Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 29th 2007
Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid
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 M.A.O 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.
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