Saturday, December 16, 2000

Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid review

Funimation has taken one of its most well respected mecha franchises and decided to give it digital remastering treatment for an upcoming Complete Series box set release.

Coming in at a total runtime of 320 minutes, Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (TSR) The Complete Series spans 3-discs packaged in a pair of thin packs within a nice cardboard outer slipcase. As with the previous release, the set comes complete with the TSR OVA, Episode 000, 7-part featurette (scouting in Hong Kong), textless songs and a crop of Funimation anime trailers.

Language options are quite thorough with English (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or original broadcast Stereo) and Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or original broadcast Stereo) with the option of running English subtitles below either language track choice.

The program wears an appropriate TV 14 rating due to some violent sequences, themes of conflict, and a bit of non-suggestive female (incestual) nudity.

In my opinion the mark of a solid piece of sequel anime is a show's ability to not only present new material but to also seamlessly intertwine it with the plot of the original. Enter Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (TSR) from anime master workers, Funimation. This gorgeous set represents the proper formula for improving upon the season before it (which just so happens to be the first of the series) without pulling the story off onto an unrelated tangent.

The Second Raid follows the exploits of mercenary soldier Sousuke Sagara who, right from the beginning, does an adequate job of fulfilling his undercover mission as a regular high school student. Unlike the first season, which focused more on the importance of female-lead character Kaname Chidori, this time the viewer is treated to a bit more sympathetic take on the almost child-like innocence of Sousuke. While their hot and cold romance still forms the backbone of the tale, there is no shortage of political motivation or interesting characters to accompany the action.

While Souske resumes his meteoric rise to the title of Sergeant for the paramilitary outfit called Mithril, the major struggle being presented finds Mithril locked in battle with the terrorist group Amalgam. In truth, and despite how well the good guys are presented here, it's tough not to find the bad guys terribly interesting. Among these is a lesbian pair of twin sister assassins, the enigmatic Leonard Testarossa (who just so happens to be the brother of Mithril's own cheery colonel, Teletha) and his extremely wicked robotic enforcers. Last but certainly not least is the lead villain Gates who, quite frankly, captures the concept of full ought insanity in animated form like something American animators can only dream of achieving through The Joker.

And since Full Metal Panic! initially hooked me with its near-flawless use of mecha, it's only proper that I take a moment to recognize the simple truth that TSR not only picks up where the first season left off, it may even supercede the robotic combat at times. Notable here is the ongoing struggle for Souske to make full use of the full abilities of his unit, the Arbalest, and its emotion controlled Lambda Driver. In my opinion the FMP series succeeds where other robot shows fail in both the mobility of the robots (called Arm Slaves or AS' for short) is in their sheer speed and maneuverability. Right from the beginning of the very first episode viewers are treated to an incredible display of AS stealth, speed, and power. It's cinematic showmanship in the purest form and enough to give even diehard anime fans the chills.

Although not entirely essential to the overall plot progression, I should mention that another Arm Slave, the M9 Falke, makes a few appearances that just dazzle with eerie coolness.

The discs themselves contain no shortage of bonus entertainment. The complete 13-episode series is presented across three discs in uncut, digitally remastered glory with dialog coming in the selectable form of English, Japanese or in original broadcast format with English subtitles. While the series itself technically consisted of 13 episodes, Funimation packed both a mini-bonus episode (complete with a scene that had this reviewer actually laughing out loud) and a conclusion OVA full-length episode as well. There is a 7-part featurette entirely in Japanese with English subtitles that does a few interesting things whether they were intentional or not. The first of which is that this section provides an unrivaled look at the Hong Kong lifestyle complete with unlimited comparisons to how life differs there from life in a typical US city. Next it paints the show's creative staff in an entirely different light. I'm guilty of stereotyping anime writers, producers, artists, and directors as moody, withdrawn and slightly disturbed individuals but nothing could be further from the truth with the down-to-earth team responsible for FMP. Finally, anime may be known for an unsurpassed level of detail but never is this reality made clearer than when the viewer is offered a chance to look at the actual Hong Kong locations that inspired the backgrounds of the show. It's downright mind-boggling and a testament to the amount of work that goes into putting a series like this together!

Additionally the set contains a comical little segment in which our creative team takes a trip to a Japanese Self-Defense Force expo for inspiration on the military equipment that appears throughout the series. There are Japanese (English subtitled) commentary tracks across every single episode from several of the show's voice actors and finally the set offer textless versions of the show's theme songs.

The truth is that it is very difficult if not impossible to come away from this presentation without having taken something worth remembering. The anime itself is rich, deep, and oftentimes silly enough to warrant a chuckle but there's something here even for those who wouldn't consider themselves fans of the genre. The creative process and attention to detail is downright awe-inspiring.



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