Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #07 (of 13) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, January 07, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, January 10, 2006
What They Say
Ever since Ed and Al attempted human transmutation, they have desperately avoided one person: their childhood teacher, Izumi. Bearing dreadlocks, an iron will, and incredible alchemic skills, she is horrified that Ed and Al used her teachings to violate nature. Now she has caught them, and is shipping them back to her hometown for a frightening interrogation.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Hughes' investigation of Lab Five leads him to a startling discovery of military corruption and conspiracy that could topple the entire national government - and put Hughes in considerable danger.
As the story progresses, this volume of the series brings out elements that continue to elevate it over other series.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. The shows stereo mix is nicely active as there's a lot of good directionality to be found across the forward soundstage here between the alchemy moments, dialogue and some of the brief action sequences. While not as immersive as some other high action shows, this is a more well-rounded mix and it comes across well. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track.
Originally airing in 2003 and 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being such a recent production and with good production values to it, the show really shines well, especially in these early episodes, with great looking detailed backgrounds and well animated characters running around. Though like every show it has its fair number of pans and stills, there's a greater sense of life to this show than in a number of other series of the same vintage. The color mix is really good with some beautiful blues and greens mixed in but it also plays well with the darker fantasy oriented colors as well. The color gradient issues shows up lightly in a few areas but it doesn't detract too much since it's pretty minimal and doesn't cause any noticeable blocking. Cross coloration and aliasing are both fairly non-existent and we've got a really good looking transfer here that shines nicely.
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release but with a much better looking logo, this volume gets one of the weakest covers of the series so far with a shot of Ed with a look of disbelief of sorts as he falls back while his arms shatters in front of him. His facial expression and the look of the illustration in generally just don't work real well here but a lot of it is tied up to his expression. The back cover has the remainder of the image from the front cover but lightens it up and places a number of shots from the show and several paragraphs worth of summary to it. It's a nicely laid out piece that gives you a really good idea of what to expect. The discs episode numbers and titles are included as well as the extras. The production information fills out most of the bottom of the cover and most of the technical information is nicely laid out in the grid. Though a bit small and scrunched, it provides a quick and easy location for all the key technical bits that I think a consumer should be able to find without having to look all over. The keepcase is clear and the reverse side of the cover is the same as the character artwork on the front cover but it carries all the way across without being obscured by logos or anything else. The included booklet is really beautifully done with lots of a high quality artwork included both in the character pieces and in the small art sections that follow. It goes into a bit about a couple of the characters and setting before doing a breakdown of some of the secondary characters from the series and several showcases of animation from the show. This booklet should in no way be read prior to seeing the episodes on this disc however.
Unlike a lot of the busier and flashier menus that FUNimation generally has, this one is going for simple and effective. With a close-up of Ed from the cover done in black and white while one of the alchemist symbols is off behind him in vibrant red, a bit of music plays along in a bout a minute long loop that's very soft and subtle. The navigation strip is along the bottom in a good looking fantasy character font and the overall feel of the menu is restrained but very apt for the show. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is easy to navigate though as with past menus, I still dislike their language setup. With no listing of what the actual settings are once chosen, you hope that when you make them that it's taken. Due to their style of language settings which are combined with alternate angles for the opening and closing credits, we never rely on our players' language presets for FUNimation titles.
The extras continue to be along what's considered standard for most releases. These include the usual suspects such as the textless songs, the character profiles and art gallery material. Thankfully the commentary returns to one of the episodes on this volume which helps to flesh out the series nicely.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Moving firmly into the second half of the series with this volume, Fullmetal Alchemist continues to build upon the expansive but relatively straightforward storyline that it's been working with since the start but at the same time it pulls out a couple of things that you don't see often in anime anymore. Events that make the show far more interesting as it progresses and has you wondering just what could happen next.
As we've seen over a good part of the first half, there's a large mystery going on within the military about the secret labs and members within that have been working on twisted experiments on humans in order to create something of a Philosopher's Stone. The results have been twisted and as we see with Hughes, he's getting closer to figuring out exactly what's going on and gets the direct blessing of the Fuhrer to find out what's happening. Unlike what you'd expect, the Fuhrer is intent on making sure that this gets explored and exposed because it's not something that he wants to have existing within his military. This actually surprises Hughes a bit but it fits in with the way the Fuhrer has acted before and in a way it reinforces what Hughe's long term goal is with Mustang as well.
With as much that has gone on, it comes as little surprise when Ed and Al decide that they're not going to continue pursuing the Philosopher's Stone from the angle they have been due to what they've seen in the labs and elsewhere. Instead they intend to head south where there are legends of different forms of creating such things, which allows them to get clear of their military bodyguards and as Hughes notes, keeps him and the others from being targets as people around Ed and Al seem to be lately. The growth of the relationships between a lot of the characters is very nicely touched upon here as everyone starts to move in new directions and even Winry gets involved as she heads south with Ed and Al so she can stop in one of the "holy lands" for automail mechanics.
The arrival in the Valley is interesting and provides a brief arc that lets Winry shine a lot, which is good since she's now the main focus of the new closing sequence that simply tarts her up with lots of fanservice, but it's a prelude for moving the group into their next short arc which has the woman who taught them the real regiment of alchemy coming to find them. With so many stories having traveled about them and their joining the military, it's not surprising that she's come to find them and put them in their place, particularly as she's not keen on State Alchemist's for reasons undisclosed. Izumi, as she's brought into the show, is an interesting woman who deals with the two unlike most other adults do and it gives their relationship an amusing twist. It also allows some good flashback periods to when the two were boys and taking their self-taught alchemy skills to the next level and experiencing new hardships that get them ready for the real world of being an alchemist, finding their place within it and understanding the limits of alchemy.
Getting more time with Al as an actual young boy is a nice change of pace as is seeing more of the pair when their drive and motivations were vastly different. Izumi and those around her have an interesting affect on the boys in the present as they try to hide some of their changes but know that they can't. Izumi's able to give them the chance to take some downtime after all that's happened but at the same time is able to reinforce some of the things she taught them when they were younger. There are some strong bonds between the three of them, some things that are still unsaid about her past, but there's a level of understanding about what the kids have gone through and what they've done that gives it all a very interesting feeling as it shifts between the past and the present.
This is the kind of set of episodes of a series that reaffirms my love of what anime can be. Though there isn't exactly a lot going on overall across these four episodes, there are some stunning moments and plenty of character growth and development shown while the larger storylines continue to progress forward. Not everything comes from conflict or heated exchanges and there is such a wide and varied cast of characters that even some of the quieter moments of simply trying to figure out where you stand can provide for some very engaging scenes. This is a great set of episodes and sets the stage for the second half to be just as good if not better than the first half. This series cannot come out fast enough.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Production Art Galleries,Character Profiles,Commentary Track
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist