"Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving
something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost.
alchemy's First Law of Equivalent Exchange." - Alphonse Elric
As with movies, there are a few anime series that get a lot
of buzz and popular acclaim. More times
than not however, the reality doesn't live up to the buzz.
Sure, these over-hyped shows are often good,
but not as spectacular and groundbreaking as one would hope. It was with that mindset that I started
watching Fullmetal Alchemist. I was
expecting a good show, one that was definitely above average, but I
prepared for the all around excellent show that I saw.
Filled with exciting stories, heart-felt
moments, and surprising twists as well as being set in a unique
complex and interesting, Fullmetal
Alchemist is one of the better anime series
out there. If you've managed to miss it
so far, FUNimation has released the first season in an attractive
that's well worth picking up.
Edward and Alphonse Elric are two brothers who live in a
quite village with their mother, their father having left them years
before. The two brothers, especially
diminutive Edward, excel at the science of alchemy, and are able to
shape and function of objects using this ancient art.
When their mother takes ill and dies before
either of the boys reach their teens, Ed makes a disastrous decision: although it is forbidden, they'll use alchemy
to bring their mother back from the dead.
Gathering the elemental components that will form their
mother's body and adding a drop of their own blood to make her soul,
boys perform the ritual they've worked out only to have it backfire
horribly. The thing that they make, a
zombie that bears little relation to their beloved mother isn't human
dies, but what's worse is that Al's body is disintegrated along with
Edward's legs. Thinking quickly, Ed uses
his own blood to draw a binding circle onto a suit of armor and links
soul to the metal form. Something has to
be given for the spell to work and Edward gives up the only thing he
available: his right arm.
The binding spell works however, and the giant suit of armor
carries the wounded alchemist to the village healer who is able to save
life. Not only that, she crafts a metal
leg and arm for him, but while his body is healed, his mind has not. Edward is wracked with guilt over imprisoning
his younger brother into a suit of armor and vows to one day give him
Edward knows the only way he can possibly get his brother
back into a real body is to have access to the great alchemy library in
capital, but only State Alchemists, scientists who are deemed worthy to
the military, are able to access this great source of knowledge. So Edward trains and at the age of 12 becomes
the youngest State Alchemist ever. With
every step forward he takes one back.
Edward soon discovers that the only way he can achieve his goal
restoring his brother is with the possibly mythical 'philosopher's
object that increases an alchemist's power greatly.
So in between doing jobs for the government
Ed and Al search for the elusive stone and hopefully their salvation.
This show has an interesting premise but there are a lot of
anime programs that with solid foundations that end up being run of the
mill. There are several things that set
this series apart. One of the strongest
aspects of the show are the well developed characters and the fully
personalities. Al and Ed act like true
brothers, they fight and bicker at times, but their bond is extremely
due to the tragedies they've experienced.
Even the supporting characters are more than just stereotypes. People like Maes Hughes, the military officer
who constantly brags about his daughter, starts off as a cliché
develops a personality over the course of this first season. Mustang, Ed's immediate superior is the same
way. He seems to be a subdued officer
who enjoys putting Ed in dangerous situations but as the story unfolds
becomes clear that he has hopes and aspirations and that there is a
everything that he does.
The story is fairly complex to, and like the best anime
shows this one starts off rather simple.
Though it opens as a program about a couple of kids with unique
on a quest, the series slowly evolves as time goes on and turns into
than that. The viewpoint widens and it
becomes clear that the philosopher's stone can affect more than just
main leads. The fact they are searching
for it sets things in motion that will affect not only Ed and Al, but
military and possibly the fate of the country as a whole.
Some of the story lines can get quite tense
too, and as unexpected atrocities come to light the show takes on a
weight that it didn't have in the early episodes.
Fullmetal Alchemist isn't a
dark and depressing show
however. There's a good amount of humor
and most of it works very well. There
are a couple of running gags that are always good for at least a smile,
when people met the Elric brothers for the first time they always
the armor clad Alphonse is the Fullmetal Alchemist (Ed's military
label.) Just when things start to get too
emotionally dark, like after the serial killer story, the creative team
in a couple of lighter shows to lift the mood, and it works quite well.
The one thing that really sets this show apart from most
others however is the philosophical undercurrent that it has. The program looks at power and how it
corrupts, but that's a fairly common theme.
The more unique aspect is that of equivalent exchange. At the beginning of every episode Al states
the first law of alchemy, that you have to give something to get
that's a theme for the show. Not just in
terms of alchemy, but for life in general. Anything that the boys are
accomplish comes after working hard and usually having to give
commonly their innocence. Although this
is a fantasy series, that lesson applies to this world too.
The w25 episodes that make up this first season come on four
DVDs each with its own thinpak case. In
addition there are six booklets that were originally included with the
volume release of this season. They
contain character sketches, background info and short statements from
creators. It was very cool of FUNimation
to include these as they're fun to read.
This set presents the show with the original Japanese stereo
soundtrack or an English dub in both DD 5.1 and stereo.
While I really wish the Japanese track had a
DD 5.1 option too, both tracks sound very good.
People who prefer dubs will be happy with this one; the voices
artificially high for the women or filled with fake accents. The English actors did a good job and brought
their characters to life. The Japanese
track sound a bit more 'natural' to me however and the optional
a nice translation without any glaring grammatical errors.
Full frame image looks great. There was a
tiny bit of aliasing in the
background occasionally but the colors were vivid and strong (and they
wide palate too) and the blacks were nice and dark.
The level of detail was fine, what you'd expect
from an anime series that's about 5 years old, and the lines were nice
There are a few bonus items included with this set, none of
them too exciting, all located on the last disc. There
is a single Japanese commercial
promoting the show, a music video as well as a promo clip for the album
song comes from, a textless opening and closing and a set of trailers.
Exciting, thought provoking, and a whole lot of fun,
Fullmetal Alchemist has
quickly become one of my favorite shows. Easily
in the top 10 anime shows of all time,
and probably in the top five, this is a program that should be in every
fan's library. This is a keeper that
will have a lot of replay value. This
set belongs in the DVD Talk Collector