A classic returns as if it had never left
Before we begin, a disclaimer: Full Metal Panic is my favorite anime series, and will always hold a special place in my heart.
Full Metal Panic: Invisible Victory feels like Full Metal Panic. For a sequel arriving 12 years after The Second Raid, I think that's an incredibly impressive accomplishment.
The episode picks up right where The Second Raid leaves off. This, unfortunately, means that if you're new to Full Metal Panic, Invisible Victory isn't the appropriate place to start watching. While there are some series that you can jump into a season or two in and catch on, this is not one of them. There are no character introductions, world building, or plot explanations for those coming in blind. Continuing immediately where the last season left off is a risky move for a series that aired in 2006, but one that I appreciate. The series dives right into the new arc without having to waste an episode devoted to catching viewers up or rehashing everything that was previously animated. It makes the series feel like it was made especially for the fans.
Episode one hits all the notes veterans of the series have come to love and expect. We see Tessa and ARX-7 squaring off with Amalgam. We see Chidori and Sousuke in some intimate moments, which, as usual, come to an abrupt end as his bodyguard instincts kick in. But we see him as more mature now - instead of jumping at "shadows" there is a legitimate threat he's addressing. His character growth from The Second Raid is shown very clearly, without relapse. There's something exciting about not having to go back and experience his immaturity again, but having the opportunity to instead examine unexplored character flaws. All too often new anime seasons backtrack a bit, rehashing explored concepts because it's safe.
It's oddly comforting that at the end of the episode our two protagonists are surrounded by enemy forces preparing for a fight. It's a setting reminiscent of the earlier series, and helps hammer home that this is real. Zero Hour is a strong first episode, and one that inspires confidence in Xebec's ability to pilot the series.