Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #04 - Mania.com



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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
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #04

By Chris Beveridge     March 26, 2005
Release Date: July 26, 2005


Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. #04
© FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.


What They Say
Ed and Al leave for the countryside to search for Doctor Marcoh, a State Alchemist who deserted during the Eastern Rebellion and is now a fugitive of the state. On the run from both Scar and the military, Doctor Marcoh confesses to the Elrics. A decade ago, State Alchemists were called into Ishbal to end a seven-year civil war. What followed was a wave of unspeakable atrocities that neither the Ishbalans, nor the State Alchemists who committed them, can forget.

The Review!
The Eastern Command suddenly changes when Central shows up and is quickly followed by Scar as he continues to assassinate State Alchemists.

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 looks decent with a close-up shot of Edward but not in one of his best poses. 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 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 Edward 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:
Mirroring the previous volume other with a few new additions, we get some basic but decent extras here. 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 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. New for this volume is a subtitled version of the L'arc~en~Ciel music video of Ready Steady Go as well as a commercial from TOFU Records for them. There's also a commercial for the FMA2 video game. What's really strange that's included here is the entire first episode of Spiral – dub only at that.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In a way, it seems like Fullmetal Alchemist surprises me from episode to episode, never mind volume to volume. I've enjoyed the first three volumes of the show and the overall concept of the world and the characters, but until I actually get that show into the player I seem to forget just how well crafted it is. This volume again proves that point, though it is playing a bit of a game with just how inter-related all the characters really are to some extent, and at the end of the disc I'm simply impressed with how good of a job they've done here with it.

A good chunk of what's come before has been interesting because it's covered both the early years of the brothers and their time at the start of Edwards career as a State Alchemist but also his more current time where actions from the past are catching up with him. This allows for some really fun coincidences to happen that may feel a bit forced at times but it gets the job done nicely. A lot of the focus continues to be both from the past and present to explaining more of what went on with the Ishbal rebellion some thirteen years prior. So much of what happened then has changed people and affected the lives of the two brothers that we're only now learning. And these revelations, such as what Mustang went through during that time, only makes you more interested in them now.

The reason for the flashbacks and the focus on Ishbal remains squarely on the head of Scar, the dangerously powerful many that Edward had a run-in with three years prior that ended up killing a young girl he was friends with. Scar's campaign of terror at Central has left something like five State Alchemists dead and a slew of uninvolved people either dead or injured. Things had gotten so bad for some of the bigwigs among Command that they pushed the Fuhrer to take a tour of the Eastern Command in order to get him out of the area. And you know Mustang must have just loved it when he and his huge entourage show up there.

With so much of the Command there, Edward learns that he's going to have to go through his assessment and he's actually crafty about this in a really boyish way. He convinces Command to let him go through a one on one battle assessment with Mustang since he believes he can win and get information out of Mustang on a doctor that was talked about during one of his previous adventures in Xenotime that could supposedly create a Philosopher's Stone. Mustang's playing the fool on it and Edward believes he can beat it out of him. Though the battle is far too short, it's a very comical piece at times but it showcases the way both of these guys are and how different they approach stuff. When taken with the dark material we see of Mustang in this volume, it only becomes more interesting.

A good amount of focus in this set of episodes goes with the doctor that Edward is after, which reveals a lot of what the entire Ishbal rebellion, or war, or massacre was about depending on who was talking about it. The details provided by the doctor gives more of an insight into Scar's own motivations which is timely since he's arrived at Eastern as well and the hunt is on again, only this time Edward has more of an involvement in it. The fighting goes across a number of areas and brings in some other State Alchemists as well, though at least one is killed surprisingly easy even for Scar, but it highlights some of the arrogance of the Alchemists as well. The fight across Eastern Command is very well done though and enjoyable since it puts the screws to a number of characters and it doesn't end happily.

As much as the fighting sequences and the big epic moments are, what continues to really push this series with me is the way things are so well tied together and generally don't seem forced. Some of it does with this volume, in that the doctors that Mustang had killed were someone we knew previously through another tangent, but even with that it still manages to make the entire situation all of these players are in all the more engaging. The darkness added to Mustang's past is spot on, the detail and information given about the Ishbal incident provides a much wider worldview but it all keeps itself nicely centered on the two brothers and their goal, which is surprisingly revealed to more people through what happens this time with Scar.

In Summary:
Everything that's made the series work so far is only built upon more with this volume. Things that seemed like toss away pieces from previous standalone episodes now figure in more prominently as well. The series has such a broad worldview of things and is playing with a large tapestry that it manages to keep its focus on the characters and detail them as well as it does is a real plus for it. This show is scripted so tightly and concisely at times that it's simply impressive to watch it all unfold before you. Very 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,Music Video,Spiral Episode,Commercials

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

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