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Fullmetal Alchemist Ultimate Edition UK Blu-ray Anime Review

14 min read

Fullmetal Alchemist UE UK Blu-rayThe original vs. Brotherhood. Let’s see how it holds up with this chimera of a box set…

What They Say:
In an era of war and corruption, State Alchemist Edward Elric and his brother Alphonse desperately search for the Philosopher’s Stone. The legendary artifact is their last hope to restore what they’ve lost – but how far will they go to get it? From the ashes of their childhood, Edward and Alphonse quickly rise to fame within the ranks of the military, realizing along the way that the power to create is only ever a breath away from the power to destroy. And whether they’re up against monsters, madmen, or military officials, the bond these brothers share will be the greatest weapon they have in the fight for their lives.

Contains the complete original Fullmetal Alchemist TV series, episodes 1-51, in English and Japanese with English subtitles.

The Review:
Audio:
For the Blu-Ray release, we have a trademark 5.1 English release and a 2.0 Japanese release – a standard set up with no real issues throughout the track in terms of synching with the video, and the general settings didn’t need to be changed. There were no issues with the synching, or with the audio quality as no adjustments has to be made on my stand settings even with the Japanese 2.0 set up – very general and acceptable.

Video:
FMA transfer works well as it does get into the full 1080p treatment and full screen effect however sadly, there are a few instances when you are pausing that the show does look a bit more compressed and grainy compared to many modern releases (the animation is a bit blurry during pausing), this was only noticeable a few times and it is still got clear picture with no other transaction issues, and considering it is now 14 years old the transfer is still really well done, the animation verging from steampunk to action well – no repeated animation, runs very slick it still compresses well as a release and considering the high demand for this series especially with the limited edition version limited to 1000 copies, this is as close as the definite original FMA transfer to Blu-Ray you can get.

Packaging:
There was no packing for this test release. If you buy the special edition though, you get special collector’s case, and a limited edition replica of the Gate. Check out the video below for a detailed look at it.

Menu:
Each menu is very similar – the FMA logo with one of the characters in the forefront with the alchemy symbol in a red background – on the bottom of the screen is the menu bar which like most Blu-Rays is near instantaneous with when selection – Discs 1-2 and 4-5 have Play All (with the openings/endings included), Marathon Play (without the openings/endings), Set Up, and on discs 3 and 6 Extras. All easily selectable (and also to return to the main menu via pop-up, only extras you can’t change to another selection) and quick and painless as that calming BGM plays in the background, catching, stylistic and simple.

Extras:
Considering the size (and price) of the special edition, there are a ton of extras. First of all, if you manage to pre-order the set, you get a tag of enrolment into the Amestris Army as a State Alchemist, with certificate for the buyer with their name and alchemist title as assigned by King Bradley for the release too; otherwise you get the special packaging mentioned in the packaging section.

On disc there are plenty of extras too – though a lot is based when it original got released – which is a nice flashback in time when you get the first main extra, which is a commentary on episode 19 from Mike McFarland (ADR Director, voice of Havoc), Vic Mignognia (Ed) and Aaron Dismuke (Alphonse) – whilst all three still are in the dubbing industry, they were younger and whilst Vic and Mike would reprise their roles in Brotherhood, Aaron was only 12 years old at this time (though would work on Brotherhood in another role) so the hindsight is very fun to return to. It is a general conversation as they talk about the ‘bowl’ (which was reprised in Brotherhood for Maxey Whitehead, the new voice of Al) to get the Alphonse sound effect, their favourite scenes, their initial reaction to finding out what the Philosopher’s stone is made of, Aaron’s first roles (young Akito in Fruits Basket, another classic) with plenty of banter throughout (referring to Indiana Jones during certain sequences) and the sheer casting job they had to do considering the size of the cast.

Commentary 2 is episode 25, one of the most infamous episodes of FMA, involving Mike but this time with Sonny Strait (Hughes) and Travis Willingham (Roy) – this is obviously one of the big spoilers of the series so without giving it fully away, it is quite a sad episode and they talk how much they love the character of Hughes and what a rep he has at conventions and anime fans (even to today from my own experience as well Hughes is still beloved), how the past settings play into the actors, how characters can switch from goofy to serious (both Roy and Hughes examples of this), if the characters are similar to themselves, and how important this episode is for the rest of the series, as is the impact of the final scenes – a fun thing is that they mentioned that Sonny won the then dub awards for a certain website called Animeon DVD….:)

The final commentary is for the final episode , Mike returns this time with Colleen Clinkenbeard (Rose/Hawkeye/assistant director) which is more a general looking back at the series, which is appropriate for this re-release, the fact it became such an all-star cast (many reprising Brotherhood and still work for Funimation today), their favourite story arcs, favourite characters, association with certain commentaries, con experiences and booth stories – it is just a looking back at how the series came to be, how it is for them, and how it has taken such a life for anime fans.

