual nudity, and much more intense graphic violence, including one scene (shown twice) where cutting a man’s throat is depicted in great detail. The TV-14 rating the volume carries is too low.
Set two months after the original series, the first episode spends its time concentrating on a Mithril strike force extricating itself from a mess in a Third World country embroiled in civil war, one which allows the series to show off its military hardware and emphasis on tactics. The meat of the story follows afterwards and primarily concerns Mithral’s growing realization that another independent organization exists which runs counter to their purposes and has its own Black Technology. That such an organization exists shouldn’t be any surprise, as it’s long been a hard-fast rule in comic books that any organization operating for altruistic reasons must have one or more opposing organizations of approximately equal strength to offer them a suitable challenge. A total madman also usually figures into the equation, and in this TSR is not found lacking.
Much more of an attention-catcher, though, are sexy sisters (twins?) Yu Fang and Yu Lan, who are unemotional to the point of being disturbing; one scene in particular where a gun is stuck in Yu Lan’s mouth, and she has a bored expression all throughout the scene, is even a little unnerving. Although Yu Lan also seems capable of producing swords from nowhere, she is most impressive and convincing in the action scenes, where she accomplishes the rare feat of actually being scary with the swiftness, power, and lethality of her moves. Gauron may have been a tough opponent in the first series, but it looks like he has more than worthy replacements here. Their presence, and the substantial screen time afforded Teletha, make up for the shortage of scenes involving Kaname outside of episode 2. Kaname’s classmates and put-upon teacher are also back in limited appearances, and keep an eye out for a very brief cameo by Fuffomu’s Ren.
The original FMP was very much a tactics-heavy action-oriented series, but TSR has outdone it both in quality and concentration of caliber action scenes. It seems to revel in its extensive use of military gadgetry, whether it’s fantastical equipment like Arm Slaves and helicopters with cloaking devices or more conventional equipment like a gun which can shoot around corners. Since it is set in an alternate modern-day world, it also takes some liberties with politics, such as having a China split north-south by a civil war, much like Korea in our world.
The original series, done by Gonzo, was no slouch artistically or in terms of technical merits, but Kyoto Animation proved able to one-up Gonzo with its beautiful effort on Fumoffu, and they continue by producing equally good-looking artistry and animation here. Character designs do an equally good job at making appealing male and female characters (especially Teletha), technical detail on equipment is exceptional, background art strong, and even the full-CG elements are integrated in reasonably well, but it’s the liveliness, scope, and vibrancy of the color and excellent use of animation which really brings this series to life. It also pays great attention to depicting its graphic content and nude scene; although other recent titles are bloodier and showier, it’s effective enough. Overall, this is one of the better-looking series this year and one of the best-looking mecha series in many a year.
The musical score also does its job well, whether it’s the playful tunes backing the light-hearted scenes in episode 2 or the more tense numbers backing the intense content in other episodes. Some musical pieces are recycled from the previous two series, but others are new. The opener “Southern Wind,” although pleasant enough, is more notable for the excellent quality of its visuals, while the closer “I Wanna See You Again” is good and pleasant but not especially memorable.
Although FUNimation licensed and is releasing the title, in an increasingly common move ADV has been contracted to do the production work and English dubbing. The entire original cast has been brought back, ensuring not only continuity in the voice work but consistently excellent dub performances, as its English dubbing has always been one of FMP’s greatest strengths. Chris Patton’s deadpan performance as Sousuke is still right on the money, as is virtually every other performance by recurring characters. Amongst new roles, John Swasey does a great job capturing the mania of Gates (although he can’t sing as well as the original seiyuu), while Christine Auten and Kira Vincent-Davies do acceptably well as Yu Fang and Yu Lan, respectively. Both 2.0 and 5.1 English tracks are available, with the former being the default setting.
Given the popularity of the franchise, it’s no surprise that the first DVD has been well-stocked with Extras. Included in the case is some nice interior cover art and a 10-page “Mithral Report” booklet, which includes character profiles, a breakdown of phonetic code, organization details on Mithral, and commentary on the story in general and its source material. It is not the best-written of supplementary booklets, tends to repeat itself, and in places isn’t easy to read, but does provide some valuable additional information that has not come up in either previous series, such as the status and whereabouts of Kaname’s family and the structure of Mithral.
