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Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid
Reviewer: Aaron Murphy 12/11/2008

Review:
Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid is the third installment in the FMP franchise, the first two being Full Metal Panic! and Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu, respectively.  Returning to its roots after taking us down comedy fluff lane with Fumoffu, TSR brings us back to a mix of action, comedy, and an overarching plot to tie it all together.  It begins a couple months after the events of the first season, but comparisons with Fumoffu are difficult, timeline wise, since its stories are all over the place.  Everything’s basically back to normal; Sousuke’s still a military nut with trouble adjusting to society, much to the vexation of Kaname, whose fiery temper is still being loosed all over his body.  The season starts with relative similarity to the first, split between mecha fighting in far off lands and slice-of-life slapstick centering on high school life.  This is the classic FMP formula, a careful balancing act between action and comedy with a dash of drama and romance thrown in for good measure.  The Second Raid takes it a step further though.  No longer is it simply an action series with flashes of emotional underpinnings intermixed with bouts of humor.  It gets much more serious and emotionally complex as the season progresses into its second half.  What Fumoffu does with respect to comedy, TSR does for character development.

The underlying plot is not unlike that of the first season, focusing on enemies with unknown intentions, advanced weaponry, and a desire for more “black technology” through the knowledge of the whispered.  We’re first introduced to Gates; a borderline psycho who loves killing people as much as he does causing trouble with his specially outfitted Arm Slave.  While the main villain of the series, he’s just the face of the organization, known simply as Amalgam, and only one of their expendable henchmen.  Working for him are the “twins,” two young women, Yu Fan and Yu Lan, who’re effectively Gates’ deadly assassins but secretly work for another.  From fighting battles in desolate third world countries to trying to start a war between the upper and lower parts of China, they’ve got their work cut out for them.  Especially with our band of freedom fighters, Sousuke, Kurz, and Melissa leading the charge, with Tessa and her submarine the Tuatha De Danaan holding up the rear.  Whether it’s hand to hand combat or intense mecha action, there’s no lack of excitement when the fighting beings.  While the majority of action is centered around Arm Slaves shooting, cutting, and blowing one another up in some of the best robot action yet seen, there are a couple of close combat moments that excel as well.  The most impressive being the scenes in which the twins don their swords and go to town with devilish elegance.  It’s a joy to watch.  Especially with the general increase in the maturity level of its content, not just with respect to the characters, but in the intensity and graphic nature of the violence as well.  There are even a couple spots with nudity involving the twins, a first for FMP.  Sadly the latter doesn’t occur with respect to any of the main characters, who love to be scantily clothed every now and again, (a scene with Kaname only wearing panties comes to mind) but only teases us without ever showing anything…

While the plot is well put together and thought out, especially with regards to how the characters interact and react to the events within, it’s not the driving force here.  It isn’t going to knock your socks off or have you questioning your humanity for days, but it’s one of the more intellectually competent stories for a series of this type.  What truly makes TSR shine is the characters and the ways in which they interact with and grow from the events throughout the season.  Sousuke is becoming more and more disillusioned with his life, particularly his job with Mithril and the piloting of Arbalest.  After becoming closer to Kaname than ever before in the absolutely touching 6th episode, everything comes to a head when he is called in from his duty protecting Kaname.  Tessa has to put her feelings for Sousuke aside and follow through with her orders from the higher ups, as well as doing what’s most important for the mission, no matter how it may affect their relationship.  Kaname has to learn to deal with an impending threat, as she is left alone to fend for herself against those who would capture her for her whispered knowledge and some who’re just out to kill her.  It’s amazing what an action/comedy like FMP is able to achieve here, and as long as you’re a fan of the characters you should love the interactions and depth with which the characters grow as the season progresses.  It’s what makes TSR worthy of 5 stars.

With a solid plot, intense action and a real focus on character development, the comedy aspect almost seems like the third wheel.  Concentrated at the start of the season, since having it near the end wouldn’t work at all, it’s the same old FMP that we all know and love.  Whether it’s a pervert taking secret pictures of Kaname in compromising situations or Sousuke getting a haircut, there’re always new circumstances for unrivaled hilarity.  Certainly coming off the heels of Fumoffu the humor level may seem a bit weak, but just look at it as payback for an entire season of nothing but laughter.

For all my praise I can’t say I liked everything TSR did, the most unfortunate of which has to do with the musical score.  This is probably my biggest bone of contention with regards to the FMP series in general.  I’ve never been a big fan of the music, never really liked any of the opening or closing themes, for any of the seasons.  Now, that’s not to say the score is bad, that’s just to say it only really achieves the level of background music for me.  The real problem lies with the emotional connection that music can create to accentuate the emotions of a given scene.  When I think of great series that have a real emotional connection between the story and the music, such as Wolf’s Rain and Escaflowne, it makes me sad to think of just how much better the emotional rollercoaster that is TSR could have been.  Other than that my only complaint has to do with the last episode and how rushed and easy the final battle is.  After all the buildup, all the drama and emotion, the final battle has the flair, but not the power that comes with the struggle for victory.  It’s a veritable cake walk, and it doesn’t adequately illustrate the full breadth of effort that it took to get them all to that point over the previous twelve episodes.  Neither problem is really bad enough to detract from the overall quality of the series though.

Now the animation is something that I cannot complain about.  I’ve been really happy with what Kyoto Animation has done here, after Gonzo/Digimation got dropped following the first season.  Everything is clear, crisp, and vibrant, with a solid hold on quality throughout.  The somewhat softer look present in Fumoffu is gone, giving it a more mature look fitting of the more adult oriented content.  Kaname and Tessa are as striking as ever with the rest of the cast equally well done, especially the mechas and the pure level of detail in general.  Complementing that is the absolutely wonderful English dub with two of my favorite voice actors, Chris Patton (Sousuke) and Luci Christian (Kaname).  They pull off an exquisite job with this series, and not just those two but the whole supporting cast.  It’s one of the best English dubs I have heard.  Now the Japanese language track didn’t quite do it for me I hate to say.  I tried to watch it before TSR had been released in the US and I had just grown too attached to the English voices that I had to stop watching.  Not that it’s bad, I just couldn’t stand to make the switch.  I’m sure if you either don’t like the English voices or have watched the previous seasons in Japanese that it will be more than adequate.

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid is one of those rare creatures that not only surpasses the original, but raises itself up as one of the top anime titles yet produced.  With superior character development and a shift to more mature grounds, The Second Raid is a must see for any FMP fan; the series for any anime fan.

Miscellaneous:

There are a whole slew of extras, including commentaries, behind the scenes stuff, booklets, and a five minute short episode prelude.  As well as an additional full episode that follows a rather colorful day in the life of Tessa.  It has no real connection to The Second Raid really; it’s just an extra episode reminiscent of Fumoffu.

I’m still waiting to hear about a fourth season! -_-

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Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid
Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid
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Review Title:
Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid
Alternative Titles:
FMP TSR
Type:
TV
Episodes:
13
Duration:
325 Minutes
General Rating:
5 out of 5 stars
Aired:
2005
Suitable For:
Young Adults
Genres:
Action, Drama, Mecha,
Military, Romance, Sci-Fi
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