Jean-Karlo You know Nick, I've never read Hemingway, but I'm pretty sure the age-old question "for whom the bell tolls" has been answered. But Shoji Kawamori dares to ask... For Whom the Alchemist Exists?
Going by that logo, I gotta say, this new FFXIV expansion looks...weird.
Must be a new addendum to the Nier raid...
Anyway, Nick and I are proud to say we watched For Whom the Alchemist Exists this week. Produced by Satelight and apparently based off of a mobile game, this... sure is a movie?
Ok so I can't blame anybody who looks at the title of this column and asks "..the fuck is that?" because until Crunchyroll announced they'd licensed this film last week I'd never heard of it either. But I saw Kawamori and the scriptwriter for Macross Delta (aka The Best Macross) were at least somewhat connected, and since I know where all the bodies are buried I got editorial to indulge me in covering this.
Thankfully, this movie isn't terribly complicated, so it's not like there's much to get lost in if you've never heard of Satelight, FWTAE, Macross creator Shoji Kawamori, or movies.
Though I do want to mention this is something he's more a producer on than a creative lead. This isn't like Last Hope, another Satelight robot thing nobody but me watched, where he's heavily involved and doing press tours for it. This is firmly a mobile game advert, right down to telling you about all these cool characters you can summon on your next 10-roll.
"Phantom soldiers. Totally not Heroic Spirits. We couldn't afford Aoi Yūki to voice the oni, anyway."
The story goes that in the world of Babel, the power of Alchemy kept the gears running. Alchemists used their powers to summon phantom soldiers (for some reason) and do Alchemist-y things until war broke out and everyone made a pinky-promise to not misuse alchemy anymore. Until one day, giant robots named Dark Mages appear and a dragon named Destruk takes over the Tower of Babel, sealing alchemy and plunging the world into darkness.
And this is where the story takes its first swerve. I've seen enough forgettable mobile game anime (Hey there, Chain Chronicle!) that when we got introduced to like 9 different fantasy heroes in the span of a minute I figured I was in for a deluge of over-designed gatcha fodder.
BUT THEN, the dragon buffs all the evil mechs and they just fucking kill like 70% of these characters. Straight up dusted.
As it turns out, this isn't just a gacha game adaptation—it's also an isekai!
That's swerve #2. Because right after the evil dragon wins and our heroes are left shaken and horrified at all the deaths they couldn't prevent, we meet our real heroine:
Kasumi is a nice girl, but not very gifted in either academics or athletics. Her mother is a little overbearing, too, insisting she get her head straight and get into a good college. Meanwhile, Kasumi flirts with the idea of acting, but otherwise stumbles her way through life.
She also has a bad habit of spacing out, which results in things like missing questions in class, or following strange talking lights off the side of a bridge.
At least it wasn't Truck-kun this time.
Hey, if nothing else this movie's at least not a total generic modern isekai. If anything it's got closer roots to the 90's and 00's eras, what with the female lead being summoned by destiny to quell a great evil. It's just there are a lot more garishly-designed characters than usual.
I definitely got those Magic Knight Rayearth vibes here, but let's not get too far ahead.
So, Kasumi is summoned to Babel by Lizbeth (Liz for short) as a Phantom. This is bad for a number of reasons. First, it means Kasumi is dead. Second, whereas Phantoms are meant to have some kind of magical power, Kasumi doesn't.
Yeah that's the other thing. Kasumi didn't get any instant win magic like your typical Isekai Melvin. Much to the disappointment of the people who launched a near-suicide mission to summon her here.
"Lady, I can't even drive yet."
Well, she does have something better: she can cook!
Let's put aside the gender politics of "female isekai protagonist saves world with home economics", because as it turns out when your entire village has been displaced and all you've eaten are raw vegetables, a good stew can change your life.
Also this is where I'd just like to gush about one particular aspect of this movie: the world design. I cannot tell you how much of a goddamn breath of fresh air it was to see a fantasy isekai land that had actual atmosphere to it. That actually looks like some place cool to visit instead of the same starter town every other potato in a tracksuit goes to. They've got weird mushroom forests! An underground city behind a waterfall! THEY HAVE INTERESTING INTERIOR DECORATING.
It's definitely nice to have a setting that isn't some vague medieval Europe knockoff, even if it means you have eyes in your soup.
