It’s week two of FullMetal month, and we’re diving right in with the feature film based on the smash hit anime, FullMetal Alchemist. Cause when you have a successful anime, based on a successful manga, the next thing ya do is make a movie and hope it rakes in the dough, too.
Anime is a business, after all.
Before I get into this, fair warning to all those out there who dread spoiler land. The movie is a direct follow up of the series. So, if you’ve not seen FullMetal Alchemist (Raistlin) then you should be braced for lots of spoilers (Raistlin), as you can’t talk about this move without ruining the ending of FullMetal Alchemist(Raistlin).
If you don’t care about being spoiled on a twelve year old movie, then great. Read on. Cause seriously, this movie is twelve years old. Get with the times, Raistlin.
Love ya, man.
As was discussed last week, the anime adaptation of mangaka Hiromu Arakawa’s highly successful story hit a few snags during production. Namely, studio Bones wasn’t working with a full story. They only knew a little of what Arakawa was up to, and rather than leave the story unfinished, got her permission to tell their own version of the tale.
Head writer Sho Aikawa stayed in touch with Arakawa during the writing, making sure that the story he envisioned was one that could happen within the confines of the world she had made, which makes the 2003 FullMetal Alchemist one of the most successful pieces of fan fiction in history.
Fuck you, Fifty Shades of Gray. Even Twilight was better than your nasty ass.
However, Aikawa ended up leaving the conclusion of FullMetal Alchemist somewhat open ended. A lot of questions weren’t answered, and a lot of issues were left unresolved. So, in 2005, Bones returned to the world of FullMetal with the feature length conclusion to the story, titled The Conqueror of Shamballa.
Set a few years after the end of the series, the story catches up with Edward, who is now living in pre World War 2 Germany, with that world’s version of Alphonse. His arm and leg are still prosthetic, but have some movement thanks to his dad, Hohenhiem, being brilliant. Alchemy doesn’t work, however, so he’s pretty useless, and really just kind of bumming around and mooching off people.
Back in his home world, Alphonse has been returned to his former body, but has no memory of anything that happened after their failed attempt to bring their mother back to life. He knows Edward is missing, and is actively looking for any clue as to what happened to him, and how to bring him back. Everyone else has more or less given up, however, except Winrey. Even she doubts Ed will ever come back, but hangs on to whatever hope she can.
Mustang, meanwhile, having defeated Bradley, is so consumed with guilt over Ed’s loss, that he has given up his officer rank, and now stands a lonely post in the far north, punishing himself for his own sins. Not even Havoc and Brada can get him to snap out of it.
Back in Germany, Ed and the alternate Alphonse travel to a fair, where they demonstrate rocket powered flight, and accidentally get mixed up in the early Nazi Party’s attempt to buy a Gypsy woman named Noah, who has actual supernatural abilities, such as the power to see the future. Part of the Thule Society, they hope to use her to open a gate way to Shamballa, a mythical place that is believed to be able to grant victory to those it allies with.
While protecting Noah from the Thule Society thugs, Edward encounters Bradley, only to discover that it is his alternate, a man named Fritz Lang. Lang invites Ed to go hunting a dragon with him, leading Ed to discover that Envy journeyed across the gate as well. The Thule Society captures Envy, however, leaving Ed with more questions than answers.
Back in Amestris, poor Leore gets fucked over yet again as a gateway opens up, spitting out armor clad soldiers who quickly die, then vanish. Alphonse and Major Armstrong are on hand for the event, and Al transfers a bit of his soul into a suit that looks pretty much just like the one he lived in for a while. This leads him into contact with Ed, and the two catch up.
Now knowing Ed is alive, Alphonse accepts the help of Wrath in opening the gate so Ed can come home. The two return to the underground city, and Wrath sacrifices himself, along with the monstrosity Gluttony has become, to open the gate.
Unfortunately for Al, this turns out to be a bad idea. The Thule Society, lead by a generic crazy villain character, has compromised alternate Alphonse’s rocket propulsion engines, and launches an attack on Amestris, after sacrificing Hohenhiem and Envy to stabilize the gate on their side. Alternate Alphonse, horrified at what his technology has been used for, sends Ed home.
Noah, who just wanted to escape to Ed’s world to be free of the prejudice against Gypsies, helps the Thule Society, then gets left behind. No betrayal goes unpunished, ya know.
While the Thule Society assaults Central City, Mustang’s former team rallies to fight back, joined by the Flame Alchemist himself, and the reunited Elric brothers. Ed’s automail is restored, thanks to Winrey being in the right place at the right time, and they go nuts on the bad guys, who are now possessed by some kind of weird black goo.
Ultimately, they win the day, but Ed decides to return to Germany, so he can destroy the gate on that side, keeping the two worlds separate forever. Al hitches a ride against his brothers wishes, and the two set out to try and help Germany avoid a second great war.
One of the more interesting ideas explored in this movie is that the alchemy of Ed and Al’s home world is powered by the souls of humans in our world. Great conflicts, wars, and plagues release souls into the gate, and those are used to power alchemy as a whole. It casts the entire science into something of a horrific light, and makes you wonder if any alchemist would continue on knowing that.
