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

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, September 12, 2006



What They Say
At the end of destiny, where will peace be found? The brothers Elric will consider the answers that are left once the Philosopher's Stone has guided their saga to its end. True sacrifice, the deep love of family, the cruel truths of life and death... these are the realities that will bring the Fullmetal Alchemist's tale to a close.

Contains episodes 49-51:
The Other Side of the Gate
Death
Laws and Promises

The Review!
The series draws to a close with some interesting twists and revelations as Ed has to figure out the best way to deal with what has always been closest to his heart, how to save Al.

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, the cover for this splits the original piece and lets us just take in Ed in his "street clothes" outfit while sitting in a chair. It's an interesting piece to begin with when you add in Al to the background but by himself here on the last cover with the circles behind him, it's similar to Mustang's cover in that there's this sense of power and determination behind it. 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. A few new pieces do show up for the finale though and make use of that space that a fourth episode would use. The first of which is a new commentary track by the ADR director for the last episode which we listened to a bit of. The other more interesting one, particularly for English language fans, is the 30 minute long Inside Look feature which talks with a number of the cast members and staff about the series and what their involvement and experiences with it have been like, both inside and outside of the show. It's a good piece and unlike a number of other FUNimation extras recently, it's authored just right in allowing skips and moving around in it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the final volume of the series drops down an episode to just three instead of the usual four, this actually works better for it as the last three episodes do play out at a fairly rapid pace in a lot of places. This gives the ending of the series something of a smoother feel and one where you don't feel like it's dragging out that much either. They also choose to take the last half of the final episode to provide an epilogue which covers much ground as there are a lot of characters to follow-up on.

A lot of what this set of episodes is all about is the culmination of the build-up in the previous volume. Dante has been working towards having the Stone created as her body is deteriorating at a fairly rapid pace now and her method of doing so was to create wars and strife across the country so that desperate people would try desperate measures. She gained the added bonus this round of having Hohenheim's sons to mess with in its creation as well as the plan, at least stated once, of taking Edward into her bed in order to have some sort of mental payback against his father. The plot that tends to be a bit more intimate in a way about all of this is focused around Ed as he deals with Dante and those who remain alive and serve her at this point, from Envy who simply wants to see people suffer and to Gluttony who it turns out is intended to be a red water processing plant. Go figure.

The arc inside of the Central Command area itself with the rest of the cast is equally fascinating though. It becomes much more focused between King Bradley and Mustang as Mustang simply cannot let what this Homunculi has done be gotten away with. He has an interesting conversation with Edward sometime before this about dreams and what needs to be sacrificed for them but there's also an edge in there that what you get for doing so may not be your dream but something you didn't realize you need. Mustang's plan is like a lot of his plans in that he keeps it small and mostly to himself which makes it a real treat that it plays out as great as it does. Seeing the Fuhrer and him go at it after getting to see what a home life the Fuhrer has just makes it all the more personal. Of all those working for Dante, I think he in the end is the most intriguing since he had so little to do with the others and kept to himself for the most part, playing the role of a smiling fatherly type while shaping the country according to Dante's will.

These episodes flow quite well and for the most part bring resolution that I think will satisfy most people. It left me feeling good about the show while it kept to some of the anime "traditions" of not having it wrapped up completely (for obvious reasons) as well as paring down the cast some as it went along. Not everyone walks away happily ever after though some people do get their just rewards and it was great to see such small moments mean so much. The only area of the show that makes me feel a bit, well, less than satisfied is the tricky nature of bringing in the World War I material and making the connection of the gate in such a way. It's an old trick and one that I admit to loving a lot when it comes to science fiction novels, but I'm not quite convinced that it was the best way to tie things together in this kind of series. I could see if the present day FMA world was say four or five hundred years in our future and Ed was doing some tripping to the past, but this method makes me wonder how a mainstream audience would take it since it's typically not presented to them in what they watch.

In Summary:
Taken in whole, Fullmetal Alchemist was a series that really did a great job from frame one in providing a fantastic story with wonderful elements to it, from the action to the relationships. It's not often that we get a series of this length that seems so tightly plotted and without real full filler in the traditional sense that it stood out for that reason alone. But there was a lot more to it as well, from the great action scenes (if inconsistent many times with the stated use of alchemy) to the way that it had such a strong brother pairing as the leads. And brothers who while they argued and fought at times, they were ones that you could see some real humanity in it regardless of which language you were listening to. The series moved seamlessly between stark horror at what was going on and lighthearted moments that would pick you up and remind you of just who the good guys are in it. It had all the ingredients for success and carried through on it beautifully. There are a lot of shows that I watch and enjoy but there are few that have me as excited and engaged as this one. As mainstream as the series may have gotten, it's one that highlights some of the best that anime has to offer and didn't back away from some of the ugly truths in storytelling. This is a series to recommend easily to anyone wondering what they should try for the first time. Highly recommended.

Features
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,Inside Look

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