Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
The Fullmetal Alchemist Premium OVA Collection brings together several short films from the initial Fullmetal Alchemist anime series. "The Interactive Experience" is a set of six segments that were used in an interactive attraction, in which the viewer must do battle with the Homunculi themselves. "Live Action" has Alphonse popping up in the real world in search of his lost brother. "Chibi Wrap Party" is a super-deformed sketch featuring the entire cast getting together for a party after finishing "filming" the movie. Finally, "Kids" delivers the final payoff of the series, over 80 years after the events of the movie.
The original Fullmetal Alchemist anime was certainly one of the most popular series of its day, in Japan as well as America. However, fans of the show know that until now, Funimation's American release was missing a few pieces of the saga, namely a handful of short films produced as promotion for the series and the movie. The four shorts are now being released for the first time as a stand-alone DVD, reuniting the original dub cast.
This disc is short. In fact, it's only 35 minutes long. Even at its comparatively low price ($14.99 SRP), the content presents a dubious value: only one of the shorts could be considered a must-see, and two of them barely have any real value to them at all. Still, for the Fullmetal Alchemist fan who absolutely must have every piece of the original show, this disc will fill a small but conspicuous hole in their collection. (Not included is the hour-long recap OVA, which featured no new footage anyway.)
The shorts are quite hit-or-miss in nature. Live Action has Alphonse, still in suit-of-armor form, wandering the streets of Tokyo for no particular reason. He's on a quiet, determined voyage to find his lost brother, and that voyage eventually brings him to the offices of Bones, and into a rather abrupt finish. It's a simple joke quite obviously made for no money by the staff, probably on a whim after someone saw the giant promotional statue arrive at their offices. It's worth a chuckle.
Kids, by far the most compelling part of the disc, features three young children who look an awful lot like Ed, Al and Winry. Together, they're on a quest to somehow make it across a suburban Japanese town, getting lost and terrified by large dogs along the way. As their quest ends, we are treated to a surprising reveal of an ending to the franchise beyond that of the movie, one that is both satisfying and dignified. The appearance of younger versions of the rest of the FMA cast will bring a smile to your face, though their presence ultimately raises more questions than it answers. For those who felt that the movie was a bit rushed and left feeling a bit empty, or for those merely curious as to what might have happened in the end, this short is required viewing.
Chibi Wrap Party is a cute little super-deformed sequence featuring the complete cast of the show, attending a "wrap party" after supposedly finishing shooting the movie. There is much alcohol consumed, and as Military officials blend with Homunculi things get really wild. Chibi Wrap Party follows in the tradition of super-deformed bonus shorts, and the humor here is similar: characters still acting like themselves, but no longer placed at odds with each other, and hanging out. It's fun, but if you've seen one super-deformed omake you've pretty much seen them all.
Finally, The Interactive Experience is comprised of six clips that were played as introduction to a Fullmetal Alchemist promotional attraction that played in Japan around the time the TV series was finishing its run. Colonel Mustang talks to the camera, informing the viewer that they are the newest recruit in the State Military, and will be expected to assist as they try to hunt down the four Homunculi that are running amok. Other members of the Military occasionally pop up as well. While I'm a little foggy on the nature of the attraction itself, upon watching this I was reminded of the videos that play in an endless loop while you wait hours in line for a new theme park ride. They're intended to get us pumped up for some cool experience, but removed from that experience they're pretty meaningless. While it's nice to have these relics of the attraction (whatever it was), these non-canon bits of animation are as much fun to watch as cut scenes from a video game you've never played. You'll watch them once and then forget about them.
Funimation promotes that they've reunited the dub cast from the original series, which is no small feat considering that a few of the voice actors have moved away from the Dallas/Fort Worth area and either had to be flown in or recorded remotely. While the attention to detail is certainly appreciated, the end result has its issues. The biggest of these is that Aaron Dismuke, the voice of Alphonse Eleric, has gone through puberty since recording the movie. (You could hear his voice beginning to crack in the movie, in fact.) Dismuke is now high school aged and has a scratchy young adult voice that sounds nothing like it once did. Though Dismuke is quite talented and has myriad fans, he simply no longer sounds like Alphonse.
Funimation tries to compensate for this in two ways, and both of them make the problem even worse. Chibi Wrap Party adds a joke where Ed asks, "Hey Al, what happened to your voice?" ("It's called puberty, Ed. It'll happen to you someday," he replies.) Of course, this short is supposed to take place immediately after the movie, so that change happening mere days after the film was "shot" is a little odd. Fairing far worse is Live Action, in which Dismuke is directed to act in a higher-than-normal voice, which still doesn't sound right, and throws him off to the point where he can only manage a distracted, monotone performance. Since the ONLY dialogue in the short is Al's impassioned narration, the already weak short diminishes in value even further.
The Fullmetal Alchemist Premium OAV Collection is decidedly for hardcore fans of the original show, and for them exclusively. The individual films do not stand alone, and most of them don't even attempt to be anything more than trifles, better suited to their original purpose as bonus items with the Japanese DVD boxed set of the movie. Packaged separately like this, the short running time and the forgettable nature of most of the shorts will be enough to make most fans hesitate before buying. However, the shorts Chibi Wrap Party and especially Kids are compelling enough to make the disc a necessary purchase, in the end.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ A fun jaunt with characters we've grown fond of; "Kids" is quite moving when viewed in context
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