Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa

While I have not read the original Fullmetal Alchemist manga or seen the original anime adaptation from 2003, I have been watching the second anime, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which aimed to be closer to the source material. Even then, I have not watched every episode, but regardless I would consider myself a fan of the series and I would put it on my personal list of recommended anime. While I had been aware of Fullmetal Alchemist for quite some time, my experience with it did not truly begin until I saw it as one of the shows featured on Toonami’s revival line-up, starting with a later episode. However, because of this, I eventually decided to skip the final episodes and waited until the series aired again from the beginning, although complications prevented me from completing it (I own the full series, so I do plan on finishing it eventually as of this writing). As part of Toonami’s Month of Movies, its third film was the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, Conqueror of Shamballa, which serves as an epilogue to the original anime series. Despite my experience mainly lying with the Brotherhood version, I decided to watch this movie anyway, knowing it was tying into a different series and that things were different between both anime series. While Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa does sort of tell a complete story on its own, I still wouldn’t consider this much of a stand-alone product.

Spoiler Note: Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa takes place after the events of the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime, and as such there will be some unmarked spoilers regarding certain plot points in the movie carried over from said series. Consider this a fair warning.

Following the events of the 2003 Fulllmetal Alchemist anime, Edward Elric (Vic Mignogna) resides in an alternate version of Earth, different from his own world, in 1923 in pre-Nazi Germany. When driving with his friend Alphonse Heiderich (Jason Liebrecht), Ed accidentally crashes their car, soon after which they hitch a ride with travelling gypsies. Later, as Ed and Alphonse are working on a rocket, Ed interferes with one of the gypsies from earlier, Noah (Leah Clark), from being sold, escaping with her to take her into hiding. As this happens, Alphonse successfully demonstrates the rocket he and Ed had been working on, and gets recruited to work for the German military, who were also attempting to purchase Noah earlier. Meanwhile, back in Amestris on Ed’s homeworld, Ed’s brother Alphonse Elric (Aaron Dismuke), after having gotten his body back, insists on finding a way to reunite with his brother.

Edward Elric (left) with Alphonse Heidrich (right).

I will admit, because I had never seen the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, I got a little confused with the histories, and sometimes identities, of some of the characters, since I unsuccessfully tried to use my knowledge of the Brotherhood anime as an attempt to make sense of it. As such, when some of the Homunculi (Fullmetal Alchemist’s personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins) showed up over the course of the movie, I found myself a little dumbfounded, especially concerning the identity of Wrath, which differs between versions. This isn’t to say it doesn’t tie in well with the events of the 2003 anime, from what I gather, it just didn’t make sense to me since I was thinking of a completely different series of events while watching the movie. Regardless, the movie does a good job at attempting to tell its own story, which generally has a solid structure with an interesting incorporation of actual historical events from the time frame of the parts taking place on the alternate history Earth (staying true to said events while putting its own spin on them to suit the narrative), but for some of the smaller details it doesn’t make too much sense to those who haven’t seen the 2003 series.

That being said, I think the animation of the movie by Studio Bones (who would also later animate the Brotherhood anime) is excellent, having very fluid motions, particularly whenever cloth was shown, and clear character emotions that help show what they are feeling at the time. One thing I particularly liked seeing in action was Edward Elric’s mechanical arm, which isn’t automail (until the third act) and requires a pull-back motor to function. When this is activated, it becomes really interesting to see the parts moving on the inside of the arm, which is something I enjoy seeing in animation. There is also some CG used in some scenes, but there is at least an attempt to make it fit with the general art style.

CG being used to render suits of armor (with Alphonse Elric behind them).

In addition to the animation, the voice acting was also really good. The voice actors from the original anime reprise their roles for this movie (for the characters that show up, anyway), most of whom would also go on to do Brotherhood, and while I haven’t seen the series the movie ties in to, it’s clear that the voice actors make good use of their experience with their respective characters, putting a lot of emotion into their work that helps really sell what everyone is feeling at the time. Admittedly though, I was thrown off at first by Aaron Dismuke voicing Alphonse Elric rather than Maxey Whitehead, solely because the latter was in the later Brotherhood anime which I am more familiar with, but I was able to get used to it and I thought Aaron Dismuke did a good job voicing the character. The music was also really good, with each bit of background music, when it was there, adding more emotion to a scene. However, while there are plenty of scenes where there is no background music, sometimes silence is capable of adding weight to an emotional scene.

Overall, Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa is a good anime movie, but it’s definitely not a stand-alone feature. It serves its purpose well for fans of the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime, but newcomers or fans who have only watched Brotherhood/read the manga will find themselves lost in the intricacies of the plot. Otherwise, it has some solid animation and voice work, and it’s interesting how the time frame Earth is set in is incorporated into the plot. If you plan on seeing Conqueror of Shamballa, whether or not you are already a fan of Fullmetal Alchemist and/or have watched the Brotherhood anime, I would suggest trying to watch the 2003 series first in order to better understand what’s going on, otherwise it’s pretty safe to skip the movie if you don’t have prior knowledge of said anime.

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