Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #05 (of 13) (Mania.com)

By:Dani Moure
Review Date: Thursday, February 09, 2006
Release Date: Monday, February 13, 2006



What They Say
The hobbled Elrics return to their childhood village for the first time in four years. As the Rockbells construct Ed's new limbs, the boys sift through the ashes they left behind. While Al comes to the fearful realization that his memories are fading, Ed visits his mother's grave, and both must redefine their view of family and home before returning to Central's library to research the work of Dr. Marcoh.

Nothing could prepare Ed for the shock that is to come. Having just learned the Stone's secret ingredient, how can they reconcile their strong desires to fix their own bodies with the knowledge of its gruesome costs?

The Review!
After the heavy hitting antics of the last volume, things mellow down a little in the latest volume of Fullmetal Alchemist.

Audio:
I listened to the Japanese stereo track for my main review, and continued to really enjoy the performances of the Japanese cast. The stereo mix sounds good, with the music and effects coming across quite well. I noticed no dropouts, distortions or other technical issues with this disc.

I briefly sampled parts of the English 5.1 track, and really liked the English performances. I won’t repeat my gripes with the “reversioning” process again here, but I do still find it a little irksome.

Video:
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. Despite issues with video quality being mentioned in regard to the region 1 release, I didn’t notice any problems during regular playback of this UK release.

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. It works well and caters to both sides of the audience, though Funimation could perhaps be a bit more comprehensive with their translated original Japanese credits.

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

Packaging:
No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

Menu:
The menus mimic the previous discs, with a brief introduction sequence featuring the show's English logo leading into the main menu. This has the show's logo at the top, with some scenes from the show playing 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 is often the case the menus are functional but just a bit bland in their design.

Extras:
We’re down to the bare-bones in terms of extras now, with just the textless opening and ending, as well as the production art galleries, making an appearance.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the hectic, action packed and emotionally charged episodes on the last volume, this latest batch of episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist feels a little quieter in comparison. In particular the first couple of episodes give everyone a little bit of downtime, but things really continue with a bang to a somewhat stunning revelation at the end of the second episode. The action really starts to heat up after that and the show just continues in its stride.

Continuing from the events of the last volume, Ed and Al return to their hometown to get Winry and her grandmother to repair them; Ed needing new automail for his arm and a fix for his leg and Al needing fixing in general. It gives the pair, still being escorted by Armstrong, a chance to unwind a little given all the mayhem they’ve been a part of lately. Ed takes some time to visit his mother’s grave, and he and his brother also go back to where their house used to be. Winry lets curiosity get the best of her when she takes a look inside Ed’s watch and finds that he’s engraved a special date inside. But while the pair may be relaxing, Al seems to be having a hard time remembering some of his past, making him somewhat uncertain of himself.

On returning to Central Ed and Al are looked after by Lt. Ross and Sgt. Brosh, but they soon discover that the library was destroyed the night before in an incident involving Scar, who is now back in Central. On going to the main branch, they’re told that all of Marcoh’s notes were in the building that was burnt down, leaving them with little hope of finding his secrets, at least until they meet Sheska. She’s a bookworm who used to work at the library, and has an interesting knack for remembering everything she reads word for word, which means she can reproduce the notes word for word! After studying some of Marcoh’s findings, the brothers soon discover the true ingredients needed to make a philosopher’s stone.

Feeling down about their findings, Ed soon decides they have to do something more, and the pair go to the 5th Laboratory, where Marcoh used to work. The lab is located right next to a prison, and once they arrive Ed and Al are soon caught up in a battle with two bodies of armour, much in the same vein as Al.

While the episodes seemed a lot quieter this time, especially the first couple which consisted mostly of downtime, there are a lot of subtleties thrown in that make them essential viewing. There are a lot of important themes and musings that you can’t help but think will come up as the series draws on. The biggest of these starts off as almost an aside in the first episode but comes to the fore at the end of the last, and that is Al beginning to question his existence. He seems to be struggling to remember certain things about his past, and starts to question Ed about them. Things like how many friends he had, their faces, and what they used to do together are eluding him. It’s almost as if he is constantly told of the past by his brother, and doesn’t remember a lot of the details himself. When he fights with Number 66, his true existence is called into question as the prisoner asks what if he is actually an imitation, with memories implanted in him as and when Ed wants. It’s actually quite a terrifying question because the way the series has played out, it actually could be possible. I’m really glad to see the writers explore this aspect of the series, as it’s something that was always likely to pop up, and it’ll be really interesting to see how Al reacts in the next couple of episodes to the questions raised here.

Another interesting moment saw Scar return to a place where a group of Ishbalans reside, and we find out that there are other groups scattered around as well. Having been led to believe they’d all been wiped out, and Scar was basically the only one left, this definitely smells like a seed of things to come in the future. I’m certain that the role of the Ishbalans will only increase as the series goes on.

And they’re not the only seed either, because we’re drip-fed another couple of scenes with Lust and Gluttony, which also hint at some bigger plans and we certainly see that they, along with Scar, have a much deeper involvement with our Fullmetal Alchemist than we might have thought before. I do think the writers are doing an absolutely superb job of using these characters, because they’re so mysterious and we know so little about them, yet their scenes are so high-impact, that we can’t help but be intrigued every time we see them. We also get tiny little bits of information that are much smaller pieces of a large puzzle, such as finding out here that Lust and Gluttony are homunculi, something that seems to relate to their powers though we don’t exactly know what it all means at this stage.

So while it may be a little bit slower, and more subtle, there are definitely some big revelations here and things are starting to fall into place a little more with each episode. The emotions, likewise, are more subtle and yet just as strong, with several moments spread throughout the four episodes here that really keep you invested in these characters and their plight.

In Summary:
With a really good story beginning to unravel, revealing itself more and more as each episode goes by, Fullmetal Alchemist is simply an easy series to recommend. It’s really accessible, with an interesting cast of characters and some great action wrapped up in plenty of drama, and has great production values to go along with it. MVM are really on to a winner here, and I hope that the TV exposure the series is getting, though limited, just helps it sell even more.

Features
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (5.1),English Subtitles,Textless Opening and Ending,Production Art

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: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: C
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