Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #01 (of 13) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Release Date: Monday, May 16, 2005

What They Say
Edward Elric changed the night he trapped his younger brother's spirit in the unfeeling steel of an ancient suit of armor. That night, Edward and Alphonse exploited the clandestine science of Alchemy to attempt the unthinkable - resurrect their dead mother. They failed, unleashing an alchemic reaction that ripped their bodies apart.

Four years later, an expanding evil lurks behind the false face of freedom. With rebellion crushed, the State turns its eye to increasing its grip on the people by seizing a legendary artifact that would ensure complete domination and plunge the land into State controlled darkness.

Now a lone State Alchemist combs the country for a single stone that could amplify his Alchemy. If successful he would control a power permitting him to restore the precious things that were lost. But it would also allow the State Military to senselessly obliterate countless more. The Alchemist is soon faced with the harsh truth that the power to create is but a breath away from the power to destroy, and that with each birth, death must follow.

The Review!
Just a couple of months behind the US release, one of the most popular shows in recent years both in Japan and the US hits UK shores, and Fullmetal Alchemist shows heaps of promise.

I listened to the English 5.1 track for my main review (having listened to the Japanese track for these episodes previously), and I really enjoyed the dub performances a lot. I wasn't too keen initially on the echo effect put on Aaron Dismuke's (Alphonse) voice to make it sound tinny, though it did grow on me, and I thought Vic Mignogna's voice fitted Ed really well. My only problem with the dub is that the translation's a bit too loose for my liking at times, although this is something I've noticed with a lot of FUNimation dubs. I didn't notice any technical problems with the track, and the music and effects came across well, with some good directionality.

I only spot-checked the Japanese track, but I noticed no dropouts or distortions. Having listened to it before, I quite enjoyed the performances of the Japanese cast.

Unfortunately, FUNimation weren't allowed to dub the songs, so we only get the original Japanese versions on the disc.

With this being a recent show, the transfer here is very good. I noticed no aliasing or other artefacts as I watched, colours were reproduced well, and the transfer was very sharp and clean. They definitely did a good job here.

We also get alternate angles for the openings and endings. This means that you can either watch the translated, English credits in the opening, or the original Japanese opening with kanji, and the same for the ending, depending on which language you select from the menu. I really like this practice and it's a shame more companies don't adopt it.

Subtitles are in a nice yellow font, and I didn't notice any major grammatical or spelling errors.

No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

The menus are quite similar to other Madman menus (Madman authored the disc for MVM), with a brief introduction sequence featuring the show's English logo leading into the main menu. This features the show's logo at the top, with some scenes from the show plying in the centre of a circle with Ed and Al either side. You can select individual episodes from the selections below, as well as extras and setup. A piece of background music plays over the main menu, though I'd have liked to have the opening theme play here as it does on the US disc. Sub-menus are static, sporting the same circular background design but with just the text selections available, and they don't have any music playing. Once again, there's also no scene selection menu. Overall, as per usual the menus are functional but just a bit bland in their design.

To start things off, there's a nice selection of a couple of Japanese commercials for the show, followed by two lengthy promotional videos for the show. While they're not particularly amazing, I do really like these sorts of extras as it's often nice to see how the Japanese market the show before it airs. We also get the obligatory opening and ending in textless form, and a selection of three different production art galleries, one entitled "illustration", another "line art" and finally a "model gallery". All three are a selection of images done up as a video with some music playing in the background. Again, they're not spectacular, but I do like to see production art on the discs (and it's far better than the screenshot galleries that have been on some other titles). Things are rounded out with trailers for Blue Gender and Kiddy Grade.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fullmetal Alchemist is a hugely popular franchise that hit Japan back in 2003 to great success. The anime has spawned both a manga series and two PlayStation 2 games (so far), and is also currently doing the business on TV in the US. In a surprising and yet great move, just three months after its US release it's already coming out over here, and MVM are hoping that it'll prove to be a big hit in the local market.

And there's no reason why it shouldn't. While it is a bit lengthy at 51 episodes (spread over 13 discs), Fullmetal Alchemist is made up of a bunch of interesting characters involved in an engaging story, plus it has the game tie-in to help get it recognised. If MVM could get this on TV, then this could really be a breakout hit for them.

Getting on to the story, the series follows two brothers, Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric, on their search for an item called the Philosopher's Stone (and no, this has no relevance to Harry Potter whatsoever). The opening two episodes introduce us to the brothers and briefly to their situation; Al's body is essentially a suit of armour, and Ed's right arm and left leg are also made up of metal (called "automail"). Both are alchemists, with alchemy being the science of taking one thing and making something else. Because of Ed's body and his status as a State Alchemist, he is renowned as the "Fullmetal Alchemist".

