The release of the fifth set of “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” brings one of the most original and best-loved anime series of the decade to a slam-bang conclusion unlike anything that’s ever been done in American animation.
The original “Fullmetal Alchemist” TV series (2003), was adapted from Hiromu Arakawa’s manga before the artist had envisioned her story’s outcome: The filmmakers had to make up their own finale. “Brotherhood,” which closely follows the now-completed manga, is darker and more exciting, with some spectacular CG effects.
The adventures of adolescent prodigies Edward and Alphonse Elric began on the terrible night when they defied the greatest taboo and tried to use alchemy to bring their mother back from the dead. They paid a devastating price for attempting human transmutation: Ed lost his left leg; Al nearly died. Edward sacrificed his right arm to preserve his brother’s soul in an empty suit of armor. The robotic prostheses he later received brought Ed the title of the Fullmetal Alchemist.
The Elric Brothers believe that only the Philosopher’s Stone can restore their bodies. But during the search for it, they discover the Stone, like Tolkien’s One Ring, is inherently evil: Human lives must be sacrificed to create one. The brothers also learn that attempts at human transmutation produce the powerful but soulless creatures known as Homunculi. The seven Homunculi — Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, Greed and Lust — and the master they call Father are involved in a deadly scheme to create a gigantic Philosopher’s Stone by murdering the population of an entire country. The gargantuan stone will give Father God-like powers and awaken the zombie army he’s assembled.
In the take-no-prisoners finale, the Elrics and their friends turn the battleground itself into a weapon, transmuting rocks and buildings into offensive weapons and protective walls. Thousands of souls are freed from supernatural bondage when the attempt to create the stone falters. The special effects in these sequences rival even Hideaki Anno’s recent “Evangelion” films, but it’s the characters that make the conflict memorable.
Their alchemical skills give Edward and Alphonse an added excitement, but their human vulnerabilities have won fans’ hearts. Despite his phenomenal talents, Ed could not save a little girl who had been turned into a chimera; none of his later accomplishments can exorcise the pain of that failure. During the climactic battle, viewers discover just how much Ed and Al are willing to sacrifice for each other.
In less than a decade, “Fullmetal Alchemist” has become one of the best-selling anime properties in the United States, even challenging the venerable “Dragon Ball Z.” Over 1.2 million copies of the manga have been published in North America since the launch in May 2005. There have also been games, toys, posters, plushes, key chains and costumes. On a typical day, EBay may offer more than 5,000 “Fullmetal Alchemist”-related items, many of them otherwise unavailable in the U.S.
Although “Brotherhood” brings the saga of the Elric Brothers to a pretty definitive conclusion, the follow-up feature “Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos” opened in Japan in July. It’s scheduled for release on disc here next spring, probably following a limited theatrical run: The adventure continues.
– Charles Solomon
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