Let’s be clear - - fans haven’t likely seen the last of the brothers Elric.
Anime fandom likes to take pride in franchises wrapping up when their time comes; but then it’s also got this funny tendency to discount follow-ups as “not counting.” It’s the sort of reasoning that somehow doesn’t regard the EVANGELION “rebuilds” as serving the same purpose as sequels, even though they still mean you’re seeing new EVA material however many years after the series supposedly ran its course. In the case of FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST, it doesn’t matter if the second TV series, BROTHERHOOD, was technically just a remake that hewed closer to the original manga. It still amounted to around 120 episodes and, now, two feature-length movies that have run over almost ten straight years.
BROTHERHOOD may have used up all the source material, sure, but the train’s doubtful to stop running for that. I caught this flick - - released less than a year after the show’s conclusion - - at its American premiere at LA’s Downtown Independent theater last Friday, and the crowd was going bananas in a fashion unlikely to be missed by the attending Studio Bones crew. And c'mon, the mythos the show established is wide enough to make follow-ups real easy to picture. THE SACRED STARS OF MILOS might stick to plot from hitherto-unaddressed manga, but I’m sure the Elric brothers will be traveling to more new lands and fighting more new villains, sooner or later.
This movie sees the alchemical kids venturing South to chase an escaped fugitive alchemist for a plot involving border disputes, long-lost sibling drama and various Byzantine deceptions that’s maybe more complicated than worth attempting to describe. A complex alchemist symbol, resembling a tangle of twine, that's featured throughout the flick is a useful visual metaphor for how convoluted the plot gets at times.
Actually, there’s an even more demonstrative example in an early action scene where our heroes, Ed & Al, encounter a series of ambushes and reversals on two high-speed trains, at once, which involve no less than six separate parties. It might’ve gotten a whole episode devoted to it if this was a more comfortably-paced TV arc, but it’s squished densely enough here to beg a diagram keeping track of who’s doing what, where and against whom.
Keep in mind, I’m saying this even as somebody who’s already watched the entire mega series. Like the COWBOY BEBOP and TRIGUN movies, this is more a deluxe-sized episode for longtime fans than a feature distilling the sprawling mythology down into a shot for a general audience. Then again, I saw this with a friend who had only a loose understanding of FMA’s basic premise going in and he emphatically asserted that he was able to get the gist of whatever he missed. There is still a misstep in how this tries to serve two masters of accessibility at the same time, though.
Not only does it introduce FMA‘s world to the uninitiated, it also still has to establish its own throng of characters and backstory, making most dialog buckle under a double-load of burdensome exposition. There are few scenes that don’t feature characters stating out loud what they should already know or what could otherwise just be inferred. And there may yet be a good drinking game that demands shots for every time a villain monologs about how his years of scheming have come to fruition (we manage to even get a double-dip of this from two iterations of the same character, somehow.)
This is still another great dub from FUNimation; good enough that you can’t help but sympathize with a translation team who had to find ways to artfully handle such expository dirty work. Maybe they should’ve also been allowed to edit the film, which does run a bit long, to remove all the characters from the show who were squeezed in just to please completest fans. Seriously, there’s no reason that Winry, Ed Elric’s sort-of/kind-of girlfriend, needed to show up; especially when she’s taking valuable screen time away from the actual focusses of the plot.
Indeed, one of the more interesting new characters - - a skinless enemy officer in a breathing apparatus who’s like a steampunk prototype of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Cobra Commander - - shows up in the final couple reels without any proper introduction. Considering how “equivalent exchange” is harped on so much in this franchise, you can’t help thinking that a potentially memorable villain's been robbed of his key moments just to make room for cameos.
There really is a lot to like in this flick, despite these criticisms. Honest. Once the momentum builds and things really get rolling toward the climax, the aforementioned border disputes, long-lost sibling drama and Byzantine deceptions do weave together into a gripping plot. The city of Milos, from the title, is as impressive a CG "set" as I've ever seen and it goes without saying how thrilling it was to see FMA's world rendered with even higher-budgeted animation. Plus, it's simply appealing to see Ed & Al back in action and exploring another corner of this boundlessly imaginative world.
Really, I'd be right there for another feature, be it another "gaiden" like this or a proper sequel. I'd be down for a few more, actually, if that meant Bones wouldn't be as anxious to try packing as much into one as they tried to with this.