As Yahtzee Croshaw once said, "A good sequel is one that uses the original as a jumping-off point for a brand new story, while a bad sequel simply wallows in the original like a hippo in a vat of liquidized children". Seeing as how the original Full Metal Panic was fairly mediocre, with only a particularly impressive antagonist pulling it through its inconsistency, poor characterization and bad pacing, it would have been very regrettable if The Second Raid had simply taken the latter route and rehashed the first series in an inferior format. So what a shock we're in for, as Full Metal Panic: TSR is by far superior to its predecessor in almost every way.
Part of what helps is Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu. One of the major problems the first series had was that it kept swinging between generic highschool comedy and military action, and made no real attempt to weave it together. Overall, it would have been better if they had been two shorter series as opposed to one 24-episode one. And that is exactly what they did here. Whilst Fumoffu went about doing the highschool comedy much better than the original did, TSR does the exact same thing for the military action. Whilst TSR does have some comedy here and there, this time around it feels necessary, and gets woven into the story, rather than being some pointless distraction from the plot.
Whilst the plot does take a handful of episodes to properly kick in, it follows as such: Mithril discovers that another organisation creating chaos has similar technology to their Lambda Driver, a one-of-a-kind device that only the protagonist has the ability to use... and doesn't seem to be able to anymore. Also, rogue members of the aforementioned organisation are starting chaos in the unstable Chinese government, for an unknown "Sensei" of theirs. All through this, Sosuke is being put through the serious strain of protecting the "Whispered" Kaname Chidori, whilst maintaining his highschool façade, and undertaking his regular military missions.
Through this, our previously annoying, personality-devoid protagonist is put between a rock and a hard place, gets forced to genuinely come into his own as a character, and rebel... and this is where the series shines. Whilst in the first season, the characters were bland, annoying, and totally devoid of development, with Sosuke being the worst, here Sosuke manages to get some extremely impressive character development turning him from perhaps the worst to the best character over the course of only a few episodes. They also manage to replace antagonist Gauron with another fantastically psychotic antagonist, Gates. Whilst Gauron was more entertainingly evil, and outright disturbed, Gates' outright psychopathy is actually played more for laughs, e.g. having his crew kill off his attackers, and then suddenly remembering he needed to extract information from them first. They play his brand of hilarious gore so well that there's never a dull moment with him on screen. This is all somewhat underplayed by the fact that Gates isn't actually that important to the plot, though. Whilst an antagonistic force is clearly in effect, Gates never really seems to effect the plot as a character, as though his personality and plot significance are two separate beings entirely. In fact, if i'm not mistaken, I don't think Gates ever speaks to a single one of the protagonists once in the entire course of the series.
And whilst we're speaking of antagonists, Gauron's motivations are finally explained here. Whilst they made little sense in the first series, they finally have some light shed on them, although they are rumouredly more fleshed out in the manga. With this given, alongside the two remaining annoying characters Kurz and Melissa being largely absent, the only truly annoying character remaining is Kaname Chidori, who manages to fall easily into the "helpless maiden" archetype, going through every "Dead Teenager" horror movie cliché in one particular episode.
Sadly, unlike the first series, this episode cuts in at only 13 episodes, being one of those series that really leaves you wanting more. In fact, it almost feels rushed, and in some ways feels like a clichéd attempt to pull things together. To its credit, though, it manages to tie up all but a few unimportant plot threads this time... and those look as though they'll be tied up in another series anyway. We can only hope, because with this and Fumoffu under FMP's belt, it's definitely worth watching the first series just to get to this.
Final Words: Frankly, one of the best anime sequels, if not the best, that i've ever seen.
English Dub: 5/10