We get a lot of interviews in one session called ‘The Transmutation of a Phenomenon’ which gets a lot of the VAS in to talk about a lot of the themes and stuff from the show, from the brotherly love of Ed and Al, the character relationships, the theme of heroism, popularity of the show, character association, inside the studio, memorable moments, the movie and final thoughts. From seeing con stuff, Vic Mignognia (Ed) tears up a number of times during it, and considering reactions to people he has met with the series, you can tell this one has a special place in his heart for him. We also get Aaron Dismuke (Al), Chris Patton (Greed), Colleen Clinkenbeard (Riza/Rose), Gwen Lau (Scheika), Wendy Powell (Envy), Troy Baker (Archer), Caitlin Glass (Winry), Mike McFarland (Havoc), Lydia MacKay (Trisha/Sloth), Scott McNeil (Hohenheim), Chris Sabat (Armstrong) and Sonny Strait (Hughes) involved so you can tell it is a huge all start cast. (And that’s missing Travis Willingham and Monica Rial as well…)

There is a music video to L’Arc-En-Ciel’s ‘Ready Steady Go’ (2nd opening) and a Japanese commercial, and also a segment called Ura Hagane – which is basically the previews for all the episodes, but in a more comedic scenes – Japanese only, but a lot of the characters making fun of themselves or others and interacting together.

Lastly, we have the US Trailers for the show, and general trailers for other releases of Ghost In The Shell – Arise, Inari Kon Kon, Soul Eater Not, Ping Pong The Animation, Tokyo Ravens, Nobunagun, Hyperdimension Neptuna and Darker Than Black.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When I first started going to anime conventions back in 2003, one of the big series that was being talked about in the video rooms was Full Metal Alchemist. It was considered an original, breathtaking, imaginative and at times tragic series, which also didn’t fall into the trap when it overtook the manga, and actually got on board with the mangaka and created an original story that would satisfy fans, and it definitely did at the time.

Fast forward to 2010 and a remake is done which now focuses on the completed manga – and fans are divided in which is better. Brotherhood is more accurate to the story, but Alchemist holds a strong place in people’s hearts. Brotherhood is one of my favourite series of all time, and it has been a long time since I saw the original, so this was going to be an interesting flash to the past…

For the first 25 episodes, it follows the manga story mostly true up until one of the most saddening moments of the show. After that, whilst there are some elements included (like the character of Izumi) it definitely changes things around, and as a recent watcher of Brotherhood you do see a lot of the changes, but does it make it better or worse? And they do change things even in the first arc as well, giving more extended roles to certain characters (Rose, Hughes, Scheika, Lust) and more limited roles to a few (Marcoh being the big one for me, Hawkeye and Winry to some extent as well) as well as change a few things for obvious reasons as the manga story hadn’t finished (Scar being the biggie).

So how does it hold up?

The story, if unfamiliar, is the story of two brothers, Edward Elric and Alphonse Elric, two young alchemists who are searching for the Philosopher Stone – a stone which will allow them to restore Al’s body to normal. Oh, Al is actual a soul transmuted into a suit of armour because the boys tries to resurrect their dead mother via alchemy – but it went horribly wrong. To make sure Al wasn’t vaporised, Ed sacrificed his arm and leg to bind his soul onto a suit of armour, and now the two are working for the military, as the best way to be able to search for the stone despite their young age.

The initial start actually you may consider fillerish if you are familiar with the manga but IMO it is similar to the One Piece fillers, in that it doesn’t feel out of place as they are travelling from place to place finding alchemists and people with links to the Philosopher stone (two brothers using their names for example are from a light novel, and do make a big scene near the end of the series) – and it still does tell a lot of the stories well, some even better (Hughes’ wife Gracia giving birth to Alicia for example as the boys meet him for the first time, and also Shou Tucker – whilst an absolute loathsome character does actually remain alive and becomes a vital plothole for trying to get the boys back right till the bitter end) . Some things do change though and you do wonder if it was for the better (Scar for example, initially is the same as always, but his path changes, though ironically it does get bigger screentime and better character development for Lust).

The story continues throughout with some episodes again stretching out (there’s a flashback to a younger Ed who faces a human Barry The Chopper for example), and you do get focus on the military, namely Colonel Roy Mustang, the charismatic yet apparently glory hounding leader, also known as the Flame Alchemist. He and Ed have a real love/hate relationship….mostly they love to hate each other, but Roy is definitely a lot more complex as a character, and whilst it is different how it goes, when a tragic event happens, it is still a focus in the back of his mind especially when the learning of the homunculus happens. The homunculi, named after the seven deadly sins, are artificial humans but their goal is to get the philosopher stone as well, and are using Ed to try and do that – I will say that Lust and Envy are definitely more character driven here (Lust for wanting to be human as well as being the reincarnation of Scar’s younger brother’s girlfriend, Envy for being the ‘son’ of Hohenheim and being envious of Ed), and Scar whilst his role is a bit different later in the series does again portray the angry Ishvalian (with good reason) persecuted for no apparent reason – the other thing that changes aside from how the war started, was how Winry’s parents dies – which actually does one really surprising thing and Winry pretty much teams up with fan favourite minor character Scheika (who gets a much bigger role in the story thanks to her closeness with Hughes) much to the fans delight (me included) trying to discover the secrets of Ishbal and also of the military.

