Not long ago I had the opportunity to check out FUNimation's re-release of Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid. The series proved to be a blast and it was nice to visit Sagara and the gang in a setting that was very similar to the original show. In case you're not familiar with the franchise The Second Raid was actually the third Full Metal Panic release but it turned out to be an appropriate sequel. The one between the bookends, Fumoffu, just wasn't what fans were looking for thanks to its focus on humor as opposed to substance.
If you haven't seen or heard of the original Full Metal Panic (FMP) which is actually released by ADV then welcome to the world outside of your bubble (or rock if you prefer). FMP stands as one of the most popular mecha anime produced in the past decade and it's arguably one of the better shows of its kind on the market. The thing that makes FMP as successful as it has been is simply the all around quality. From the animation and concept to characters and story there simply isn't a single part of this series that falters. The writing is a cut above as well with some humor blended successfully in with the serious tone and dramatic moments; something that is quite challenging to do. When it comes time to pass judgment on FMP it's impossible to say that it falls into the comedy, action, science fiction, or drama genres because it's everything all at once.
The series takes place in an alternative universe of sorts where the cold war never really ended and hostilities exist throughout Russia and China. Many nations are being dragged into this conflict and throughout it all the rise of mecha technology known as Arm Slaves has become very pronounced on the battlefield. Standing as a united front against extremist and terrorist action is an organization known as Mithril. This secret militant force is well-funded and powerful with some highly trained soldiers and equipment. One such soldier is Sousuke Sagara.
Sagara finds himself with the distinction of being a talented teenage Japanese boy who is fluent in many languages and skilled with several weapons and Arm Slaves. At the beginning of FMP he is assigned with the duty of protecting a girl presumed to possess Whispered abilities (I'll get into this later) as she is suspected as the target of terrorists. Teaming up with fellow Mithril soldiers Kurz and Melissa, Sagara enrolls in the high school where the Whisper attends in an effort to get closer to the target but soon finds out that he may have bitten off more than he can chew.
Chidori is the class beauty with long hair, a stunning body, and a habit for being good at just about everything she tries to achieve. In the beginning of FMP she views Sagara as a perverse stalker who continually attempts to get near her. Naturally Sagara cannot reveal his intent due to the threat of blowing his cover so this becomes a source of the show's humor early on. Hilarity ensues as the two students constantly clash but even in between the awkward moments and challenged explanations there are snippets of a burgeoning relationship.
As the show settles into a nice easy pattern darker forces begin to stir in the background and by the second DVD we get some real action. Chidori and Sagara's class goes on a trip to Okinawa but along the way the plane is hijacked by a man named Gauron who wants to get his hands on Chidori. With the plane on the ground, a bomb in the cargo hold, and Chidori in the clutches of a mad scientist Sagara has to burst into action. Thankfully his training pays off and a daring rescue commences with plenty of gunplay and Arm Slave fights in between. Gauron shows up during their escape and there's quite a climactic showdown with the terrorist.
After this the show heads back to the classroom to focus more on Chidori and Sagara attempting to maintain their "personal lives". I put that in quotation marks because when it comes to Sagara there really is no life outside of the military. His attempt to adapt to being a regular kid makes him the butt of many jokes and it's his awkward view of everything that gives this series its abundance of humor. When all you've really known in your life is the military and fighting, sitting down in a classroom to study with a group of students seems like a foreign experience.
These elements come and go throughout the series and as Chidori and Sagara's relationship grows so does the plot that runs throughout FMP. That Whisper ability I mentioned early plays a big role as it pertains to the abundance of advanced technologies across the globe. It seems that some event back in the 80's caused children of today to gain special knowledge about things such as Black Technology and Lambda Drivers. If that all seems Greek to you then you're not alone. The idea of Black Technology within the confines of FMP can be rather convoluted if you don't follow it closely. If you ask me it all seems a little too supernatural for the show's own good but it's easy to overlook that flaw thanks to the quality in just about every other area.
With Chidori and other Whispers out there Gauron certainly isn't about to rest on his laurels. His motives don't exactly become clear until you're closer to the end of the series but he portrays a fine antagonist for Sagara. In between the various arcs and one-shot episodes scattered through the 24 episodes here there is an impressive amount of character development. This is another feather in FMP's cap and by the end of the series you'll truly care for each personality here. Sure Chidori and Sagara get the most screen time but the support cast is given an appropriate amount of development as well which is nice.
If you missed it the first or second time around then this latest collection provides a very good chance to check out an amazing series. Everything about this show stands out from the first couple of episodes to the dramatic conclusion. The mecha concept is easily one of the most flooded ones out there but FMP stands head and shoulders above most of the competition. Go check this one out right now and you won't be disappointed!
Full Metal Panic is presented with its original full frame 1.33: 1 aspect ratio. With production from GONZO you know right from the beginning that this series is going to look fantastic. I have long been a fan of the animation house's projects and thankfully this one is no exception to their trademark of quality. The animation is very fluid and the designs are superb. With regards to this transfer there is some grain in darker scenes and some zooms/pans simply don't look as polished as they should. Other than those nitpicks the image here is very sharp with vibrant colors and a nice display overall.
Like most ADV projects Full Metal Panic receives English 2.0 and 5.1 selections in addition to the Japanese 2.0. Both dubs are of very good quality and after listening to both there was no clear winner in my opinion which is a rarity. Technically speaking the 5.1 delivers the most dynamic experience but it's not quite as immersive as one might hope. The action certainly finds a home on the rear channels though it could have been mixed better with more of a presence. All around this is a solid sounding show; just don't expect to deliver an awe-inspiring experience.
Some trailers, clean open and closing animations, production sketches, and Japanese piracy warnings are all you're going to find on these seven discs for bonus content. Don't feel shortchanged though; these features were the only ones available for the original individual DVD releases. It's kind of lame considering there could have been so much material produced for a show as popular as this but as it stands we don't even get a commentary.
Full Metal Panic is without a doubt one of the best shows to come along since the dawn of the 21st century. It's a solid production all around and there is hardly a moment that disappoints within its 24 episode structure. Everything including the concept, story, characters, relationships, developments, humor, and action is so refined here that it's hard not to appreciate it. This series begs to be in the mecha fan's collection and if it's not you should give it some serious consideration. Consider it highly recommended.
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