Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
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.
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