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FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST BROTHERHOOD: THE SACRED STARS OF MILOS -- REVIEW

A half-season of content packed into a two hour movie? How does that work for equivalent exchange?

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.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazon here & here. Follow him on Twitter: @tompinchuk

themangaliston Jan. 23, 2012 at 4:39 p.m.

FMA: Brotherhood was great, but I am never compelled to watch these cheap cash-in summer movies serving nothing more than a seperate story with totally uninteresting/unrelated new characters. The first FMA movie for the first season at least tied up the story, though kinda ruined the hopeful yet sad note the original series ended on.

zaldaron Jan. 23, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.

See what you miss is that you can not watch this and still understand the story and have a full story of the characters. In American comics you need to follow them for years and you can't just pick up a batman comic now and start. (well with the new 52 that may be a little different but still hard). Still yes they do redo things a lot. And Naruto and Bleach and other shonen can be an exception to this rule.

Question on this movie is it completely separate from the story of the series..I mean

the way the series ended it would be hard for him to still be doing alchemy.
frsty13on Jan. 23, 2012 at 4:57 p.m.

I can see myself buying this on DVD and regretting it. Still, it can't be worse than movie for the first FMA anime (something something Shambala...so terrible I purged the full name from my mind).

msavoon Jan. 23, 2012 at 5:15 p.m.
The series was good enough. Huge fan, have all the blu-rays, but I couldn't care less about anything else FMA.
metalsnakezeroon Jan. 23, 2012 at 6:45 p.m.

Its a nice movie and I'll be happy to add it to my anime collection but it is kinda like a cheap cash-in summer movie. Also it question on how this connects to the series in general.

ShadowKnight508 moderator on Jan. 23, 2012 at 8:09 p.m.

@frsty13: You mean FullMetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa, right? I would agree that that particular film wasn't the best, but at least it continued the story of the original FMA anime that had strayed from that the manga was doing.

Hmm...will have to look into The Sacred Stars of Milos when i get the chance. It looks (and sounds) great to me.

DreamWeaveron Jan. 23, 2012 at 9:18 p.m.

The animation for this looks really derpy. I'm just sayin'.

Other than that, not interested at all. I love FMA but the movie seems a bit... cheap.

avidwriteron Jan. 23, 2012 at 9:38 p.m.

Why does the animation quality look like crap?

takashichea moderator on Jan. 23, 2012 at 9:51 p.m.

Man, I want to watch this movie. I never enjoyed the first movie because it didn't give a good ending to the first series. .Winry is alone while the two Elric brothers are in another world. That's bad. Plus, the whole nazi connection is a bit too much. They should just focus more on Amestris and its neighbor countries especially Ishval.

Afroman269on Jan. 24, 2012 at 8:09 a.m.
Sweet, FMA is one of the few animes that I like. I'm looking forward to watching this.
thekokapellion March 2, 2012 at 7:32 p.m.

The original FMA is not just my favorite anime, it's my favorite show, period. It has everything I could ever ask for in a narrative. I like Brotherhood too, although the original is far better written and better paced. And you know what? I don't like the look of this movie and I have no real desire to see it, although because I'm a mindless drooling fan I'll probably end up seeing it anway (sigh). But I'm kind of scared to. When I first saw the Conqueror of Shamballa I hated it so much that I couldn't even watch the original for a while because I couldn't help but remember how badly that movie teabagged it. So yeah, my logical side doesn't want to see this movie, but the stupid squealing fangirl inside me keeps jumping up and down screaming, "I wanna see it I wanna see it OMG!!!1"

starburstiaon May 4, 2012 at 7:05 a.m.

This plot was written by Arakawa, which explained my very pleasant surprise when I was watching it. The characters were in depth and not sloppily thought out- and as for Winry, I agree she was unnecessary. No egregious animation team made movie with some unexplainable Nazi subplot. The main villain in the breathing mask was slowly built up the whole movie, I have no idea why you think he shouldn't be there as most of the clues and all of the conflict would be completely gone (except for what, the political drama?) if not for his shenanigans. Might be bias, but the exposition wasn't bad, as it was made in the middle of the most kinetic battles I had the pleasure of watching. For example, compare Bleach, who stand around in the air, talk a bit, then have a mighty unexplained power slash. Fullmetal alchemist is has the constructed feel of death note but with much less restraints. Pretty amazing, Arakawa! She even made a manga lead in- it's now canon. The characters are introduced in a normal way as literally every other character in the series was introduced-- I'm not sure what you are expecting from a movie, this was pretty perfect as it was.

Dig Deeper into Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - The Sacred Stars of Milos

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - The Sacred Stars of Milos is the movie based upon the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series which ended in 2010.

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