In the future, war is fought with robots. Okay, this is not the most unusual premise for an anime series. The wars are fought by kids in high school? That may be a little less common. They are fought by high school kids who are actually employed by multinational mercenary peacekeeping organizations? Okay, now we’re onto something more original.
Such is the life of Sousuke Sagara, one of the elite Arm Slave-operating soldiers in the Mithril organization. Sousuke himself fights with a very particular Arm Slave called the Arbalest, a ‘bot specially equipped with a Lambda Driver, which is essentially a portable force field generator. Sousuke is also tasked with protecting a special target, Miss Kaname Chidori. Miss Chidori is one of the Whispered, a group of specially gifted people whose innate knowledge has led to the development of Arm Slaves and many other types of advanced technology. She and they are therefore also at the center of a frantic struggle by governments and NGOs around the world. Miss Chidori also happens to be a very spirited and beautiful Japanese high school girl. This being an anime show, you know what that means, for the most part.
Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid takes place mostly in Tokyo and China, though it’s not the China we know today; after a series of devastating world conflicts, it has split into northern and southern regions. That’s only one of many differences between this world and ours: here, the still-standing Soviet Union controls Afganist … er … Helmajistan, and there was a nuclear war in the Middle East during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. Out of this whole mess came a need for organizations like Mithril to keep the peace and manage the use of the Whispered and the Black Technology that flows from them. Of course, for every Yin there is a Yang, and the Yang here is Amalgam, which is dedicated to creating as much instability as possible so as to fuel sales of their weapons, and sometimes just for the sake of being pricks. Seriously, the guy who runs Amalgam, Mr. Gates, is tripping-balls crazy and more than a little perverse. Amalgam also has Lambda Driver-equipped Arm Slaves of their own, setting up one of the primary conflicts in The Second Raid. The other is between Sousuke and his growing emotions, particularly for Kaname, as his life pulls him deeper into the machine that is Mithril.
This set contains the entire 13-episode series, and it runs the gamut of emotions as things go from bad to worse for both Mithril and Sousuke and Kaname’s relationship. Sousuke feels added pressure from the reappearance of someone from his past and said person’s unusual connection to the Amalgam organization and the trouble between himself and Kaname. If it sounds complicated, well, it is, as there’s also the issue of the Arbalest’s very balky Lambda Driver system and Sousuke’s unit getting a new Canadian commander. It should be noted that the Mithril organization is very much an international polyglot, with people from most every country on earth. Sousuke’s own unit includes a German, a Chinese-American and a French-Canadian among others.
The Second Raid is first and foremost an action series, and the action is as good as it gets: superbly plotted, paced, and animated by the good people at Kyoto Animation. But it is quite a bit more than that, too. For the most part the production team has cut out the silly antics that occasionally popped up in the first series and added an exceptionally good ear for how people actually talk. It is quite a joy to hear even the teenage characters talk to each other as actual people, not just cardboard props for gags or mawkish garbage.
It should be noted, though, that it is not a show for kids or even young teenagers. There are at least a dozen very bloody on-screen deaths of various types, mostly involving a pair of Chinese identical twins with a connection to Sousuke’s past and a distinct lack of any emotions whatsoever, and whose idea of a good time would probably include firebombing a nightclub … while naked. It also features a few bits of rather unsettling nudity, not counting what’s in the bonus OVA on the third disc of the set. There is also Mr. Gates’s general verbal perversity. So don’t use The Second Raid as an electronic babysitter unless you allow your kids to see R-rated movies. The DVD set says “TV-14″, but I think it’s really a “TV-M”.
The Complete Series comes on three discs. The show itself is on the first two while the third is taken up with two bonus OVAs and a series of videos the production crew made during an information-gathering trip to Hong Kong. The episodes look marvelous and sound marvelous as well, thanks to Dolby 5.1. The set itself is also very pretty with excellent disc art and cover art on the slipcases and the holding box. The various production houses involved in this set, and there are a lot of them, did a bang-up job putting the best possible product out there.
I wish I could say the same about the two bonus OVAs. One, Episode 000, is just a five-minute promo reel for the show featuring Sousuke’s squad in action in some unnamed corner of the Middle East, and the other is mostly a chance to put the 16-year-old Miss Teletha “Tessa” Testarossa, the captain of Sousuke’s ship, in a variety of compromising positions involving an uncomfortable amount of nudity and near-nudity. It’s really a minor glitch, and easily ignored since the bonus OVAs add nothing to the plot of the show.
The Second Raid is an excellent example of how to make a fine action show that doesn’t sacrifice character to making things go boom. Highly recommended.