Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #11 (of 13) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, August 01, 2006



What They Say
Edward faces his destiny and the burdens of his actions as chaos surrounding the quest for the Philosopher's Stone reaches full boil. Alliances shift and factions fracture when horrible secrets and undeniable truths glare in the light of day.

Contains episodes 41-44:
Holy Mother
His Name is Unknown
The Stray Dog
Hohenheim of Light

The Review!
Scar's plans go forward which forces Ed and Al to take flight as they've found themselves in a truly precarious position now. Of course, everything would fold like a house of cards if people actually just talked to each other...

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, a tattoo covered Alphonse with a very dark look to him takes the main image that's set against the transmutation circle design but also on the clear grey of the reverse side. 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 Alphonse 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)
With so few episodes really left in the series, a lot of the subplots that have been running for awhile now are starting to come together as the characters find themselves in situations that are no longer keeping everyone apart. Simple bits of information that should have long ago been communicated are now reaching certain ears as well and that leads to some really emotional moments. It's been some time since Hughes has died for example and Ed only now finds that out and in a way that makes him feel like even those close to him are hiding things from him.

A good deal of the setup for the final arc is done here as Scar, using Rose as the figurehead, is set to draw in the thousands of troops from the military into Liore so that he can use them as ingredients in creating the Philosopher's Stone. While Ed wants to stop him he's in the position of having to safeguard Rose and Lyra as they escape from the city so that they won't be caught up in the transmutation. Ed does his best to try and stave things off though with a letter to Al that would hopefully reach Mustang in time to keep the military out, but with Archer and his plans to force through the attack on Scar, his efforts are in vain. There's a beautiful battle between Scar and Kimbly that serves as a prelude to the destruction that will come and it brings Al into it in a very intriguing way, one that changes his role considerably.

Scar's reasons for doing things are fairly well known but he's intent on doing something a bit bigger yet still personal here as he ends up forcing his tattooed arm into Alphonse's body after he got taken down by Kimbly. It's an intriguing tactic in that Kimbly wants to see Alphonse explode in a beautiful way and the only way to save him is to transmute Al's body to a different metal. Injecting the "ripe" tattooed arm with the bits of man made stone and then transmuting the entire city to create the real Stone ends up turning Al into a living Philosopher's Stone of sorts. With Al being sealed within the armor and then to have that placed inside him, which is also technically carrying the life force/souls of the thousands that died to become it, it's a crowded place inside of him in a sense.

This puts Al in a really bad position in that he's of incredible value to a lot of people so he and Ed are intent on making things right which means heading home in order to get something they need to pull it off. This also times to Winry and Sheska arriving back in Resembool at the same time that Mustang and his group, now assigned to hunt down Ed by order of the Fuhrer, are making their way there. It's the kind of convergence in plotlines that ends up really adding more adrenaline to the way things are told since you can see so much of it coming together and having the various reunions that bring the characters to talking about some of their experiences which allow them to piece things together even more clearly. There's a lot of really good things going on here as they all come together but I particularly loved the way Mustang took to talking down Ed somewhat about what Ed should have been doing. Mustang's always been a favorite and this was just a great moment for him.

The return to Resembool also brings the past back as you have things like Winry's grandmother talking about events that happened prior to the kids birth and a mysterious man that returns who seems to know a lot about the area from some time over a hundred years ago. Every time we think we've got a good handle on the bigger picture and how a lot of this is fitting together, something new gets snuck into it. First it was something like the Fuhrer being involved, then the one Homunculi that was born from Ed and Al's sin and then starting to find out more of the truth of what someone like Lyra is about as she brings even more scope to the picture. With there still being someone above this level that's pulling the strings, there's more to be learned and to see how it comes together but right now it's at a point where each episode is simply exciting and filled with new information.

This volume also marks a new opening and closing sequence, something that's always neat to see. With only something like ten episode left they bring in the new opening which seems to cover a lot of what we might be seeing in this last storyline and it really sets the stage for some exciting times. The ending sequence isn't quite as good since it's not so much focused on action shots but between the two of them they do a great job of bringing in some additional enthusiasm for the show and lots of new shiny animation that hints at some potential spoilers of sorts..

In Summary:
Every episode brings new revelations and the dangers only increase several times more in this volume as those that are pulling the strings are becoming more brazen as their goals start to become realized. The homunculi have had some interesting revelations along the way with their own goals and how far they'll go against their own side in order to achieve them as well as learning some neat things about them in general. The cast only seems to get bigger and bigger with some fascinating ties to each other as well as an expanded back story that covers the time before Ed and Al became wrapped up in all of this. The series just continues to be extremely enjoyable and engaging from episode to episode, making it plainly clear why it's so popular. This is just solid and enjoyable storytelling that doesn't pull very many punches.

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, Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and 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: TV PG
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