These folks ain't lacking for beta carotene, I'll tell you what.
The cave refuge may well be my favorite part of the film in terms of aesthetics and writing. Kasumi can't do fancy magic, but she still cares about the people around her. And in the struggles they're going through, a little care goes a long way.
It's honestly really nice. I'm not going to pretend this movie is a masterclass in writing, but it manages to make me like and care about the central trio of Kasumi, Liz, and This Dude:
Edgar! He's a good bean. He's got the lame line about not letting girls cry, but he's a legit good man. He too feels the weight of the world on his shoulders, being that he's also a depowered alchemist. He's also got a sweet Alchemy-powered motorcycle.
The motorcycle does a lot of the work in getting him over for me. But I do like how he factors into the overall theme of the story. He was a cocky hero who promised to protect everyone, only to see that all crumble in front of his eyes. And that hurt has left him jaded and withdrawn.
Liz is similarly discouraged, but she sees it as her responsibility to take care of Kasumi after dragging her into their world, so she's at least working to find some way to help her...well the movie insists they're friends but boy does it push the boundaries of that word sometimes:
Just alchemists bein' pals.
Retitle this For Whom The GalPalchemist Exists, amirite?
This could have been the whole movie for me; you could make a series about Kasumi reinvigorating the lives of the people of Babel with simple, earnest heart-to-hearts and cooking, something like a Log Horizon that doesn't take place in a ~DATABASE, DATABASE~ . Maybe have a bit where the people realize that hey, we don't even need alchemy. Human connection is what we need.
Well yeah they do actually need alchemy to fight off the army of evil golem robots. And sadly these cool turtle tanks aren't doing the job.
Sidenote: Everybody keep these bad boys in mind, they're super important later I swear to god.
Turns out, Kasumi is kinda, sorta restoring everyone's Alchemic powers just a little—enough for Destruk to take notice. And it turns out he decided to summon the Heroic Spirits Phantoms to fight for him.
Don't you hate doing PVP against an obvious whale? He even got the limited pull Evil Tsubasa From Symphogear unit!
Just as the Phantoms are about to wipe the floor with the resistance, Kasumi learns she does have magic and controls one of the Dark Mages for long enough to send the Phantoms scurrying. And from there, Kasumi, Edgar and Liz go off to face off against Destruk because what else are they gonna do?
And let me just say, this where I turned into a mark for this movie. I'm not going to tell you it's amazing or brilliant or even altogether memorable, but I love me some crazy magic robot bullshit, and this scratched that itch real good.
I still think Edgar's bike is cooler. And the turtle tanks, but as we said: those are for later...
Look, it's magic robot bullshit and I so rarely get anything new in that niche. Plus this gives Kasumi a chance to explain more about what her deal is. Specifically she was in an accident as a kid that left her seriously hospitalized, and ever since her mother's been pushing her to keep her head down, rather than risking something happen again.
This also meant Kasumi was less willing to take a chance on her true passion: acting.
Granted I think the better solution would be to just uh, not let your kid play on the incredibly dangerous rope ladder tower. But what do I know?
Look, you can't question the epiphanies you get when you're stuck in Evil Darkness Alchemy Goo.
Oh right, Kasumi like immediately gets abducted by the evil Phantom spirits who invite her to join their Organization XIII RP server.
The Phantoms, you see, resented being summoned time and again to do the bidding of Alchemists, and Kasumi herself is fated to disappear if she continues to serve as a Phantom in the fight against Destruk.
But Liz doesn't want to let her girlfriend go, so that "disappearance" business gets put on the shelf for a bit.
Honestly it's a pretty solid motive for the bad guys. Imagine if your afterlife was comprised of being summoned in some rando's FGO account? You'd want to raze all existence into nothingness too!
There's a nice bit where Edgar tries to convince Kasumi to let him handle Destruk alone because he feels guilty about having failed everyone and doesn't want Kasumi to get involved, but this part of the movie had me check out a little bit. What was more interesting was learning Destruk's background! We don't get specifics, but it seems like he was an unwilling sacrifice meant to appease the power of the Tower of Babel's Philosopher's Stone. So his war against Alchemy comes off as entirely justified.
