Fullmetal Alchemist

Reviewed by: Anonymous

January 25, 2008

Rating: four

I'm not a big anime fan, but I really enjoyed Fullmetal Alchemist. It's set in a world where alchemy is high science and allows people skilled in its application to do things that appear to be magic. When Fullmetal, whose proper name is Edward Elric, was young he attempted (and failed) to bring his dead mother back to life through alchemy. The botched attempt cost him his arm and very nearly killed his brother, Alphonse, who he only saved by binding to a large, hollow suit of armor. Fullmetal is stuck with a mechanical arm (hence the name Fullmetal) and a rare ability to perform alchemy without having to draw out a circle.

The anime has spawned both a successful television series and a movie, "The Conqueror of Shambala". In the television series he embarks on a series of quests with Alphonse in an attempt to get the fabled "Alchemist's Stone" which would provide him with enough power to restore his little brother's body. Along the way he encounters fierce opposition both from the government that he works for and a group of creatures known as Homunculi. He faces a number of crises, such as reconciling his need for the government's resources with his hatred for the military as an institution. In the movie, having successfully restored his brother but been forced through a "gate" to an alternate reality (our reality) he has to fight without alchemy to prevent Nazis from breaching the gate between the two worlds and waging war across his homelands.

As is generally the case with anime, lots of the acting is over the top and much of the dialogue is dramatic to the point of ridiculousness. However these general weaknesses are compensated for by the overall fun nature of the show. Comedy and tragedy are very closely mingled in all the stories and each individual episode of Fullmetal Alchemist is capable of standing on its own.

There are some particularly interesting features to the series and movie that leap out at an American viewer. For one, we tend to view Eastern religions in a mystical light, however in Fullmetal Alchemist it becomes apparent that they view Western religion in exactly the same way. Christianity (or forms of it) is referenced numerous times in the show and in the movie, but it always carries a magical, superstitious air.

Also interesting in the series are the occasionally accurate references to historical alchemy, a now long discredited science which in many ways was the precursor to modern chemistry. Alchemy was itself a pseudo-religion, but in Fullmetal Alchemist its practitioners are considered to be the elite scientists (and, due to its power, military personnel) of the day. And yet despite the magical undertones to alchemy and the fact that it is certainly the driving "action" in the series, Fullmetal Alchemist tends to focus in more on the characters and their development. Edward, despite being an excellent alchemist, is not invincible and is very frequently frustrated, even loses quite often. He is stuck in a military he despises, but needs for its resources. He works for a man, Colonel Roy Mustang aka "The Flame Alchemist" with whom he shares a mutual dislike and respect.

All in all, as action anime goes, Fullmetal Alchemist is intelligent and exciting without being insultingly silly.

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