Appearing amidst a flurry of hyperbole and rave reviews, Full Metal Alchemist has achieved Naruto-sized success in its native Japan and rapidly garnered something of a cult following over here and in the US. Having had an early peek at the opening episodes I was surprised if not a little disappointed by what I saw.
Things kick off with a sinister looking experiment which the Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse hope will revive their dead mother. Ignoring the golden rule of alchemy ‘to gain something you must first give something of equal value’ disaster strikes, Edward loses his left leg and right arm, and Alphonse loses his body.
Fast forward half a decade, Edward has become a state alchemist and Alphonse’s soul is bound to a gargantuan suit of armour. They are seeking the fabled Sorcerer’s stone that can reverse the law of equal loss and bring their mother back to life.
The first thing that struck me about Full Metal Alchemist was its surprisingly mature thematic content, the opening scenes showing the brothers’ disastrous resurrection attempt hints at a darker side lurking just beneath that kiddie-friendly exterior. There are also some interesting and pertinent arguments involving science and religion that parallel the alchemists’ aversion and rejection of fundamental spiritual beliefs. Both help to flesh out the world of alchemy and add depth and feeling to an otherwise familiar tale.
It’s not all gloom and doom though and a lot of the entertainment in these early episodes comes from the Elric’s themselves, Edward Elric the full metal alchemist of the title is a brash, mildly egocentric but eminently likeable hero whilst Alphonse is a tentative, timid, tin plated hulk. The juxtaposition works wonders making for one of the most original pairings in recent memory. Being alchemists they can conjure weaponry and transform literally anything through the power of transmutation, for me alchemy is this series’ major hook and I’m intrigued to see how far the creators will
push this weird and wonderful science in later episodes.
One criticism though is the distinct feeling of familiarity in some of the early episodes, they’re by no means unoriginal but retread some familiar anime ideals. Still a strong framework has been laid out very early on and I get the feeling the best has yet to come.
I continue to be amazed by the level of quality persistent in today’s animation and Full Metal Alchemist only reinforces that amazement, striking, flowing animation enlivens some tremendous character design, the backgrounds mix lavish interiors with dreary sun scorched landscapes and the level of movement and fluidity is spectacular. If they maintain this quality into the next volume Full Metal Alchemist could well be one of the finest looking shows in recent memory.
A surprisingly solid and assured debut, it may be a tad familiar but there’s enough charm and invention to single it out amongst the crowd. Not as perfect as many would have liked this still has massive potential that will doubtless reveal itself as the series goes on. Full Metal mania starts here.