Reviewby Theron Martin, Feb 23rd 2012
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos
While investigating a fire during a holiday celebration, the Elric brothers discover a prison break perpetrated by a man who had, for years, hidden the fact that he commanded a powerful and unusual form of alchemy. The man gets away, but investigation into his escape leads Ed and Al to Table City, on Amestris's western border with neighboring Creta. As they arrive, they find themselves caught in a three-way struggle between the escaped prisoner, a Chimera, and a bat-themed (they use gliders!) apparent terrorist group over Julia Crichton, a 16-year-old girl recently arrested for an immigration violation. While trying to puzzle out why everyone wants the girl, the Elrics discover that Table City is a very unusual place: the hilltop city, which is controlled by Amestris, is surrounded and separated from Creta by a deep valley, in which a third population group – the downtrodden and landless Milosians – live. Julia turns out to be a fledgling Milosian alchemist, whose study of alchemy and the work of her murdered parents (who were alchemical researchers) lends her people hope that the answer to their quest to reclaim their holy land (which includes Table City) may lay in Milosian myths about a power that can control magma and the Stars which allow such control. For Ed and Al, though, the whole affair has an all-too-familiar stink.
The Sacred Star of Milos is an FMA side story which technically spins off of Brotherhood but actually does not fit neatly into its timeline; it takes place at some point after Ed and Al figured out how Philosopher's Stones are made but before their actions become too constrained by the threats and manipulations of the Homunculi. It is absolutely not a standalone work, as familiarity with the world of FMA, its mechanics, and some of its characters is fully assumed; not a word is wasted on up-front explanations.
Unlike Conqueror of Shamballa, the movie which definitely wrapped up the franchise's first TV series incarnation, Sacred Star takes a path more akin to movies associated with franchises like Inuyasha, Naruto, and Bleach: it is primarily an excuse to introduce new villain(s) who draw the heroes into flashy displays of action and power which must, of course, involve a guest-starring pretty girl. This one, though, does it better than most. Action scenes sizzle, whether fought hand-to-hand or through alchemy, conveying a convincing level of danger and numerous thrills. One relatively early scene involving the brothers having to stop a runaway train as it approaches a terminal station is particularly thrilling, as are a protracted rescue of Julia from a dangerous spot and a late-movie effort to hold back a flood of lava. The action also gets much more graphic than either of the TV series did; the theatrical release probably would have been rated R if it had been rated at all and the TV-14 rating planned for the upcoming Blu-Ray and DVD releases is definitely on the soft side.
The story told over the first three-fourths of the movie's roughly two hour running time is also unusually involving for this sort of film. Eliminate the presence of alchemy from the picture and the situation of the Milosians has some parallels to the status of the Kurds in the real-world Middle East: a people caught between two countries and looked down on by both who have, in some cases, resorted to violence to try to carve a space out for themselves. Keeping track of what eventually becomes a half-dozen competing interests in the story leaves no time to get bored, either, even if the action alone is not sufficient to hold one's interest. Though the focus is, of course, on Ed and Al, Julia makes a likeable enough co-lead as a good-hearted girl who wants to do what is best for her people but struggles with the immorality inherent in what she may have to do to accomplish it and isn't afraid to to get her hands dirty. Thankfully, the movie does not let her off the hook for that in the end. Who exactly the Chimeras are affiliated with is also a bit of a surprise.
As the story progresses into its final stages, though, problems show. Col. Mustang, Hawkeye, and Winry have significant screen presence but so little impact on anything that their presence is hardly worth mentioning; Mustang is even directly involved in one of the late fight scenes but never shown using his powers. Alex Louise Armstrong has an even briefer cameo early on and none of the other regular supporting cast members appear at all. The last quarter of the story also devolves into a generic mix of surprises, betrayals, corruptions, and power grabs, offering nothing much for storytelling that can't be found in other franchise-based movies and dragging things out at least 5-10 minutes longer than it needs to. The writing stretches internal logic in other places, too, as some of the technology used here seems anachronistic for a setting heavily based on the early 20th century and some buildings seen late in the movie which have supposedly been underground and unused for decades are shown in incongruously good shape.
Although Studio BONES produced this movie, it has a director new to the franchise, which may explain why it looks so different compared to the two TV series. The animation quality is actually very good, with no shortcuts taken in depicting key action sequences, but the artistry is not. Oh, the movie does have some visual bright spots, such as the CG-rendered railroad trestles and wonderfully elaborate system of pipes and ramps around Table City, and some of the background artistry (especially during the closing credits) and train designs are very good, but beyond that the quality of the artistry drops several notches. The established characters look generally consistent, and the visual style of new characters conforms to established standards, but the character rendering all too often looks like a third-rate hack job with rough lines, distorted proportions, and sloppy coloring; ranged shots of characters are sometimes so indistinct that making out who the characters are is difficult. Some of the background artistry is not much better, either. If director Kazuya Murata and his team were trying to make a stylistic statement then they failed miserably, as too much of the movie is an eyesore. These are not aesthetic standards that would be acceptable at a TV series level, much less a theatrical movie level.
The movie's sound is better, though more because it does not make mistakes than because it wows listeners. All of music director Taro Iwashiro's anime credits date back to the '90s, which may explain why the sound he gives the movies is more restrained than that heard in Brotherhood, but it is effective in an unobtrusive way. L'Arc~en~Ciel contributes a strong closing number which wraps the movie up well, while “Chasing Hearts” by miwa provides an unmemorable opener. The theatrical released reviewed here was subtitled, so no commentary can be provided about the upcoming English dub, but the Japanese dub does bring back all of the regular performers and casts its new roles well.
Ultimately The Sacred Star of Milos is more of a curiosity than a necessity for fans of the franchise. It does expand the franchise's setting, delivers well enough on its action and animation to be thrilling, and the story is a solid one before it gives up and resorts to common cliches in the end. Nothing here is essential for fully appreciating the franchise, however, and the dramatically inconsistent quality of the artistry is a major disappointment.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : C
Music : B
+ Thrilling action sequences, good animation, likable new co-star.
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