Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid Vol. #4 (of 4) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, May 07, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What They Say
As the Chinese conflict rages on, hostilities reach a fever pitch. The final countdown hastens near. The SRT offensive is launched, but Sousuke has abandoned his post. Cryptic messages from a bloody past lead the young mercenary to face his demons, the battle within no less than the one without. Life and death hang in the balance as the clash between good and evil scale new heights. Piloting the Arbalest into the dawn, the last act is set to begin. When the smoke clears, Sousuke's path will be the one that he forges for himself.

Contains episodes 11-13:
His Problem
The Burning of Hong Kong
The Continuing Day by Day

The Review!
The Second Raid draws to a close with a solid helping of action and drama.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The audio side of this release is very nicely stacked as it includes two 5.1 soundtracks and two 2.0 soundtracks as well as a commentary track for each of the four episodes. We listened to the show in the 5.1 mix and it came across very sharp and well defined. There is an extra level of oomph and clarity to it in comparison to the stereo mix as dialogue is more precisely placed and the use of all the channels at one point or another gives it a good boost over the basic stereo mix. The English language track is essentially the same since dialogue is kept primarily to the forward soundstage. We didn't have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of what we did listen to.

Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With the video quality that we had seen in the previous season of the series, there were plenty of fears and questions about how this one would turn out. We took the disc to three separate players and three different kinds of displays and across all of them it looked fantastic. The transfer isn't problem free but what we did find are the kinds of things that are really just nitpicking at this stage. Occasionally a background would have some noise to it or some of the fine lines would show a bit of aliasing but that's about it. From start to finish, this is a very solid looking transfer that really shows off the great animation quality.

Similar to the earlier volumes, this release has been given a cardboard slipcover that uses the silver/metallic method to give it a bit more shine. The slipcover, of which the keepcase matches, puts Sousuke and Kaname together in the foreground while the Arbalest is in the background. The heavy shdes of blue combined with the silver looks good but it works just as well on the regular keepcase cover. They also retained some of the Japanese text with the logo and have done a very slick job in doing something that really captures the original logo style, particularly for the subtitle. The back of the slipcover does match the keepcase back cover though and we've got yet another lengthwise design with a lot of empty space for a creatively designed background that mixes in shots from the show. The packaging does a great job of providing not only a brief but effective summary of the premise but a good clear list of the episode numbers and titles as well as the extras. The bottom is laid out in the usual format with lots of logos, production information and the technical grid but it doesn't feel as cramped as some other releases.

The keepcase is clear for this release and the reverse side is done up nicely with a two panel spread that has the logo on the left side while the right side has some character and AS artwork to it. The insert is a small booklet which is listed as the "Mithril Report" which is something that I think is incredibly handy. Similar to past booklets, this one has some good character information and designs as well as technical info on some of the AS' that show up in these particular episodes.

Keeping in theme and using the blue shading and background designs from the cover artwork, the menu layout is nicely done with the character artwork Kaname and Sousuke alongside the series logo. The navigation design is simple but effective and it's all tied well with the somewhat mellow instrumental music that's playing along to it. Menu access times are in good shape and navigation is quick and easy for the most part. We didn't bother with seeing if our players' presets would work due to multiple soundtracks and wanting to see the translated credits.

Similar to the previous volumes there is once again a good selection of extras that help show what went into the series. The audio commentaries conclude with this volume during all three episodes as the creative staff talk about some of the inside jokes and stories behind all of it.. The location shoots make up the bulk of the extras here though as the sixth and seventh installments go through the motions. Also included and always welcome are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences. The big new extra here is the "Bonus OVA" that is the perfect way to end the series which runs about thirty minutes. Watch this after the series itself.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Looking at this series in full now that it's complete, it's struck me much in the same way that the first series did. Some of the areas seemed a bit uneven as it went through the setup and occasionally you wondered what the real strength of the overall story was. When it all comes together however it clicks so well and ends with such a high on the emotion and drama as well as the action that it rises above itself in a way.

The final three episodes of the series focus on the waning hours in Kowloon where the attacks are close to happening. Sousuke has abandoned his post and is wandering almost aimlessly through the city. Amusing, he decides that the best way to handle his problems is to get drunk. Finding someone to sell something as the city is being evacuated though proves to be a problem for a bit but he's able to do it eventually. That ends up leading him towards something more sinister however as messages have been left all over the city to direct him towards his unknown goal. With the way Sousuke's mind works, even the hint of a clue will get him to work towards solving it even when he's as out of it and depressed as he is.

Bringing Gauron back into this and having him tied to the Xia sisters is something that really works well. While he wasn't the focus of the series nor someone that made creepy appearances throughout while Gates was doing his dirty work, his tangent to the overall storyline adds to a really interesting element to it. It brings us a tie to the original series while also exposing a bit more of Sousuke's origins. It also provides Sousuke with some critical moments in his life as he has to deal with him in the position that Gauron is in. It's these tense yet quiet moments when the two confront each other that help to make Full Metal Panic a show that stands out against the rest. The tough questions are asked and the challenge is faced without flinching and without typical manga-origin copouts.

Sousuke's challenges aren't just in dealing with Gauron but with his position in life in general. With the city erupting in flames as Yu Fan is running about trying to attract Gates' attention, the rest of the group Sousuke was working with catches up with him and tries to convince him to take to the battle in the Arbalest. While the confrontation between Sousuke and the couple of Mithril operatives he runs into is good, it kicks up several notches when the non-prostitute Kaname shows up to kick some sense into him. Their reunion is very well done for the most part but it hits some snags as it gets to the point where she has to make her revelations to him. Unlike the situation with Gauron, they defaulted to stringing it along a bit more which lessens the impact of these final scenes.

The series ends on a lot of high notes when it comes to the action and story resolution as it doesn't hold back from some of the brutality of battle. The character connections are solid and there is a flow to the interactions that just works really well. These are all characters that we're comfortable with yet do seem to grow and change. With the ending being as heavy as it is and played straight with very little humor, the bonus OVA is the perfect way to finish things out afterwards. A thirty minute romp on board the ship while it's in port, it runs through a series of encounters and gags as Tessa roams about the ship. It's heavy on the fanservice right from the start as Tessa has naughty dreams of Sousuke without realizing she's actually awake and walking around in her underwear. Kurz, who was far too minimal in this series, has a great pairing with Closseau as he swipes his Future Boy Conan anime tapes and splices in some cruel moments during key emotional scenes. These and other character pieces are just wonderful as is the way it closes out with Sousuke and Kaname. It brings the right balance to the end of things and reminds us why they're such fun characters to watch.

In Summary:
The Second Raid essentially hits all the right notes throughout it. Some scenes from previous episodes are so strong that that still resonate in this volume, particularly with Kaname who is mostly absent here. The series is the kind that really warrants a marathon viewing and probably would have been even stronger if it was across three volumes. But with the numerous lengthy extras included that would have caused quite a hit on quality. What we end up with here at the end though is a solid production throughout with an engaging story that doesn't play down to its audience. These characters continue to evolve and change while only getting better and more interesting. The first series released by Kadokawa in this format of working with domestic companies has proven to be a real winner that I hope they can replicate again and again. Highly recommended.

Japanese 2.0 Language,Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Bonus OVA, Audio Commentaries, Location Scouting in Hong Kong Parts 6-7, Textless Songs

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 14 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Kadokawa Pictures USA
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Full Metal Panic