Sunday, 29 April 2012

Movie REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos


It's surprising that a series as popular as Fullmetal Alchemist hasn't had more big screen outings - until now there was only the somewhat epic but also wholly unsatisfying Conqueror of Shamballa, the finale to the original series. But in 2011 FMA returned to the big screen with The Sacred Star of Milos, which while set in the Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood universe has no bearing on the plot and is more of a side story. Much like most anime films of long-running series then.

The Elrics are back for a brand new adventure

The plot revolves around Edward and Alphonse Elric joining in the effort to capture an escaped prisoner, the escapee using an unknown style of lightning and ice alchemy. After discovering with Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye that he, who is using the false name of Melvin Voyager, escaped after seeing a photo of a girl named Julia Crichton who was arrested while entering illegally in the remote Table City, set in the border between Amestris and the country of Creta.

In typical Elric style, the two brothers continue to investigate, intrigued by the Voyager's alchemy and hopeful that it may give them a clue how to regain their bodies. Their train to Table City is subsequently attacked by not only a wolf-chimera, but also a group of glider soldiers calling themselves the Black Bats. Ed and Al soon become involved with the group of freedom fighters from Milos,a slum located at the bottom of the trench separating Amestris and Creta. Melvin is revealed as Ashley Crichton, brother to the now fugitive Julia, both originally from Milos. Using a legendary star that can control the magma under them, the Milos people plan to take back their home from the two opposing countries. But for Ed and Al, the star of Milos sounds all too familiar...

Melvin Voyager meets Julia Crichton

While this may be an all new plot line with mostly brand new characters, it doesn't stray too far away from the typical Fullmetal Alchemist themes. Between warring factions, a suffering nation and the all-important subject of equivalent exchange, on paper its almost exactly the same story as before in a shorter running time. However that doesn't mean The Sacred Star of Milos doesn't do anything differently, and so the film makes its mark through an extremely character driven story where the twists and turns make it difficult to determine between friend and foe. The new protagonist, Julia, is a likeable foil to the Elrics and the villain (who's identity would spoil the film so shall remain hidden) is just as twisted as any Homunculi the show gave us, but without the bizarre looks or powers.

This film has everything from "werewolves"...

That isn't to say the film is without its problems however. To make room for the focus these new characters need to be interesting, unfortunately the supporting cast of the show have been pushed aside. Mustang, Hawkeye and Winry all make appearances in the film, but their roles are for the most part superfluous and have very little bearing on the story. Armstrong makes a very brief cameo, but that's your lot as far as the FMA regulars are concerned. The film also suffers from extended periods of mundaneness, which in the long run serve to flesh out its climax but at the time seem to drag the film along.

Despite still being a BONES production, this iteration of FMA looks rather different from its predecessors. The character designs are much sharper with very minor, but still noticeable, facial differences. Characters also suffer badly in ranged shots, where they're either lazily drawn or completely blurred - each resulting in it difficult to make out who is who sometimes. But in opposition to this the fight scenes are beautifully animated and live up to the expectation of "bigger is better" when it comes to anime films of this kind. The violence has also been moved up a notch this time around, with some rather graphic deaths and removal of transmutation circle-tattooed skin.

...to mysterious masked generals

The Sacred Star of Milos is ultimately a curious entry into the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, because despite being a better film than The Conqueror of Shamballa its place as a (debatably non-canonical) side story makes it far less memorable. Fans of the series will be happy to see the characters back again for one more adventure, but this film falls slightly short of the god-like status FMA has made for itself.

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