The on-disc extras are also substantial. They start with Episode 0, a five-minute pure-action piece which also includes a sort of preview of the series. “Dawn of Light Novel” is a 25-minute promo piece which starts out as a look at the Japanese phenomenon of “light novels” and segues into a behind-the-scenes look at TSR’s production, which will leave viewers wondering why so much screen time is given to people with bad teeth. The 19-minute “Location Scouting in Hong Kong” and 15-minute “Tour at Japanese Self-Defense Force” are exactly what they say they are, albeit with comical commentary and screen notes. All four episodes also have audio commentary tracks, done in oft-giggly fashion by various groupings of key seiyuu. Rounding out the Extras are the typical clean opener and closer.
The American release of TSR has been highly-anticipated ever since the series started in Japan, and with good reason. Although short on Kaname content, it offers a healthy amount of Teletha content and all the action and military tech one could ask for. Complement that with effective new villains, great art, a solid dub, and a healthy set of extras and you have a must-have volume for anyone who’s at least a casual fan of the franchise. The anime adaptation of the fourth volume of FMP’s original novel is off to a very strong start.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Great artistry, animation, and extras, strong English dub.
− One of the original lead characters gets shorted on screen time.
The blame game is in full swing amidst the upper echelons of Mithril over the near-catastrophe that was the Cross-Yangtze River incident, but at least the traitorous Vincent Bruno has been located at an Italian mafia stronghold. Melissa Mao and Kurz Weber are on the job, with Sousuke arriving as back-up to help them out of a difficult spot. The stress of splitting his time between his combat duties and schoolwork is starting to seriously wear on Sousuke, however, and Kaname hasn’t failed to notice. Teletha’s superiors in Mithril also begin to question the practicality of having a soldier guard Kaname when the covert agent Wraith is already in place, and ultimately pull the plug on his protection mission. Given what he feels in his heart, is this an order that even the diehard soldier Sousuke can obey? And what would the consequences be for Kaname?
Meanwhile, Yu Fan and Yu Lan decide that it’s time to split from the mad Gates and his Amalgam organization and pursue their own mission of revenge against Mithril for the harm done to their still-mysterious master. (Oh, like you don’t know who it is already. . .)
Fumoffu? may be the comedic highlight of the Full Metal Panic! franchise, but this volume, spanning episodes 5-7, offers its best dramatic content to date. Prior to this volume the franchise has always not only emphasized its action and comedy more, but been more successful with it. Volume 2 seems at first to continue that trend, as full and satisfying doses of both come up in episode 5 as Sousuke tries to maintain a phone conversation with Kaname in the midst of a madcap car chase/shootout. The cold, efficient, and bloody devastation the Yu sisters can inflict (and the suddenness with which it happens) continues to amaze, Gates has more suitably crazy and perverse moments, and it wouldn’t be an FMP volume without a few scenes of Kaname slapping Sousuke around for one reason or another. There’s even a tinge of mystery when an unknown AS comes to the aid of Sousuke’s team in a timely situation and Teletha’s barely-mentioned brother is brought up again.
But this volume truly belongs to its drama. No longer is the franchise using the standard “as long as it’s entertaining it doesn’t need to make sense” logic to dodge the practical issues surrounding Sousuke personally protecting Kaname while still going on missions. Mithril has people in its organization suitably trained for such a guard job, and that isn’t Sousuke, who has failed to integrate into normal society even after six months of effort and despite Kaname’s help. Previously this has been a point ripe for humor, but now the serious side of it shows and delivers a full measure of dramatic intensity.
Equally important is the strength of the character development, which almost entirely (and, in this case, properly) focuses on Sousuke and Kaname. The depth and subtleties of the relationship between the two comes out clearly in the haircut segment in episode 6, where Sousuke’s behavior while Kaname cuts his hair, compared to other scenes earlier in the same episode, speaks volumes about the level of comfort and trust between the two. And while Kaname finds Sousuke endlessly disruptive and aggravating, viewers have understood since the early stages of the first series that Kaname not only likes Sousuke but cares for him and, to a certain extent, has come to rely on him for a feeling of security despite her seeming strong-willed independence. The full impact of that comes out beautifully in episode 7, when Kaname seeks out Sousuke in a moment of fear and, for the first time, Sousuke isn’t there for her. It’s one of those telling moments that can define an entire series.