Between Alchemy being fueled by a forsaken snake-child and the Phantoms being forced to be undead servants, yeah, maybe Alchemy isn't that great in hindsight. It's not too late to go back to making soup, folks!
Yeah the lore is uh, murky to say the least. But I do like that the villains have legit grievances that the heroes can't just ignore. But then comes the final battle which is at once the best and worst part of this whole shebang.
It's the worst because it introduces like 20 new characters out of nowhere who I assume were important to the game but have 0 relevance here. They get a bunch of fights that don't really matter.
Who the fuck is this guy? Why should I care? Why does he look like a bootleg figure of Roy from Fire Emblem?
But it's the best because it turns out, this movie has some degree of self-awareness and reveals that Kasumi does have a magic power. She's literally the Alchemist of Sympathy, which is why she can control the Dark Mages.
Also, the little mascot creature turns into bootleg Unico.
I LOVE THIS PEGASUS EX MACHINA. LOOK AT THIS ADORABLE DIGIVOLUTION.
It looks like it belongs in an entirely different movie, but hey, you can do worse than a pink pegasus.
More importantly, Kasumi literally saves the day by using her super sympathy to just like, tell everyone why the spirits are pissed. And they realize they fucked up and apologizes. AND THEN THE FUCKIN TURTLE TANKS TRANSFORM INTO ROOTIN' SHOOTIN' ROBOTS.
I literally shouted when that happened. The moment I saw those things I knew they had a Gerwalk mode and by god they delivered.
YES YES YES
I WANT TOYS OF IT
IT PULLS THE CANNONS OFF ITS BACK AND SLINGS THEM LIKE PISTOLS
"Look, I'm really sorry we keep disturbing your final rest just so you can be our meatshield. BUT ALSO, CHECK OUT THOSE TURTLE TANKS YO."
You could do it so easily too! One of the neat things Kawamori does for his mechanical designs is to make them out of legos first, just to show they could actually transform like they do in the show. I know this is a two-year old movie that likely bombed but by god somebody show me how to 3D print one.
Anyway, outside of objectively the coolest thing in this movie, there's still also the whole thing with the evil traumatized dragon hydra. But don't worry because Kasumi is going to Symphathize the hell out of him with a giant glowing angel mech because this movie was made specifically for me.
Kasumi redeems Destruk and turns him back into a cute baby snake, Babel is saved, and this No Game, No Life-looking girl sends Kasumi back to Earth. Yaaaaay!
It's goofy and ridiculous and cheesy as all hell. All you needed was Kasumi healing Destruk with the power of song to make it an actual Macross ending. But that is exactly what I was in the mood for.
Hey yeah, why didn't Kasumi sing? She had the costume and everything.
Well at least she turns Edgar's doofy catchphrase back on him. That's almost as good.
Kawamori goes so far as to bring back the weird Arjuna "see yourself in the vegetable" thing, but no pop song? That feels a bit like a robbery.
But like a good Isekai from the 90s, Kasumi returns home better for her adventure, and not only manages to patch things over with her mom but gains the courage to pursue acting too. So happy ending all around!
So yeah that's For Whom the Alchemist Exists. And the answer is me. It exists for me to roll around in while I wait for that next Delta movie and blast "The Future is For Women" until my ears ache. Is it for anyone else? Heck if I know.
This movie is okay, but definitely not that impressive. The CGI for the Dark Mages and turtle tanks is fine, but I don't think it says much about this movie that it looks about as good as I'd hope it would for a TV series.
And that's kinda the thing? For a movie, this just looks like a really good episode of a TV show.
It doesn't help that a gaggle of alchemists and Phantoms are dumped in the big climactic fight without so much as a "how do you do".
Yeah it's not amazing, and if what we've described doesn't sound rad as heck to ya, it's probably not worth sitting through. But it's got just enough things that I love seeing in anime, held together with just enough solid writing to keep it from falling apart. And all-in-all it made for a nice surprise for me.
It's far from the worst thing I've ever had to see, but I'm glad it had the dignity to just be a 2-hour movie and not a 12-episode series. I'm not gonna remember For Whom the Alchemist Exists by next week, at any rate.
Well if you don't want to remember it, you can always join me and the other Macross fans in waiting for that franchise to finally get released officially. One of us! One of us!
Yeah, I'll join in on that one. Legged vehicles for everyone!
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