Separated across parallel worlds, the Elric brothers continue their search for each other.
What They Say
It is 1923 in Munich. Two years have passed since Edward Elric's sacrifice ripped him out of his world and into ours, separating him from his younger brother, Alphonse. In that time, Ed's continued research into rocketry has allied him with Alphonse Heiderich, a fellow researcher who oddly resembles Ed's brother. Progress has been slow, however, and Ed has become discouraged. But when he saves a quiet Gypsy girl with the power to read minds, Ed is quickly pulled into a plot by the Thule Society and the burgeoning Nazi Party that could drag both worlds into a terrible war.
Meanwhile, back in his own world, Al has been unlocking new secrets of alchemy and gaining incredible powers, all in the hopes of finding Ed.
Battling the occult, ideological extremists, and monstrous Homunculi lurking in the shadows; can the brothers find a way to reunite without causing chaos and bloodshed? What will happen when the world of alchemy and the world of modern science collide?
The original DVD release contained two 5.1 language tracks which were quite well thought of at the time, but they pale in comparison to this release. The two language tracks here are encoded using Dolby TrueHD in 5.1 and they’re quite the immersive piece of work with excellent use of the forward and rear speakers, both with dialogue and action effects. What really got me was some of the more subtle moments with sounds being thrown to the rears as well as the very strong presence in the forward soundstage. There are some good big set pieces here with the audio mix gets to shine, but it does a wonderful job throughout on both language tracks. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of the Japanese track or in the spot checking of the English track.
Originally in theaters in 2005, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 at 1080p using the AVC codec. The DVD release had its flaws which were mostly due to the limitations of DVD in dealing with some very busy sequences here, but also from a time when FUNimation was still on the path to better encoding. This edition of the film is however stellar. There’s very little grain to be seen here and what we get instead of a very clean, very detailed and beautiful looking transfer where the film comes alive like it never did before. It may just be more noticeable on a larger screen, but the richness of the animation really shines through here with beautiful colors, very solid colors with no noise or blocking, and only a few hints of gradients that are in the source itself. Some films really don’t showcase a huge difference when going to high definition outside of cleaner colors, but here this simply stands out as a far more beautiful film than I thought it was before, especially the vividness and motion of the character animation itself.
This movie is fairly predictable with its layout and design as it uses a standard Blu-ray case with the same cover artwork that we’ve seen before. The use of the main cast of characters staggered behind each other is certainly traditional enough but it again looks too dark and murky here and not all that appealing or eye-catching. The back cover continues the somber aspect by doing an all black background with a pair of rows of shots from the show through the middle area. The focus is more on the text of the summary than anything else, which is at least covered well but it doesn’t really suck you in, nor do the pictures. It’s not bad but it feels mediocre at best. The remainder is given over the production credits and the technical information as well as a lengthy list of the discs extras.
The menus here are really quite nice and they put in some solid work to the main menu which you can really appreciate. Set to some of the more ominous instrumental music, it takes various character stills from the film and glides them across, zooms in and out and so forth while bits of animation play in the background in grayscale format. There’s a lot of really appealing artwork used here and it’s all tied together very well in a way that makes you want to sit and watch it for a bit. The menu navigation is kept to a small box along the lower left where it keeps things minimal but very easy to use. Submenus load quickly but very oddly in the language menu you can only set the audio, you can’t set the subtitles as it chooses it automatically. The pop-up menu uses the navigation box as its sole piece which is really very good as it’s small and unobtrusive when the feature is playing and you want to look at other things.
Unlike the DVD special edition which was over two discs, everything fits onto one here. There's a section that contains the original trailers from the Japanese launch, a gallery of production artwork and your standard image gallery. These are quite good and some of the material in the galleries is just gorgeous, but they take up only so much time. The big extra that runs the most here is the Making Of feature. It's more of reminiscence though as it was filmed four months after the theatrical release of the movie and is done at the place where the TV series and the movie itself was created. A bit longwinded at times in getting to the point, it is a fascinating piece that really takes you behind the franchise to see what went into it and the people that imagined it all.
The first extra is a talk session which has several of the Japanese voice actors and the director going on about their experiences in the production, moderated by Romi Park. She conducts some one on one interviews with them as well as the group session. There's plenty of material to cover and it is interesting, especially if you like this cast of actors, and with a runtime of just under fifty-four minutes they aren't quite as rushed in trying to get their opinions across.
There are two Japanese audio commentary tracks and one with the US director and actors that run the length of the entire film which were originally on a second disc because the DVD couldn’t handle having all these extra tracks on top of everything else. As I said back in 2005,
This is the kind of release that will benefit from next-generation home video in that it would be able to offer up all the soundtracks across both volumes (something like seven of them combined when you had the stereo mixes) as well as all the extras on one disc instead of awkwardly split up like this.”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Going back to this movie without watching the original TV series again isn’t a huge problem, since it is fairly memorable. Where the trouble lies is in watching this movie again while watching the new Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series which takes a very different route as time goes on. Thankfully though, the core of the film is still very strong and that’s the characters. This feature lives and dies by the likes of Edward Elric and how he handles himself after he goes beyond the Gate and finds himself in our world, circa 1923.
