Background: One of the most popular anime genres involves large mechanized robots fighting one another under various circumstances. This has been the case for twenty five years or more and shows no signs of letting up as fans clamor to see more advanced robot designs that employ the most advanced anime techniques and creative fighting styles, with fans demanding more engaging plots as well. Thankfully, the folks at FUNimation are wise enough to listen to what fans want and beat a rival to the punch when securing the rights to the second season of a popular mech show earlier this year with the initial release being Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid: Starter Set. In a rare and interesting development, the company partnered up with ADV Films who did the subtitles and English language dub track, making me wonder what happened, though in fairness, I have long been a fan of keeping the same voice actors on a series for continuity purposes if nothing else (I get accustomed to hearing specific actors play the roles, just like a number of others).
The menu page was nicely handled.
Movie: Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid: Starter Set is the true second season of the franchise that we last saw released from ADV Films with Full Metal Panic: Season 1. There was a shorter side series by the name of Full Metal Panic: FUMOFFU but it was largely a gimmick show that left the mechs behind in favor of concentrating on the schoolroom drama as the Sousuke continued to protect his charge, Kaname. As I've said previously about the initial season of this fine show: "The show centers on young Sergeant Sousuke Sagara, a man assigned to an anti-terrorist organization, Mithral. Mithral was designed to combat well-funded terrorists that pilot various mech-robots against targets protected by friendly governments; using technology about ten years ahead of the rest of the world. Recently, there has been an advance in the design of such robots and both sides lay claim to the technology behind the advance and use it for their missions. The series has Sousuke on a long term protection mission of a high school girl, Kaname, and this being anime, the two fall for one another (yet won't openly admit to this fact). Apparently, she has a gift (somewhat of a mystery at this point in the series) that relates to the new technology and is considered too precious to go unprotected. As the cast goes on a number of missions, we learn a bit more about them and the near-future technology behind the show."
The special effects looked a lot better than my screen capture.
The press release for the show said this: "FUNimation Entertainment Awarded Rights to Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid by Kadokawa Pictures USA Volume 1 DVD set to street on October 3
FORT WORTH, TX -- May 26, 2006 -- FUNimation Entertainment, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Navarre Corporation, announced that it has been awarded Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid by Kadokawa Pictures USA. Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid is the third season in this popular anime series and FUNimation has scheduled October 3, 2006 as the street date for the first DVD. "We are excited to work with Kadokawa Pictures USA on this series," said Gen Fukunaga, president and CEO of FUNimation Entertainment. "These are the first steps in a mutually beneficial relationship and releasing Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, with its high quality production values and established fanbase, is a great way to start." "We are very excited to collaborate with FUNimation in releasing Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, which marks Kadokawa Pictures USA''s first North American DVD release. We have found FUNimation to have a well thought-out sales strategy and an incredible management and support team. Their passion to distribute and promote this title was remarkable, and we look forward to working with them again in the future," said Takashi Sakuda, General Manager of Kadokawa Pictures USA, Inc.
The first Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid DVD and starter sets have been scheduled for release on October 3, 2006."
Gratuitous nudity is always appreciated by fans.
As a fan of Full Metal Panic: Season 1, my fears that the show might not be up to par were quickly allayed upon watching the first few minutes of the show, proving that advances in technology, bigger budgets, and the kind of care that FUNimation is known for were clearly in evidence. The back cover of the show put it like this: "To Sousuke Sagara, undercover high school student and member of the mercenary group Mithril, life in Tokyo seemed the same as always. But underneath the promising exterior spin the wheels of a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the peace. Unrelated at first glance, a series of tactical assignments draws Mithril's Special Response Team into a tangled web, with the spider wearing a haunting face from the past! With inside help and technology to rival their own, this adversary is after the Arbalest no matter the cost. And don't forget that math test."
The four episodes on the DVD were 001) The End of Day by Day, 002) The Scene Below the Water, 003) Labyrinth and Dragon, and 004) Daylight. Without missing a beat, the missions were underway with the Mithral team on a rescue mission to save a bunch of villagers from a petty dictator, only to find out the mission is a trap. The dictator has employed another group to provide supporting firepower and the surprise element catches the Mithral forces off guard, resulting in some losses that weren't anticipated. This sets the stage for the rest of the series as the high school comedic elements were minimalized to give the action more room. After the first two episodes conclude, the team knows that the enemy they are about to face has superior resources and intelligence to anyone they've faced in the past, translating into an end of the "things as usual" approach they were getting away with previously. The second mission involves another attempt by the enemy to exploit their surprise factor upon Mithral, resulting in heavy casualties as the apparent target of the group is to capture Sousuke's AS (his robot for the uninitiated) by using some Chinese hostages as the pretext for the trap. The Commander figures out what needs to be done a bit late so the edge of the advantage bounces back to Mithral but only slightly considering the circumstances.
Sousuke's AS is the most advanced in the series.