Good drama requires a high-caliber dub job to be fully effective, but that has never been a problem for FMP and doesn’t start being one here. FUNimation’s wisdom in farming the dub job back to ADV (who dubbed and released the previous two series) is evident in the terrific performances drawn out of both Chris Patton and Luci Christian in the key roles. Both have to step beyond what was required of them in previous FMP episodes and series, but both rise to the challenge. Supporting roles range from solid to stellar, most notably John Swasey’s great work as Gates. A snappy English script, which adds in some slang and profanities but uses the latter very well, is the final piece in a superb dub job, one that, except for a couple of minor roles, surpasses the original. It’s one of ADV’s better efforts, and sub fans are cheating themselves if they don’t at least give it a try.
Nearly as important is the audio backing, which is available on both 2.0 and 5.1 tracks for both English and Japanese. Although it uses some recurring cuts from earlier in this and other FMP series, the soundtrack varies itself by infusing in various spy-related themes, with varying degrees of success. The most notable aspect of the soundtrack is when you don’t hear it, however. One long scene in episode 6, and a couple of shorter but critical scenes in episode 7, play out without any musical backing, but the drama of the circumstances is plenty enough to carry the episode and background music at those times would have only been a distraction. The same pleasant but unremarkable opener and closer remain.
The artistry maintains the high quality standards set by previous volumes and series. While not flawless, it invariably looks great, whether one is talking about background art, mecha and equipment designs, or character designs and renderings; highlights include Mao at her sexiest in a slinky dress, Kaname’s softer expressions, and how consistently sharp Teletha looks in her uniform and thick hair braid. Fan service this time is limited to a single shot of undergarments which actually doesn’t feel much like fan service given the way it’s handled, while the most intense graphic content is also limited to one especially bloody sequence. (And it is best not to think about what the scene involving Gates and the video of kittens is implying.) Animation is good enough to make the few action scenes feel exciting but shows slight flaws elsewhere.
Extras on the DVD include Japanese audio commentary for all three episodes, clean opener and closer, and parts 2 and 3 of the annotated Hong Kong Location Scouting feature seen on the first volume. The case offers nice interior cover art and a 20-page second installment of the Mithril Report booklet seen in this first volume. Various individuals, equipment, and machines are profiled here, with some of the profiles containing major spoilers which go beyond the scope of this volume. Although very informative, the tiny text against the gray backgrounds is murderously eye-straining to read and has a bad habit of running together.
The one place where the second volume of TSR goes wrong is in carrying on a conversation between Sousuke and Wraith at least a minute too long, but that is a minor deficiency in what is otherwise an excellent (if too short) volume of anime. Though these episodes don’t lack for action or comedy, they also offer great Kaname-Sousuke interaction and high-caliber dramatic content.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Excellent drama and character development, great English dub.
− Liner note booklet is very hard to read, contains unadvertised major spoilers.
Angry about being pulled from his Kaname-protecting duty so he can concentrate only on mastering Arbalest, Sousuke’s confrontation with Tessa over it goes even worse than it did with Wraith. He fares little better in his first encounters with Lieutenant Clouseau, his new SRT commander, who seems determined to push him hard. Weighted down by his mixed feelings and inability to get Arbalest’s Lambda driver to engage, things come to a head for Sousuke when his unit is sent to deal with an AS on a rampage in Hong Kong, one piloted by Xu Fan as part of the twins’ scheme to get revenge on Mithril. Xu Lan, meanwhile, has gone to Japan to seek out Kaname, who, without Sousuke around and with Wraith incapacitated, must conquer her fears and act as needed to survive. In the process she encounters a strange man who claims to be in love with her, one who reminds her greatly of Tessa.
Volume three proves that volume two was no fluke: when allowed to take itself sufficiently seriously, FMP is capable of some damn fine drama. The introduction of the ball-busting new Lieutenant may be stereotypical, but the examination of the impact their forced spilt has on both Sousuke and Kaname, and the tactical consequences for both, uses the franchise’s best writing to date.