Well, granted, more than a few would. Probably be a lot more Philosopher’s Stone’s rolling around if folks knew.
That aside, the movie does revisit a lot of old familiar faces, given a new twist. Hughes is still alive in Germany, as an ordinary cop and member of the newly forming Nazi Party. Unmarried, he has eyes for Gracia, but not the nerve to say anything. Several members of Greed’s gang show up as engineers working with Alphonse, and even Scar and Lust make a brief cameo.
More interesting is the use of the Bradly double. Fritz Lang is, of course, a legendary film maker. The master mind behind cinematic greats such as Metropolis, and the man who more or less made film noir what is to this day, Lang was often under appreciated in his own time. So, in a lot of ways, it’s nice that the FMA movie showed him some love. It’s also interesting that they make him an alternate to Bradley, a military leader, rather than an imaginative film maker.
Likewise, Alphonse is wildly different in Germany. Blonde, and blue eyed, his genius is quickly set upon by the rising Nazi Party, along with his strong Aryan looks, something Alphonse is all to quick to ignore, since it gives him the financial backing to develop his ideas properly. While the Alphonse we know would never be so quick to sacrifice his principles for anything, the other Alphonse, who is sickly to begin with, is all too willing to do so in order to see his dream achieved.
Once it is, however, he is horrified at what he’s done, and sacrifices his life to help Edward fix the disaster he’s created. That is certainly a trait both versions of Alphonse share, but much like Hughes, the resemblance between them is largely superficial. Different lives have created different experiences, and they are very different people.
Naturally, the story invokes the parallel world theory, as it must in order to tell the story it wants to tell. As some of you may recall, this is a theory that I enjoy playing with as well, and while normally I’d be thrilled as a fly in punch to see it showing up, much less with ties to how alchemy works, in this case, I was a little disappointed by it. The world of FMA is its own thing. It didn’t need to be tied to our world in any way to be interesting. That’s a minor quibble, however, in an otherwise interesting story.
Probably the thing the movie does best, however, is to be faithful to history. The Thule Society really did exist, and did have ties to the early formation of the Nazi Party. However, Hitler was no lover of esoteric matters, no matter how hard fiction tries to make it seem like he was. He was not a member of the Thule Society, and never even attended a meeting. Early sympathizers with his goals, on the other hand, were members, or at least spoke at gatherings.
During the events of the movie, concerns are expressed by members of the Thule Society that if they cannot deliver the awesome might of Shamballa into the hands of the Nazi Party, they may lose what little favor they have curried thus far. It is the primary motivation for the films central antagonist, Dietlinde Eckhart, who herself is likely either a relation to, or variation on suspected Thule Society member, and Nazi supporter, Dietrich Eckart.
Eckart is really the biggest weakness in the film, as her motivations and actions are only thinly fleshed out. Anyone without a decent knowledge of history, especially World War 2 and everything that lead to it, won’t understand a damn thing she’s doing, or why. She rants and raves a lot, and much of what affects her during her passage through the Gate is left unexplained, as well. She mostly exists to make things happen, which is a shame, as a good antagonist is always a great thing to see.
The film even portrays the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch accurately. The failed coup, lead by Hitler, which landed him in prison for treason, is a major event around which the movie revolves. About the only thing the film does not accurately portray is Karl Haushofer. A noted German military officer and political scientist, Haushofer, in real history, had no known connection to the Thule Society, and only somewhat tenuous connections to the Nazi party, though Hitler did apparently warp Haushofer’s geopolitical theories somewhat in developing the Nazi politics.
Within the film, he is a leader of the Thule Society, and aids Eckart in opening the gate to Amestris, though he is far less eager for conquest than she is. Haushofer’s real life student, Rudolph Hess, also appears in the film somewhat, though the truth depth of his involvement in the rise of the Nazi Party is well documented by history, as are the atrocities he helped commit, so we’ll leave him be.
He’s a dick here, too, is all I’m gonna say.
In terms of animation, the movie looks every bit as good as the series, which is not surprising. Everyone who worked on the series, worked on the movie, as well. Bones knows when not to break up a winning team, which is more than most professional sports teams can say.
The movie was directed by, written by, and scored by the same folks who worked on the series. Seiji Mizushima as director, Sho Aikawa as writer, and Michiru Oshima as composer. Which gives the film a feel of being a long episode of the series. Which, in essence, is exactly what it was. Designed to be a less open ended ending, the film was intended to wrap up the story in a more satisfying way, by having the Elric brothers reunited, and carrying on with life.
Overall, at the time of release, it was an intensely satisfying film to watch, too. This was pre Brotherhood days, so much like the original anime series, the film was an incredible experience, and a welcome return to the lives of the Elric brothers.
Much like the original series, however, the film suffers a bit under the weight of Brotherhood, and some of the shine is a little less shiny now. This doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, and for a history buff like myself, it’s an extremely well told story that ties directly into real world events, as they actually happened.
All that said, the eventual development of the second FullMetal Alchemist series, Brotherhood, would serve as a reminder that Hiromu Arakawa’s writing skills are not easily matched, and that the story she set out to tell was far deeper, far grander, and far more complex than anyone could ever have guessed.
Next week, FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.