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Is The Live-Action Fullmetal Alchemist Movie Any Good?

by Rachel Kelly,

The live-action Fullmetal Alchemist movie, directed by Fumihiko Sori, made its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival on October 25 and will open in Japan on December 1. Luckily for us, the movie made a special United States premiere at Anime NYC convention on November 19th.

If any fans at the convention were afraid of another potential “bad” live-action adaption, they didn't show it. The screening, which was a ticketed event, was completely sold out, every seat in the theater filled. Fans lined up an hour early before the event started, many of them in Fullmetal Alchemist cosplay. Even before the panel began, fans were cheering. The enthusiasm was obvious as Director Sori came on stage and said his opening statement to the crowd:

“First of all, thank you all so much for coming out here today. I love New York! I am actually a little nervous because this is the first time this has ever been shown outside of Japan. I hope you stay until the end and enjoy every moment of it. As many of you may already be aware, this is a very famous work that we made into a live-action movie. Those of you who are familiar with the original work know that the characters are Western and the story is set in Europe. So, the fact it is an all Japanese cast may feel a little bit weird initially. What's really important about this work is what is at its very heart. The spirit of the story and the themes developed in it like sibling relationships. That's very Japanese, so we thought that it was the best way to express the story was to use a Japanese cast. Therefore, I want you to look past the faces and focus on the story. Compare how closely we followed the original story and how we didn't stray too much from it. I believe that what the creator, Arakawa-sensei, put in the original story has been directly translated into the film. Again, please enjoy it to the very end.”

Next, before the film started, the staff showed a little introduction video with main star Ryosuke and mangaka Arakawa herself. Only… you couldn't see her face because it was covered by the image of a cow. The very same cow that she usually draws herself as in her manga - it was an incredibly cute and funny thing to watch.

After that, the film began. The film opened up with green scenery- a European countryside. Two blonde boys, Edward and Alphonse, are playing together as their mother watches. Suddenly, their mother collapses and dies. Desperate to see her again, the two boys use alchemy in an attempt to bring her back to life. As Ed uses the transmutation circle, chaos breaks out and Al is lifted up in a whirl of wind, separated from his brother.

From there, it cuts to the future, where we see a grown (though still tiny) Ed fighting Father Cornello. This scene was jampacked with visual effects. Stonework transforming, buildings crashing…  a whole lot of CG. During my earlier interview with Director Sori (coming soon to ANN!), he said that he wanted to wait to make this movie until the visual effects in Japan had improved. This was a wise choice. Compared to other Japanese films, the visual and CG effects were consistently good quality and believable throughout the entire movie. However, the most impressive effect of all had to be Alphonse. Completely rendered in CG, Alphonse's armor looks real, as if a living piece of armor was actually there with the other cast members. Speaking of the cast, Ryosuke did an excellent job as Ed. He was able to capture Ed's sarcastic personality and portray his many humorous moments. At the same time, he nailed the serious scenes and looked great in combat. In my opinion, Ryuta Sato played Hughes to a T. They couldn't have picked a better actor for that role (he was a crowd favorite, for sure). Dean Fujioka also did a great job of playing the serious and stoic Roy Mustang. 

During his opening comments, Director Sori mentioned that the movie may seem strange at first considering the characters are European, but the actors are Japanese. He was right in this sense. I admit it was strange at first. But as the movie went on, I forgot about the cultural differences and found myself wrapped up in the film. That's not to say the film is without its issues - something that was a little off-putting at the beginning of the movie was the humor. Fullmetal Alchemist has always had humor. The constant comments about Ed's height, the shenanigans of Armstrong, any of the dozens of cute, comical chibi moments. But the beginning of the live-action movie had a whole lot of silly humor – maybe a little too much. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing. I laughed quite a couple times. I just thought to myself, “Is the whole movie going to be this light?”

Thankfully, the answer is no. While the humor does persist throughout the movie and things never get as intense as the original series, things do get darker and more serious as the movie goes on. The story of the film covers about a third of the manga's story, up until the incident at Laboratory #5. It is a faithful adaption, but there are differences. For example, there were some characters who did not appear at all in the film (though saying who would spoil things). Also, the terrible day where Ed and Al lose their body parts is shown periodically throughout the movie via a dream rather than in the beginning. A grown Ed is shown losing his leg and going through all of the horrors of that day. (I believe this is because it would be difficult for a child actor to properly portray such intense emotion.) But most notably, what happens at Laboratory #5 in the movie is different from the manga. This is because Director Sori wanted the film to be a standalone movie. And in order to do this, he needed to change some things around, so that the film felt complete at the end.

Was it a satisfying ending? Yes and no. It did wrap things up nicely, but, since there are still two thirds of the story left to tell, the plot obviously isn't finished. Another film or two would definitely be needed to give the fans a sense of closure. However, as a standalone movie, it seems to end at the right place. Like Director Sori said, even though there are differences, he still tried to capture the heart of the story. In my opinion, he was successful with this, and I am not the only one that agreed. When the film ended, applause and cheers broke out across the theater, especially when Director Sori came out and asked, “did you like it?”

The fervor even continued as Sori answered some Q & A. Here are some choice quotes:

How involved was the original creator in your process?

I have to say that Arakawa-sensei is very generous. She really left everything up to me. In fact, usually sometimes they want to review the script from early drafts. No! She said, “Give me the finished draft” and then said, “This is great!” I am so honored. We showed her the final product and she was like, “I love it!” In fact, if I could say so myself, it might be Arakawa-sensei herself that wants to see another film.

Is there a character you most relate to and feel connected to?

I have to say that Alphonse has a very special place in my heart and I feel like maybe I am a little bit like him.


Speaking of Alphonse, how difficult is it to direct such an effects-heavy film?

Alphonse is actually 100% full CG, so that was really difficult technology wise. I feel like Hollywood may even have had some trouble with it. But the problem with Japanese CGI is that we have a very small budget, so we had to get really creative in order to make this film happen. What I think, though, is that the story is the most important part. I think even if you go beyond the CG, she wrote such a wonderful story that comes through.

In addition to another Fullmetal Alchemist film, are there any other anime that you would want to adapt into a live-action film?

Well, there are quite a few, but I can't really talk about it!   


After the event finished, a special Alphonse card was handed out to the crowd. Additionally, Director Sori waited outside the theater, so he could meet with the fans. He wanted to know everyone's opinion and if they enjoyed the film. The answer was obvious. An entire line of eager fans lined up to greet Director Sori and gush about the film.

Will other hardcore Fullmetal Alchemist fans enjoy this live-action adaption? I believe so. Maybe nostalgia is skewing my view of things; Fullmetal Alchemist has had a special place in my heart since I first saw it years ago in middle school. As with all live-action adaptations, it's been changed (and in some ways compromised) but in my estimation, it captures the themes and feelings of Arakawa's epic. Is the film “worthy” of the original series? You'll have to watch it and decide that for yourself.


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