Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
Welcome back, Madcaps, and thank you for bearing with me during last week’s short delay. Because of that aforementioned personal matter, I didn’t have the chance to watch (or even start!) a new season of anime, but I did have the chance to watch the latest Fullmetal Alchemist movie, recently. Let’s take a look at that, shall we?
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos is the second of the FMA movies, released following the conclusion of the Brotherhood remake, but set sometime before the end of the anime. Because of this, it sits in the unfortunate position of being compared not only to Brotherhood, but also to the original Fullmetal Alchemist show and its movie, Conqueror of Shamballa. Unfortunately, Milos doesn’t fare very well against any of the three.
But let’s start with the plot. The city of Table straddles the border between Amestris and Creta, and both nations have battled over the land for centuries. Oppressed and forced to live at the base of the city’s cliffs are Table’s native residents. When a dangerous criminal with alchemical ties breaks out of an Amestris prison, Ed and Al follow his trail to Table. It’s there they meet Julia Crichton, whose earnest wish is to retake Table City for her fellow natives. But the escaped prisoner has his eyes on Julia, not to mention the secret of her past. What ensues is a dangerous, three-way battle for the soul of the city, with a Philosopher’s Stone as the ultimate prize.
Chances are you’ve noticed the pretty heavy-handed Middle East allegory going on here, and the movie is no more subtle about shoving it in your face than I was in writing up that blurb. The result is that all of the characters – and especially the new characters in particular – are drowned out and covered up by the movie’s “message,” and a lot of the fun also gets lost as a result. It’s not so much that I’m opposed to being preached to in a piece of entertainment, but the anime series itself did a better job of condemning senseless war and genocide with its coverage of the Ishballan Rebellion and massacre. The movie gets lost in its statement and never quite surfaces. It’s a less efficient and less heart-wrenching retread.
Further alienating me is a directorial decision that a lot of anime movies fall prey to: the choice to follow new characters with new motives rather than focus on established favorites. The squandering of Roy Mustang is particularly egregious in Milos. The chain of events drag the Flame Alchemist to Table City, even stick him in the middle of a battle involving lava, but he never gets the chance to do anything other than bark orders or fill-out paperwork. But there’s a more practical reason for my complaints than simply wanting more of my favorite character. All of the betrayals, double crosses, and dramatic reveals that Milos tries to revel in are cheaply set up and have no real payoff for the viewer, primarily because there isn’t enough time in a two hour movie to get a feel for the new protagonists and villains. We don’t know who to trust so we aren’t surprised when they prove untrustworthy.
The other problem with movies that aren’t sequels is that they can ultimately alter nothing of the main storyline, and they often wind up seeming silly or unnecessary in context. Ed and Al will never again mention the people slaughtered to create the Philosopher’s Stone in Table City; they’ll never reminisce on the factions fighting there; they’ll never reflect on any of it. So why bother? Why not take the chance to explore characters not given enough screen time in Brotherhood, or come up with a new sequence of events after the show they way Conqueror of Shamballa did. Was that movie 100% successful? No, definitely not, but it felt interesting and immediate in a way Milos does not.
Then there are lesser agitations that got under my skin. The art style doesn’t blend well with that of the show and is actually more reminiscent of Studio Ghibli, especially when a character’s hair flares out behind them when they’re angry or startled. Al’s eyes are too big for him and make him appear more demonic than the gentle giant he is.
It bugged me from the get-go that the initial confrontation between Ed, Al, and the escaped prisoner was almost exactly the same as the opening episode of Brotherhood proper. The same dingy alleyway at night; the same tactics, the same reveal of Ed’s metal limbs. It felt cheap and lazy, and didn’t set me up in the most forgiving mood.
I didn’t hate Fullmetal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos, but I’ll never watch it again. Life’s too short to waste on a movie that can’t get its priorities straight.