In the opener, Ed and Al travel to the town of Liore, and quickly find themselves in an interesting situation. The townsfolk all follow a man called Cornello, who preaches to them and performs miracles for them acting allegedly on behalf of their sun god, Leto. The pair meet a girl called Rose, who lost her boyfriend not too long ago, and is hoping for Cornello to bring him back like he has supposedly resurrected some townspeople before. But Ed and Al quickly realise that Cornello's miracles aren't exactly that; he's just performing alchemy. But one of the laws of alchemy forbids human transmutation, so how exactly can he bring anyone back to life? The key may lie with the Philosopher's Stone that sits on Cornello's finger.

As introductions go, this two-parter works really well. We're given just enough information about Ed and Al's background, and how they came to be the way they are, to keep us hooked for the long haul, while there's a really interesting story to be told of the town of Liore in and of itself as well. The writers certainly didn't hold back, with the two episodes openly challenging the themes of godly worship and corrupt people exploiting religious beliefs, as well as presenting plenty of internal conflict for supporting characters like Rose, and indeed the two leads, who have to be harsh in their criticisms and disbelief in order to help the townspeople.

The third episode is really good, going back to the past and showing Ed and Al when they're younger, and their father, a renowned alchemist himself, leaves to go and fight in a war. Left with their mother, they follow in their father's footsteps and start to study the science of alchemy themselves. But their mother soon dies of a disease, and the two youngsters take it upon themselves to try to bring her back, and in the process learn why the human transmutation is forbidden.

It's a bit odd to go back and see what happened in full with Ed and Al's mother, and how they came to be on their journey, so early on in the series, but it works really well and is a fascinating story. Seeing Ed and Al trying to do all they can to get their mother back only exemplifies the impact of their loss, and equally Ed's desperation when Al is almost lost himself is sad to see. The episode also continues to stress the law of Equivalent Exchange, the first law of alchemy, that states that one thing can only be created from something of equal mass. The principles of alchemy are stressed quite early on, so it's likely they'll become quite important to the series as it draws on.

The final episode on the disc follows on from when Ed and Al burn down their house and leave for pastures new, and go in search of a man who appears in many of the letters their father wrote. They're also looking for the State Alchemist called Roy that appeared after they attempted the transmutation on their mother.

The characters are one of the series' strong points even at this early stage, and come across really well over the course of the first four episodes. We get to see many different facets of both Ed and Al, with Ed clearly taking the more responsible role with his brother looking up to him. Ed seems to be a very conflicted character, with strong feelings for his mother and equally strong, if negative, feelings for his father. He's not afraid to tell people the harsh truths if the need arises, and he's very protective of his brother and honest to most of the people around him. What's also nice is that we get to see his vulnerable side early on, particularly through the story with his mother, which really helps make him a likeable character.

Al is quite different to his brother, despite being just a year younger, and he's far more vulnerable yet very sweet at the same time. He has a lot of strength and is a good alchemist, though not up to his brother's level, and he also comes off as pretty intelligent and a character that's always looking for the good in people. He proves to be a great balance for Ed, which makes them a really good leading pair.

While it's not entirely clear which of the remaining characters we see throughout these episodes will return to the series in the future, I'd like to see more of Rose as she seemed like a really nice, intelligent girl who was just a little misguided. Winry and the old woman also have a lot of potential, and if I had to put money on it I'd expect to see the people behind the Minister's actions in the first couple of episodes return as thorns in the sides of our leads at some point in the future.

Despite running for 51 episodes, the animation in Fullmetal Alchemist is pretty good and consistent throughout the first four episodes. In particular, there are a couple of cracking fights to be witnessed, with plenty of motion as opposed to a lot of panning that we often see in shows nowadays. The music is also really good, and the series in general has some really interesting designs, both for the characters and the surrounding world.

In Summary:
It's hard to judge Fullmetal Alchemist after just four episodes, but from what is here it's looking very promising indeed. The characters are great, the story interesting and well presented, and the feel of the series balances out the pretty heavy drama with some nice comedy thrown in when it needs it. It's definitely a long haul to collect all 13 volumes, but the presentation is great and I can really see a lot of people liking this series a lot. I'm certainly looking forward to the next volume a lot, so I'd definitely recommend the series at this stage, and even more so if it gets better.

Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (5.1),English Subtitles,Japanese Commercials,Textless Opening and Ending,Image Galleries

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: MVM Entertainment
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist