"Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost."
Let's not beat around the bush. Anybody who is into anime knows about Fullmetal Alchemist. The animated series has been one of the most critically acclaimed of all time and the manga by Hiromu Arakawa has proven to be a best seller as well. Go to an anime convention somewhere in the country and you'll no doubt see a gazillion Edward Elrics, Lusts, and maybe a Roy Mustang or two. Yes, this is one of the most well crafted and memorable anime of all time and it just gets better with each volume.
With only a few of volumes left to be released along with the feature film the end is nigh for the Elric's adventure. As the tale begins to raise questions and tie up loose ends the alchemical crap compound is proverbially hitting the fan at this point. But what exactly has brought the series to this point? If you haven't been following the show let me give you a bit of a run down on the key players and plot lines.
It all started with Edward and Alphonse Elric who tried to use an outlawed form of alchemy to bring their mother back from the dead. In the world of Fullmetal Alchemist the cost of using this power is equivalent exchange so in order to bring back their mom the two had to sacrifice some things. Alphonse was essentially killed and his body vaporized but Ed managed to save his soul by attaching it to a suit of armor. In the process he lost his right arm and left leg. Things looked grim but thanks to the auto-mail manufacturing skills of their childhood friend Winry Rockbell Ed has fully functional metallic limbs.
The Elrics learn about the Philosopher's Stone which is an artifact of immense alchemical power. In order to track it down Ed joins the military and becomes a state alchemist. This proves to be both a blessing and a curse as it seems to get him in trouble with people who loath dogs of the military. Along the way many characters; both good and bad, are introduced who have some role to play in the fate of the two brothers.
On the good side of things are some of Ed's fellow officers known as Armstrong, Mustang, Hughes, and Hawkeye. Sometimes they work along side of Ed and Al though sometimes they find themselves having to follow orders and work against them. Several other characters such as Rose, Martel, and Lyra chime in for recurring roles as well though there are many one-off personalities.
Standing between the Elrics and their goal are a man named Scar and monsters known as Homunculi. Scar is a deep character with a tragic past that has a vendetta against the military that eradicated his people. He has a symbol on his arm that grants him the power to destroy just about everything once he figures out the right element. Throughout the series he and the Elrics butt heads though there seems to be a common respect between them. The Homunculi are a completely different thing; in fact they aren't even human. They are powerful creatures that are the byproduct of a failed human transmutation and have a strong interest in uncovering the Philosopher's Stone as well.
Up to this point we have also learned that in order to manufacture an authentic stone it takes a great deal of death. That's a price that Edward isn't willing to pay but it seems that the Homunculi and Scar merely see it as a necessary step. Things pick up in this volume with Scar carving his way through Liore and making a huge transmutation circle for the production of the Stone. As Edward learns of this he heads to Liore to put an end to Scar's presumed butchery.
Serving as a break from the dramatic fallout of the series Roy Mustang gets his own episode entitled the Flame Alchemist. The whole point of the episode was to give us a look at Mustang and his crew but it proved to be wholly irreverent and merely a distraction to what's really going on. The intro for the show was even changed as a way to signify that this episode stays outside of the story's ongoing plot. I found it amusing with the content and the way that it broke with tradition, but to be honest I just wanted to see more of what Ed and Al were up to.
To top it all off on this volume a few things happen that I won't divulge the full details of. Winry and Sheska sneak their way into the military compound and listen in on the Fuhrer's phone line. They overhear some stuff about Envy (the Homunculi) and witness something that may have ramifications towards the end of the series. This volume also gives us a look at Scar's past and how he came to be the man that he is. The same goes for Martel's character. These two flashbacks really fill in the story about the Ishbalans and exactly what's going on in the world that brought it to the point of war.
Apart from the Flame Alchemist episode, this volume is one of the most involved that this series has seen. There is so much going on here that it took some time to process but to make a long story short: I can't wait for the next volume! Things are starting to ramp up in speed now and like I said the crap is about to hit the fan. If you haven't started this series yet you owe it to yourself to pick it up because in my opinion this truly is one of the best shows that anime has ever seen.
Fullmetal Alchemist is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame ratio and features an absolutely amazing transfer. The image is very clean but there is a little bit of grain in some parts that appear in darker more shadowed areas as well as a tad bit of aliasing at others points. A couple noticeable spots of compression artifacts were visible this time around as well.
There's no short way around it; this is one great looking show. Hiromu Arakawa's art style is captured faithfully in every single frame. The Flame Alchemist episode took a break from the norm to offer up a barrage of goofy artwork but overall you can't knock this show's style. The only thing that I wish was different was the inclusion of a widescreen presentation, but you can't have it all.
There are three separate tracks to choose from, including Japanese and English 2.0 stereo and English 5.1. The 2.0 tracks are competent enough if you don't have a home theater set up and the 5.1 option features some nice directional sound and distribution. Unlike other anime, I can honestly say that when it comes to this show I prefer the English dubbing over the original Japanese. That's usually not the case for me but the caliber of actors here is unbelievable. Overall the audio treatment for Fullmetal Alchemist is top notch compared to other anime. I particularly enjoy the musical direction for this show to the point that I actually wouldn't mind picking up the soundtrack.
Light bonus features make their way into this volume just like the last one. The expected alchemy book has been included along with trailers, production art, profiles, and textless animations. This time around the opening animation is for the Flame Alchemist episode instead of the regular one.
I simply can't get enough of Fullmetal Alchemist. This is hands down one of the best anime that I have ever seen and easily in the top three on the market today. It's not every day that you sit down to watch a show that has everything but with each volume of
Fullmetal Alchemist; it delivers. The latest expands the rich world yet again and opens up new chapters that signal the end is near. Fans will love it of course but if you haven't checked it out yet do yourself a favor and get caught up before the film comes out in a few months.
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