What’s always amazed me about Fullmetal Alchemist is its ability to engage viewers even if they only catch a single episode in the middle of the series with no prior idea of what the hell is going on. It weaves a long and complicated plot which continues from episode to episode without ever really pausing, the type of thing which usually makes a series really difficult to follow if you come in as a newbie in the middle. And yet, until now, I’ve only ever seen the series in chunks of one or two episodes at a time as I randomly passed it on Cartoon Network while channel surfing throughout the past few years. Each time I caught it, I enjoyed it. Just enough of the back story could be inferred and surmised to follow things, but the series never resorted to gratuitous flashback sequences to the degree that it just looked like lazy filler and a penalty to anyone who had actually been watching from the start.
So by the time I received this box set of the closing arc of the series, I had seen just enough in prior sporadic chunks to thoroughly appreciate it. No matter where you come in, Fullmetal Alchemist is always throwing one set of strange, yet compelling events after another at the viewer, keeping one glued to their seat for the duration of time available to watch.
For the uninitiated, Fullmetal Alchemist takes place in a world of alchemic magic. As a result of a failed attempt to resurrect their mother through alchemy, one brother has ended up with a prosthetic arm and leg, and the other has lost his body•his soul now residing in a walking, talking empty suit of armor. They join the state military as resident alchemists in hopes of traveling the world and finding the “Philosopher Stone•bCrLf which can restore all that they’ve lost.
By this point in the series, the Elric brothers have been caught in the middle of a conflict between a foreign city and the military they work for.Meanwhile, inhuman soul-less creatures called homunculi are manipulating events behind the scenes in order to obtain the Philosopher Stone for their own use, through the cunning use of mass murder! The brothers’ problems multiply as they are accused of treason by their state, turning their former comrades-in-arms against them, and as it happens, the state fÃ¼hrer is revealed to be a homunculus himself. Additionally, in a crazy turn of events, the body of one of the two brothers (Alphonse) has been turned into the Philosopher Stone itself, which simultaneously makes him a target for everyone else, and prohibits the brothers from achieving their wishes, as it would kill Alphonse in the process.
The primary factor which makes the story of Full Metal Alchemist compelling is not so much the involvement of magic and mythology, as much as the unusual relationships which result between the series’ characters as a result of the magic and mythology. This is best shown during this set of episodes in the ambiguous characterization of the homunculi. The homunculi are said to be soulless and inhuman, and yet they have desires and personalities just like the living. They initially appear evil, but by taking the Philosopher Stone, they prevent humans from using it as a military weapon and destroying each other en masse.
Each homunculus has the body of a former human and was created as a product of a human’s alchemy. The homunculi are all after the Philosopher Stone only to become human themselves. One of the Elric brothers’ biggest struggles during this volume comes in fighting the homunculus called Sloth, who they created unwittingly in the guise of their mother when they tried to resurrect her, and is now hell-bent on killing them. Another homunculus, Wrath, was formerly a child of the brothers’ alchemy teacher, and is still desperately searching for a mother figure even though he isn’t human. The homunculi are virtually all as sympathetic as they are despicable. Sloth is confused as a mother figure to both the Elric brothers and Wrath, while there is a vague semblance of brotherhood between Wrath and the Elrics.
The whole series is laced with such bizarre, yet engaging character relationships, which makes things increasingly exciting and tragic as the story draws to a close. The show ultimately ends in a manner which both resolves things climactically, and leaves room open for an epic second tale. Such a well-crafted adventure is rare and makes me regret missing the beginning of the story.
A final thing worth mentioning is the exceptional job Funimation has done with the dubbing of this series. Subs vs Dubs is a touchy subject among otaku, and I myself tend to avoid dubs like the plague, unable to stand 5 minutes of most English VA tracks without cringing. By comparison, having already been accustomed to the dub of Fullmetal Alchemist on TV, I watched this whole box set dubbed and was unperturbed. I probably only sneered at a bad line or cheesy delivery maybe once or twice.
Virtually every character sounds decent, and while no one in the cast is likely to win a Emmy any time soon, their performance is about as good one could hope for at this point in the world of dubbed anime. In particular, the main protagonists Ed and Alphonse Elric are well cast, sounding like real boys and not just a couple adults doing a “little boy voice•bCrLf (even if Ed does sound like Krillin from Dragon Ball Z, his voice is not nearly as annoying). Fullmetal won’t turn a hardcore subs fan into a devout dub junkie, but it does prove that watching dubbed anime can be a tolerable, even pleasant experience.
Full Metal Alchemist is on its way to becoming old news, as it’s been years since it began running on Cartoon Network, but it would be a mistake to pass up on this series just because it’s passÃ©. It may have already become mainstream, and it may lack some of the in-your-face flash of Cowboy Bebop or Bleach, but it’s got a good story to tell. It would be a worthwhile endeavor to grab this and the rest of the series’ box set, take some time out one week to be a couch potato (because you can’t just watch one episode), and just blow through it.
Studio/Company: FUNimation Entertainment