The entire cast of Death Note making a rather random appearance in The Second Raid. I’m pretty sure even writing Gauron’s name in the Death Note would not kill him.
After taking the reins from Gonzo and mucking about a bit with Fumoffu, it was time for Kyoto Animation to roll up their sleeves and get to making some serious Full Metal Panic. Perhaps a little bit too serious. Picture the scene: A rainy night on top of a love hotel. A girl wearing nothing but a tattered dressing gown is down on her knees. She’s been sexually assaulted and just had to watch someone be choked to death. Shivering with her arms wrapped around her, she casts her face towards the sky, tears and rain dripping down her face, and screams “WHHHHYYYYYYYYY”. Fade to black, roll end of episode credits.
This is a thing that happens in The Second Raid. I get that you wanted to get serious this season after Fumoffu, but there’s serious and there’s surgically removing all the fun from a franchise.
The Second Raid is a huge angst-fest, growing an emo-fringe down to its knees as characters throw aside their regular characterisation to shiver and moan and agonise over the pain of existence. Sagara, the once straight talking, straight shooting male lead, goes down the path of alcohol and hookers. He regards the death of his comrades with cold apathy. He starts following the cult of nihilism, asking what is the point in living on this gay earth anymore. I get that they’re trying to communicate to us that he just really cares about Kaname and doesn’t want to be apart from her, but there has to be a better way to demonstrate this that doesn’t involve beating up repeatedly with the frying pan of angstyness. I’m sure there’s another way we can understand his pain without it being so tedious and irritating to watch.
The new villains in this arc, brought upon by this shift in tone, are equally terrible. The Chinese assassin twins are where most of the horribleness revolves around. They’re the main recipients of the anime’s new turn into the Violence and Tits arena, and it comes off as immature at best and exploitative and worst. Particularly when you consider there’s tits everywhere while they too are contemplating the pain of their existence and them being raped by their new boss. The violence usually surrounds them too, with shots of things like spinal columns poking out the top of slit necks and things like that. It’s not saying anything with the violence and sexuality either. With the tone of TSR, it comes off as trying to appear hardcore.
The leader of the military group in TSR deserves credit for making me appreciate the first season’s Gauron a whole lot more. I’d always thought Gauron was a bit crazy and psychotic and wondered why people kept funding him, but at least Gauron didn’t randomly shoot dudes in the face who were on his team. At least Gauron was capable of holding a conversation enough for a deal to go through. You only realise Gauron’s insanity when you get up close and look into his eyes when he makes a near suicidal decision, but up until then you can see why someone would follow his orders. His obsession with Sagara gave him some actual depth. The lunatic in TSR, on the other hand, is nothing more than a lunatic. What’s most bizarre is the show seemed to be trying to play up his lunacy as comedy. His actions are so cartoony and exaggerated it feels like he belongs in a totally different anime to the otherwise oppressive angst that the rest of the show has.
The plot is also nonsensical. Sagara’s story with Kaname is the main draw here, and that at least makes sense, if admittedly tonally off. The actual terrorism committed in this show is way stupider though. Asides from random nothings like “hey, lets introduce Tessa’s brother like it’s no big deal, and then do absolutely fuck all with him”, the entire mission in the second half revolves around two depressed Chinese twins following the orders of a psychotic cripple as they escape from a lunatic scientist who rapes them when he’s not shooting his subordinates in the face, all for the incredibly roundabout purpose of getting Sagara to walk into a single building. That’s leaving aside the fact that somehow that guy managed to survive a self-destruct sequence inside his own robot with several tons of explosives right out in the middle of the ocean. I know he’s supposed to give off this Terminator-vibe, but that’s just silly. I’m choosing to believe that he was just a figment of Sagara’s depressed imagination. The plot arguably makes more sense that way.
What makes this more depressing (for me that is, because I’m not sure the tone of TSR could get more depressed) is that there’s clearly a better show here. Kyoto Animation’s production quality and general shine is light-years ahead of anything Gonzo ever did, even accounting for the 3 years advances in animation technology KyoAni had. Shame that they put this talent into something so angsty and hardcore. This sounds especially weird coming from me, who could not give a rats ass about anything KyoAni make nowadays because of their devotion to the bible of cute, but badly made hardcore angst is just as tedious as shallow cuteness.
Thing is, there are two episodes in the middle of TSR that are amazing. It has a fantastic chase sequence through some town in Sicily where Kurz, Mao and Sagara try to escape the mafia in a crappy little car, which has that brilliant quality of any great chase sequence in that events keep spiralling up and become more dramatic as it goes on. Then that episode is followed by easily the best scene in the entire FMP canon: The haircut scene. Its remarkable in its low-key simplicity. Wonderfully directed, with pregnant pauses and great sound design and a closeness to it that captures fantastically how much Sagara and Kaname feel safe around each other, with so much being said with so little. Its perfection hurts, with makes it that much more disappointing when the rest of the show careers off into angst-town.
…now where’s season 3 damnit.