The first season of one of the more popular shonen title features plenty of good action, nice characters, and a decent plot.
What They Say
Innocence and flesh were sacrificed when two young brothers ignored the laws of alchemy in an attempt to resurrect their mother. The horrors they recklessly unleashed that night marked the beginning of a journey that leads from darkness to light and back.
In an era of war and corruption, State Alchemist Edward Elric and his brother Alphonse desperately search for the Philosopher's Stone. The legendary artifact is their last hope to restore what was lost - or it could be their undoing. The grisly truths found in the quest for the relic will test their souls in ways unimaginable.
Murder stalks the brothers from the shadows and false prophets conspire to steal their faith. Morality is assaulted by military atrocities and scientific abominations. Amid the ashes of their childhood, Edward and Alphonse will discover the power to create is but a breath away from the power to destroy. The bond of brotherhood will be their greatest weapon in the fight for their lives.
Contains episodes 1-25.
For the purposes of this review, I listened to the English 5.1 dub. 2.0 tracks are also offered for English and Japanese. The audio was clear throughout, with no distortion or dropout, and there was some decent left/right directionality with the sound effects. Dialogue stayed central. With the amount of action in this title, front/back directionality would have been nice, but it was a solid effort.
Shown in its native 4:3 aspect ratio, this release looked really nice. Coloring was nice and bright, and there were no real technical problems to speak of. My only issue was that the picture did not seem quite as clear as other recent releases, but that is an issue I seem to find with many full frame titles. Otherwise, this looked pretty good.
Decent packaging for this release, with an artbox housing four thinpaks and a sleeve for the guide books. Each disc has its own thinpak, and has a wraparound picture of one of the characters around the cover. The covers are technically reversible, but the reverse side has the same picture as the front side, just without any text. Overall, it is nothing special, but it looks nice.
The menu is also decent, but nothing special. The background image is the same as picture from that disc’s cover. The selections are very large and noticeable, with the highlight in orange, so it shows up well against the grey background. A deep, tense melody plays in the background while the menu is up. Decent effort, though oddly, the menu is widescreen, while the feature is full.
There are some decent extras on this release, though (except for one commentary on disc 3) all video extras are relegated to the last disc. There are the standard textless songs, Japanese commercials, a commercial for the Japanese OST, and a music video for L’Arc-en-Ciel’s “Ready Steady Go,” which is the opening theme for the second half of this season. There are also English commentaries for episodes 19 and 25, which are either selectable through the episode menu, or by switching audio tracks during the episodes.
But the best extra by far is the inclusion of the guide books from the singles releases. The six singles that made up season one each came with a 15-20 page book filled with production/cast notes, art, and episode information. They are extremely well put together, and are usually the sort of thing that is sacrificed for collections. The cynic in me might suggest that Funimation printed way more than they needed, so that’s why they included them in this release, but regardless of the reason, they are a nice inclusion.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As one of the more popular shonen shows from recent years, Full Metal Alchemist has seen a lot of play and quite a few releases. This set marks the first of Funimations second go around in collection format, though this time they are combining complete seasons together rather than half seasons. Having now seen the first season, it is easy to see why it has garnered the attention that it has.
Edward and Alphonse Elric are alchemists: Ed is the youngest alchemist to ever be admitted into the state military, while his younger brother, Al, helps him with his work. Together, they have travelled the land and amassed a reputation for being members of the military that actually work for the people. But they carry a dark secret.
After Alphonse was born, their father left the family, leaving them alone with their mother. They grew up loving their mother, but she died while they were still fairly young. Devastated, they bury themselves in the study of alchemy with the idea to delve into the forbidden art of human transmigration so that they might be able to bring their mother back. But their attempt fails, and Ed loses an arm and a leg in the process. That is not as bad as Al, who has lost his entire body and has had to have his soul bound to a suit of armor.
Now, while doing jobs for the military, they search for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone. It is said that the Philosopher’s Stone can bypass many of the laws that bind alchemy, and they want to use it to fix their bodies. But the more they discover about its secret, the more they learn that their reality is based on a pile of lies. And the more they unravel the lies, the more danger they find themselves in.
One of the things that struck me while watching Full Metal Alchemist was how well it made me care about the plight of the Elric brothers, and how well the surrounding cast fit their world well. Many shonen titles have a “the world is going to end if we don’t finish our task” vibe to them, but they never seem to move me that much. Not so with FMA. From almost the first moment, I was drawn into the tension of Ed’s and Al’s situation, and therefore I was sucked into story that much better.
Another thing I enjoyed about this season was that it never fell into the standard trap of “lets stand around and discuss our grievances while striking dramatic poses for six episodes.” The setup for FMA would fully allow for that type of story-telling, but FMA keeps the plot moving at a fairly breakneck pace. The fact that it never falls into that trap also adds some nice depth to Ed, as it is his impatience that often does not allow for long soliloquies.
As I said, FMA also has quite a nice cast of characters. Besides the brother’s Elric, we have their mutual love/platonic interest Winry Rockbell, whose love of machines borders on the absolute adorable. Then there’s the intelligence expert Maes Hughes, who is somehow way too competent at his job, despite the fact that he spends all of his time talking about how adorable his daughter is. And then of course, the Alex Louis Armstrong, the so called ‘Strong Arm Alchemist,’ who can solve every problem just by flexing his overly developed muscles at them.
But my favorite two characters would have to be Roy Mustang, Ed’s superior in the military, and Fuhrer King Bradley, the leader of the military. Mustang is a cool, calm officer with eyes on the top spot, and he continually (and sarcastically) manages to get Ed and Al to do his every bidding by playing Ed’s lack of respect for authority against him. Fuhrer King Bradley has a reputation as being somebody that you do not want to mess with, despite the fact that he always has a cheerful smile on his face and never raises his voice. He always manages to quell disagreements just by showing up. For both Mustang and Bradley, they allow their reputations to do much of their dirty work, though it is obvious that something is askew in the case of Bradley.
If I have any complaint about the first season of FMA, it is that it does fall into the repetitive trap that many long series do. There are quite a few episodes that are just: Ed and Al enter remote village with dark secret, and they discover and eliminate said secret and then move on their way. The reason that it gets so repetitive is that there is often little, if any, advancement of the overall plot. It seems to just tread water for a while. Individually, the episodes are fine, but there should always be some movement to the final goal, and that is not always the case.
The first season of Full Metal Alchemist was just about everything I expected it would be. There is some good action, an interesting plot, and a nice cast of characters; and it keeps things moving at a pretty good pace. Since the season ended on a fairly dramatic note, I am definitely interested in seeing where things go from here. Onto season two I go. Recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Memorex MVD2042 Progressive Scan w/ DD/DTS (Component Connection), Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System