Sunday 20 January 2013

Anime REVIEW: Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid

After a brief comedy interlude courtesy of Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu,  the FMP franchise returned to its more serious roots in 2005 with the release of Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid. Set three months after the conclusion of the first season, this season was significantly shorter than the first (13 episodes plus an OVA as opposed to 24 episodes) and once again animated by Kyoto Animation rather than Gonzo.

Following the hijacking of Tuatha de Danaan submarine in the last season, life has seemingly returned to normal for Sousuke Sagara - both in his role as a Mythril soldier and student at Jindai High School. That is until Mythril learn of a secret organisation known as "Amalgam", that has been orchestrating conflict behind the scenes and access to Whispered technology. As Mythril attempts to uncover Amalgam, Sousuke must face his own demons as he is split apart from Kaname Chidori and his ability to pilot the Arbalest Arm Slave is called into question.

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid Sousuke & Kaname
Sousuke and Kaname in a (rare) moment of high school hi-jinx

Full Metal Panic's unique brand of humour is still very present in The Second Raid, however it seems to have be given a much needed retooling. A shorter episode span means that the story can't be as easily divided into specific chunks like the first season was, leaving a lot less time for Sousuke's comical antics and Kaname's subsequent scoldings. While there is an episode dedicated solely to this to get viewers back into the swing of things, later on it becomes more sporadic and usually paralleling something more serious going on in the show. The balance has shifted squarely in favour of the war-drama element of the show, featuring a much more intricate plot and a very significant rise in violence, but unlike Fumoffu the flip side of the Full Metal Panic! coin is never forgotten. After a mixed first season and a disappointing second, it's great to see the show finally strike the perfect balance in terms of storytelling.

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid Gates
About as twisted as you can get. And that's a good thing.

With a better plot, it's good to see better characterisation go hand in hand. Rather than throwing as many characters as they can into one scenario, this season deals with them one at a time, with episodes that may only feature one or two key characters. While Kaname plays a much more restricted role here, her value and importance to the series is never understated. Meanwhile Sousuke is undoubtedly the star, as The Second Raid studies his transformation from a mercenary-come-soldier bound by orders into someone originally ignorant of his own human emotions. Even bit players like Melissa Mao and Kurz Weber get their own moments in the spotlight. On the villain side of things, Amalgam prove to be a much more interesting (and eccentric) bunch than Gauron did in the first season. Gates often reaches Bond-villain levels of eccentricity, and though underused the merciless Xia twins prove to be a lethal force. But with Sousuke's past catching up with him as the season goes on, some familiar faces also pop up at the very end.

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid Arbalest
A sharper, shinier Arbalest

Though the boost in animation may have been noticeable in Fumoffu, it's here where Kyoto really take the reign and make this the best looking Full Metal Panic! so far. The character design is as crisp as ever, but it's the much more elaborate Arm Slave battles that have most benefited from this. Using a blend of animation and cel-shaded CGI, movement is much more fluid and allows a greater range of motion for what could easily be perceived as clunky mecha suits. Seeing human faces closeup in CGI might be a little distracting to begin with, but as time goes on they become easier to look at and fit in well with Full Metal Panic's overall aesthetic.

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid Leonard
Not sure who this character is? You won't be fully sure when the series is over either.

It isn't all perfect though, and despite everything it manages to do right The Second Raid still manages to fall short at the final hurdle. The plot becomes increasingly rushed, trying to fill as much info as it can into two or three episodes while earlier ones (as entertaining as they may have been) had no real advances. The end fight is anticlimactic, and manages to leave a huge loose end that will probably never be covered outside the original source material. A lot of light is shed on just what the Lambda Driver is and how it works, but what exactly a Whispered is is still shrouded in mystery.

After two offerings that weren't particularly notable, Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid makes sure that the franchise ends with a bang (as far as the anime is concerned anyway). Every aspect has been kicked in overdrive - the animation, the characters and the story, resulting in a far more enjoyable and engaging experience despite the smaller episode count. It's a shame that this happens to be the last FMP anime, because it was finally beginning to get good and there are still plenty of unanswered questions left.

1 comment:

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