Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #01 (also w/box) - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
  • MSRP: 29.98/49.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #01 (also w/box)

By Chris Beveridge     January 29, 2005
Release Date: February 08, 2005


Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #01 (also w/box)
© FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.


What They Say
As children, brothers Edward and Alphonse used the clandestine science of Alchemy to try the unthinkable - resurrect their dead mother. They failed, unleashing an alchemic reaction that ripped their bodies apart.

Four years later, Ed and Al are combing the country for a rumored stone that could amplify their alchemy and bring their bodies back to normal. And it appears they may have found it - in a strangely prosperous desert village.

The Review!
On a journey across the land seeking knowledge and more, the legend of the two brothers as alchemists continues to grow.

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 front cover has a very serious looking image of Ed with his chest bare that shows off part of his automail while his cloak flows around and behind him. It's a good eye-catching piece and is somewhat rare as you don't have too many covers where the male characters are really showing themselves like this. It's also a simple cover since it's just the single character shot that has a bland gray background that only has the simple line work of the alchemy circle. 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 this release has what I think is the first regular occurrence of the technical grid, something I really like. 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 image 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 some character sketches and a couple of advertisements for related items like toys and games.

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 Ed 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:
A few extras are included in the opening release and are the kinds that are expected on most volumes throughout the series. The opening and closing sequences are provided as textless versions but with subtitles available for singing along. The production art gallery is broken down into a couple of sections for easier browsing. A couple of commercials are included from before the show premiered and of it in general. A section of character profiles, with a lot of them included for this first set, are a bit better than some past attempts as there is more detail to be had for various characters, but I'm still always leery of reading these for potential spoilers that I should be hearing from within the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Few series get the push that Fullmetal Alchemist is getting, though it depends on how much attention you're paying as to whether they're succeeding or not. With the show airing already on Cartoon Network, a Playstation 2 game out and a bunch of figures in the works or already available, the cross-platform marketing of the franchise is going pretty strong. It's the kind of push that hasn't been overwhelming to the casual fan but it's been enough to keep the title in mind as well as pique curiosity about some of the ancillary items coming out.

Going into the series blind, the first four episodes proved to be highly enjoyable and they do a great job of setting the stage for things to come. What remains to be seen is whether the stage turns into a series of "week of" episodes that are mostly disposable or whether the promise of these early episodes is really held onto. The first four episodes do things in a fairly standard way, dealing with the characters at their present age for a couple of episodes before shuttling to their past to start the full tale from there and work its way forward again until things catch up, which presumably it'll do sometime later in the series.

Taking place in the early 1900's in what's definitely an alternate world of some sort, we're introduced to a pair of brothers named Edward (age ten) and Alphonse (age nine). Both are sons of a very powerful alchemist who left his family years before suddenly and without reason and has never returned. While their mother has continued on, she's always looking out into the distance for the day he'll return. Her boys have grown up normally for the most part but their discovery of a book on alchemy has led them to follow in their fathers footsteps. Proving to definitely be his sons, their natural skill and ease with the most complex of examples in the books are little more than parlor tricks in the end for them as they move through it and master each area of it. When the two start showing their interest and skill in the subject matter, their mother becomes much more involved with them since she can see their father more clearly in them now, which only serves to encourage them more.

But all things come to an end and the boys encounter a problem with their mother as she was hiding an illness from them. When she passes away, they head off for a year of training and experience to learn more about alchemy from a mysterious master and teacher. At the back of their minds though is a goal that's been forbidden in the world of alchemy; you cannot bring the dead back. One of the key things with alchemy that's really beaten into the ground when you watch these in a row is that something must be given up of equal value when transmuting things. For example, you cannot fix a smashed radio by transmuting it into a bigger one but only one of the same size. Likewise, when a person dies and their soul is gone, there isn't anything equal in weight to a soul that can be used to bring someone back. But in all the years of knowing this it doesn't stop people from trying. And two young boys who are alone in the world and want their mother back will try.