If you liked the original Full Metal Panic: Season 1, you're going to love this one even more if this first volume is any indication, dispensing with the overuse of the comedy to get the balance right once more. There is already a Kaname subplot going on (as expected), but fans of the genre seem to agree with me that they'd rather watch the action elements fully explored and this opening salvo does just that. The continuity of subtitles and the English language dub will undoubtedly appeal to many fans (I love the way FUNimation handles these areas but ADV Films has already shown recent improvement and the simple fact is that letting a new staff take care of this would change the show on some level as evidenced by how the Saiyuki series has yet to come across right as handled by Geneon). In terms of the action, this was top notch fun with the kind of quality that BOTH companies can be proud of and if future collaborations prove as successful, perhaps a merger of sorts might be in order.
The use of graphic hand to hand violence was interesting too.
I'm going to rate the show as Highly Recommended for all the quality it displayed, the incredible array of extras, and the manner in which the show was presented. If the future volumes hold up as nicely, I could see a package containing them all as getting even higher accolades thanks to the care that was put into this one. Sgt Sousuke and Mithral has long been one of the better action mech shows and I have the feeling that this isn't going to change around award time, thanks to FUNimation's dedication to offering up a great package in even the regular version of the volume that I received for review.
Picture: Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid: Starter Set was presented in the original 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen color it was shot in by director Yasuhiro Takemoto. The colors were fine, the blending of CGI with more traditional styles of animation was better than ever, and the minimal problems of lines, compression artifacts and aliasing practically nonexistent. Kadokawa Video of Japan seems to have gone all out in trying to prove their worth compared to the bigger and more established anime houses of Japan and the consumers on both sides of the ocean are the main benefactors as a result. The use of lighting, textures, and other elements to enhance the look of the show might not have been a quantum leap forward from earlier releases but it was a major step forward and I think fans of the show that take the time to compare Full Metal Panic: Season 1 with this one will be pleasantly surprised (the Full Metal Panic: FUMOFFU series really didn't have that broad a range in most episodes to really push the technology like this one did but it was colorful and clean too).
Sound: The audio was presented with four different tracks, a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround version in the original Japanese and English language dub as well as a 2.0 Dolby Digital version in both languages, all with optional English language subtitles. First off, if you have a 5.1 home theatre you're going to find this to be one of the best releases of the year regardless of which language you prefer to listen to. I lean towards the original tracks but the talents of Chris Patton, Luci Christian, Hilary Haag, Monica Rial and others (notably, John Swasey as the villain called Gates; a subtle reference to Bill?) were not lost on me. I liked the use of the stock voices that ADV Films started the show with being continued and I praise FUNimation for using their rival to provide a continuity that would've otherwise been lost. If anything, they were better than ever as the dub voices and while the Japanese track was still excellently acted, the dub was very well handled too and they should be congratulated on their efforts). As far as the separation of the elements is concerned, the 5.1 tracks were superior in every way that I could determine with the rear channels used nearly as effectively as the front set up, however sparingly. The dynamic range was also solid with the special effects and music providing superior balance to an already great show.
Here's one last look at the two newest dangers facing Mithral.
Extras: While few anime releases these days have much to offer in terms of extras, Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid: Starter Set is a notable exception to this rule. The cardboard slipcover didn't hold up to well for me but the rest of the package was stunning. There were FOUR audio commentaries by the Japanese cast, giving away some spoilers but also seeming to revel in the fact that they have a lot of fans devoted to their exploits. It wasn't always easy to keep up with who was speaking but I strongly recommend you listen to them if you're a fan. There was also a short infomercial episode Bonus Episode 000 that will help newcomers to the show understand more about the basic premise but it was well handled and I thought a slightly longer version should become standard for all shows in terms of introducing characters and a series to new fans. Granted, the six minutes wasn't exactly perfectly spent but it was a nice touch in addition to everything else. There was also a set of feature productions including a tour of the Japanese Self Defense Force (although I was surprised to not see any of those popular Godzilla units so common in moves these days, the first in a series of Scouting Locations in Hong Kong, and a lengthy visit to the Dawn of the Light novels company where the show and novels it was based on were focused on (usually, you see a couple of minutes of material but this pasted longer than an episode and I drooled at the sight of the store they visited with scores of titles all lined up in many rows). There were also clean opening and closings, some trailers, and an excellent 12 page paper guidebook that combined artwork, interviews, and background data worthy of a big thumbs up. There was also the usual FUNimation catalog and double sided DVD cover too but in general, these are the kind of extras that companies need to offer if they are serious about fighting fansubs and bootlegs so prevalent on the internet. Great job!
Note: The only difference between this version and the regular version is the inclusion of a cardboard box here to hold the other three volumes in the series; hardly enough to justify the additional expense.
Final Thoughts: Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid: Starter Set was a wonderful return to the characters I enjoyed so much over the last few years in all new settings but with what appeared to be a larger budget and better use of more advanced technology. The extras package alone elevated this one in my eyes as coming dangerously close to the DVD Talk Collector rating, a rarity for a single volume anime release to a series, and I think fans of the show are going to find the best of both worlds here with FUNimation and ADV Films each taking a part of the credit. In short, Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid: Starter Set was one of the rare birds that treads new ground while keeping old fans happy, handling the balance in such a way that newcomers will almost feel compelled to go pick up the previous series, especially Full Metal Panic: Season 1. If you like anime with action, robot shows, and even a little fan service as shown above, you're going to find this one appealing on many levels.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.