Funimation has jumped on the Blu-ray bandwagon! They have previously released some Dragon Ball Z feature films, the series Shigurui, as well as some assorted other titles on Blu-ray, but now they're going through their back catalog and have scheduled several series for release in HD. The first of these is Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid. Though some might be surprised that they release the third season of a series before the first two1 it's not such a bad choice. The show stands by itself rather well, looks great in HD, and is an excellent program to boot.
As is told in the first season and recapped here, Sousuke Sagara is a young mercenary, part of an international fighting team named Mithril. Mithril has weapons technology that's a decade ahead of anyone else, and so they are an important player on the world scene. Sousuke has been assigned to protect a young high school girl, Kaname Chidori, which he does with military efficiency. Kaname is one of the Whispererd, special rare teens who have enormous intelligence and the ability to design Black Technology.
As this season starts, Sagara is still enrolled in Kaname's high school in order to keep an eye on her, but is also performing missions for Mithril, piloting a mecha unit, the Arbalest. Things quickly start to go wrong however. When on a mission protecting some refugees from a dictator who wants to slaughter them, Sousuke and his comrades encounter highly sophisticated weaponry, equipment that rivals their own. It turns out the dictator has purchased Black Technology from a group called Amalgam that is headed by an unscrupulous psychopath named Gates. Mithril is worried about the emergence of this technology; it can detect their electronically cloaked mecha which leaves them very vulnerable.
It's obvious that Amalgam has found one of the Whispered, and this causes Sousuke to fear for Ms. Chidori's safety. But Sousuke can't be all things to all people and when he tries, things fall apart. He's distracted on his missions because of his feelings for Kaname, but he's missing a lot of school by trying to track down Amalgam. Finally Mithril takes Souske off of his guard duty and replaces him with a cold and mysterious agent named Wrath. This only accelerates Sousuke's downward spiral and may end up destroying the young soldier.
This is a very good series. Like the first season, it tells a serious story with some light comedic moments to break up the tension and gloom just a bit. If anything, this season is darker than the first, and it works just as well. The second season was done for laughs and flopped, but this time around they've created a near-perfect mix of action, romance, comedy, excitement and school-based drama.
While the main plot may seem to be about stopping Amalgam and discovering where they obtained their technology, the real meat of the show is in the relationship between Souskue and Kaname. The show fully explores their characters, especially Sousuke, and creates real three-dimensional people in the process. Sousuke starts to question what he wants out of life and what is really important to him, while Kaname (though this does happen later in the series) starts to mature and grow into her own person, no longer content to wait around and be rescued, she starts taking responsibility for her own destiny. The way these two characters grew, while not bogging down the military action or plot, really pushed this from a typical mecha show up to a great series.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The full 13-episode second series comes on two Blu-ray disc each in their own case. The two cases are housed in an attractive box.
The 1.78/1080p AVC encoded image looks very good with only some occasional problems. The colors are strong and the lines are very tight. The blacks were nice and inky and contrast was excellent. The only problem I had was that there was some pretty significant banding at time. When a face was highlighted by the glow of a CRT screen for example. I think this was the way the show was made and the fault lies in the master, but I was disappointed to see it. I wasn't able to detect any other digital defects however. Aliasing and blocking weren't present to any degree I could detect.
The show comes with the original Japanese soundtrack and an English dub, both in Dolby True HD 5.1. The series sounded very good in both languages. I alternated between track for the first few episodes and then settled on the Japanese, not because it was superior to the dub, just because I prefer to watch most anime in Japanese. The English cast did a very good job bringing their characters to life, as did the Japanese actors. Both tracks were full and used the soundstage to good effect and neither had any noticeable hiss, dropouts or distortion. Whichever audio track you select, you'll be happy.
This set ports over a lot of the extras from the DVD boxed set release of this season, which are quite considerable, but skips some important ones that fans of the series will surely miss. Aside form the lack of the booklet which the DVD set contained, we're also missing all of the audio commentaries (each episode had one) and the rather cool featurette on the military equipment used by the Japanese Self Defense Force. Even with these omissions there is a good amount of bonus material, it's just too bad we couldn't get all of it... that would have made an upgrade a no brainer.
First off there's Bonus Episode 000 a six-minute promotional short presented in 480p. It features the main characters taking out a terrorist camp. If that seems a little lame, don't worry, it gets better. Next up is a Bonus OVA Episode: A Relatively Leisurely Day in the Life of a Fleet Captain. This runs nearly a half hour (presented in 1080p!) and is a humorous look Tessa, the commander of the submarine Tuatha de Danaan. While this was done for laughs and wouldn't have worked well as an episode in this second season I really enjoyed it. It's funny.
Viewers who are curious about the origins of the series will enjoy Dawn of the Light Novel. Unlike many anime series, FMP wasn't adapted from a manga, but rather from a series of 'light novels' books with frequent illustrations. This half-hour featurette (presented in 480p alas) looks at the books, talks with the creators, and ends up with a tour of the animation facility.
The longest extra is a seven-part documentary Location Scouting in Hong Kong. This runs nearly 2 ½ hours! The SD feature is hosted by director Yasuhiro Takemoto and writer Shoji Gatou and they horse around while traveling about
The set is wrapped up with a series of trailers and clean opening and closing animations.
The first season of Full Metal Panic! was very good, and it could be argued that this one is even better. A bit darker than the first, this story has a great mix of action, romance, comedy, and personal growth. Even if you've never seen the first season (or the not-so-great second season1) you'll still enjoy this excellent show, in HD no less. Highly Recommended.
1) Though it's subtitled The Second Raid this is actually the third season. The First season was just Full Metal Panic!, the second year the title was Full Metal Panic? FUMOFFU a rather comical look at the characters who populated the first season. This humorous take on the show was slammed by fans and critics and so for the third season the returned to a more serious plot with comedic interludes. Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid starts a couple of months after the events that took place in the first season and pretty much ignores what little occurred in the second.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.