To say they fail is an understatement when the two return home at long last and attempt to bring her back. When equal weight is demanded, the circle begins to suck in Al entirely and while Ed tries to rescue him, he ends up losing a part of his leg during the chaos. When all is said and done, their mother wasn't brought back and the two boys are in terrible shape. Edward managed to save Alphonse but not entirely; while his brothers' body was lost, he was able to bind him to an oversized suit of armor that was in the room. In their time in recovery afterwards at a friends, Ed insists that they help him with some automail, a way of doing metallic prosthetics, so that he can get his leg back as well as his arm. During the binding of his brothers' soul, he had to sacrifice that in order to provide something of equal value.

The only good that's come out of what's happened is that one of the State Alchemists happened to be passing by looking for the boys father and saw what happened with their attempt. While it is illegal, the boys ability to even try something so grandiose means that they're more interesting to him than the father now. Telling them to come see him once they're better, he's sure that they can become State Alchemists which means that they can have a stipend, free training and plenty of resources at their disposal for the pursuit of new methods of alchemy. The drawback is that should the State get involved in a war, they're often called into battle to use their powers to kill others in order to save lives of their own forces. This entices Ed entirely since the chance to get his hands on new books and new knowledge is what really drives him and it'll let him achieve his new goal: saving his brother.

Though doing so will end up likely recreating the same scenario since it's no different than raising the dead, it's a journey that Ed can't not undertake since he feels fully responsible for what happened to his brother. What's worse is that his brother is so good natured that he's more concerned about Ed's loss of an arm and leg than the fact that he's bound to a suit of armor. His softer voice and lighter nature only serves to sting at Ed when he really thinks about what he's done but it drives him to learn and move forward so that he can fix what he's done. Therein lies their journey when they're older and done with their time directly with the State. That's actually where the first two episodes of the series are at, in that it's a two-part story that deals with their journey in one particular city before it goes back to telling their origin stories.

While the first two episodes do a good job in telling a "present day" story for the two boys in their mid-teen years as their reputation is becoming known in more and more places and it helps to set some of the setting of the world and how it works, it's the trip into the past and the origin story being told so clearly and up front that really drives this series forward. Normally this kind of material is kept until later in a series and only occasionally referenced with a flashback or some minor dialogue about it but here it's the key to starting things off and really giving the characters some solid motivation and goals from a young age and providing plenty of impetus for moving on and journeying.

The quality of the shows animation is really well done and the style they use works great here. With it having a mixture feel of something slightly fantasy oriented with the inclusion of science such as the automail and then the magic of alchemy (though it's not presented as magic but as science, a really nice change), it's a richly layered world that depends a lot on where you are in order to interpret things. Some people are more easily swayed by alchemists who can take on the role of miracle workers if you aren't familiar with the science of alchemy. There's also some bits brought into play that show there's much more going on in the world behind the scenes with those who know a lot about alchemy and that the two leads here are getting close to becoming involved in it just due to their skill and family history.

One thing that works really well is Al in a sense of comedic relief. He's not abused in this thankfully as it's not over done but with one of them being in a suit of armor, they do a great job of giving him a number of lighter moments that help change the mood a bit or allow him to have some great facial expressions when he doesn't even really have a face. Combined with the mixture of seriousness and wild-takes that Ed has, the two definitely play off of each other well as brothers and you can see both the love that each of them have for each other, both during the quiet moments and in the frustrated times.

In Summary:
Being completely new to the show it managed to win us over by the time the first volume ended, mostly due to the comprehensive and detailed origin stories and the promise of more interesting material to come as Ed works towards becoming a State Alchemist and the two prepare for the journey ahead to save each other from what they did as young boys. Providing a good engaging story, interesting characters and a good sense of style with the character designs and world setting, this is a series where you're glad early on that it's as long as it is so that you can enjoy it for quite some time to come. I'm definitely looking forward to more to see if they can take what they've done here and really build on it and amaze.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Production Art Galleries,Japanese Commercials,Character Profiles

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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