A lot of things change yet stay the same – when Al and Ed infiltrate the lab and meet the homunculi for the first time, Scar also gets involved, which in turn releases Greed, and also Kimblee – so their roles are a bit different here – trying to force Ed into making a philosopher stone (as Ed by now via Scheika has figured out what is needed to make one, this takes Scar’s mentality into a much more darker path later on) but things change by the change of one of the homunculi, the addition of a character named Dante who is pulling the strings so to speak, the changes of a couple of homunculi (Bradley for example the Fuhrer is now Pride instead of Wrath, whilst Wrath is a young boy who was the basis of the remains of both Ed’s removed body parts and the dead child of Izumi Curtis, who also gets quite the different storyline because of this development) – it all really changes after the death of Hughes, (which hits actually harder than in Brotherhood as Hughes is in it a lot more and was easily my favourite character at this point) –s after that player punch, the new story as it were truly begins.

So what changes? Well first, the introduction of Wrath, the homunculi created via the basis of Izumi’s dead child which means she has conflicted emotions, who is pretty much obsessed with finding a mother – who in turn is Sloth, who looks uncannily like Ed and Al’s mother Trisha. Needless to say this also takes a turn for Ed and Al, (especially Al who has a few stupid moments to say the least) and with the idea that Wrath may have Ed’s arm and leg, it holds the idea of the Gate Of Truth for everyone and takes a much darker twist. Meanwhile, the knowledge that the Fuhrer is a homunculus means that Mustang is ready to rebel against the military (sadly the fight with Greed beforehand is not as meaningful to the story, though you do discover the homunculi’s weakness from it). Characters like Kimblee have still the antagonist role, but it changes – and is definitely weaker compared to the manga/brotherhood (joins Greed but betrays him). The history of Ed and Al’s father Hohenheim changes, makes him a bit more complex (especially his role at the end of the series which also ties in with the movie) – granted they do some original stuff and also add original characters (Archer and Lyra being the most prominent ones) with extended stuff to correspond with the lack of manga material (the Ishbal episodes, the missions of Ed, how Liore becomes the new home for the Philosopher’s stone with Scar’s involvement and of course Lust’s history) and change some of the dynamics (Rose being the big one especially as she has a much larger and more important role) – however it does suffer from a couple of things.

The obvious one is if you’re watching it after Brotherhood it is always going to be compared to it. You can be a fan of both (which I am) but that twinge of doubt on an original story will be there once the finished story is done – however even if hadn’t, the end and a lot of the story involving Al becoming a philosopher stone, the homunculi’s life and just the plain surprising, but ultimately weak ending – it does feel a bit rushed and confusing, which is a shame because most of the series prior to that has a good flowing structure, and whilst I know it is setting up the movie, it really felt confusing and a bit of a letdown, it didn’t want me to see the movie despite the cliff-hanger.

However, on its own merits? The series is still great – I definitely after seeing Brotherhood prefer the concrete and final story it told but FMA does have a few things I liked more over it (different or extended characterizations of certain characters and some scenes told better, especially in the earlier episodes) and considering the time period and the situation with the manga at the time, it definitely did far better than it probably had any right to. Scar’s motivations are similar but the way it plays out is different, making him more of an anti-villain but without the total good guy turn, Lust’s back-story gives her a lot more screentime and becomes surprisingly one of the most likeable characters in the series by the end, some of the motivations change (Roy being a big one especially as he surprisingly has a big effect in Winry’s life) and whilst it does weaken some characteristics (I preferred Roy’s reaction to Hughes’ death and what he does dealing it far better for example), it definitely is its own thing and that isn’t a bad thing.

And of course, the relationship between Al and Ed is still one, if not my favourite pair of all anime. Al does have a few younger brother moments where he clearly can’t see the wood from the trees (Ed actually being a lot more responsible where in Brotherhood was about 50/50) so he does have a few annoying moments (especially near the end when ‘Trisha’ reappears) but the concern, love and care they have for each other continues to drive the plot along. Whilst Winry sadly is a bit more of a non-factor (though she does have a fun duo with Schieka who am grateful she got more air time), her love for the two and care still shines through and every decision they make does have an effect in their life, whether to find the stone, their roles in the military, up against Scar, etc. They are strong, as is this release. Granted, it is quite a bit of money but it definitely may be something to grab whilst you can…

In Summary:
Full Metal Alchemist is a gamble with the special edition, not just for price but for the fact Brotherhood is available in the UK and is a better tale of the manga – FMA came out before the manga’s conclusion so treading on original story ground is a bit of a risk. Thankfully, it is one that paid off as the story, whilst different, is its own baby and whilst things are changed, many stay the same, and that is most of the good stuff. Whilst the ending is a bit weaker than I remember and some of the characterisation isn’t as strong, others are changed and/or extended for the better, and the principle idea the series brings of brotherly love continue to shine through in this beautiful remaster of action, comedy, music and tears. If you can find it and afford it, it is a must for FMA fans.

Features:
Dub episode commentaries, Behind the scenes interviews with the dub cast, L’Arc En Ciel video of Ready Steady Go, Japanese Previews, US Trailer, Trailers

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: December 26th, 2016
MSRP: £209.99
Running Time: 1275 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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