After seeing Toy Story 3, I learned to never underestimate an animated movie again. And although the anime feature Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos isn’t exactly the same kind of heartwarming, it still manages to pack quite the punch.
Based off of the original manga by Hiromu Arakawa and picking up where the events of the last television series left off, the film features a somewhat drawn-out and convoluted plot that can be a little difficult to grasp (especially if you aren’t well-versed in the universe of Fullmetal Alchemist to begin with), but makes up for it with great 2-D animation work and lots of action-packed scenes, that can, depending on your view on anime, be seen as awesomely indulgent or comically irrational.
Set in a universe that’s both futuristic and cartoonishly antiquated (à la steampunk), Fullmetal Alchemist tells the story of two intelligent but charming brothers, Ed and Al Elric, who are employed by the state of Amestris to use the power of alchemy to beat up bad guys and keep the peace. One night, a mysterious prisoner breaks out of the city’s jail using a type of alchemy that Ed or Al have never seen, leaving behind a newspaper clipping of a girl imprisoned in neighboring Table City. Ed and Al hop on a train and vow to find him, and eventually land themselves in the middle of a rebellion led by the Milos people, who have been exiled from their homeland to a trash-filled valley. Along the way, the two brothers meet Julia, another young alchemist who hopes to harness the power of the Philosopher’s Stone to save the Milos people.
The skillfully executed action packed scenes throughout the film were done by animation studio BONES — the same guys behind Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and series like Scrapped Princess and Darker Than Black — and prove that 2-D animation can still be just as exciting as CGI, and possibly a little more impressive. In one particularly marvelous scene that could rival any live-action equivalent, Ed and Al battle a sinister monocled man who transforms into a wolf, a hoard of svelte women donning body suits and giant bat wings, and the mysterious escaped convict, all while on top of a moving train.
For all its intensity, though, the fight-atop-a-moving-locomotive scene pales in comparison to many others throughout the film — and there are many others. Between the opening, where we watch as a young Julia witnesses her parents' brutal murder, and midway through the movie, where the now-grown girl falls off of a cliff (spoiler alert: she lives), there’s barely even a moment's peace.
It remains to be seen whether or not this movie can live up to the expectations of long-time fans of the Fullmetal Alchemist series. It certainly takes a minute or so to grasp the film’s concept of alchemy as a practice, and the whole world of Ed and Al in general, but between the excitement of their adventures and their charming duo dynamic, it’s a gripping enough installment to be able to stand on its own.