A long disproven medieval "science" as the basis of an anime set in the early 1900s? No big-breasted females or mecha battles? No constant, blazing gun battles or slashing samurai sword fights? No tales of battling demons? No brow-furrowing detectives? And it's already being called one of the greatest anime ever? Wow.
Does Fullmetal Alchemist meet the hype? It's too early to tell for sure, but it does pretty well without robots, constant fan service, or hot girls with guns. It entertains with excellent animation, heartfelt storytelling, and a unique idea. What if alchemy wasn't a modern day joke? What if the only place to get a practicing alchemist certificate wasn't at www.levity.com/alchemy, but with the state military? What if alchemy was as real, and potentially frightening, as cloning? Fullmetal Alchemist explores this world, and two young boys who are living in it.
Magic users are nothing new in anime, or general storytelling at that. Neither are heaven – or hell – blessed powers. But Fullmetal has taken a totally unique anime take on inhuman feats, using alchemy. Oh, you still can't turn lead into gold, and you sure as heck better not try to play God and create life, but you can change most anything into something else, use a simple rune to fix that broken radio, turn that metal arm into a hand-held howitzer. Just remember the alchemist's code: to obtain, something of equal value must be lost. You can use a tree branch, or someone's body, to create something new. But trying to make anything from scratch is folly.
Edward and Alphonse, 12 and 11, respectively, broke one of the cardinal rules of alchemy in volume one. You can mold life forms, change your daughter into a horrific creature, turn a dog into a monster, do awful things to your fellow man in the name of science, but you can't make life. They shouldn't have ignored this rule. In the attempt to bring their dead mother back through alchemy, Edward lost an arm and a leg, and Alphonse lost his entire body. Edward just barely managed to fuse his brother's soul to a hulking, giant suit of armor, and has replaced his lost limbs with strong metal. Now, the boys have taken to the road, searching for an alchemist's artifact, which can bring mom back and replace what they've lost. The path the boys have chosen is fraught with deadly encounters, life lessons and political intrigue.
While volume one was mostly back-story, setting the stage for our characters and the rest of the series, the second volume moves Ed and Al into the hands of the state-sponsored alchemy based military, a dangerous and steel-fisted organization that is not to be trusted. Information on the artifact the boys need is scarce, but the state alchemy military has a library that's sure to provide some clues. But you have to be a State Alchemist to get access.
Tested successfully on a train filled with terrorists, Ed is invited to take the state exam with the best candidates in the land. When he shows that he can do alchemy without using symbols, Ed becomes the youngest state-certified alchemist ever. But before he can worry about continuing his search for the artifact, he has a couple problems to deal with.
An alchemist the boys have been taken in by is feeling the pressure of the military, and has to provide one hell of a feat to keep his standing: create a creature that can speak our language. He's done it before, though the thing only lived a couple days after its creation. He thinks he can do it again. But how? Meanwhile, a serial killer is slicing and dicing women in the streets of the city the state military is located in. The local authorities are useless, and the military can't allow things like this to happen in its back yard.
On top of all this, a strange man has made his presence known. He has innate alchemist powers as well, a little bit of a religious fervor, and a serious hating of state-sponsored alchemists. And he's shown an interest in Ed.
Fun and light-hearted one moment, serious as a heart attack the next, Fullmetal Alchemist runs at a frantic pace. The creators weren't afraid to use super-deformed characters to highlight the humor, something that's hard to mesh into an action anime. The creators also didn't shy away from shocking the audience, showing a bloody stump where an arm used to be only moments after giving us a laugh. The ever-active script is easily the strongest part of Fullmetal Alchemist. Especially when you want to replay the DVD immediately, just to make sure you didn't miss anything. A few side characters add comic relief, with one alchemist, who befriends the brothers, always talking about his lovely wife and beautiful child. This series also looks great, with wonderful characters and detailed settings.
The brothers' journey is now well underway in this second volume, and now that Ed has the backing of the state military, he has some serious resources to help him in his search. He also has all the dangers that come with being a state alchemist.
If there's a flaw, I can't find it. The original full frame presentation comes across well, with vivid colors and nice shadows. No digital problems that I noted. This series shifts from colorful and bright settings to dark and grungy locals, and it looks great every scene.
Who needs 2.0? While there's no 5.1 option for the Japanese language (only 2.0) the English 5.1 is excellent, with lots of shifting of music and background noise. Great bass, believable ambient noises, and great all-around voice acting, in both languages. My favorite part of the voice acting is Al's childish take. Every time you hear a little boy's voice come out of that giant, freakish suit of armor, you have to smile.
Included in the special features for this DVD are textless opening and closing animation, moving art galleries, Japanese commercials, a dozen character profiles, and a half dozen FUNimation promos. The disc opens with a Dragonball Z: Uncut promo. The cover, front and back, is slick, and the reverse side is a sweet picture of Edward and Alphonse.
The real treat is the 20-page, high-quality color booklet included in the case, with interviews, production sketches, character introductions, screen shots and a settings description page. FUNimation also includes an expansive DVD promo insert.
This anime is popular for a reason. One of the highest-rated programs on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, Fullmetal Alchemist manages to be a highly entertaining show without using most of the stale basics you'll find in 90 percent of anime. Humorous, sad, exciting, horrific, thought-provoking, Fullmetal Alchemist runs the audience through the gamut of emotions during nearly every episode. These DVDs can't come out fast enough, and by the treatment of this second volume, you know a lot of love is going into the release of this series. Highly Recommended.