I have to admit that I’ve been regarding Full Metal Alchemist with a somewhat cynical eye, all too often when shows have to shoulder this amount of publicity the threat of falling victim to their own hype and being buried beneath the weight of all those expectations is all too real. This volume however has allayed my misplaced fears and I’m happy to report Full Metal Alchemist is the real deal. By stripping away the kiddie-friendly veneer that held back volume one, the series asserts its frightening reputation and finally grabs my attention, put simply this volume blew my cynical preconceptions away.
The mysterious past of the brothers Edward and Alphonse is further explored as their quest to regain their corporeal forms leads them to city of Central. Here they hope to become State Alchemists and find the clues that will lead them to the philosopher’s stone. Unfortunately life in the wider world is full of unseen hardships and the brothers will be exposed to a side of alchemy that will shake their young lives forever.
It soon becomes apparent during this volume of Full Metal Alchemist that this will not be a show content to sit back and spoon-feed the viewer all the answers, or shy away from the dark and desperate side of human nature.
It almost feels like a statement of intent, a statement that says, “this is how it’s going to be, are you sure you’re prepared to come along for the ride?” me, I was expecting cute, fuzzy sidekicks and happy endings; I wasn’t quite ready for this.
As with the debut volume, the first thing that strikes you as most impressive about this series is its ability to subtly weave moments of gentle character-steered drama with healthy doses of absurdity. Like Trigun, Full Metal Alchemist manages to evoke a playful, indistinct ambience, going to painstaking lengths to establish a light-hearted atmosphere so when those dramatic twists finally arrive they strike home with all the resonance of a sledgehammer. Whilst that may sound like a cheap and well-worn tactic this series has real heart at its centre, infusing these harrowing scenes with a sense of intensity and emotional savagery that defy its kiddie-friendly aesthetics.
It is a testament to the skill of the show’s writing that it develops at such a fair pace without ever feeling rushed. The burgeoning cast never feels vapid even with plenty of new faces being dropped into the mix, and each new character seems to arrive on the scene almost fully formed. The personalities of most of the cast are so quirky and rounded that even if their characters receive the barest of development they instantly stick in your mind. Rest assured this volume has its fair share of debutant protagonists for us to fall in love with as well as some familiar faces making a welcome return.
The most intriguing of these new additions is a mysterious loner who wields a terrifying power and has a strange brand of alchemy snaking up his heavily scarred arm. His name is never divulged (although it’s not difficult to figure out) and his malign purpose never made clear, I’m intrigued to see if he will become the villain of the piece or an unlikely ally to the Elric’s.
Colonel Mustang also returns to the fold, his furtive machinations and ice-cool attitude making him an unlikely yet welcome mentor for the young brothers to bounce off of. And as for the Elric brothers themselves their dynamic works as beautifully as it did before, the scenes they share can be funny one second then deeply touching and steeped in melancholy the next.
This volume manages to riff just about every emotion you can think of, in some shows this haphazard hodgepodge of styles falls flat but Full Metal Alchemist manages it with such straight faced conviction that you can’t help but be impressed.
As usual BONES have done a sterling job visualising these fantastic stories, the character work may be simple but each is elegantly rendered with heavy line work that accentuates the boldness of their designs. There are no static shots or scenes of motionless crowds and the entire show is crammed full of little details that help sell the experience; whether it’s the strange insignia on the State Alchemists’ uniforms or the intricacy of an auto-mail you’re never in any doubt that this was a lovingly crafted production.
Not many series manage to deliver so much action, intrigue and passion this early on, and to be honest I didn’t think Full Metal Alchemist would be one of them, however this volume has really opened my eyes and converted me to the magic of alchemy. Providing a solid emotional punch with a liberal sprinkling of traumatic developments this volume reveals Full Metal Alchemist to be a stunningly proficient drama that belies its colourful trimmings to deliver an experience you won’t soon forget.