I think it's fairly safe to say that if you have read any Fullmetal Alchemist review on DVD Talk you'd get the impression that John and I absolutely love the show. I can only speak for myself when I say that it is easily one of my top five shows, and I'd gather from his reviews that the show is one of John's top shows as well. The original series has been released fully already, as has the film Conqueror of Shamballa. As if that series wasn't popular enough a remake, Brotherhood, is currently airing in Japan. When I heard that a new release was coming stateside I was quite excited, but what when I got the disc it lead to disappointment.
Dubbed "The Premium OVA Collection", the new Fullmetal Alchemist disc lasts a whopping 35 minutes. The four OVA episodes are merely add-on supplemental features and hardly episodes themselves. They do not stand alone, they do not further the current storyline, they have nothing to do with Brotherhood, and ultimately they lead to disappointment. From the title of this release you would surmise that there's some meaty content. Alas buyer beware.
What's here though? Well, the disc starts out with an "Interactive Experience". This lasts just over six minutes and puts you into the shows of a new recruit under the command of Colonel Roy Mustang. The entire clip is animated and the characters address "you" frequently as you're taken along on a mission to save Edward and Al from the Homunculi. It is entertaining, but it feels disjointed as bits from the show are strewn amongst new content that isn't fully explained. Ultimately it feels like a weak bonus feature somehow and hardly something that's worth sitting through more than once.
The next clip comes in at just under three minutes and is a "Live Action" feature. This has a giant statue of Alphonse standing in various parts of Japan and eventually making his way to the Bones animation studio. He's looking for Edward and this seems like a natural place to go, but he can't fit through the door so everybody has a laugh and the bit just kind of ends. Lame.
The second "short" is a chibi wrap party for Conqueror of Shamballa. This was much more entertaining and lively, but in all fairness it's something that should have probably been tacked onto the DVD release of the film (had it been produced by that point). This episode has the whole cast getting together and wrapping up the production of the film. It's pretty amusing and the way everyone stays in character fits for many jokes and banter between them. I particularly enjoyed the appearance of Scar and the grief that a drunken Winry gives Edward.
Bringing this release to a close is the third and final short, "Kids", which takes place in our world. It features three kids who look like Edward, Alphonse, and Winry running through the streets of a Japanese city. They pass posters for Conqueror of Shamballa and eventually get lost, only to have some directions dished out by a police officer who is a dead ringer for Hughes. It would seem that the children are on their way to see their grandfather, who happens to have a metal arm. It's a nice nod to the plot of the film, but is ultimately not meaty enough to stand on its own feet.
If you're a fan of Fullmetal Alchemist and you feel that there wasn't enough bonus material for the series then this disc's four inclusions may fill that void. With that being said they aren't worth purchasing, or really watching for a second time. Either skip it or rent it depending upon your feelings towards the series. If you love it, like I do, then it's at least worth renting and checking out for the chibi wrap party and kids feature.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Premium OVA Collection is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 fullframe aspect ratio which has been enhanced for anamorphic playback. Some of the picture doesn't quite take up the whole space though and there are black bars across the top and bottom despite being anamorphic. It's different from episode to episode though, and ultimately the quality of the video is fine enough. There are some compression artifacts, grain, and aliasing to deal with, but they aren't too distracting and do not hurt the overall experience.
The show is presented with English 5.1 surround sound and Japanese 2.0 stereo. The quality of both is as good as you'd expect if you watched the series and it's worth noting that the English cast has been reunited for this release. There's nothing about this release that really warrants a 5.1 presentation, but the quality is clean and sharp enough so it's nice to have regardless.
Even though this disc is just one small pile of extras there are some light bonus features here. Trailers for other FUNimation releases, a clean closing animation for the animated shorts, and commercial for Conqueror of Shamballa are included here.
I think that how I feel about Fullmetal Alchemist is fairly well documented. It's one of my favorite shows of all time and it's a rare anime that I simply never get sick of watching. Needless to say Brotherhood has really peaked my interest, and for some reason I was hoping that the "Premium OVA Collection" would have something to do with that series. However, what we have here is a disc with four short featurettes that offer only a little entertainment value and nothing that could be considered meaty. If you're a fan of the show it's worth at least renting this disc to watch these clips once, but everything lasts roughly 30 minutes and even that might not be worth it. The bottom line is that FUNimation should not have stuck these on a release all their own. Holding on to them for bonus features to be added on a future release would have been sufficient enough.
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