Although Tessa finally gets to speak her heart and Lieutenant Clouseau reveals that he isn’t a one-note character, FMP has not changed from being the Sousuke and Kaname Show. Instead of spreading itself thin by splitting its focus between the diverging but still connected story threads, each episode focuses solely on one of the main characters, with Sousuke featured in episodes 8 and 10 and Kaname getting full viewer attention in episode 9. Sousuke has always been so single-mindedly devoted and sure of himself that watching him struggle to reconcile his unacknowledged feelings towards Kaname with his duty, and his troubles mastering Arbalest and what his failures mean to his team, is quite fascinating. This is a gradual but full-blown meltdown in action, albeit one of a diametrically contrary nature to Asuka’s famous mental collapse in Neon Genesis Evangelion; whereas she projected outward, Sousuke purely internalizes. That’s hard to do convincingly in animation, but FMP has accomplished it.
Kaname also shines in her one episode of exposure, as the fearfulness that gripped her at the end of episode 7 carries over into episode 9. Though not directly cognizant of the threat to herself, a “spider sense” kind of reaction to impending danger eventually provokes her to take bold and desperate action. Lacking fancy moves, dramatic combat-application powers, or fancy equipment, Kaname must rely only on her own cleverness, which makes her action scenes all the more compelling because the danger to her feels so real. Capping the scene’s chilling resolution is the much-hinted-at arrival of an important new character and a resolution of sorts between Kaname and Wraith, one which indicates that we have not yet knowingly seen Wraith’s true face.
As before, the English dub proves more than up to the task of supporting the writing, especially in the tricky emotional scenes. Hilary Haag sounds a little more credible as Teletha than the too-cutesy performance by seiyuu Yukana, Luci Christian nails Kaname’s tearful and fearful moments, and Blake Shepard gives “Mr. Silver” a sly and smooth sound that departs a bit from the original performance, while Lt. Clouseau is delivered in a fashion more befitting an American black military officer, which fits English better than the Japanese approach. In general, tones and inflections are adjusted enough to make the whole thing sound excellent in English. The English script still rewords things substantially, giving the dialogue speech patterns and slang usage more befitting the English language, but it is handled well enough that it is unlikely to bother anyone beyond the most diehard purists. The one flaw which prevents the English dub from being given a higher grade this time: one scene in episode 8, where Sousuke is in his cockpit, has a few lines of dialogue by the A.I. completely eliminated in English, for no apparent good reason.
As with the previous volume, the soundtrack shakes up its musical score quite a bit. Most of the traditional FMP themes have been set inside in favor of entirely new batches tailor-made for each episode, ones which favor a mix of dramatic sci-fi tones and horror themes for episode 9 and more general drama elsewhere. The effectiveness of the new themes is mildly mixed; often they’re great, but at times you may be left wondering at the music director’s choices. The soundtrack still knows well when to be quiet, too. Also especially noteworthy is the use of sound effects, particularly involving the gun used by Yu Lan. Special effort clearly went into making it sound authentic. Opening and closing themes have not changed, but their lyrics now speak more to what the main characters are going through than before.
FMP series have always looked good, and this volume maintains the franchise’s high artistic standards. Well-drawn and interesting-looking characters, sharp (if not entirely original-looking) mecha designs, good backgrounds, and well-handled CG effects are all strengths, and although there’s no actual nudity this time, episode 9 provides some quality Kaname-based fan service. Good animation supports effective and exciting action scenes, although this volume has less of such content than the norm for the series.
Once again all three episodes have audio commentaries by pairs of key seiyuu, and parts IV and V of the annotated Hong Kong location scouting seen in earlier volumes are also present. The only other extras are the textless opener and closer. The standard Mithral Report booklet provides a wealth of additional detail on fictional and nonfiction locations, personnel and equipment profiles, and call signs used in the various FMP series. . . if you can read it, that is. The miniscule font size and questionable use of background coloring previously cited as problems are even worse here, often making trying to read the entries an eye-straining experience.
Only three episodes coming out at a time may be a pain, but at least they’re quality episodes. Though basically humorless, it is still one of the best FMP volumes to date.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Best dramatic writing yet for the series, great visuals and animation.
− Print in included booklet is hard to read, some lines are absent in the English dub.
