This review contains some spoilers about the end of the series due to the fact that they are integral to the movie's plot.
Back in 2003 when I first heard a whisper and caught a glimpse from Fullmetal Alchemist I knew it was a series that I would be hooked on. I started reading the manga and watching the DVDs feverishly, savoring each and every moment. With a heartfelt story and packed to the gills with action, the show immediately drew me in and became one of my favorite shows of all time. Throughout the series' thirteen volume run there was never a dull moment or point where I felt that the quality had lapsed. As any otaku will tell you, it's a rare anime that actually makes that happen.
Not surprisingly, due to the worldwide success of Fullmetal Alchemist a film was produced and has just made its way to DVD here in the States. Dubbed The Conqueror of Shamballa the film takes place two years after the series ended. It's 1923 and Edward Elric is living in Munich, Germany with Alphonse (not the Al we know) and studying the possibilities of rocket propulsion. He still dreams about getting back home to the other side of the Gate where his friends and brother are. Naturally since he can't use Alchemy in our reality that task is proving to be exceedingly difficult.
As you grow accustomed to Ed's new surroundings you'll recognize several faces from the show. Since the alchemic world (Amestris) and ours are parallel to each other and separated by the Gate there are striking similarities between the two. Hughes is in Munich and alive, King Bradley is present and accounted for, some of Greed's chimeras are around, and there is even a brief appearance by Scar and Lust. Of course neither of these characters knows anything about Amestris, but it helps make this unfamiliar world feel connected for fans of the show.
As the tale progresses Edward gets in the middle of a German operation and uncovers a plot to open the gate in order to bring a powerful weapon from the other side to the aide of their cause. Fueled by the Nazi party, these Germans are lead by a vile woman named Dietlinde Eckhart who captures Envy and use his serpentine body as a way to open the gate to Shamballa. Of course for the sake of this film Shamballa isn't a mystical Tibetan kingdom behind the mountains, it's actually Amestris. At first Eckhart's plan seems doomed to fail because without a connector on the other side she has no hope of forcing the Gate to remain open. Unwittingly, that's where Al steps in.
At the end of the series the two brothers, in their own little worlds, made a promise to keep searching for a way to be reunited. Well, Al has found a way to possibly make that happen and begins crafting a transmutation circle to our world. With the two circles nearing completion what does this mean for the brothers and both worlds? Well, that's about as far as I'm willing to go because frankly, I don't want to ruin things for you.
The Conqueror of Shamballa bobs and weaves between Munich and Amestris as the story begins to unfold. The effect is a little disorienting at first, but then again it felt a little disjointed in the series when Edward finally arrived on Earth. I suppose it's just the change in venue that was the cause of the feeling, but whatever the reason it was something that grew on me. The manner in which both brothers work separately towards the common goal flows well along with the story here.
Amidst the tale of the Elric brothers real world events are happening back in Germany. Since the story takes place after the First World War the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party is played as kind of a side plot. Granted Eckhart is supposed to be working for Hitler and all but her motives seem to be more of her own ambitions instead of following someone else's cause. The film even works in the Beer Hall Putsch which occurred on November 8, 1923 in a manner that involves Edward in a brilliant way.
Another point I'd like to bring up is the fact that Gypsies and Jews are presented as running a parallel fate as the Ishbalans on Amestris. In the eyes of the German people they are outcasts, not to be trusted, and something to be eradicated because of their beliefs. The military of Amestris treated the Ishbalan people in much of the same manner throughout the show. Towards the end of the series we learned more and more about their treatment and after seeing this film that connection is only stronger.
At first the movie is not exactly what we've come to expect from Fullmetal Alchemist. The lack of alchemy and the real world setting make most of these parts feel very Steamboy-esque (though not in a bad way). The scenario may have changed and many characters take on different roles but in the end this was everything I ever wanted from the film. All of the features that made me care for the anime were here from the real emotion to the action. Naturally this movie is only for fans of the show that have seen the series since the story will be lost on those of you that have not.
As a show Fullmetal Alchemist wowed with fantastic animation and a slick presentation. The only thing missing was an anamorphic transfer which thankfully The Conqueror of Shamballa receives. Just like the series the visuals in the film are absolutely gorgeous, though in many ways they seem even better. This was probably the byproduct of an even bigger budget than the show had. Don't worry though, the art style and animation hasn't changed at all; it just seems more fluid.
With 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround tracks for both English and Japanese The Conqueror of Shamballa trumps the show's presentation ever slightly. The inclusion of the Japanese 5.1 track was a fantastic addition. Seeing as this is one of the few series where I felt the English and Japanese dubbing were equal in quality having two surround options was nice, since it balanced things out. As far as the quality of the sound is concerned the 5.1 mixes made good use of the rear speakers for ambient noise and music. They really kicked in with the action heated up but toned things down greatly when dialogue had the screen's attention. Subtitles are included for the Japanese track only.
For some reason I was anticipating their to be more in the way of bonus content on The Conqueror of Shamballa but alas, I was mistaken. There are some trailers along with a pair of art galleries, with only one other feature to take a look at. Granted it's a worthwhile documentary that lasts forty minutes.
"The Making of Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie – Conqueror of Shamballa" is a documentary that provides information about making the movie (duh). It could alternately be called "Director Mizushima's Fullmetal Chronicles" because it is basically the director's look back at the process of creating the film. From storyboard to completion and some discussion about the show this feature covered a lot but didn't make up for the lack of other supplemental content. Maybe when a limited edition version comes out we'll see more extras?
When the show ended I really wondered how the Elric brothers would be reunited. Separated by the Gate and in two very different worlds their struggle things seemed very bleak for the two. Now that I've had the chance to see The Conqueror of Shamballa I'm pleased to report that the story was handled nigh-flawlessly. The inclusion of real world events helps ground the fact that Edward is in our world, but there was just something surreal about that after seeing it. No matter which way you slice it though this is a fitting end to the franchise and a great way to send fans packing. It's a rare thing to say that from start to finish you loved every moment of something. Fullmetal Alchemist was that something.
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