First and foremost, this is not a movie that anyone can just jump in and get everything out of it. While there is plenty of eye-candy and a clear enough plot to follow, so much of it is layered in knowing who some of these seemingly minor characters are and understanding the relationships between them both in the world that Edward originally comes from as well as "our" world. In a way, I would really hate for people to get to know a character like Hughes, one of my favorites, solely on his Earth analog of a German policeman with strong anti-Jewish and anti-Gypsy feelings. Some of the challenge in this show for fans of the TV series will be seeing some of their favorite characters being involved in the birth of the Nazi party via their parallel world counterparts. It's certainly a tried and true technique in novels and science fiction in general, as anyone who has watched Star Trek will attest, but with Fullmetal Alchemist appealing to a younger crowd as well as adults it has the potential to cause some problems.
With just over an hour and a half to tell a linear storyline without having to deal with commercial breaks or episodic cliffhangers, Fullmetal Alchemist works on a different level than what has come before and the creative team handles it beautifully. As we had seen from the end of the TV series, Edward is living in Germany, now in 1923 and older by about five years, and has found himself hooked up with Alphonse. Alphonse is a bright blue-eyed and blonde haired young man who is a bit sickly but is something of a genius. They've come to Germany to build rockets and expand scientific knowledge for the pursuit of bettering mankind. What the scientists don't realize is that they're getting wrapped up in the "Munich Putsch", the events of November 8th 1923 that caused a failed revolution spurred on by Hitler that eventually led to a much bigger event years later. Edward's initially dealing with some of the problems caused by his helping out a young gypsy woman who was being sold off to the Germans because she can see things others can't but it doesn't take long before he realizes he's caught up in the larger events of those wanting to support Hitler and are using spiritual items in order to gain power against their enemies.
On the other side of the Gate, we get to see some of the results of the five years that have passed. Al is taking on the role of his brother, though I'm not entirely clear if he's really a State Alchemist or not, but he dresses as Edward used to and is spending his time learning all he can about alchemy. The world here has had its share of problems over the last five years, but it's rebuilding quite well at the same time. Armstrong for example now spends much of his time running a construction service in Liore, the city that was completely destroyed during the formation of the Philosopher's Stone. Other's have moved on as well but for most of them there is a sense of waiting for Edward to return before they can fully start their lives up again. Winry is doing her usual best at her work, Sheska is much more involved in the politics and work of the State while Mustang has gone to a far flung outpost in order to pay for what he's done. Only Al seems to be growing and changing but he still keeps his dogged pursuit of finding his brother.
Interestingly, he's able to "dream" himself to the other world and through Alphonse is able to see some of what his brother is doing. Not that he realizes this nor does he understand what's going on a lot of the time but it does bring in a tenuous link between the two. Al still hasn't regained his memory of the time spent journeying with his brother either but he does know that his brother is everything to him. This bond between the two is something that was very well played during the series and is really given a solid use in the film, particularly at the end. Both are in their own way desperate to get back to the other and with Al's growing powers, he's able to start creating a stable path between the two worlds. This happens at the same time that those wanting to gain the power of alchemy are doing the same on Earth and it doesn't take long for the two to collide.
And when the German's come to town, nobody is safe. Especially when they come through the Gate and the things that live within there manage to attach themselves onto them.
Visually, the film is a several steps above the TV series, which wasn’t quite as apparent with the DVD release because the details weren’t as clear as they are here, nor the animation so vivid. The films bumps that up a couple of levels in comparison to the series and with the greater detail to the backgrounds as well as the darker and more ornate feeling that comes from the time in Germany, it has a very strong defined character to all of it. The characters were also very well handled in being aged up about five years and some of them dealing with the aftereffects of the end of the series. Winry has a more womanly feel to her which really was good to see and even Mustang has a bit more of a worn down aspect to him. What I enjoyed the most from the changes was seeing just how similar yet different Al had become as he took on the role of his brother.
If at the start of the TV series you had told me that after the end of the series there would be a movie that dealt with this particular period of time in German history, well, I would have believed it based on how many other shows have gone in the past. But since it wasn't an upfront thing and was only touched on in some ways towards the end of the series, it was fascinating to see the Japanese approach to this both in terms of the story and animating it but also from a historical perspective. There's a moment where the Earth version of King Bradley has a book from Japan that talks about how the German way of doing things may be right is eerie but there are so many more moments where the ethnic issues are so prominent in the German cast that you can't help but feel unsettled by it. It's this straightforward approach however that makes the film and the story stand out more. While it is at its core about two brothers, it's more about how wherever we actually are in the world, we are of this world and what goes on in it is important to all of us. That we can't simply not be involved. It speaks as much of this time in history as well as of today.
This is the definitive release of this feature without any question. Combining all the extras onto one volume, retaining all the commentary tracks, providing for stunning looking visuals and a very engaging audio mix, the Conqueror of Shamballa is finally presented the way it should have been. I’m sure there are some niggling faults to be found here and there, but as an overall release this movie is more impressive than I remember it being. With the lights down full and watching late at night, it’s able to draw you in completely and engage you in a way that it hasn’t before. The amount of detail and nuance that’s now visible in the backgrounds alone makes it worthwhile, but with much more vivid and fluid character animation it takes on a whole new life. I can’t recommend this release enough.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD
5.1 Language, English Subtitles, The Making of Full Metal Alchemist: The Movie, Original Trailers, Production Art, Image Galley, Talk Session with Seiji Mizushima, Romi Park, Kie Kugimiya and Toru Okawa, Japanese Actor Commentary, Japanese Staff Commentary, US Actor Commentary
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.