Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Mar 7th 2005
DVD 1: Starter Set + Artbox
When their mother died, Edward and Alphonse Elric thought they could bring her back to life. After all, what's a human but a pan full of common materials? Little were they prepared to learn that there's more to life than just ingredients. In the wake of the alchemic reaction that followed, Ed's right arm and left leg were torn from his body, while Al's entire body was swallowed by the darkness. Now, after years of perseverance and hardship, the brothers are wandering the countryside in search of the fabled Philosopher's Stone, rumoured to have the power to allow alchemists to ignore the Rule of Equivalent Exchange. Hoping to use it to regain their lost body parts, their journey leads them first to a town where a selfish alchemist has everyone convinced that he has holy powers. Is it possible that he has the Stone? And just what happened on the night that the brothers tried to resurrect their mother?
How much is a life worth? An arm and a leg? An entire body? Most people could never even fathom coming face to face with such a question, but for the Elric brothers, it's something that changed their lives, and bodies, forever. Based off the manga by Hiromu Arakawa, the anime series was met with instant popularity all across the globe. And why wouldn't it? With strong characters, a suspenseful story, and an endless supply of fresh twists, the show knows just how to work its magic. Without a doubt, Fullmetal Alchemist is quite possibly the best series to be released this year—and this is just after watching the first four episodes. Captivating from the first frame, the series sets up a web of eerie revelations and mysteries that keeps viewers hooked from beginning to end.
Even with all the fine points of the series, it's hard to pinpoint just what makes it so appetizing. True, there's action, and true, there's splotches of humor now and again, but what it all boils down to is two things: characters and atmosphere. Unlike so many males of contemporary anime who are either whiny runts or ego-clad buffoons, the heroes of Fullmetal Alchemist are strong, determined, and humble, especially for their age. Driven through life by their brotherly bond and their desire to fix past mistakes, they provide a focal point for the series. It no longer becomes so much a matter of, “I wonder what's going to happen next?” but “I wonder what the Elric brothers are going to do next?”
Then there's atmosphere. No series is complete without moments of revelations or jaw-dropping surprises, and Fullmetal Alchemist is rife with them. From the horrifying truth about what happened when the boys tried to resurrect their mother, to the downright creepiness of seeing a soulless chimera stare blankly at the camera, there're moments that keep you wondering what kind of even bigger secrets will be revealed later.
It's only natural that such a cool series be packaged in something just as awesome. The actual DVD cover isn't anything to writhe in pleasure over, and the reverse image is nothing but a textless copy of the same picture, but the DVD insert is a blessing. Opening with a brief commentary by director Seiji Mizushima, the fat booklet also contains character bios and descriptions of the different settings. And, for those tired of squinting at wobbly line art on DVD extras, the book also contains sketches for all of the major characters introduced so far. For the more financially endowed viewers who sprung for the tin box though, the packaging is damned sweet. With a ridiculously shiny and ultra-sexy black tin case with a handsome symbol on the cover, it's even well-designed enough to have the lid swing outwards from the front, which is convenient beyond belief. Slightly irritating though, was having to remove a sticker from not one, but both sides of the box. (To make it worse, it was one of those that leave residue all over the place.) What seals the deal is the inclusion of the first music soundtrack, which has 33 tracks, including the TV-sized versions of Melissa and Indelible Sin. With translated composer notes and lyrics, it's a good addition for music enthusiasts.
Ranging from powerful symphonic pieces to cutesy string scherzos, the series music is a largely a mixed bag that's hard to truly enjoy unless you've seen the series. Composed by Michiru Oshima, the music fits the respective scenes well, having enough diversity to cover any possible scenario. All of the pieces were performed by the Moscow International Symphonic Orchestra, a hearty veteran which has recorded several other anime-related soundtracks, including Sailor Moon and Harlock Saga. While the individual pieces are pleasant enough to listen to, the highlights come in the three vocal tracks on the CD. The opening and ending are relatively standard fare, but the third is a soulful song titled “Brothers,” a forlorn Russian ballad sung by a chorus. It alone almost makes the soundtrack worthwhile.
In terms of the language tracks, everything is done rather well. The audio quality is good and there aren't any noticeable dropouts. Romi Paku and Rie Kugimiya play off each other wonderfully as Ed and Al in the Japanese cast, and deliver a lively performance. Both play very convincing male leads, and the chemistry that they have really shows. Conversely, Vic Mignogna and Aaron Dismuke make a fine pair of brothers, although Mignogna almost sounds too old and jaded for a boy who's only supposed to be a year older than Al. The hollow echo applied to Dismuke's voice is more obvious than was used for the Japanese character, but his voice is absolutely charming. Only 12 years old, the innocence and earnestness that he applies to his role makes him a perfect Alphonse, and one of the shining stars of the dub.
Though the series is aesthetically pleasing enough, there's nothing spectacular about the artwork. The characters are all vibrant and easy on the eyes, and the facial expressions they make when they're responding to different situations are entertaining. What does bring the artwork up a notch, however, is the lush backgrounds (which are conveniently located in an extra on the disc). Everywhere the boys go, they're surrounded by beautiful locales that have a touch of sadness. The animation isn't anything earth-shattering, but it does a good job of making sure the characters movements don't hamper the visual experience.
Whether you're intrigued by a story of brothers chasing after their dreams and fighting any obstacle that gets in their way, or a shocking tale of sacrifice and the consequences of tampering with nature, there's something in Fullmetal Alchemist that will invariably pull you towards it. Even if you don't fall in love with the series at first sight, it'll be hard to tear yourself away. With a compelling storyline, strong characters, and enough action and humor to keep things going, Fullmetal Alchemist seriously approaches perfection. If you haven't gotten the chance to catch the series on Cartoon Network, do yourself a favor and pick this up.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Dark, intriguing story driven by strong characters
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