As his Mithral companions search out Hong Kong for the rampaging Venom, Sousuke wanders its vacated streets in a daze, the stress of his responsibilities, troubles, and conflicting priorities finally having gotten too much for him. A chance encounter with a working girl helps him sort some things out, and a cryptic message which leads him to meet an old adversary answers further questions but does not ease his troubled mind. With Yu Fang still wreaking havoc and Gates and his strike force also coming into the picture, the AS battle situation in the city has become harrowing indeed. To save everyone and stop the bad guys, Sousuke must come to terms with himself and find his motivation, and Kaname is just the girl to help him do it.
In the bonus OVA episode “A Relatively Leisurely Day in the Life of a Fleet Captain,” Tessa encounters the eccentricities of some of her key crew members while trying to piece together just what all happened to her the night before after an unintentional bout of drinking leaves her memory hazy.
This volume features Sousuke hanging out with a Kaname look-a-like hooker.
If you’re a fan of the Full Metal Panic! franchise and that doesn’t get you to see this volume, I don’t know what will.
Seriously, though, the meltdown by Sousuke that marked the end of the previous volume becomes the focus of this volume as an uncharacteristically directionless Sousuke wanders around the near-deserted Hong Kong trying to sort out where his priorities do (and should) lie. This is not Sousuke as you have seen him at any previous point in any FMP series, as the incident with the prostitute attests. During this time he finally encounters the mysterious Sensei of the twins, and his identity should surprise no one who is a long-time FMP fan. Although the Sensei has a lot of interesting things to say about Sousuke and basic plot elements underlying both the original series and Second Raid, the reaction he gets from Sousuke truly justifies sitting through the comparatively slow-paced episodes 11 and 12. While not necessarily out of character, it is nonetheless a bit shocking.
That leaves only the final regular episode to wrap everything up, and as a result, the climatic mecha battles feels rushed, overly easy, and unimpressive compared to the steady and careful development of the series. Kaname finally shows up in grand fashion, and the manic behavior of Gates again proves to be a highlight, but more interesting is Sousuke’s behavior afterwards. The story is not over when the battle is won.
The extra-length bonus episode, by comparison, marks a return to the humorous, free-wheeling style seen in the Fumoffu? episodes. It not only provides the volume with its requisite quota of fan service (Tessa has never looked better!) but reveals highly amusing insight into some important cast members; we get to find out who is a closet otaku, for instance. The cost of the volume is almost worth it for this episode alone.
As ever for the franchise, the sharp, vibrant artistry (even when showing darker-hued scenes) and solid animation provide for a pleasing visual experience. Lamba driver special effects in the climatic battle scenes are suitably impressive, and the animation adds in some neat tricks if one watches carefully with them. The OVA episode in particular shines in the exaggerated reactions of crew members, Tessa’s luxuriously pretty look with her hair down, and a few amusing details that can pass so quickly they can easily be missed if one is not especially alert.
The musical score is at its best in the sillier scenes in the bonus episode, while it disappears for long tracks in episode 11 and 12; such scenes do not require music to set the mood however, so it was a good choice. In places where it is present the soundtrack relies on standard franchise themes, and the opener and closer remain unchanged. The English dub provides no letdown from previous volumes, with the highlight this time being Gates’ dialogue involving the twins in the last episode. All the English actors once again prove capable of delivering on the more emotional content, as well as having a bit of fun in the OVA. The English script through these episodes is somewhat flexible but never strays too far.
In addition to the bonus OVA episode, the on-disc Extras include Japanese audio commentary for all three episodes, the last two parts of the Hon Kong Location Scouting documentary, and textless songs. The interior cover sports bonus artwork, while the booklet this time includes profiles and an art gallery for some key characters and equipment and two pages of Story Files. It also, unfortunately, includes the return of the hard-to-read print seen in volume 2.
While the last regular episode does ultimately bring the series to a proper ending, it also leaves some nagging questions unanswered, such as the exact nature of Kaname’s Whispered ability. At the time of this writing no word has come about possible further animation for the franchise, but the final episode does leave the window open for that possibility. If this is to be the last animated FMP content, though, then it certainly could have done much worse. This volume may not be as strong in its writing as the previous two, but it is a respectable close-out for the series.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Bonus OVA episode.
− Climatic battle feels a bit rushed.