Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #08 (of 13) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, December 08, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, March 07, 2006



What They Say
As the Elric brothers are leaving Yock Island, a strange boy emerges from the foliage, with no memory of how he arrived. Inexplicably, he can perform alchemy without a transmutation circle. Even stranger, he can transmute his own body, merging with his surroundings! Meanwhile, the search for Scar gets a forward leap as a former military officer spots him in the southern slums.

Elsewhere, the amoral Lt. Colonel Archer makes his move for the mysterious wild boy, who he believes is a homunculus conspirator. Infuriated by the arrest, Izumi leaps into action, single-handedly attacking the military with her staggering alchemic power.

The Review!
Izumi's transgressions combine with Ed's own mistakes and the result is that we learn far more about the real enemy that's been snaking about the storyline for so long.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release but with a much better looking logo, this installment lets Winry get the cover and it's a really nice shot of her laying on her side with a detailed layout of her hair while providing some of her tools to accent the overall image. The more Winry gets involved in the show the more I like the character and this cover gives us a really nice view of her. 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.

Menu:
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 Winry 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.

Extras:
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.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As Fullmetal Alchemist moved past the halfway mark in the previous volume, it brought in a lot of enlightening and character expanding material by bringing the boys alchemy teacher into play. Her own past with them and the way she taught them to deal with life and alchemy as both are quite related shaped a lot of what they are all about, though plenty of their core is still what came before and the kinds of mistakes they made afterwards. Being able to see them both in human form and learning to deal with the struggles she presented them made the two even more human and more interesting.

While Izumi brought a lot to the table, she's still a character that I wondered how would fit into the larger scope of things because just about anybody that gets introduced here has more than one role. That ended up being explained away rather interestingly as this volume progresses. The discovery of the wild boy who goes nameless for the bulk of these episodes is something that Izumi takes rather personally and she's quite defiant with Ed and Al about their attitude with him. She's taking quite good care of him but there's an edge to it. For Ed and Al, there's a real problem in how they have to deal with him since he has the strange ability to transmutate things without having to make the circle but also by changing how his body is made when he's stressed. Seeing him shift into a rock hand or twisting a bed into his body takes the show into a new direction based on what we know of alchemy so far.

Ed finds himself in the awkward position of having to explain his experience of doing the transmutation to save his mother's life and more details of exactly how he did the equivalent exchange of his arm and leg for it and Al's life. The hints we had before are shown starkly here but even then we're only seeing on perspective of it as Izumi and her longer life and experience with alchemy reveals even more about it than Ed knew. All of this centers around the wild child that they've found and the curious nature of his powers and the way his body is built. A lot of it becomes quickly obvious but it's the devil in the details that proves to be fascinating as we learn about the gateway, human transmutation and the individual perception of what's there.

There are a lot of other arcs moving along throughout here as well. The homunculi are making their own plans more known as they're growing in number and things they've been pushing along for awhile now start falling into place. These guys show up in a number of places and have their hooks into a lot of different things so they at times seem like they're everywhere and easy to use but with their larger plan coming into focus a lot of it is making more sense. Mustang's group doesn't get a lot of time on screen but they're trying to figure out what's going on with the mystery behind Hughes' death while also dealing with the continuing Ishbala and Scar issue, something that again the homunculi are able to twist to their advantage.

Even with all the serious material in these episodes there's still plenty of time for a good deal of fun and humor. There's a great scene where Armstrong arrives in town with the new man on the case, Archer, and he gets to do a muscle flex contest with Izumi's beloved meat shop man. Winry has a great but short moment of sleeping through a lot of action and showing that yes, she does sleep with her tools. A lot of the other moments come down to the slightly silly or just bits of dialogue that bring a smile to your face while the cast goes through more serious moments. The fun of the reverence that the boys share towards Izumi which she then tortures them with continues to be fun here as well, especially since they do still really live in fear of her to some extent.

In Summary:
I've been enjoying this show for quite awhile now and each volume surprises me in how it makes me even more of a fan of it as it progresses. The show manages to provide such an interesting story that's building upon what's come before while still providing revelations about the past. There are a lot of arcs working along here and you can see the ways in which they're tied but they all have mysteries still left to them that keep them exciting. While they do play fast and loose with the kinds of powers that the alchemist can have, I find that I really don't mind that much since it's often creative, as the new alchemists introduced on this volume prove to be, or they're kept to small side roles. Regardless, Fullmetal Alchemist is a series that only seems to keep getting better and better. While popularity doesn't always equal something being quality, I think this is one of those crossover series that really has it all.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Production Art Galleries,Character Profiles

Review Equipment
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.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Fullmetal Alchemist