Stepping back from the crushing brutality that so stunned unwary anime fans in its second volume (myself included!), the third instalment of the Fullmetal Alchemist saga makes for an infinitely less traumatic viewing experience. While that may sound like high praise and faint damnation, the four episodes contained within are still a cut above your usual anime fare. Providing no shortage of involving action, meaty drama and typically manic humour – all undercut, of course, by the series’ trademark melancholy streak.
Picking up, more or less, where the last volume left off – it’s difficult to remember given all the delays – volume three of Fullmetal Alchemist plunges us straight back into the thick of the action. At Col. Roy Mustang’s behest the brothers Elric are dispatched to investigate a coal mining operation in a nearby mining village. Shortly after arriving our young heroes realise that something is amiss in this sleepy homestead, the denizens of which are impoverished, overworked and underpaid. It seems the sycophantic military man responsible for protecting the town has taken it upon himself to squeeze the miners for every hard fought penny they’ve earned, and Ed, eager to prove that this dog of the military won’t be so easily whipped takes it upon himself to set things right.
If there’s one thing Fullmetal Alchemist does better than any other series I’ve seen, it’s capturing that feeling of lost innocence we all experience in our formative years. With each new situation the Elric siblings find themselves caught up in, the veil of naivety is drawn back that little bit further, and their gradual descent into tragedy makes for compulsive viewing. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your disposition, that feeling of hopelessness isn’t quite as pronounced in this volume, but it’s always there, licking away at the edges ready to burst forth at any time. The final two episodes in particular, find the series slipping back into more sober territory, proving once again there’s more to the series than cuddly visuals and cutesy character design.
Amazingly, for a studio so young, Bones are old hands when it comes to creating beautiful looking series. Make no bones about it (sorry) Full Metal Alchemist is one of the handsomest series available at the time of writing. Recycling of animation is used judiciously, and the absence of still and freeze-frames just seals the deal. The sub is equally impressive. Rie Kugimaya’s dulcet timbre is perfect for gentle giant Alphonse, and Romi Paku – who Gundam fans will recognise as the voice of Nicol Amalfi – is convincingly brash as strident young alchemist Ed.
The over reliance on sentimentality still grates on this old cynic’s nerves, but Fullmetal Alchemist continues to steadily creep up in my estimation. Providing just enough contemplative pathos to make the apathetic masses happy, but with enough visual panache and colourful action to keep those with less demanding tastes on the edge of their seats.