Friday, September 28, 2012

Anime review: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

A side-story to the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood storyline, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos follows Ed and Alphonse Elric as they investigate an escaped prisoner by the name of Melvin Voyager. As they search his cell in Central, the Elric brothers discover he had cut out an article from the newspaper regarding one Julia Crichton. Years ago, Julia’s parents – both very skilled alchemists - were murdered. Witnessing firsthand the alchemic prowess Voyager wields, Ed and Al pursue him toward Table City, an Amestrian fortification right on the border of the nation of Creta. As they near the city, the Elric brothers discover that a wolf chimera has snuck aboard the train, and the two engage him in combat. Meanwhile, a small organized force known as the Black Bats descend upon the train, and the ensuing chaos tears up the tracks leading to Table City. While Ed and Al manage to come away unscathed, they are separated with Ed in the city and Alphonse taken prisoner by Julia and the Black Bats at the bottom of the valley that separates Amestris and Creta.

Edward briefly makes contact with the chain of command in Table City, then proceeds to seek out his brother in the valley below. What he finds is a slum filled with Milosians – an entire nation of people who long ago became caught in the turmoil between Amestris and Creta and were in turn left to rot in what is essentially a giant landfill. Despite the negative feelings some of the Milosians harbor toward Ed due to his role as an Amestrian state alchemist, he feels sorry for their situation and asks for help in locating his brother. At the same time, Alphonse is conversing with Julia who explains how she came to live in this place when Melvin Voyager reveals himself to be Julia’s long-lost brother Ashley. After some debate, Ashley is convinced to aid Julia and the Black Bats in their search for the Sacred Star (the Milosian name for a Philosopher’s Stone), as they believe one exists somewhere within Table City.

Instead of retaining the same animation style used in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Sacred Star of Milos combines this style with a more free-sketch animation not unlike that which has been used in some of the Studio Ghibli films. Characters don’t look drastically different, but their definitions are altered slightly from the series. Also, action sequences tend to be more over-the-top with dynamic (and sometimes ridiculous) physics-bending and sudden pans in the camera angle. The budget for the film show through, as the entire hour and fifty minute experience looks a noticeable step up from the show’s animation quality.

While Ed and Al are still the main characters through which the story in Sacred Star of Milos is conveyed, the film does assume viewers are at least somewhat familiar with the storyline of Brotherhood. There is no mention of the Homunculus, and the only other major characters from the series that make an appearance are Winry, Mustang, and Hawkeye. The film briefly glosses over the fateful night when Ed and Al attempted to bring their mother back to life, and there is mention of the Gate of Truth. Beyond that, the film does little to bring newcomers up to speed, which is just as well, as the film’s events don’t leave a significant impact on the Fullmetal Alchemist story at large.

Julia and Ashley take center stage, and their development as characters is executed well enough. The Milosian people prove an interesting bunch, though their plan to reclaim the “holy land” is a bit obvious of a parallel with real-world conflict in the Middle East. Winry, Mustang, and Hawkeye play only small parts, while the Amestrian soldiers stationed in Table City are rather bland and one-dimensional, assuming they are granted any lines of dialogue at all.

The story sees a number of plot twists during the second half that keeps the story entertaining and suspenseful. Most of the moments where Ed and Al are questioning the roles of both Amestris and Creta in the unfortunate state of the Milosians are skimmed through in favor of providing more action sequences, and this is especially unfortunate in the case of one particular scene where the brothers trace a series of clues back to the area’s ancient past. The film’s tone is notably dark – on par with the final few episodes of the 2004 anime, as Ed and Al find the alchemy spoken of in Table City and revered by the Black Bats to be nearly as taboo as their own attempt at human transmutation. The ending brings out a convincing human element in some of the main cast, though the film’s major villains all fit the stereotypical “evil mastermind” role. Sacred Star of Milos is a fun film, and the fact that it does not hold too strong of ties to the series makes it easy to jump into. But the storytelling is nowhere near as strong as in either the 2004 series or Brotherhood.

My rating: 7.75 (out of 10)

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